/ 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?

Mark Jones says:
21 April 2011

I am staggered by your figures for 1Gb of roaming use. Hopefully Which? can use its influence to slap down those networks that fail to make these charges clear and of course also cut them down to size. Who can possibly argue that these charges are reasonable and proportionate? Clearly they are not and arguably they could not be enforceable as the magnitude of the charges are unfair? Now I can see in black and white the magnitude of this case of ‘Rip-off Britain’ I hope that Which? exposes this scam to the wider media bringing pressure on the networks to get their charges back down to planet Earth.

Kevin Lynch says:
21 April 2011

Unlike iPhones with a network provider subsidy that iPads are NOT locked to a network provider. If you are abroad just buy a local sim. No signficiant issue.

Mark Jones says:
21 April 2011

If I buy an iPad from a network operator shop, eg Orange, Vodafone or a tier 2 provider like Carphonewarehouse or fones4u I will get a locked device and I cannot pay the full price to get an unlocked device. Unlocked devices can be bought from places like John Lewis, Apple and its independent Apple resellers and Tesco.

Of course, buying a local SIM is the way to go and this is what I will be doing with my unlocked iPad. However remember that iPad SIMs are not the normal size. You need a micro SIM and these are comparitively rare in the UK let alone abroad. Although it is possible to cut a regular SIM down to the same size as micro SIM you’ll need a template and a sharp knife to achieve this. Not really my idea of fun on holiday, but I’ll do it to avoid the rip-off costs of my UK network provider.

Also if I’m heading to a beach resort that is away from a major town local pay-as-you-go SIMs good for data are not going to be easy to get hold of so I’ll have to order online and get it posted to the resort for my arrival or have it sent to the UK hoping it will arrive at home before I leave on vacation.


To reply to Mark, NO, that isn’t the way to get yourself a micro-sim! Buy a sim cutter for a few pounds on Amazon or elsewhere. It’s a bit like a stapler. keep both bits of the sim card and use them together when you want to revert to a standard sim card.


I use Vodafone, and have to be honest that it is the only network that I can speak with of knowledge, but if you phone them before you go, speak to the team there, you can get good rates, take the name of the person you have spoke to, and send an email to customer services confirm the day and time of the call, at least 7 days before your trip there can be no arguements.

I got unlimited data (Subject to fair usage) for £21.00 + VAT a day, and used my iPad for 10 days in Toronto, 4 days New York & 7 days Tokyo.

I always phone my network before I go away, so my phone does not a) get blocked and b) I pay £50 off my bill because they keep great logs of financial transactions, so you can prove you did call.

Mark Jones says:
21 April 2011

Great tip – thanks!

Jean Glover says:
21 April 2011

I have just bought a Samsung Galaxy tab and intend to use it in hotels abroad on the free Wi-fi. Many places abroad have this. Are there going to be any problems with this?


Hi Jean,

Absolutely if you’re somewhere that offers free wi-fi, take advantage – there won’t be any charges for you doing this.

One word of caution, sometimes tablets and smartphones can have automatic updates set up, such that the device accesses the internet without you actively doing so (‘push’ emails and the like). To avoid the risk of any data roaming charges, I’d advise changing your tablet’s settings such that data roaming is completely turned off. Your tablet’s instruction manual should outline how to do this if it’s not obvious.

Hope that helps



A couple things wrong with your article (not this conversation but the original Which article, as there is no way to comment on it, I’ll comment here).

T-Mobile EU roaming boosters