/ 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.


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Yes, this could get complicated by the EU exit process, but the government could declare that UK citizens will enjoy the same facilities and T&C’s as those in continental countries and direct Ofcom to make that happen. The government will be desperately looking for ways to make Brexit palatable to a lot of people who will be disadvantaged and this is an easy one.

There is more than one way of making a telephone call and when I last looked they still had landlines in the rest of Europe. Landline calls could be more economical than mobile calls but it would be advisable to check first. Landline calls from hotels are unlikely to be cheaper, but again – it’s worth checking. That won’t help with keeping up-to-date on social media though, but some sacrifices are worth making.

Some people have become obsessed by mobile phones and want to use them everywhere and all the time The are very useful but why can’t some people manage without one for even a few minutes. The have taken over and rule some people’s lives. The would rather die if they could not hold one in their hand all the time It they want to use one everywhere the should expect to pay not get to use one for free

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I’m often enough in France to think that the next time I’m there I may buy a SIM card. A friend of mine stays in the Canaries and has two SIM cards, one for the UK and one for Spain. It’s ridiculous what we have to do to circumvent greed on the part of mobile phone companies, but there we are.

I haven’t looked into it in too much depth, but Lycamobile for example seem to offer this: no contract, keep your own number (nae use in my case, I would want 2 numbers), free calls between Lycamobile numbers, cheaper national and international calls, a multilingual customer service. Another example is LeFrenchMobile ( :0) ), at first glance they seem to offer something interesting.

Some phones are able to take 2 SIMs (eg Motorola G which I have). V easy to use and allows you to choose which SIM you want to make a call or use data through dynamically. I think there are also dual SIM add-ons for phones which only have one SIM slot.

Not ideal, but this is not as bad as it seems.

People who are going abroad for such protracted periods, should just buy a PAYG Sim card for the country in which they are spending so much time. They are cheap, or free when you top them up with enough for your anticipated use. It will be cheap to use and as it’s PAYG, cannot result in unexpected charges.

Of course, thanks to Brexit, you may be spending much less time in the EU anyway.

PeterM says:
10 September 2016

I spend 3 months in Portugal every six months and have a local PAYG Sim. However, if you forget, once home in the UK, to use the foreign Sim occasionally you lose the credit on the Sim along with the phone number and will have to buy another Sim (which means a new phone number) when you return. I use Lycamobile and have to remember to make at least one call every 61 days – it’s easily forgotten!

have just been abroad got 1000 minutes contract but was told by manager in EEstore that UK was not in europe so numbers phoned in UK were charged extra

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It’s all a bit familiar. “Let’s make it as complex as possible a la power industry to confuse the consumers.”

Well that’s what has been achieved. What I’d like to see is genuine removal of roaming charges so that if I have a package deal that gives me 500 mins calls, unlimited texts and 5 GB data a month, it should be valid anywhere in the EU.

But the EU is incapable of getting anything right which is why we are leaving.

Have to say everywhere you go today you young and some not so young with mobile phones stuck in the ear or they are texting, it has become an epidemic. Since I retired I have blown my phone out of the window, when I go on holiday it does not get switched on for a week, it is blissful. For some reason I seem to survive I just don’t how but I do. At the end of the day I suppose I am one person the mobile phone companies will never make money out of, leave that to business and the young.

I don’t wish to publicise a particular mobile provider but I’m with 3 (Three) and we get all our minutes, texts AND data up to our monthly limit weather in UK or Europe. In fact we spend nearly six months in France (in three trips) and it works fine for us.
What will happen on Brexit we will have to wait and see!

More importantly, we should be pushing the phone companies to guarantee no roaming charges for UK customers if we leave the EU. We could find ourselves paying roaming charges at the rate fixed for non EU states.

If the companies do not agree then it may be possible to buy a pay as you go phone from an EU country (Ireland for example) and use that when on trips to Europe.

I feel distinctly relaxed about these proposals. My wife and I have EE phones, and it’s a lot cheaper to use these on the continent than when back in the UK. EE charges us 40p per min (rising to 50p shortly) for calls in the UK, but when we were in Norway last week, we got texts from EE saying that the charge to phone anywhere in Europe would be 3.7p per min, capped at GBP2 per day. It’s a mad world.

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The dual SIM card phone is the route I took – phones that take two cards are now widely available at similar prices to those with only one card. Both my SIM cards are PAYG, one for UK and one for Cyprus, so no nasty bill surprises. Additionally, if I am in a third country and wish to make a call, I can choose to make it with the SIM that has the lowest charges – almost invariably the Cyprus card!

Here’s an update for you all, the proposal 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.

Whatever the outcome, it will only be for two years or so as it will not necessarily apply after we leave the EU. In any case, I would imagine the companies will put their charges up generally to cover any loss of income from this measure. Stay at home citizens will pay more.

I cannot see any reason why this measure cannot continue after we leave the EU. It will soon become an ordinary element of each company’s pricing strategy incorporated in their tariff. They are hardly likely to reintroduce a separate roaming charge [and also impose that on visitors to the UK from the EU]. It’s a good reason to ensure there continues to be a healthily competitive UK mobile phone market so no more consolidation should be allowed.

Bryan says:
12 May 2017

On arrival at my departure airport for a 11day holiday after checking in my baggage I was handed a letter with my name on but no date saying my accomadation was not available although this had been confirmed in February 2017
the letter stated we could have fourty pound compensation each or cancel the holiday which had been paid for by credit card
What are my options our holiday was totally ruined was not of our choice did not meet the specification we had booked plus on arrival at the destination airport we had to endure over a two hour wait before being told to try out the accomadation the company had provided

Having checked in manually we arrived at gate 12 we waited 10 hours before being told our flight was ‘Cancelled’ and instructed to ‘Go home’. The queue for BA Information was endless so we didn’t try to retrieve our checked luggage. By that time we were exhausted. No tannoy announcements were made at any time – only a couple of enterprising BA staff stood on a desk and shouted into the crowd (now dense as no planes were relieving the build up in Departures.) We were supposed to be flying to Rome to join a Cruise ship which sailed at 6pm and although our tour operators tried to see if they could get us on any flight at all – by any carrier – to catch up with the boat at any port en-route, their efforts were all to no avail. There was no possibility of joining the cruise and so our holiday was aborted.
It was a thoroughly unpleasant experience made worse by no communication at all from BA.

I am a bit confused , is it still free to phone or text if you have a GB contract and phone say a Spanish phone number whilst in Spain. Or is it just that you don’t pay roaming charges if you phone from Spain to GB?

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As I understand it, Lionel, UK travellers in the EU will be able to use their phones with no roaming charges just as though they were making the call from the UK. So the call charge for a call from a UK registered phone in Spain to a Spanish registered phone in Spain will be the same as if the call were made on the UK phone within the UK. If there is a need to make numerous calls on the Continent then a local sim card could be more economical. It can be replaced with the UK sim card after making the local call so that incoming calls will still be received. Couples with two phones between them can probably sort out a workable arrangement.

Beware the Faroe islands. I discovered the hard way last week that, despite the Denmark connection, they are NOT in the EU.

I have been on a cruise around the Shetlands because of weather problems we could not dock i did pick up a signal from shore and received my emails, when i did go ashore and got Wifi found my phone blocked due to excessive roaming charges £639.00 When contacting Virgin told because we were close to Faroe Islands,
Tried to talk this through with Virgin, said your problem not ours, the thing is i never used my phone and do not know how roaming charges accommodated to this amount in a period of 2minits. I have a limit of £200 on my tariff so how come i have been charge this excessive amount.

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BEWARE: Montenegro is a European country using Euros for currency but NOT in the EU. £15 per MB !!!