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Data Roaming Explained

An easy guide to understanding data roaming and how it applies to you. We also look into alternatives to using your own data, and ways to avoid data roaming charges altogether.

In this
guide:

What is data roaming?

Data roaming is when your mobile phone uses data on a mobile network while you're in another country. Every time you connect to the internet, whether it’s checking your email, updating Facebook or using Google Maps, you’re using data. Using data abroad used to cost a lot of money, but recent changes have made it much more affordable.

What does 'roam like at home' mean?

According to new EU laws, mobile networks are now required to charge customers the same price for calls, texts and data whilst travelling in the EU as you would pay in the UK. This means that it will cost you the same amount to use data abroad as it does at home, as long as you don’t go over your contracted amount.

What about fair use policies for data roaming?

If your mobile network has a fair use policy, you may be charged more than you normally do for using data abroad. To avoid this, make sure you know what ‘roaming product’ your network offers before heading off abroad. You can check this by calling them up and asking if you’re not sure.

If your network offers ‘roaming services’, ‘roam like at home’ rules should automatically be applied to your account. If you are going abroad you should make sure this has been activated. To do this, simply get in touch with your network network.

If you’re already abroad but getting close to reaching your data limit, your network must send a notification informing you of the additional costs that will be applied if you continue to use data. This should give you the opportunity to purchase more, or you could simply stop using data.

What countries does 'roam like at home' apply to?

The EU countries included are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

It also covers: Canary Islands, French Guiana, Gibraltar, Guadeloupe, Guernsey, Iceland, Jersey, Liechtenstein, Martinique, Mayotte, Norway, Reunion, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, San Marino, Switzerland.

When you arrive in another country your mobile network should send you a message telling you about basic pricing on your visit.

What if I'm travelling outside of the EU, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein?

Roaming charges can be much higher outside the EU, and it might be a good idea to call your network and get them to talk you through their best mobile phone deals for travelling abroad.

Alternatively, it might be worth considering buying a SIM from the country you’re visiting. Be warned though, this will only work if you have an unlocked phone, so it’s worth checking if can do this before you get on the plane!

How do I avoid data roaming charges?

1. Use free Wi-Fi whenever you can

Most hotels and café chains now offer wireless internet free of charge. Make sure you check how long the Wi-Fi is free for though. Not all places will allow constant usage of free Wi-Fi, and may charge you after a certain amount of time.

You should also be aware that Wi-Fi coverage usually only extends to certain areas. So, if you’ve got roaming switched on, you could automatically be transferred to a local mobile phone network without being told.

Check if your network offers a roaming add-on

Most carriers now let you pay a little bit extra to get an add-on that gives you an allowance of data, texts and minutes to use abroad. If you pay for this, you’ll only pay the price of the add-on and no more. Ring your network to discuss this with them, and really think about what you’ll use your data for while away.

Consider buying a local SIM

As stated previously, another option to avoid roaming is a local sim. These keep the cost of calls and texts messages down and can be topped up with pay-as-you-go credit. This really is much cheaper and hassle free than paying for an add-on, or staying within strict confines when using free Wi-Fi. But remember that to use a local SIM you’ll need an unlocked handset.

Check whether your destination is bound by EU regulations

It might surprise you which countries aren’t bound to abide by EU usage caps. Turkey, Northern Cyprus and Egypt are all popular destinations that are outside the EU. Charges in Switzerland also vary on a network to network basis.

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