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Best SIM card and network for roaming 2024

Whatever your travel plans this year, choosing a SIM only deal with roaming will reduce the risk of a big phone bill on your return.

man in hat travelling with mobile phone

Whether you’re holidaying in the EU or going further afield, with a roaming plan from one of the best networks, you can relax even more.

What is mobile roaming?

If you use your phone outside the UK, this is known as roaming. Because your home network isn’t available, if you make a call, text or go online, you’re connected to a local mobile network. This is based on the commercial agreements your provider has with foreign operators. Unless roaming is included in your monthly plan, overseas usage falls outside the terms of your contract.

Extra charges are likely to apply, and the cost can vary hugely depending on where you are. For example, roaming charges in Saudi Arabia can be up to £2.34 a minute for calls and £65 per GB of data, depending on the provider. Roaming charges also differ depending on whether you’re in the EU or elsewhere.

The government has added 20% VAT to roaming charges outside the EU. Under Ofcom regulations, providers must publish details of their standard roaming charges on their website. If you can’t find that information, talk to them directly about their roaming policy. It’s a good idea to check before you go away to make sure you’ll be properly covered.

While you’re overseas, you may receive automatic text messages when you arrive at your destination. These give you basic pricing information for using your phone abroad. You can opt out of these messages, but they can be helpful to prevent excessive charges mounting up.

Avoiding unexpected international roaming charges

To avoid spending more than you intended while you’re away, watch out for the following:

Inadvertent roaming

Sometimes, the mobile signal from a nearby area is stronger than the signal where you are. This can lead to unexpected roaming charges. In some instances, providers protect you from this risk. For example, if you’re in Northern Ireland, you could pick up a signal from the Republic of Ireland, which is outside the UK. But no UK network will charge you for this.

Local network charges

If ‘data roaming’ is turned on, you could automatically be transferred to a local mobile network and charged accordingly. If roaming isn’t included in your SIM only deal, you can avoid extra charges by turning off data roaming and using WiFi to get online.

Numbers excluded from inclusive international roaming

These phone numbers typically include: premium numbers (starting with 118, 09, 070) non-premium non-geographic numbers (084, 087) free numbers (080) some international numbers

How did Brexit affect roaming charges in the EU?

Before Brexit, you could use your phone in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein without extra roaming charges. The law changed after 31 December 2020. From then on, it was up to the mobile operators whether to charge or not.

Providers now fall into three categories:

  1. Providers offering SIM only deals with roaming included. These plans come with a fair usage cap on data ranging from 5GB to 30GB.
  2. Providers planning to bring in roaming charges in the future. By law they must give you a month’s notice before they change their prices.
  3. Providers already charging for EU roaming. This is usually done in one or more of three ways: with a data roaming add-on to cover a certain destination and time period as an additional daily charge (usually around £2 a day) as a charge per MB of data used

Ofcom has announced that new roaming protections will apply from 1 October 2024. It wants to ensure customers are treated fairly and given the information they need to make good choices.

SIM only deals and the best network for roaming

The best network for roaming depends on:

  • where you’re travelling to
  • how often you use your mobile while you’re away
  • whether you’re calling, texting or using the internet

Some SIM only deals are great if you’re staying within the EU, others are better for worldwide travel. Always check on the provider’s website which countries are covered by its SIM only free international roaming policy.

In the Uswitch Telecoms Awards 2024, O2 was the winner in the Best Network for Roaming category. Customers liked its customer-friendly stance. It’s also the only major network to offer EU roaming for free when you’re abroad. Lebara Mobile and Lyca Mobile offer SIM only deals with free roaming in India. For other worldwide destinations, iD Mobile’s SIM only deals cover the EU and beyond, up to 30GB.

Below are some of the current SIM only deals with roaming included within the EU, EAA (European Economic Area) or worldwide.

Provider Inclusive roaming options SIM only deal monthly starting price Data allowance Countries covered
Lebara Mobile
EU/India roaming up to 30GB
"£1.48 for 3 months, then £4.95"
"35 EU/EEA destinations, plus India"
iD Mobile
Roaming up to 30GB with a UK allowance of 30GB or more
"50 destinations in the EU, EEA and worldwide"
EU roaming up to 15GB or 5GB depending on when you joined
44 EU/EAA destinations
EU roaming up to 25GB
"45 EU/EAA destinations,Known as the O2 Europe Zone"
EU roaming up to 12GB
37 EU/EAA destinations
"EU roaming ,Data cap varies depending on the plan"
38 EU/EAA destinations
Lyca Mobile
EU/India roaming up to 12GB
"£3.49 for 3 months, then £8.90"
"30 EU/EEA destinations, plus India"

Compare network international roaming plans

If international roaming for your chosen destination isn’t included in your SIM only deal, you can normally add it but there’s typically a cost involved. Depending on the provider, this could be on a short-term basis to cover your trip or as an ongoing extra.

More broadly, roaming plans vary hugely between providers. Below is an overview of what to expect from some of the biggest mobile providers in the market.

Three international roaming

Go Roam This plan is made up of two parts: Go Roam in Europe and Go Roam Around the World. Together they cover 71 international destinations.

Go Roam in Europe costs £2 a day, which unlocks your daily allowance. This includes:

  • calls and texts back to the UK and other Go Roam in Europe destinations
  • using your data up to the fair usage cap

Go Roam Around The World costs £5 a day. With this you can:

  • call and text the UK; calls or texts to international numbers aren’t included
  • use your data up to the fair usage cap

Vodafone international roaming

Xtra Global Roaming plans

Vodafone’s international roaming covers 83 worldwide destinations. Inclusive roaming plans are different for Pay Monthly and Pay As You Go Customers.

Pay Monthly Xtra Global Roaming from Vodafone

These details apply if your plan started after 11 August 2021. If your plan started before then, login to your My Vodafone account to find out where you can roam.

Vodafone divides the world into five zones:

  • A - Republic of Ireland, Isle of Man, Iceland, Norway
  • B - ‘Europe Zone’ 47 European destinations
  • C - 32 worldwide destinations
  • D - 73 worldwide destinations
  • ‘Rest of the World’ - 69 worldwide destinations, divided into 4 zones

All plans include roaming in Zone A. Selected Xtra Plans include other zones.

With Xtra Plans that include roaming in 51 European destinations (Zones A and B), you can use your UK allowance at no extra cost. If your plan doesn’t include this, it costs £2.25 a day. Alternatively, save money with a European Roaming pass.

With Xtra Plans, which include roaming in 83 worldwide destinations (Zones A, B and C), you can use your UK allowance at no extra cost. If your plan doesn’t include this, it costs £6.85 a day. Roaming in Zone D costs £6.85 a day.

For Pay As You Go Xtra Global Roaming from Vodafone

There are four zones: A, B and Rest of the World as above, plus ‘Around the World Extra’, which covers 73 additional destinations. Roaming is included in Zone A. What you pay outside Zone A depends on your destination and the plan you’re on.

European Roaming passes are a way to cut costs if you’re travelling in Europe (Zone B). Choose 8 days for £10 or 15 days for £15. Otherwise, you pay £2.25 a day for European roaming. If you signed up to a Vodafone Basics plan before 22 July 2022, international roaming isn’t included.

O2 international roaming

O2 Travel Inclusive Bolt On / O2 Travel Bolt On

If you're a Volt or Pay Monthly customer on selected O2 Refresh and SIM only tariffs, you get the O2 Travel Inclusive Bolt On at no extra charge. This gives you unlimited minutes, texts and data roaming in 27 destinations outside the O2 Europe Zone. Within the O2 Europe Zone, you can Roam Like Home using your UK calls, texts and data up to 25GB.

The O2 Travel Bolt On is available to Pay Monthly customers for £6 a day and Pay As You Go customers for £1.99 a day. You get unlimited data, texts and minutes to 63 destinations outside the O2 Europe Zone, including the USA, Canada and Australia.

Looking for Virgin Media international roaming?

The O2 services above apply, as Virgin Media uses the O2 network and merged their mobile services in 2021.

EE international roaming

Roam Abroad Pass

If your Pay Monthly or SIM only deal started on or after 7 July 2021, roaming charges will apply. In EE’s European roaming zone, this is £2.47 a day. If you have a Pay As You Go Subscription pack, you can get Roam Like Home for 24 hours (£2.50 a day) or Roam Like Home for seven days (£10). For frequent travellers, the Roam Abroad Pass allows you to use your standard texts, minutes and data plan allowances up to 50GB. It’s a 30-day rolling add-on and costs £25 a month.

If your mobile plan includes Inclusive Extras, then it’s free. The Roam Abroad Pass covers 47 European destinations, plus the USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. It’s the only way to use your allowance outside Europe.

iD Mobile international roaming

All iD Mobile SIM only deals and Pay Monthly plans include international roaming to 50 destinations, with a fair usage cap of 30GB. iD separates countries into Band 1 and Band 2. If you’re in a Band 1 destination, you can use your minutes to call the UK or someone in the same Band 1 destination. Texts and calls to Band 2 destinations or other international numbers aren’t included.

Sky Mobile international roaming

Roaming Passport Plus

Using your device abroad costs £2 a day with the Roaming Passport Plus. This includes 55 destinations worldwide, including EU countries, USA, UAE, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. For other destinations, ‘Rest of the world’ roaming charges apply.

You decide how much you want to spend each month on extra charges and set the spend cap. Roaming and international charges, including the Sky Mobile Roaming Passport Plus £2 charge, count towards this monthly cap. If your limit is too low, you’ll be blocked from using your phone abroad.

TalkTalk international roaming

For travel to 48 European destinations (Zone Europe), Roam Like At Home applies. Calls, texts and data use come out of your allowance up to the fair usage cap.

If you go beyond Europe, roaming charges are itemised separately on your bill as additional charges based on zone.

  • Zone 2 - Asia Pacific
  • Zone 3 - USA and Canada
  • Zone 4 - Rest of the world (including Switzerland)

BT Mobile international roaming

Travel Data Pass

The BT Mobile SIM is already set up for trips abroad. Switch on Roam Like Home and you can use your call, text and data allowance in 47 destinations without paying extra roaming charges.

These destinations are divided into Roaming Zones 1a and 1b. Outside the EU, you’ll need the Travel Data Pass if you want internet access. This gives you 500MB for £6.47 a day and starts automatically when you use data in an eligible country.

Eligible countries are Andorra, Australia, Canada, China, India, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, UAE and the USA.

There are some destinations where BT Mobile doesn’t work or you can’t use data roaming. In other locations, you’ll need to switch from 4G to 3G.

giffgaff international roaming

For Pay Monthly customers with Plans (previously known as ‘goodybags’), roaming in the EU and selected destinations is included. However, there is a data cap of 5GB. After that, you’ll be charged 10p/MB. Pay As You Go customers can use credit.

Calls, texts and data are charged at PAYG UK rates. Outside the EU, you’ll have to add credit to your account to use your phone as normal.

Tesco Mobile international roaming

Under the Home from Home plan, EU roaming (Zone 1) is included for Pay Monthly and Pay As You Go customers until 2025. This covers 48 destinations. Calls, texts and data come out of your allowance.

There are 7 other zones and data costs vary depending on the region and the date of your plan - either before or after 19 January 2023.

  • Zone 1 - Europe
  • Zone 2 - Rest of Europe
  • Zone 3 - Asia, Middle East, CIS and others
  • Zone 4 - Oceania
  • Zone 5 - Africa
  • Zone 6 - North America, including Mexico and the Caribbean
  • Zone 7 - Central and South America
  • Zone 8 - Monopolies/special countries

SMARTY international roaming

For SIM only plans with calls and texts, EU roaming is included with a data cap of 12GB. If you need more you can buy a data add-on.

If you’re on a 16GB Voice plan or above, the EU Data Pass unlocks the 12GB EU roaming limit. You can use your full data allowance with no restrictions. Choose a one or three-day pass.

For trips outside the EU, get a SMARTY Out of Plan add-on for £5, £10 or £15. This allows you to pay as you go and you only pay for what you use.



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