Roaming charges abroad - how not to get caught out

It’s all too easy to get caught out when it comes to roaming charges abroad. Here’s everything you need to know to avoid costly charges.

Family posing for a selfie on the beach
(Image credit: Getty images)

Roaming charges abroad can often be a sting in the tail for holidaymakers. When booking a holiday, we all often try to get the best deal possible - whether it’s finding the cheapest flights (opens in new tab), cheap airport parking (opens in new tab) or ways to save on holiday car hire. But it’s all too easy to forget to factor in costs you may incur while abroad in the holiday excitement. 

Whether it’s making reservations at a restaurant, looking up how to get to the nearest beach or posting fabulous photos on social media, you’re likely to want to use your phone on holiday. But will your provider charge you a fee to use your phone abroad? This guide will help you find out before you travel so you don’t get caught out. 

Roaming fees in the EU were scrapped in June 2017. That meant it was possible to use texts, minutes and data included in your package in Europe without anything extra appearing on your monthly phone bill. That changed following the UK's exit from the European Union, when mobile phone companies were allowed to charge again.

A number of mobile phone providers have now brought back roaming charges, and that means you will pay for each call, text as well as data usage if you're heading abroad.

Matt Sanders (opens in new tab), spokesperson for comparison website GoCompare, says: “EE announced that they would bring back roaming charges shortly after Brexit and it paved the way for other carriers to do the same. Vodafone and Three followed suit and it now costs another small fortune just to use your phone abroad, especially if you travel outside of Europe.”

Roaming charges - how much will I have to pay?

Now the UK is no longer part of the EU, the largest mobile phone firms are bringing back roaming charges. The first step to knowing how much you will have to pay in roaming charges is to understand the fees your provider applies. Of the largest providers, Three (opens in new tab), EE (opens in new tab), Sky (opens in new tab) and Vodafone (opens in new tab) have brought in roaming charges. O2 (opens in new tab), however, has committed to free EU roaming.

For EE customers, if your current plan started before July 7, 2021, you can use your included minutes, texts and data abroad at no extra cost. If your plan started after that date, there is an added daily fee of £2 to use your minutes, texts or data. You can purchase a Roaming Pass directly from EE for £10 which could save you some money. 

Vodafone customers can use included minutes texts and data at no extra cost as long as the contract started before August 11, 2021. But if your plan started afterwards (or after 29 September 2021 if you took out your plan through an indirect partner), there is an added daily fee of £2 to use your minutes, texts or data. 

At Three you can use your tariff allowance in 71 destinations if you have a Three Advanced Plan. For Pay Monthly customers who joined or upgraded on or after October 1, 2021, there’s a daily charge of £2 to do this in Europe.

O2 doesn’t charge anything extra for using your included minutes, texts or data within their Europe Zone. However, there’s a roaming limit of 25GB a month so take care not to exceed that or you’ll have to pay £3.50 for every extra GB you use.

European roaming charges by network

All prices as at 14th June 2022

SOURCE: GoCompare.com
NetworkCustomers this applies toRoaming charges in Europe
AsdaAll bundle customersAll bundle customers have a 25GB data roaming limit regardless of the amount of data included in your bundle. Once you have 25GB of data you will be charged 4p per MB, the same as you would pay for data in the UK.
BTRoam Like Home lets you use your UK calls, texts and data abroad in 47 destinations without paying extra roaming charges.None with Roam like Home.
EEIf your current plan started before the 7th July 2021, you can use your included minutes texts and data abroad at no extra cost.A daily fee of £2 to use your minutes, texts or data. You can purchase a Roaming Pass directly from EE for £10 which could save you some money.
GiffgaffAllGiffgaff plans can be used in Europe as you would in the UK at no extra cost.
O2O2 doesn’t charge anything extra for using your included minutes, texts or data within their Europe Zone but if you wish to visit a country outside Europe, you may want to consider purchasing a bolt on.None
SkyAll£2 a day with Sky’s Roaming Passport Plus pass
TescoAllNo extra charges in Europe as part of its “Home from Home” scheme.
ThreeYou can use your tariff allowance in 71 destinations if you have a Three Advanced Plan.For Pay Monthly customers who joined or upgraded on or after 1 October 2021, there’s a daily charge of £2 to do this in Europe.
VirginAllWithin the EU, you can use your UK allowance with Roam Like Home.
VodafoneIf your current plan started before the 11th August 2021, you can use your included minutes texts and data at no extra cost. But if your plan started after 11th August 2021 (or after 29 September 2021 if you took out your plan through an indirect partner), daily charges will apply.A daily fee of £2 to use your minutes, texts or data.
VoxiAll£2/day (or £1/day if you buy an 8 or 15-day bundle) from 1 June 2022 but you must buy a roaming pass with this network.

Roaming charges apply outside Europe too – this hasn’t changed. Costs will differ depending on where in the world you’re travelling and your provider - fees can vary dramatically between phone companies. The rule of thumb is that the further you travel, the higher the costs.

A study by consumer group Which? (opens in new tab) found that using data when roaming in the US varies significantly. Plusnet (opens in new tab) charges £6 per MB, compared to just 20p per MB with Giffgaff (opens in new tab), so users could potentially save £5.80 per MB by switching.

Matt Sanders from GoCompare says: “The charging differs between providers and so it’s crucial that you check the fees for roaming before you jet off so you can understand what costs you might incur. You should also research the ways in which you can avoid these fees.”

How to avoid roaming charges altogether

There are several ways to avoid coming home from holiday to a chunky phone bill. Before you leave home, make sure you download any documents you might need to access on your travels. If you want some entertainment while you're away, make sure you prepare in advance. Download TV shows, movies, podcasts and music to enjoy offline and avoid paying for using lots of data – or eating into a large chunk of bolt-on data. Even Google Maps allows you to download and store maps for offline use.

Before your flight takes off, switch your roaming off. It stops your phone kicking into action and racking up charges the second you turn your phone on when you land. 

It’s likely that wherever you land, the airport will have a WiFi network you can log into. Some might come with a sign up or a time limit, but there’s usually options if you need access to emails or apps to make your onward journey.

Once at your destination, there’s likely to be free WiFi in hotels, restaurants and cafes. If you need to make a call, make use of wifi calls rather than using and paying for minutes.

Mother and young son in bed using tablet

If you're staying in a hotel on your holiday, taking advantage of free WiFi can help you avoid roaming charges

(Image credit: Getty images)

How to cut the cost of roaming charges

So-called bolt-on packages offered by some phone providers can be useful to reduce the cost of using your phone while overseas. O2 customers for example can pay a single, fixed daily rate of £6 which will give them unlimited minutes and texts and all the data they need. There's no upper usage limit on data either. Over a two-week holiday, those costs can still rack up quite a bit – if you use it every day you’re away you’ll pay £84. It’s £6 a day for Vodafone and BT customers too. At EE you can pay £10 for a month’s use overseas.

Three’s Data Passport is £5 a day. Virgin Mobile doesn’t offer a package. 

Check what your own provider offers. If it’s no good, you could use this as an opportunity to review whether you’re happy with your phone provider overall and think about switching.

Deals from the ‘big four’ networks – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone - can be at the more expensive end of the market so make sure you check out deals from smaller phone companies that could mean getting a better deal on roaming, as well as your overall monthly bills. This might be on the radar anyway for Three pay-as-you-go customers which previously enjoyed free roaming, as the provider has recently axed this perk.

Matt Sanders of GoCompare.com adds: “If you weren't happy with your current provider's charges, you could always switch to a different provider. Switching is relatively easy and, in some cases, you don't even need to speak to anyone to do it.”

Firstly, check how long is left on your contract. Then decide if you can afford to pay any disconnection fees. If you are out of contract these won't apply.

Compare prices using a service such as GoCompare.com (opens in new tab), uSwitch.com and Moneysupermarket.com that can give you a shortlist of the best value deals. Bear in mind that Sim-only plans are often much cheaper as long as you don't need a new phone.

When you’ve chosen a new plan and you want to keep your number, you will need to request a PAC code from your existing provider and give this to your new provider.

Alternatively, getting hold of a local Sim can be a worthy exercise if you’re travelling to a destination outside the EU, because worldwide roaming can be expensive. This is a particularly good idea if you’re going to be abroad for a while, as many networks don’t allow roaming for long periods of time.

You’ll need to make sure your handset is unlocked to be able to use another Sim. If it’s not unlocked, you can simply ask your provider to unlock it for free

Holly Thomas is a freelance financial journalist and writes across all areas of personal finance, specialising in investments. Holly’s work can mainly be seen in The Times, The Sunday Times and the Daily Mail. Previously she worked as Deputy Personal Finance Editor at The Sunday Times, Money Editor at the Daily/Sunday Express and also at Financial Times Business. She has won a number of professional awards, most recently Investment Freelance Journalist of the Year at the Aegon Asset Management Media Awards in November 2021. Others include Freelance Financial Journalist of the Year at the Headlinemoney Awards.