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Don’t get burnt by a sky-high mobile bill: Our guide to roaming fees

You’ve bought travel insurance with Covid cover, crammed all your belongings into a carry-on suitcase in case your luggage is lost and even remembered to renew your passport months in advance to avoid delays.

But there is yet another holiday disaster you need to anticipate this summer: a shock mobile phone bill.

In 2017, new rules were introduced to protect travellers from punitive roaming charges and ensure they paid the same for calls, texts or browsing the internet while in the European Union.

Roaming: A quarter of customers have no idea how much it will cost to use their phone abroad

The arrangement ended after Brexit and, despite networks denying they had plans to exploit the situation, most have since reintroduced daily charges of around £2 a day.

This doesn’t sound like much, but would cost a family of four on a two-week break more than £100.

Fees can also be confusing and inconsistent — and many firms charge significantly more for using your mobile phone outside of the EU.

While some providers will automatically opt you into better-value roaming packages, others require you to purchase an add-on. Fail to do this and you could be met with eye-watering charges. Price caps limiting how much customers can pay also vary hugely.

Meanwhile, a report by consumer site MoneySavingExpert this week revealed that some providers even have different definitions for what constitutes a ‘day’.

Most consider this to be a 24-hour period from when the customer begins using data overseas. But one firm, EE, defines a day’s use as anything up to 11.59pm UK time. So if you sign up at 11.58pm, you would only get a minute’s worth.

It’s no wonder, then, that a quarter of customers have no idea how much it will cost to use their phone abroad, according to research by comparison site Uswitch.

One in seven are worried about racking up big bills. And in the age of data-hungry smartphones, they are right to be concerned as many apps automatically connect to the internet to check for updates — even during flights.

Holidaymakers also have weaker rights as charges for using your phone abroad are no longer regulated by watchdog Ofcom

Holidaymakers also have weaker rights as charges for using your phone abroad are no longer regulated by watchdog Ofcom 

Last week, Money Mail’s consumer champion Sally Hamilton exposed how quickly costs can spiral out of control, with a teenager racking up a £9,000 bill while in the Philippines.

Catherine Hiley, of Uswitch, says: ‘The rules around mobile data are particularly confusing.

‘Some providers impose a fair-use policy that caps the amount of data customers can use abroad even if they’re on an unlimited plan. These policies mean networks that claim to offer free roaming can still charge you if you exceed their limits.’

> We explain everything you need to know about travel insurance here.     

Holidaymakers also have weaker rights as charges for using your phone abroad are no longer regulated by watchdog Ofcom.

It means that, as of June 30, providers are not required to send customers text alerts with pricing details, cap fees at £45 per month or stop accidental roaming.

Most networks have pledged to continue following these rules for now. But some do not apply price caps to calls and texts, while others require you to set a spending limit yourself.

Martin Lewis, of MoneySavingExpert, says: ‘I’ve no faith in mobile firms to self-regulate. When we left the EU, they promised not to reintroduce European roaming charges, yet most of the big networks have broken that promise. We need formal, compulsory consumer protections.’

SIX TIPS TO SAVE 

1.. Check the small print before you travel.

2 Remember to buy a roaming bundle in advance.

3. Set a spending cap to avoid shock bills.

4. Put your phone in airplane mode before boarding plane.

5. Connect to a secure wi-fi connection wherever possible and use this to make calls.

6. Download any films, maps or audio you may want before you leave.

To help you avoid arriving home from your holiday to a shock bill, here we explain the different roaming deals on offer from mobile providers.

BT 

Roam Like Home is available on all BT pay-monthly contracts and allows you to use your UK plan in 47 EU destinations including Belgium and Poland at no extra cost.

When travelling outside of the EU you can buy a Travel Data Pass for 12 countries including Australia and Mexico. It costs £6 a day and gives you 500 MB of data per 24 hours. One MB would load one small webpage.

For a family of four, the total cost would be £168 a week but does not include calls or texts.

If you exceed 500 MB, charges depend on the country you are visiting. And if your destination is not included, fees also vary.

BT has a default monthly data spending cap of £40, but you can alter this to suit your needs.

EE 

If your contract with EE started before July 7, 2021, you can use your phone in the EU at no extra cost.

Newer customers will pay £2 a day to use their UK allowance in 47 destinations in EE’s European roaming zone. There is a 50GB limit and a default £45-a-month data price cap.

When holidaying outside of the EU, fees depend on if you have a Smart Benefits contract.

If so, you can add the firm’s Roam Abroad Pass and use your UK allowance in five international countries such as the U.S. and New Zealand without paying extra. If you’re not on a Smart Benefits plan, the Roam Abroad pass costs £10 a month.

You can also buy add-ons while abroad if you run out of data.

Customers with pay-as-you-go contracts must buy an add-on or risk being charged for calls, texts and data at EE’s standard international rate.

GIFFGAFF 

All customers can use their calls, data and texts in 37 EU destinations including Croatia and Greece at no extra cost.

As of yesterday, Giffgaff has reduced its 20 GB data roaming cap to 5 GB, after which you will be charged 10p per MB.

One GB is enough to listen to 12.5 hours of music or browse social media for 7.8 hours.

However, customers will still have unlimited texts and calls across the EU.

Fees when travelling outside of the EU depend on the destination. In the US you will pay £1 a minute for calls, 20p per MB of data and 30p a text.

Last year, Giffgaff introduced a £45 data-spending cap which is renewed on the first day of each month. This doesn’t include calls and texts. If you have a pay-as-you-go plan, you will be charged at your standard UK rate.

I was hit by huge charges 

Kirsty Lyon, 39, has been landed with two big bills after visiting Turkey

Kirsty Lyon, 39, has been landed with two big bills after visiting Turkey 

Mother-of-two Kirsty Lyon, 39, has been landed with two big bills after visiting Turkey this year. 

The author, from Stirling, Scotland, paid £6.85 a day for a roaming bundle with EE in April. But after exceeding its limits she received a £172 bill on her return.

When she travelled again in June she decided not to buy another package and used the hotel’s wi-fi. 

She didn’t realise the previous deal would reactivate automatically and was hit with another £214 bill. 

She says: ‘They hadn’t made the policy clear in their texts. Times are hard. That’s a substantial amount when you’ve got children.’ 

An EE spokesman said: ‘Travel Data Passes ensure our customers can roam without worry while they are abroad. On this occasion, the customer exceeded her data allowance on both trips, which was communicated to her on numerous occasions via text while she was abroad. Thanks to the Data Passes, the customer saved over £1,230 on her bill.’ 

O2

Roaming in O2’s Europe Zone is included so you can call, text and use data as you would at home.

But your data limit when abroad is capped at 25 GB even if your usual monthly allowance is higher.

Outside of the EU, selected tariffs include a Travel Inclusive Zone which lets you roam in 27 destinations, including New Zealand and the US. Or you can purchase an O2 Travel Bolt On, which gives you unlimited minutes and texts and all the data you need in 63 international countries for £6 per day.

If you are on pay-as-you-go then you will be charged in O2’s Europe Zone as you would be at home.

Roaming in O2's Europe Zone is included but your data limit when abroad is capped at 25 GB

Roaming in O2’s Europe Zone is included but your data limit when abroad is capped at 25 GB

PLUSNET 

Plusnet’s Roam Like At Home is available with all mobile plans and lets you use your call, texts and data allowance in 40 EU destinations. You can set up an individual smart cap to control your spending, but are automatically limited to 15 GB of data in any one month while overseas.

When using your phone outside of the EU, Plusnet does not yet offer a package, so costs vary depending on the destination.

It costs £2 a day for a Roaming Passport Plus pass, which gives you access to your UK data, calls and texts in 55 holiday destinations.

The pass is activated for 24 hours after you make a call, send a text or your data is turned on.

SKY MOBILE 

Sky Mobile sims have a data spending cap of £45 which is automatically applied, although you can change it online. If it is set too low you will be blocked from using your phone abroad.

Extra charges do not apply when visiting the Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands or Isle of Man, so you can use your mobile as you would in the UK. Outside of the EU, Sky Mobile’s £2 Roaming Passport Plus pass includes 11 countries such as the U.S. and Australia.

If you are visiting a destination not covered, ‘rest of the world’ charges apply for data, calls and texts. In Egypt this is £2.16 per MB of data, £2.16 per minute to make a call and 50p per text. 

TESCO 

With Tesco’s Home From Home deal, you can use your call, data and text allowance in 48 European locations, including Switzerland and Croatia, at no extra cost.

If you exceed your limit, you will pay the standard rate, as you would at home. There is also an automatic £40 data cap in place.

If you joined Tesco mobile after June 16, 2022, roaming fees will apply from January onwards

If you joined Tesco mobile after June 16, 2022, roaming fees will apply from January onwards

But if you joined Tesco mobile after June 16, 2022, roaming fees will apply from January onwards.

You will be charged 10p per MB of data, 20p a text message and 55p per minute for calls.

Outside of the EU rates depend on where you are. In Turkey, calls to the UK cost 69p a minute and data is £5 per MB.

For pay-as-you-go customers, Tesco has divided the world into four regions, each with different prices to make calls, send texts or use the internet.

THREE 

Three’s pay-monthly customers who joined or upgraded their plan after October 1, 2021, can pay £2 a day for Three’s Go Roam in Europe scheme, which is activated once you turn your data on, make a call or send a text.

This is available on all new plans and lets you use your allowance as you would at home. The Isle of Man and Republic of Ireland are excluded from roaming charges.

When outside of the EU, Go Roam costs £5 a day and is available to all plan holders who joined or upgraded their plan after October 1, 2021, when travelling to 71 countries, including the US, Australia and Cyprus. 

Three also offers a £5 per day Data Passport, which allows unlimited access to data until midnight UK time. It’s available in 89 locations, including Turkey and Azerbaijan, which are not included in Go Roam.

For countries excluded from Three’s packages, usage is charged at standard roaming rates. In Egypt this is £6 per MB of data. There is a £45 monthly data roaming cap in place and you’ll receive a text when you’ve reached 95 pc of your limit.

Go Roam is included in pay as you go data packs at no extra cost.

VIRGIN 

Virgin’s customers can use their normal call, text and data allowance in 43 EU destinations as part of its Roam Like Home scheme. 

However, outside of the EU calls, texts and data prices vary. In the US and Australia, calls cost £2 a minute, texts are 50p each and data is £5 per MB. Virgin does not have an automatic spending cap in place so you must set your own.

If you are on a Vodafone pay-monthly plan that started before August 11, 2021, there is no charge for data roaming in 83 worldwide destinations. There is a 25 GB a month limit.

VODAFONE 

Vodafone also has a spending cap of £39.33 per month, which is automatically applied to your account.

For newer customers, Vodafone has divided the world into four zones. If you do not have an Xtra plan with four Xtra Benefits you can pay £2 a day to use your UK allowances in Zone B, which includes 49 European destinations, such as Madeira and Croatia.

Once added to your account, the pass lasts for 24 hours from when you first send a text, make a call or use your data. Or you can purchase a European Roaming pass, which is £8 for eight days or £15 for 15 days.

If you’re not on an Xtra Plan, with four Xtra benefits and unlimited data, then using your phone outside of the EU in Zones C and D — which comprise 105 destinations — costs £6 a day. 

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