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What is data roaming?

Data roaming is when you use your mobile phone while you’re abroad by connecting to a network in that destination

woman travelling with mobile phone

When you’re on holiday or working away, it’s great to be able to keep in touch with friends and family, and use your phone for maps and other services.

However, this usually comes with a cost attached which can vary according to your provider and contract. If you’re unsure what your network charges for roaming, it’s a good idea to switch roaming off before you arrive at your destination.

Once you’ve checked if and when roaming charges apply, you can turn data roaming back on.

Roaming charges by provider

Before Brexit, most providers allowed you to use your UK minutes, texts and data in the EU. This was called the ‘Roam Like At Home’ agreement and still applies between EU countries. Since 2020, UK providers have been gradually introducing roaming fees. Your provider must give you notice if they’re planning to reintroduce data roaming charges.

This would likely be via text. Charges are calculated per 24-hour period, not midnight to midnight. New customers may be charged more, so it’s worth checking this if you’re planning to switch providers soon. Providers all tend to have fair usage policies to avoid overuse. The threshold varies, with some providers capping usage at 5GB/month and others at 25GB/month.

Vodafone roaming charges

Vodafone brought roaming charges back in January 2022. Typically, you pay £2.25 a day if you’re on holiday within Vodafone’s ‘Zone B’, which covers 47 Europe and EU destinations. This applies to anyone on a Vodafone Pay Monthly plan that started on or after 11 August 2021.

Instead, you could opt for an 8 or 15 day roaming pass in European destinations for £1 a day. Check the Vodafone website for which destinations are covered. If you want to roam with no charge, Vodafone offers a plan called EVO covering 83 destinations.

O2 roaming charges

O2 hasn’t brought back roaming charges for EU destinations. This means that in its Europe Zone, covering 40+ EU destinations, you can use your UK allowance of calls, texts and data (up to 25GB). Because this is designed for people on holidays or short breaks, there’s a roaming limit of no more than 63 days in any 4-month period.

Tesco Mobile roaming charges

You can use your data as if you were at home if you’re in a Home From Home destination, which includes 48 destinations in the EU and abroad. Tesco Mobile has promised not to introduce roaming charges for these destinations until at least 2025.

Three roaming charges

Three splits its roaming charges into two categories - Go Roam in Europe (£2 a day) and Go Roam in the Rest of the World (£5 a day). It also offers 3, 7 and 14-day passes which offer up to 2 days free roaming. There’s no daily roaming charge for anyone who started their Three plan before 1 October 2021. There’s also no daily roaming charge if you’re a Pay As You Go customer with Three. Three’s fair usage on data roaming is 12GB a month which is somewhere in the middle of the well-known providers.

Talk Mobile roaming charges

With Talk Mobile you can use your UK data, texts and calls in its 0, 1 and 2 zones. For destinations not in these zones, Talk Mobile has a set charge for each call you make or text you send. The costs for each destination are listed on their website. Once you reach the roaming fair usage limit threshold you can buy a Euro Holiday Booster. This is a bundle of data that must be used within 7 days.

Sky Mobile roaming charges

With Sky Mobile you can access your UK data, calls and texts in 55 destinations for £2 a day. This is called the Roaming Passport Plus pass and activates automatically as soon as you use more than 10MB in a day. Have a spending cap set? Sky advises you to check it before you travel as, if it’s too low, you won’t be able to use your phone.

Roaming charges in the EU

Prior to Brexit, it was uncommon to be charged for roaming in the EU thanks to a reciprocal agreement. However, now many providers have introduced roaming charges which tend to start at around £2 a day. If you’re away for two weeks, this would then add up to £14.

Roaming charges outside the EU

There are separate roaming charges for countries outside the EU. For example, data roaming in Barbados costs £6.85 a day with Vodafone, or £6 if you started your plan before 11 August 2021. Another tip is double-check whether your destination is included in the EU. Turkey, for example, isn’t in the EU so holidaymakers and business travellers would pay international rates, not EU rates.

Tips on avoiding roaming charges

To avoid your holiday costing more than you bargained, plan ahead to avoid roaming charges.

Use Wi-Fi as much as possible.

Many hotels, hostels and apartments offer free or cheap Wi-Fi, so jump on as soon as you check in and catch up on all your internet-based tasks. Use internet-based apps to make voice and video calls, where possible. Avoid doing tasks like internet banking using Wi-Fi as it’s less secure.

Download files before you leave the UK.

Take some time to download any podcasts, films or work documents before you travel. Although airports and hotels have Wi-Fi, it may not be as strong as your home broadband. Try to do any online banking before you leave as well, as while you’re away you will be relying on Wi-Fi which is less secure.

Choose a data roaming package.

If you travel regularly, it might be worth paying to upgrade your package to one that works abroad. With an inclusive roaming bolt-on, you won’t be paying the daily charge every day you’re away, so frequent travellers could save. Check whether this means you aren’t covered by the government’s £45 a month billing cap, introduced in 2020 when the UK left the EU.

Look out for alerts that you’re coming up to your £45 monthly billing cap.

You should get an alert when you reach 80% and 100% data usage - at which point you would need to make an active choice to keep spending. You can opt out of the cap if you already know you’re a heavy data user when you’re abroad.

Consider using a local SIM card.

Buying a local SIM card on arrival is a common tip from people who spend more than a few weeks in a destination. Your phone needs to be unlocked for a local SIM card to work so check this before you leave the UK. Alternatively, you can get an eSIM (embedded SIM) before you travel which will give you data but no calls or texts.

Watch out for unexpected roaming charges which may happen if you go over your normal UK allowances for calls, texts and data.

Before you depart, check if your provider has a ‘fair usage’ policy for data. Be careful on cruises as some cruise-goers have been caught unaware by charges from what’s known as ‘inadvertent roaming’. Check before you travel and consider buying a Wi-Fi package.

How do you activate roaming on your mobile plan?

Roaming will activate automatically when you arrive at your destination. Look out for a text from your provider that explains:

  • Whether you’ll be charged for roaming
  • The daily roaming charge (which will be added to your monthly bill)
  • Other options, including data bundles

You may also receive a text reminding you of any spending cap you’ve set, or signposting you to your account to check this.

How do you switch on roaming on your phone?

If you’re not sure if roaming charges apply for your network and the contract you’re on, it’s worth keeping roaming switched off until you know. Once you’re happy with the roaming charges, you can switch it back on.

How to switch on roaming on your iPhone:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Go to Mobile Service
  3. Go to Mobile Data Options and select Roaming Off
  4. Turn on Data Roaming

How to switch on roaming on your Android device:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Go to Network & internet
  3. Go to Internet
  4. Tap Settings
  5. Turn on Roaming

If you're a regular traveller and need a contract that gives you inclusive roaming, compare SIM only deals and see if you could switch now.

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