Mobile roaming charges in Europe: What you need to know

09 Sep 2021

Source: BBC News

Three has become the latest big UK mobile operator to announce that it is going to start charging its customers extra for using their phones in Europe.

It follows the example of EE and Vodafone.

Between 2017 and the end of 2020, UK consumers were able, within reason, to use the minutes, texts and data included on their mobile phone tariffs when travelling in the EU.

But since January 2021, UK operators have been allowed to reintroduce so-called roaming charges because the UK left the EU and the Brexit trade deal did not rule them out.

What charges will there be?

None of the networks will be charging for roaming in the Republic of Ireland.

From 23 May 2022, Three customers who have signed up or upgraded from October 2021 will have to pay £2 a day to use the minutes and data from their UK contracts in EU countries.

It is also introducing a £5 a day charge for roaming in some countries outside the EU, where it previously allowed free roaming.

EE will also be charging £2 a day in Europe. It will introduce the charges in January 2022 for customers who joined or upgraded their contracts after 7 July 2021.

There will be 30-day packages available for people travelling for longer periods.

Vodafone’s charges will be applied from 6 January, from when it will have three types of tariffs:

  • Its cheapest sim-only deals do not allow any use apart from emergency calls outside the UK and Ireland
  • Some of its more expensive Xtra plans will include roaming at no extra charge
  • The rest of its tariffs will offer roaming for £2 a day. Eight-day and 15-day passes will be available for £1 a day.

All four of the big operators previously said they had no plans to introduce roaming charges. O2 still says that.

Are there any other charges?

Even with the extra charges, there are “fair use limits” on the amount of time that customers will be allowed to use their phones abroad.

You cannot, for example, get a mobile phone contract from Greece and then use it all year round in the UK.

UK customers have been told that their operators will charge extra if they spend more than half their time overseas, generally measured by being in another country for more than 62 days in a four-month period.

That could have happened while the UK was still part of the EU, but some operators have only just started enforcing it.

Similarly, data limits are also subject to fair use restrictions. Customers of O2 have a monthly data limit of 25GB and will be charged £3.50 for each GB after that. Vodafone’s limit is also 25GB with a £3.13 charge per GB after that.

Three has cut its fair use limit from 20GB a month to 12GB and will charge £3 per GB above that.

The planned £2-a-day fees are still relatively small compared with the costs customers had to pay before the EU banned roaming charges.

In the past some people returned from European trips to face bills for hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

Are there any limits to what can be charged?

The UK’s trade deal with the EU said that both sides would encourage operators to have “transparent and reasonable rates” for roaming.

The UK government also passed legislation to provide some safeguards for consumers:

  • A £45-a-month limit on the amount they could be charged for using mobile data abroad before having to opt into further use
  • Requirements for customers to be informed when they have reached 80% and 100% of their data allowance
  • Operators also have to take “reasonable steps” to avoid customers being charged for accidental roaming in Northern Ireland, which could happen if a phone there locked on to a mobile signal coming from the Republic of Ireland

Why have companies ended up charging customers more?

Without the EU rules in place, the charges levied depend on agreements between UK operators and their counterparts in EU countries.

Both sides may have seen this as an opportunity to make some money both from UK customers visiting EU countries and EU customers coming to the UK.

The four main operators in the UK declined to comment on the commercial deals they have with other operators.

The UK government recommends that customers check the details of their individual tariff with their phone operator before travelling.

The regulator Ofcom has also issued some guidance.

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