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Roaming charges explained: a guide to mobile networks’ roaming rules

roaming charges

Can you still use your phone for free in the EU? What add-ons are there for cutting your roaming charges bill when you’re travelling further afield? Read on as we take a good look at the roaming rules from the most popular mobile networks.

What is international roaming?

Roaming is the official term for using your phone overseas and kicks in whenever you travel outside your mobile network’s UK coverage area.

Because your phone can no longer connect to your normal home network, it’ll start to ‘roam’. This is when it connects to another available mobile network in order to receive texts and calls and access the internet.

Unless you’ve turned off data roaming on your device, you’ll be deemed as roaming as soon as you arrive in another country and your phone connects to a local network.

What are roaming charges?

The term ‘roaming charges’ refers to the higher prices that mobile networks typically charge for using your phone overseas. 

Depending on the country you’re visiting and your network’s roaming policy, you may have to pay more to make calls, send texts and use mobile data.

To that end, it’s a good idea to get informed before you head off for your break. Luckily, we’re here to arm you with the information you need.

Are EU roaming charges affected by Brexit?

roaming

Between 2017 and the end of 2020, all major UK networks offered free roaming in the EU. Customers could use their UK allowances in European destinations for no extra charge.

However, due to Brexit, that’s no longer the case. Since January 2021, some of the bigger networks have been slowly reintroducing roaming charges and changing their policies on fair usage.

At the time of writing (August 2023), networks that have reintroduced roaming charges in the EU include:

The change in these networks’ EU roaming policy means customers now typically have to pay an extra daily fee to access their UK allowances of data, call and texts.

Nevertheless, there are still networks that offer inclusive EU roaming. Many budget networks – giffgaff, Tesco Mobile, Asda Mobile, iD Mobile, SMARTY, Lycamobile and Lebara – still include EU roaming for no extra charge in their plans. But there’s usually a fair usage policy in place, which limits the amount of data you can use while you’re away.

And bigger names like O2 also allow you to use your plan in Europe as you would back home, without having to pay more.

However, this information is liable to change. Even if your network says it has no plans to bring back EU roaming charges, there’s no iron-clad guarantee that it won’t do so in the future.

It’s always best to check with your network before you go on holiday, so you’re not caught out by unexpected roaming charges.

An at-a-glance guide to networks’ EU roaming charges after Brexit

EU roaming charges can be complicated, especially as networks continue to update their policies in the wake of Brexit.

We’ve outlined each of the major networks’ policies for EU roaming charges (as of August 2023) below.  

EE roaming charges in the EU

If you signed up to a pay monthly handset contract or SIM-only plan with EE on or after 7 July 2021, you’ll have to pay for its Roam Abroad Pass.

This costs £15 per month, and allows you to use your UK data, calls and text allowance in EE’s European roaming zone (as well as USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand).

It works as a 30-day rolling add-on. But if you have an 'All Rounder' or 'Full Works' plan with EE, you can select the Roam Abroad Pass as an Inclusive Extra, so you won't need to pay anything extra.

A fair usage policy for 50GB will apply when roaming abroad, even if your plan comes with more than 50GB of data per month.

O2 roaming charges in the EU

Out of the ‘big four’ networks in the UK, O2 is the only one to not reintroduce roaming charges.

That means O2 customers can still use their UK allowances in its 48 ‘Europe Zone’ locations – all for no extra cost.

However, do keep in mind that there’s a roaming limit of 25GB a month. This means if you go over 25GB of data roaming, you’ll have to pay £3.50 for every extra GB you use – even if your UK plan has a monthly data allowance of more than 25GB. 

The good news is that you most likely won’t exceed this data usage during your trip.

Three roaming charges in the EU

If you’re a Pay Monthly Three customer who joined or upgraded on or after 1 October 2021, you’ll need to pay a daily charge of £2 to access the ‘Go Roam in Europe’ scheme. This allows you to use your plan as you would back home, for 24 hours.

It’s available automatically on all plans. 

Vodafone roaming charges in the EU

Vodafone has quite a few different roaming rules for the EU, depending on the plan you have, when you signed up for it, and where you’re travelling.

If you signed up for a pay monthly plan before 11 August 2021, you won’t face any changes to roaming on your plan. You’ll be able to keep on using your UK allowance in the EU as normal, for no extra cost.

On the other hand, roaming charges apply for customers who started a pay monthly plan, or upgraded or changed their plan, on or after 11 August 2021. What you may need to pay depends on where you’re travelling and the plan you have.

If you’re travelling to Vodafone’s ‘Zone A’, which comprises Ireland, Isle of Man, Iceland and Norway, no roaming charges apply.

However, if you’re visiting any of the 47 EU destinations in Vodafone’s ‘Zone B’, you’ll need to pay a £2.25 daily charge to roam.

For longer stays, you can buy a one-off European Roaming pass – either £8 for eight days or £15 for 15 days – to bring that daily charge down to £1.

If you have a Vodafone Basics Plan, roaming isn’t included at all.

On the other hand, some Xtra plans come with EU roaming at no extra cost, as well as inclusive roaming in other worldwide destinations – more on that below.

A fair usage limit of 25GB applies.

Sky Mobile roaming charges in the EU

Sky Mobile customers will need to pay £2 a day for its Roaming Passport Plus pass. This gives you access to your UK plan in more than 55 destinations, including the EU, USA, Australia, and more.

iD Mobile roaming charges in the EU

All iD Mobile plans come with inclusive roaming in 50 destinations in Europe for no extra charge.

There’s a 30GB fair usage policy in place to prevent people living abroad permanently or for extended periods from using iD Mobile. If you roam more than you’d normally use your phone at home over a 4-month period, iD Mobile will ask for proof that you have strong ties to the UK, like a UK bank statement or recent bill.

And if you don’t have proof, and continue to exceed its fair usage limits, you’ll be charged a surcharge on minutes, texts and data used.

However, such cases are rare – and most likely won’t affect you if you’re simply going abroad on holiday.

giffgaff roaming charges in the EU

You can use your giffgaff SIM in the EU and selected destinations as you would at home, at no extra charge.

However, you'll be capped at 5GB a month – if you go over, you'll be charged 10p per MB of data usage.

Talk Home Mobile roaming charges in the EU

Talk Home Mobile offers free roaming to customers travelling within Europe. So, you'll be able to use your data, calls and texts as normal, at no extra cost.

What's more, Talk Home Mobile doesn't apply any data caps or throttling, so you can use your SIM plan without any restrictions.

Tesco Mobile roaming charges in the EU

Tesco Mobile's Home From Home scheme lets you use your UK data, minutes and texts in 48 locations in Europe, at no extra cost. It’s available for both pay monthly and pay as you go customers.

And if your allowance runs out, you’ll only need to pay Tesco’s standard rates as you would at home.

Like iD Mobile, Tesco Mobile’s fair usage policy is to prevent people living abroad from using Tesco Mobile. If it seems you are spending more time abroad than at home, Tesco Mobile may add a surcharge on your phone usage.

SIM deals for EU roaming

If you're looking for a SIM-only deal you can use while travelling in Europe, here's a snapshot of the SIMs you can get – all with inclusive EU roaming:

Roaming outside the EU

If you’re travelling beyond the EU, you’ll normally need to pay extra to use your phone. And if you’re paying for every MB of data, minute and text used abroad, it can amount to a hefty bill.

However, many major networks offer options to help keep your international roaming costs reasonable. These include add-ons that you can add to your existing plan, allowing to use your phone as you would at home, and data packages that give you a certain amount of MB for a daily fee.

If your network doesn’t provide any add-ons for roaming worldwide, you’ll typically need to buy credit out-of-plan and use your phone on a pay as you go basis. Standard international roaming rates apply, depending on the country you’re visiting.

Which network is best for roaming?

networks

The best network for data roaming largely depends on where you’re going. Some networks offer inclusive roaming in the EU, while others are better for roaming worldwide. And roaming rules can differ quite a bit between networks.

No matter which one you’re with, you’ll likely have the option to buy add-ons that’ll cut the cost of roaming in locations beyond Europe.

You'll usually need to activate your travel add-on, either by texting your network or adding it in your app. So, it's important to check you've done that before you set off.

We take a look at what each big-name network has to offer below… 

Three data roaming

Three’s Go Roam scheme covers 71 countries worldwide. It’s made up of ‘Go Roam in Europe’, available on all plans, and ‘Go Roam Around the World’, available on all plans except Essential Plans.

For a daily charge of £2 in Europe and £5 worldwide, you’ll be able to access your UK plan as normal, for 24 hours. European roaming is subject to a fair usage policy, while international roaming isn’t.

International destinations covered by ‘Go Roam Around the World’ include USA, Australia and popular locations in South America.

Three also offers a Data Passport add-on. This allows you to use as much data as you like, until midnight UK time, for a £5 a day. It’s available in 89 locations, some of which are not included in the Go Roam scheme. It also lets you use your phone for tethering, which you can’t do with Go Roam –very handy if you want to use the internet on another device.

It’s worth mentioning that Three was voted by consumers as the best network for roaming at the uSwitch Mobile Awards 2020.

  • Three sim only
    5G
    • 40GB of 5G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • download speed limit
    • £10.00 per month
    12 month contract From Three Mobile
  • Three sim only
    5G
    • 120GB of 5G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • download speed limit
    • £12.00 per month
    24 month contract From Three Mobile
  • Three sim only
    5G
    • 120GB of 5G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • download speed limit
    • £12.00 per month
    24 month contract From Three Mobile

Vodafone data roaming

Customers who signed up or upgraded with Vodafone on or after 11 August 2021 are subject to the network’s new roaming policies.

Vodafone’s roaming destinations are now split into four ‘zones’:

  • Zone A: Republic of Ireland, Isle of Man, Iceland and Norway
  • Zone B: 47 European locations
  • Zone C: 32 worldwide locations
  • Zone D: 73 worldwide locations

Most Vodafone plans come with free roaming in Zone A. But you’ll need to pay a £2.25 daily charge for using your UK plan in Zone B (Europe), and a £6.85 daily charge for Zone C and Zone D.

Selected SIM plans do come with free roaming, however. Depending on your plan, you might get inclusive roaming to 51 European destinations (Zones A and B), or 83 worldwide destinations (Zones A, B and C).

To give an example: if you have a plan with 3 Xtra benefits, you'll get inclusive EU roaming in Zones A and B. But if you're travelling further afield to a location in Zone D, you'll still need to pay £6.85 per day to use your phone plan as normal.

If you have Vodafone Basics, Vodafone's cheapest plans, it does not offer inclusive roaming at all. So you'll have to pay extra if you travel to any of Vodafone's roaming zones.

Vodafone’s roaming rules are certainly a little more complex than other networks. Nevertheless, it covers an extensive range of worldwide destinations – much more than other networks, in fact.

To be on the safe side, it’s always best to check your roaming plan before you head off on holiday. 

  • Vodafone sim only
    4G
    • 6GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • download speed limit
    • VeryMe Rewards
    • £7.00 per month
    12 month contract From Vodafone
  • Vodafone sim only
    4G
    • 30GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • download speed limit
    • VeryMe Rewards
    • £8.00 per month
    12 month contract From Vodafone
  • Vodafone sim only
    4G
    • 30GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • download speed limit
    • VeryMe Rewards
    • £8.00 per month
    12 month contract From Vodafone

O2 data roaming

o2 logo

As mentioned above, O2 is the only major network to still offer inclusive roaming in 48 European locations with all its plans. This is a huge plus point if you mainly travel within Europe.

For those travelling beyond Europe, there are a few options available.

O2 customers will be able to add the O2 Travel Bolt On to their plan. For £6 per day, you can enjoy unlimited data, texts and minutes in 63 destinations outside Europe (including USA, Canada and Australia).

With selected O2 Refresh and SIM-only tariffs, you’ll get the O2 Travel Inclusive Zone Bolt On as part of your plan. This way, you can roam in 27 international destinations for no extra cost.

There's no fair usage limit, but data speeds are capped at 2Mbps – so, fast enough to watch Netflix in standard definition on your phone.

  • O2 sim only
    5G
    • 15GB of 5G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • download speed limit
    • EU roaming included
    • £7.99 per month
    12 month contract From O2
  • O2 sim only
    5G
    • 15GB of 5G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • download speed limit
    • EU roaming included
    • £7.99 per month
    12 month contract From O2
  • O2 sim only
    5G
    • 15GB of 5G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • download speed limit
    • EU roaming included
    • £7.99 per month
    12 month contract From O2

EE data roaming

ee logo

If your plan with EE started on or after 7 July 2021, you’ll have to pay roaming charges.

As mentioned above, EE offers a Roam Abroad Pass that allows you to use your plan as normal. It's a rolling add-on that lasts for a month, and you can add and cancel it whenever you want.

As well as 47 European destinations, the Roam Abroad Pass works in five international countries: USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. It's the only way to use your allowance outside Europe – although it doesn’t cover many international locations, unfortunately.

If you have an EE plan that comes with Inclusive Extras, you can select Roam Abroad as a benefit. That way, you won't have to pay £15 for the Roam Abroad Pass.

MoneySuperMarket’s expert verdict

Overall, which network is best for roaming largely depends on where you normally travel to and how often you go abroad.

It’s worth noting that many budget networks still offer inclusive EU roaming, while most major networks have reintroduced charges.

On the other hand, major networks generally offer much better international roaming options that help cut the cost of roaming beyond Europe.

In contrast, budget networks don’t normally offer any add-ons or data plans for worldwide roaming at all. Instead, you’ll need to pay standard international rates, which can be very expensive.

When it comes to the big four networks, O2 is the only one to still provide free EU roaming. Moreover, it has a decent international add-on that lets you use your UK plan in 27 locations beyond Europe.

Ultimately, the best network for roaming comes down to your needs. If you mainly travel in Europe, and only go to a more far-flung destination on occasion, you may find that the inclusive EU roaming offered by most budget networks fits the bill perfectly.

However, if you regularly take trips to countries outside Europe, it may be well worth considering the likes of O2, Three and Vodafone.

No matter the network you’re with, it’s good to be conscious of roaming charges when you’re abroad. There are ways to take care of your phone usage and minimise the risk of unexpected charges – read our page for tips on avoiding roaming costs.

How do fair usage policies affect roaming charges?

Many networks apply a fair usage policy for customers who are roaming. This effectively puts a cap on how much data you can use while you're overseas. Most networks have a cap of anywhere between 5GB to 25GB a month. There may also be a cap on calls and texts too. 

To give an example, let’s suppose your UK plan has a data allowance of 25GB per month. Your network might have a fair usage policy of 10GB of data. In this instance, you can use up to 10GB of data while you’re in locations covered by your network’s roaming scheme, for no extra charge.

However, any data you use beyond that cap of 10GB will cost extra, even though your UK allowance is more than the cap.

And on the flip side, if your plan at home gives to 8GB per month, you’ll need to pay more if you exceed that – even though the cap is 10GB.

According to a 2022 survey by Atomik Research, the average person uses 5.64GB of roaming data per week. So, unless you're going away for longer than a week, or you're with a network with a lower fair usage allowance, it’s unlikely that you’ll exceed your network’s fair usage cap.

In most cases, fair usage policies shouldn’t affect you at all. It’s mainly in place to prevent people living abroad from using a UK network, as data roaming is meant for UK-based customers on holiday.

Networks are also obliged to let you know once you’ve reached 80% and 100% of your data allowance. This’ll help you to monitor your usage and avoid going over the cap.

Nevertheless, it's worth keeping an eye out on your usage. Atomik Research found that a quarter of Brits have been hit by unexpected roaming charges in 2022, averaging £262. So, if you’re still worried about accidentally racking up excess charges, get in touch with your network before you travel to confirm the fair usage cap on your plan.

Frequently asked questions

How will I know if my network is scrapping inclusive EU roaming?

The law stipulates that mobile networks must give customers at least a month’s notice of changes to their contract, which includes updated roaming policies.

You’ll most likely receive notification of any alterations by text.  

How do I get in touch with my network to check roaming charges?

You’ll find contact details for all the major UK mobile phone networks in our one-stop guide.

In general, you should be able to get in touch with your network via a helpline, online live chat or by logging into your account.

Should I leave data roaming switched on in the UK?

Yes. As all networks have 4G coverage across most of the UK, you’ll only ever connect to your own mobile network. As a result, leaving your data roaming switched on when you’re in the UK means you can access 4G and 5G when you’re out and about.

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