/ Technology, Travel & Leisure

Update: EU roaming charges are not quite a thing of the past

Paris phone

It seems we’ve seen a step back on roaming charges after the European Commission announced a catch on what appeared to be an otherwise great win for travelling mobile phone users.

For a while there, it looked like the worry of how to keep up to date with Facebook and emails, and the ever-risky endgame of ‘bill shock’ was going to be a thing of the past. After keeping us all in suspense for a fair few years, the European Parliament finally announced last year that it would be scrapping EU mobile roaming charges. At the time, this was taken to mean an end to uncertainty about using your mobile in the EU.

Roaming charges

Whenever I go on holiday to Europe, one of the first things I do is switch my phone to airplane mode – and that’s not just for safety reasons.

Unless it’s a real emergency, I’ll leave it like that for the whole trip, as I’m always terrified of getting home to a massive bill having accidentally gobbled up data while I’ve been having fun and taking it easy.

As much as I find it relaxing to go without my phone for a week or so, it would be nice to have the choice of staying online rather than entering a communications black hole.

Indeed, there are some provisions in place to protect consumers from astronomical mobile phone bills, such as text alerts and caps for reaching a certain thresholds – but to entirely remove the worry was what we were expecting.

The European Commission has said that consumers could only ‘roam’ for 30 days at a time and only for a total of 90 days in a year. After that, fees will still apply, with a cap of four cents [around 3.4p] per minute, one cent [0.83p] per SMS and 0.85 cents [0.71p] per MB.

This may well cover many consumers’ needs, but the crux of it is that it hasn’t really put an end to roaming fees at all. It’ll be fine for those people doing short trips within the European Union (EU), but anyone planning on spending over a month at a time there will still face the same old problems, as will anyone who needs a phone there for over 90 days of the year.

If you frequently travel within the EU, perhaps you split your time between there and the UK, travel there for work or are doing an Erasmus year at a European University, then your UK mobile is still going to cost you extra if you want to use it.

A fair charge?

So, at least at first glance, this is a bit of a setback in the fight for genuinely free mobile roaming. For now, I’ll just have to put up with airplane mode.

Update: 13 September 2016

The proposal by the European Commission to cap free mobile phone roaming in the EU at 90 days per year has been withdrawn.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said:

‘We have been listening, and now we are going back to the drawing board and we will come up with a better proposal’.

New guidelines are expected to be released in the coming days.

What do you think to mobile roaming charges? Do you think it’s fair to charge people extra for using their mobile while abroad? Or do the new guidelines go far enough for your needs?

Update: 22 September 2016

The European Commission has scrapped plans to cap free mobile phone roaming in the EU at 90 days per year and announced that there will be no limits on time or the volume of data used.

Officials revised proposals to put a limit on free roaming after it was met with widespread criticism.

Andrus Ansip, EU Commissioner for the Digital Single Market, said: ‘We will not put any kind of limits on duration or, how many days (travellers) can enjoy no roaming surcharges, but we decided to put some clear safeguards on residency,’

The new arrangements will be based on where phone users live or an EU country they regularly visit for work, and are expected to be finalised by the end of 2016.


Roaming charges in the EU are one thing but BEWARE if travelling by ferry!
I got stung with maritime roaming costs on the Dover to Calais crossing, 2 phones – 2 crossings – £40!!

No where on-board warned of this either.

Yes, unfortunately it can be very expensive when that happens. I went to Rhodes recently and was warned by friends to be aware because it can connect to Turkey- I kept a very close eye on it for the whole holiday.

Hi Richard, when did this happen? Roaming charges within the EU were dropped from July this year. If this happened recently then something probably went wrong with your bill. Let us know if we can help

Keith Tilmouth says:
13 October 2017

Hi Guys, does anyone know where I can find the cost of data roaming charges per MB if I haven’t had a bundle or package for the USA. Taken my company phone and bill has come in at £210 for 3 days of 500mb. What to understand how this cost is made up.

Hi Keith, you should find this information in the original contract, if you’re not able to access this I would advise contacting your network provider who should be able to help.

Beware travelling even within the UK!!! WHICH? NEEDS TO CAMPAIGN FOR ACTION ON UK FERRY MOBILE CHARGES!!! – or at least warn people..
Travelling on the Stenaline ferry (between Cairnryan in Scotland & Belfast, N Ireland) now regularly sees Tesco Mobile (O2) trying to charge us “Region 2, 3, or 4” data rates (about £13/£14 for 45 minutes of data) – even tho we’re never outside UK waters!! Yes they now refund the additional monthly charge (for 3rd time).
Stenaline conditions state:- “The costs charged to you are not within Stena Line’s control. If your mobile phone picks up the MCP network you should receive an SMS informing you that you are now on the MCP network and that call rates are charged at International mobile phone rates which are considerably higher than your regular call costs, the details of which you should obtain from your own service provider” (no SMS ever received). … and
“Important information: EU Roaming fees – Whilst roaming charges when travelling in EU countries ended on 15 June 2017 the EU roaming rules only apply when you are connected to terrestrial mobile networks. (IS THIS CORRECT? ARE FERRIES EXEMPT?) The EU binding price cap does not apply if you use your mobile phone onboard via the ferry’s satellite connection and therefore the charges set by your network provider can be high”. Or it seems, even connecting to UK Tesco Mobile!! Their advice is now to switch mobile off when on ferry!!
Ofcom states “EU legislation requires that mobile operators take reasonable steps to protect their customers from paying inadvertent roaming charges”… but not, it seems to ferries operating within the UK!

My wife is with Plusnet Mobile and we have just been to Corfu which I am sure Which readers will know is a large Greek Island to the West of Greece. My wife’s phone kept connecting to an Albanian supplier, Albania is about 8km away across a busy seaway. She woke up with a message that she had run out of credit and so contacted Plusnet and asked them to correct the situation, they refused. What is the legal situation, we were 8km away from Albania according to Google, do we have to pay? It is only about £30 but it is annoying, because of the block, she couldn’t ring or text her elderly mother in France. I think there is still a lot of room for improvement on what is clearly a good thing,

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How did you manage before mobile phones ?? People just had too !!

Just wondered if you ended up
Paying or did u disbute it ?

My phone has apparently connected to Turkey whilst in Cyprus . My provider sent tx to say all use same as home . Returned to bill if £600. Can I dispute this?
Anyone been i the same situation
Any one with good out come
Have spoken to them and as gesture of good will they have taken £200 off

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Hi Sue,I’m sorry this has happened. Did you receive any text while abroad to confirm you were connected to Turkey? We have got some advice on what to do if your phone bill is too high, including complaints procedures and payment plans. You can find this information here – https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/my-phone-bill-is-too-high-how-do-i-challenge-it

I hope this helps

I’ve just come back from Cyprus. While there, I did receive texts from Vodafone initially asking if I’d like to add 2GB of data to my plan for an additional £8.33, which I did as I was using my phone for google maps etc. so needed the mobile data. Later in the holiday, I received a further text advising I’d used the additional 2GB and offering me the option to take the cap off, which I did. I had anticipated that with the price of the additional cap, I’d spend quite a bit more than my usual monthly bill (approx. £50) so anticipated a bill for around £100 at a guess. My bill has just come through and its a grand total of £968. I accept that I was using more than my contractual data usage but surely there has to be some obligation to make the customer aware that they are spending significantly more than their normal monthly spend. Surely as essentially a financial provider, this is irresponsible. I need to phone the company tomorrow to discuss and am praying that they will reduce this bill somewhat. Otherwise, I’ve no idea how I’m going to come up with the money to pay this.

Just curious….. I have the same issue. What did you end up doing?

Andrew Booth says:
31 December 2018

Thought I would pass on my issue. My daughter just received a text from Virgin saying that I she had run up a bill of £50 for data usage on my mobile phone whilst traveling through Switzerland. Her phone was connecting to the web for updates to data for her apps. All the rest of the family using BT and EE were fine. Having now read the small print on the Virgin site, it seems that they don’t regard Switzerland as being sufficiently in the EU so they can pass on roaming charges. I tried contesting this with Virgin but they are insisting I have to pay. If I do, I won’t be buying anything from Virgin again.
Beware of this one. Virgin will charge you to use your phone in Switzerland.

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27 February 2019

A simple question,is the time noted on a bill for roaming charges whilst in Barbados local Barbados time or UK time,my service provider seems at a loss to clarify.

David says:
11 December 2019

I’m looking for a new tariff – probably sim-only. Before choosing I want to know what it will cost if (1) I use more minutes/data than the plan provides and (2) I use my phone outside the EUI – probably Turkey. Is there a simple way to find out?

Hi David, this information should be available from phone company websites. For example, I managed to find giffgaff’s charges for Turkey in the drop down menu on this page-giffgaff.com/roaming-charges

David says:
11 December 2019

Thanks Derek, but you’re assuming that I know which provider I’m going to choose – which I don’t. Checking several provider websites doesn’t meet my idea of ‘simple’.

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David, you may be correct to conclude this isn’t simple and, in Turkey, you can easily be stung by high roaming charges.

Never mind, come Brexit, the rest of the EU will probably become just as expensive.

David says:
11 December 2019

Thanks Duncan – very useful.

I went to Florida using the O2 Travel Inclusive Zone Bolt-on. It offers free unlimited data in the USA. But what they don’t tell you is that the data is throttled. I tried to download the Uber app at the Miami airport and 30 minutes later, it was still downloading with only a couple of percent of the file downloaded. So I switched to the airport wifi and the app finished downloading in 30 seconds.
The rest of the trip was the same. Data was so slow I couldn’t even use Google Maps in the car.
I think this is a consumer ripoff. I had no problem with a similar program at Vodafone for the past few years. I really regret moving to O2 now.
I searched the internet on this issue and O2 admits that they throttle data when roaming.