/ Technology

Steer clear of mobile phone bill shock this summer

Mobile roaming

Have you ever come back from a relaxing holiday only to be hit with a huge phone bill? One in six people who have used their mobile phone abroad in the last year feel your pain…

There always seems to be so much to plan for before a holiday. Holiday essentials, travel insurance, boarding passes… the list can seem endless. But do you plan for using your mobile phone abroad?

If you cap your mobile phone bill and your bill is above this cap, you can challenge this total. It’s worth giving your mobile phone provider a call to see if they provide this service before you leave to avoid being stung by your bill. And 48% of people that we surveyed didn’t know that this was possible.

So what else can you do to ensure that you’re hit by a big bill?

Roaming Regulations and you

From midnight tonight, the EU’s Roaming Regulation will lower the price caps for data downloads when you are travelling within the European Union.

The maximum charge for outgoing calls, excluding VAT, will now be 19 cents per minute, six cents for outgoing text messages, and 20 cents for a MB download of data. Ten cents is equivalent to eight pence Sterling.

If you receive an excessive bill after using your mobile phone abroad, you can challenge your mobile phone provider – four in 10 people that we surveyed didn’t know this. Our guide about challenging excessive bills could help if you find yourself in a sticky situation.

If talking to your provider fails, one of the mobile phone ombudsmen may be able to help you out – CICAS or Ombudsman Services: Communications. Your mobile phone provider must belong to one of these schemes. Take a look at how to take your complaint to the mobile phone ombudsman.

Word of warning…

Be careful though – these Roaming Regulation caps do not apply everywhere! Nearly half of people surveyed thought the price caps applied to all countries within Europe, but they don’t – they only apply to the nations in the EU.

So be careful if you are travelling to non-EU countries, such as Turkey, or indeed other holiday destinations outside Europe.

Have you ever been stung by an excessive phone bill? Did you know you could go to your provider about it?


The price caps are specified in EUR without VAT in Articles 8(2), 10(2) and 13(2) of Regulation (EU) No 31/2012, and in order to convert the price caps to GBP, the EUR/GBP exchange rate is calculated in accordance with Article 1(7) by taking the average of the exchange rates published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 1st March 2014, 1st April 2014 and 1st May 2014, which is 0.82581. Consequently the price caps are now £0.1569/min for outgoing calls, £0.0495 for outgoing SMS and £0.1652/MB for data. UK VAT of 20% is then added when roaming inside the EU VAT area, but not when roaming in parts of the European Union or wider European Economic Area that are outside the EU VAT area, specifically Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Gibraltar, the Åland Islands, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion, the Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla, in accordance with Article 19 of the Value Added Tax (Place of Supply of Services) Order 1992. This is because the United Kingdom opted to exempt non-EU VAT area roaming from UK VAT under Article 9(3)(a) of Council Directive 77/388 (“the Sixth VAT Directive”) so that it could charge UK VAT on services used in the UK but billed outside the UK (e.g. US-based services marketed to UK residents).

Make sure that your network doesn’t breach the new price caps by adding an additional 20% when roaming in the Canary Islands or Norway for example. Most networks get this right, but some don’t.

All this aside, the best solution, until December 2015, is to use a local SIM card. I avoid using my UK SIM card outside the UK so I pay the same as a local.

Nearly half of people surveyed thought the price caps applied to all countries within Europe, but they don’t – they only apply to the nations in the EU.” – This is incorrect. The price caps apply throughout the European Economic Area, which comprises the European Union plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.

Phil says:
7 July 2014

Easy solution:- Turn the bloody thing off! It’s one thing I’m pleased to get away from when I’m on holiday and there are few things more annoying than finding yourself next to someone who’s supposed to be having a relaxing break but is instead having a long conversation about work on his/her mobile.

gg says:
7 July 2014

Even better would be to never turn it on. If you let it connect to a roaming network, you can be charged simultaneously for incoming and outgoing calls every time someone leaves you a voicemail (think £2 per minute or part minute), and that’s even if you never retrieve your messages.

Phil – You make an incorrect assumption that most people use their mobile phones for work. On the contrary, most people have smartphones for their leisure use, which includes maps and other apps for finding and using local services, wherever one happens to be in the world. Turning it off is an absurd idea; one might as well not have bought it in the first place.

gg – In the context of European (EEA) roaming, this is incorrect. Charging for incoming roaming calls diverted to voicemail has been unlawful since 1st July 2010.

Many of the settings I use to minimise my UK data costs effectively keep roaming costs down too. Most importantly, turn off any automatic synching, notifications and anything non-essential running in the background. Then track down the setting that can stop services updating while the screen is off, there’s only a tiny lag to update these things when you switch it on. Finally, it’s quicker to switch ‘airplane’ mode on or off than switch the actual phone on or off frequently but it has the same benefit in terms of savings. This really saves battery use as well!

And I sit on a sun bed in Corfu right now still utterly confused. I wish mobile operators simply had a “push button A” or “push button B” approach to tariffs.

simon harrington says:
27 February 2015

my wife has just come back from 5 days in las vegas, and having just checked her bill online, i am furious. £365!!! she made a few calls to me and me to her when she was over there, but vodafone are saying that because i didn’t register beforehand with their US tariff (£5 a day) i have to pay everything. so in essence it could have cost me £25, yet has cost me £365. how can this be right or even fair? the only text message she had was about charges for sending pictures and the like. surely vodafone, like other companies, have a duty of care to revert you to a tariff which will be the cheapest when overseas, and also inform you how much you are actually spending. neither of which they did. any ideas what i can do about this, as obviously i can’t afford to pay the bill. any help would be massively appreciated.

Hi Simon, I’m sorry to read about your wife’s excessive phone bill. We have lots of really useful advice about this matter that I’m sure you’ll find interesting to read through, here:


stephen reid says:
5 December 2017

FYI: Cruising in Europe. I have just been given a refund by BT mobile for roaming charges incurred while on a cruise from Southampton to Spain in early November 2017, I had a low upper limit set of under £30 so it would not have been a disaster if they had not refunded me.There were two issues that I have asked BT to investigate as well:

1. Via an online BT chat I was told that my roaming package would cover me for a European cruise. It does not once you are at sea (even if you can see land) you are probably being charged at International rates of about £9 a MB.

2. While at sea but very close to the French coast I received a text from BT saying I was on the French network and my roaming package was valid. I switched on roaming and 5 minutes later I received an email from BT telling me I had reached my personal roaming limit.

So I would suggest the following:
set your phone to airplane mode (or switch it off) until actually in port and on dry land and have received a confirmation alert/text telling you that your roaming package is valid .
Make sure your roaming charge upper limit is as low as possible.