UK residents face higher mobile charges when travelling in Europe, as several phone operators have brought back roaming fees for calls, text messages and data usage post-Brexit.
After the withdrawal from the European Union, the UK is no longer part of the EU’s ‘roam like at home’ initiative, which allows people travelling in the European Economic Area (EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) to make calls, send texts and browse the web using their national plans at no extra cost.
If the plan’s allowance is exceeded, the roaming fees are capped and the price is set to decrease over time. Free roaming started in 2017 for an initial period of five years, but the regulation has been extended for another ten years.
How much UK-EU roaming costs
Now that the UK is no longer part of the programme, some network operators have reintroduced roaming charges for Europe.
Vodafone UK – For contracts started after 11 August 2021, Vodafone has introduced European Roaming Passes, which cover 51 European destinations for £2.25 per day, with an option to purchase an 8-day pass for £10 or a 15-day pass for £15. Free roaming in Europe continues under Vodafone’s Xtra Plan, whilst roaming in Ireland remains free on all plans.
EE – For plans started after 7 July 2021, EE charges £2.29 per day to roam in 47 European locations, Ireland excluded. Alternatively, there is the Roam Abroad Pass, which costs £10 for a month.
Three UK – Except for pay monthly plans that started before 1 October 2021, Three charges £2 per day for European roaming, Ireland excluded.
O2 – Customers with a UK data allowance of over 25GB have a 25GB data limit with O2’s Europe Zone at no extra cost. Beyond the limit, they are charged £3.50 per gigabyte.
Other networks, such Asda Mobile, giffgaff, ID Mobile, Lebara, SMARTY, Plusnet Mobile and Tesco Mobile, also still offer free EU roaming, at least up to certain data limits.
Under UK law, charges for mobile data used abroad should be capped at £45 per month, and consumers should receive alerts when they are at 80% and 100% of data usage so they can continue roaming only if they chose to keep spending.
It is always worth checking the contractual conditions before departure, also considering that roaming in destinations outside the EEA is usually more expensive.
Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection Policy at UK consumer group Which? commented: “Since Brexit, many UK consumers have seen roaming charges reintroduced when holidaying in the EU – leaving some landed with unexpectedly high mobile bills. These charges can vary, even for customers of the same provider, depending on when you joined or upgraded and the type of contract you have. People should check what charges will apply to them before they travel.”
She added: “As the UK continues to negotiate trade deals, it should take the opportunity to lower the cost of roaming for consumers travelling around the world. The UK and EU should also work to strike a deal on roaming charges to stop companies chipping away at the roaming benefits customers have become used to and to ensure the high charges people used to face do not return.”
Agreement with Norway and Iceland
The UK signed in 2022 an agreement with Norway and Iceland to cap charges for making calls, send texts and using data while travelling.
As of June 1st 2023, Norwegians and Brits can continue to “roam like home”, the Norwegian Embassy in London has announced.
How to avoid big spends
Research by the UK communications regulator Ofcom has found that “nearly one in five holidaymakers (19%) are unaware they could face extra charges when using their mobile abroad and a similar proportion (18%) do not research roaming charges before travelling”.
Ofcom thus proposed new rules requiring UK providers to alert customers when they start roaming and what charges will apply, as well as actions to limit spending.
Ernest Doku, mobile expert at Uswitch, a price comparison service, said: “We strongly support Ofcom’s proposal of new roaming rules. There are virtually no regulatory protections left for consumers when they use their phones abroad for calls, texts or data usage, an issue that we have been very vocal about since the EU protections expired.”
“While many providers have competitive roaming policies in place, there is massive inconsistency across providers, plans and destinations, both in terms of cost and also the information available,” he added.
Ofcom also issued recommendations on how to avoid big spends on roaming abroad. Tips include buying bundles to reduce costs, setting spending limits before travelling, and checking charges to see where roaming applies.
Once abroad, Ofcom suggests turning off mobile data to limit usage, using local wi-fi networks where possible, and avoiding data-heavy activities such as watching videos or downloading large files.
Claudia Delpero with research from Luca Watson © Europe Street News, all rights reserved
Photo by Mauro Bottaro © European Union, 2017, source: EC – Audiovisual Service
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