/ Technology

Over £1,000 to use your tablet abroad? You must be joking

Man using a tablet underwater

Just bought yourself an iPad 2? Want to use it abroad this Easter? You might be shocked by how much it could cost. We’ve discovered that data roaming can be 1,000 times more than equivalent internet use in the UK!

I recently got an email from a Which? member, Mark Jones. Mark planned to buy an iPad 2, due for release a few days after he emailed us, but he had questions about using it abroad:

‘I’ve never written to you in such detail before, but I feel compelled to tell you about this in detail. I travel to Turkey regularly so I am interested in the international roaming charges for data on iPad plans. I am disgusted with the findings of my research,’ he said.

When I followed up on Mark’s concerns – which focused mainly around operators’ lack of transparency and misleading information relating to iPad roaming costs – I soon understood why he felt the need to get in touch.

My colleague Catherine West kicked things off by trying to uncover tablet data roaming charges on company websites. In some cases she found that there wasn’t any information about this on tablet tariff pages. International charges were often only covered in a general price guide elsewhere on the site, meaning it’s left to us to guess whether data roaming charges for mobile phones also apply to tablets.

Up to 1,000 times more expensive

But transparency isn’t the only worry for iPad-using globetrotters. Within the UK, on a Sim-only tablet plan, one gigabyte (GB) of data typically costs between £7.50 and £15 a month. We discovered that data roaming can cost hundreds, even up to a thousand times, more than this equivalent UK use.

Tablet operators usually charge for international use on a per megabyte (MB) basis (there are 1,024MB in a GB) so it’s not easy to directly compare costs. And some operators have protections in place to minimise your risk of running up astronomical bills (such as 3’s £50 monthly bill cut-off). But let’s say they didn’t, and left you free to use a GB of data overseas – by watching a few hours of online TV, say.

This is how much I calculated that the UK’s five mobile networks would charge to use a GB of 3G tablet data in the USA. You might want to sit down for this:

  • Orange – £8,192 (it only allows data roaming on Samsung Galaxy Tab plans)
  • T-Mobile – £7,680
  • 3 – £3,072 (but pop over the border to Canada and that’ll be more than £10,000 please)
  • Vodafone – £600 (charged in usage blocks at a rate of £29.99 per 50MB per day)
  • O2’s tablet plans don’t allow data roaming – maybe that’s a good thing?

Up to £10,000 for a GB of web data? I thought I’d got my sums wrong. But careful checks by Catherine confirmed my calculations.

Data roaming charges beggars belief

Mark says he’s a proponent of the ‘caveat emptor’ rule – read the small print before signing up to any contract. If he can see the charges, he says, then it’s his responsibility to use the service within its limits.

That’s a very reasoned and rational approach – assuming that the transparency is there in the first place. But I’m occasionally inclined to be not-quite-so-reasonable about such matters.

And I reckon the sheer scale of these data roaming charges are frankly ridiculous for a device that was designed with ultra-portability in mind. Who’s with me?

Barbara says:
13 October 2012

Just on subject of above I suppose I am looking for the cheapest way to go on line as roaming charges are so expensive I have a 3mobile sim for use here

Here’s a comment posted on tripadvisor in June:

“…we purchased a SIM card for our ipad,15 euros for 1GB – excellent value and so much more convenient. There are plenty of Vodafone shops around Funchal, but we got our SIM card from a phone shop in the Dolce Vita shopping mall.”

Barbara says:
13 October 2012

Thanks that’s helpful thanks so much

rich says:
16 October 2012

help! my son having returned from his honeymoon in Ibiza in August, received a bill of over £250 through the ‘roaming’ issue! He had recently purchased a Samsung model from Orange. He was not offered the package that the ‘Which Report’ recommends when abroad. His wife has also received an hefty bill. There is no negotiation with Orange as they say it has to be paid. I can see Orange wanting payment but according to ‘Which report’ Orange are the worst offenders regarding the ‘roaming’ & not giving out sufficient info. Unfortunately both their phones are suspended at the moment.
Any advise please?

Gordon Knight says:
14 January 2013

I have to disagree that Vodafone offers a good all-round deal. For example, if you forget to switch off mobile data on your phone in Europe you pay a minimum charge of 69p, rising to £2 for up to 25 MB – not unreasonable for inadvertent or conscious but light use. If on the other hand you leave mobile data switched on on a tablet, you’ll be stung for a minimum of £8. Forget for a fortnight and you’ll be £112 worse off – and that’s even without consciously downloading a thing! It’s absurd that it costs at least four times the amount to use a seven inch screen as a five inch one. Wake up Vodafone or all we tablet owners will be switching off mobile data for good and just using wifi abroad!

Kim says:
24 March 2014

I have just recently bought a Lenovo Yoga Tablet from Argos. .I use it at home through my Sky connection. I am just about to go to Amsterdam and then on to Tunisia. Am I correct in saying if I use wifi abroad I wont receive ANY charges?

Silly question I guess but just have read so many horror stories. .Its clear I shouldn’t be charged anything (as my broadband provider is Sky) but just wanted to confirm.

Wouldn’t dream of taking my mobile (Vodafone/contract) as have been stung before.

If you use a free wifi hotspot, then of course you won’t receive any charges. If you use an Internet café or similar, you’ll pay local charges for their wifi connection.

The same is true of your mobile – you don’t need to be afraid to use it for data abroad. Use it in a free wifi hotspot – no charges. Use it on 3G or other mobile data connection – pay through the nose. To avoid the risk of rip-off mobile data charges, simply switch off roaming.

Since your Yoga doesn’t have a mobile data connection(?), you can’t possibly be charged anything but local wifi connection fees. Stick to free hotspots. They’re increasingly ubiquitous; McDonald’s is a good bet in many countries, as are other burger bars and cafés, or try libraries.

You do understand the difference between mobile data services and wifi?

Heather Le Feuvre says:
19 July 2014

I have a Lenovo tablet wi fi only which I want to use in Spain what alternatives other than dragging it to free hotspot or renting a pocket device from a Spanish provider around 80 euro for a month. Would buying my own be better I am on Orange here with a plan for my main home phone and another computer. Hope this is not too silly a question I am a bit of a dummy when it comes to connectivity