/ Money, Travel & Leisure

Is it time we had global mobile roaming?

using mobile phone in NYC

Keeping connected via a mobile device with friends, family, colleagues or even your pet has become a part of modern life. But the ability to do so when travelling abroad can come with a hefty price tag…

Last June, we celebrated with you the news that a ban on roaming charges in the EU had finally come into force. The new ‘Roam Like at Home’ rules ensure that when you’re travelling in the EU you’ll pay the same prices as you do in the UK to make calls, send texts and get online.

And when these rules came into force, we asked you here on Which? Conversation if the ban on mobile roaming charges should be maintained as part of the government’s Brexit negotiations.

Over 1,500 of you voted in our poll, and a whopping 92% of you said ‘yes’, and we agree. In fact, we think the government should go one step further…

Global roaming

As we edge closer to the date when the UK formally leaves the EU, our government will soon start negotiating new trade deals around the world. As part of those negotiations, we believe there’s an opportunity for the UK to secure global roaming agreements with non-EU countries to benefit all travellers.

While some of us are happy to switch off our phones when we go overseas, many of us rely on our mobile phone to keep in touch with home or for work, or simply to navigate our way around unfamiliar territory.

To then return home to find you’ve racked up a massive mobile phone bill for seemingly everyday use can come as a nasty surprise.

Bill shock

Yet, frustratingly, bill shock does still happen. Despite the new EU roaming rules having been in force now for nine months, we still hear plenty of stories from UK travellers who’ve been stung by sky-high fees, believing they would be charged the same for using their mobile phone as they would in the UK.

One such story came from Richard, who warned about maritime roaming costs:

‘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.’

While Chris had a cautionary tale about using a phone in the Greek Islands:

‘When we were in Rhodes in July, my wife’s phone latched onto a signal from Turkey, so you still have to be vigilant when roaming near the borders of the EU.’

Over to you

What do you think? Do you think the government should negotiate roaming deals for both EU and non-EU countries? Do you use your phone abroad? Would this help you? Have you ever experienced bill shock?


We are unlikely to even have EU roaming after Brexit so no chance of Global roaming.

Rubbish. My Three 321 with feel at home is nothing whatsoever to do with the EU. Do the research!

Helen McClure says:
13 April 2018

I had inclusive European roaming at UK rates long before the EU agreement came into effect. First with Orange & then Three. I just shopped around. What the EU agreement did do was remove some of (but not all) the sneaky over the top charges. We just need to make sure our Goverment doesn’t allow them to sneak back in. Three’s current Feel at home pack has over 71 countries including the USA & Australia/NZ.

For the record, Three has only 57 countries and territories. The remaining 14 out of the 71 are double-counted parts of countries. For example, Three counts Spain 3 times (mainland, Balearics, Canaries), counts Portugal twice (mainland & Azores) and France 7 times. For example Three counts Guadeloupe 3 times – once as itself, again within the French West Indies and again within France (yes, it’s part of France, not an overseas territory). Three is highly misleading by quoting “71 destinations“.

Greyhound says:
10 April 2018

Just returned from holiday in Israel and found that I have been billed for £36 for 1 day having unknowingly left mobile data turned on . Also call charges from Jordan where we didn’t even visit !

It is amazing in this day and age that for my wife to phone her relatives in Trinidad from the U.K. costs a fortune by both landline and mobile phone but they phone the U.K. FREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How does this work?
If ‘third world countries’ can do it why can’t we? Are we being ripped off by the phone companies or what!

Just put WhatsApp on your phone if you have wifi and tell them(relatives) to do the same and its free with pictures!

Ashley King says:
11 April 2018

It would be interesting if we could get stories about mobile charges from our American cousins. I have relatives who phone from India, they send American originated video clips and the usual religious righteous messages that are definitely of American origin. I have questioned them on the costs of these messages and calls, because they are not rich people, they say the phone costs are minimal. Does the west subsidise the poor countries so as they get hooked on the service (like drug addicts) and then the companies can charge what they wish eventually?

Unfortunately that won’t help those of us with elderly parents who still rely on contact with family by good old-fashioned land line…

I was on a cross channel ferry from Cherbourg to Poole a year ago. I had a text to say I was being charged £5 for roaming charges for Malta! Didn’t know Malta was in the English Channel!

I live in Northern Ireland and travel to Canada and USA to visit friends and relatives at least once a year and have traveled around Canada using my mobile for data, text messages and to call back home or anyone in Canada. In the past I have used a global sim card, International sim and a World sim. All of these are very expensive. I have booked to go to Canada and New York in June and at moment have been trying along with my Nephew to research for anything new.

My phone is dual sim Samsung (A3) ~ I just buy a local sim card for whatever country I’m in and switch between sims ~~~ You can get really good sim only deals most countries even for data ~~~ If your phone is tied to a specific provider you will need to have it unlocked to make this work.

Ian says:
11 April 2018

There are several parts to the problem, but the underlying issue is the wholesale rate charged by the foreign provider being used while roaming. They set the call and message rates as they see fit, unless compelled by regulation to reduce them below a certain level. The caller’s provider then adds their margin, unless compelled by regulation to cap retail charges below a certain level or include the calls and texts within allowances. Doing this on an EU scale took years. Doing this on a global scale will be damn near impossible.

I feel visitors shouldn’t pay more than anyone with a typical local contract would be paying in any particular counrty. If that means paying a LITTLE more than my ‘home’ charges, fine – but the massive charges that are levied for use in some other coutries are indefensible.

What “local” rate should be charged, as presumably they vary considerably depending on the sort of contracts that exist, whether inclusive contracts, contracts with a limit or PAYG, as they do here? When you are switched to the local provider, perhaps their PAYG rate should be applied by default?

I see EE, for example, have a number of add-on packages for non-EU countries that give calls, texts and data at a fixed price on the days you use them. https://ee.co.uk/help/add-ons-benefits-and-plans/call-or-going-abroad/roaming-costs Are these worthwhile?

Looking at USA prices on the EE website I see reference to costs for receiving calls. I have never understood why anyone should be charged for receiving a phone call.

Ian says:
17 April 2018

When a call is made to a landline or mobile number allocated to a different provider, there are then two telephone companies involved in the call and both want to be paid for carrying that call. There are two ways this can happen.

In the UK, the caller pays their provider for the call, either by purchasing an inclusive allowance, usually on a monthly basis, or by paying a per-minute rate for each call made. These charges are set entirely by the caller’s phone provider, and there are dozens of providers, and hundreds of tariffs, to choose from.

The caller’s phone provider is then charged by the called party’s phone provider for carrying the call to its final destination. This charge is known as the termination rate and it can be up to around 0.2p per minute for calls to geographic numbers or up to 0.5p per minute for calls to mobile numbers. As these rates have reduced over time, this has allowed ever larger inclusive allowances for far less money. Nowadays, some mobile providers offer unlimited calls and texts for £10 per month. The called party pays nothing for incoming calls.

The “calling party pays” principle is, however, not universal. In the US, for example, the caller pays their phone provider for the call and the called party’s phone provider is separately paid by the call recipient, not by a termination rate charged to the caller’s phone provider. That is, the called party pays their phone provider for handling their incoming calls.

Part of the reason for this is that within every US area code, there is a mix of landline and mobile numbers, a caller will generally not be aware whether a number they are calling is for a landline or a mobile, whereas here in the UK landline and mobile numbers use completely diferent prefixes. In the US, therefore, mobile users pay the extra charges incurred in delivering calls to their mobile phone.

In the UK, callers used to pay much more to call a mobile number than to call a landline number. Mobile Termination Rates have reduced from around 40p per minute in the 1990s to less than 0.5p per minute now. This means that nowadays it doesn’t generally cost any more to call a mobile number than to call a landline number. In most cases, both types of number are included in monthly allowances.

Inclusive allowances also cover calls to 03 numbers. The termination rate for those can be up to around 0.56p per minute.

Nic says:
13 April 2018

Mexico a few years ago. phone bill. £400. USA about 18 months ago. Rebooking (changing a flight) home. Cost of flight change £100. Cost of phone call £106. Prior to EU roaming I received a call while in Italy from someone saying they understood I was involved with an accident (cold call). And I had to pay INCOMING roaming charges for that call telling them to politely go away.

I’m going to South Africa later this year and checking the call costs back to home (and visa versa) I’m disgusted. It would be very easy to rack up half the cost of the return airfare. And that is voice calling only. It may not be an issue for the couch potatoes and flat earthers, but I do not like being taken for a ride when I travel.

Ive just called EE told them im going to Australia for 2.5 weeks what plan do they offer. Well I was gob smacked. I get to use my phone free….eg as if I were in the UK no extra charges and doubled my GB.

I would hate to go backwards regarding roaming charges, when I was in Brussels for a day and was changed £99.00 by o2…

With modern technology I don’t see why the phone should cost any more wherever you are. It should be just like when you log on to the internet abroad, many hotels offer free internet access.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Alison – Your ‘free’ internet access in hotels is payed for by those who use their services. You might get a free breakfast if you stay there, but it’s not really free.

What on earth have mobile phone charges got to do with EU, Brexit or the Government. Isnt it down to the mobile phone companies, most of which are probably European anyway, to negotiate their own communications rights? Is it down to the Government to negotiate everybodys trade deals with Europe or the rest of the world!

Paul Whiteman says:
25 May 2018

When travelling in N. America your first stop should be at Walmart/Target/BestBuy etc to buy a (pay-as-you-go)TracFone. Prices start at c.$20 or less and

often come with initial minutes (20 / 30). You can use it as a normal phone for all N. American numbers and if you enter a code can use for international

calls at the same rates. Per minute charges are, by UK standards, very cheap. You can buy additional time in increments of 10 mins. When its time to

come home hand in at the nearest Goodwill store where they will recycle the phone and give to the homeless for emergency use.

We recently spent 3 weeks in Australia visiting our son, who lives in Sydney. He picked up a free Vodafone Australia SIM at an exhibition, so I put it in my Iphone and activated it. It cost $30 (about £18) for 9GB of data, plus calls and texts. This was more than enough for our stay and I was able to set my ‘phone up as a personal hotspot so my wife could get internet access too. The only downside was that there is a shortage of ‘phone numbers in Australia, so the one I chose was “recycled” and I kept getting a lot of marketing calls for someone called Daniel. It seems like nuisance calls are a worldwide phenomenon.

I travel to the middle and far east monthly from the UK and in the last 12 months have also visited Peru, South Africa, many States of the USA, Finland and Canada. I avoid all roaming charges by having an unlocked pocket wifi with me and buying a simcard available in all the countries above allowing communications through e-mail, social media, Line, Skype all totally free of charge for a nominal fee, in Japan my monthly pocket wifi costs £22 for unlimited data. It also allows access to google maps for simple directions in a strange country and with the latest translation programs can simply take a picture of for example Kanji in Japan and get an instant translation. Last month my O2 bill was £19.00 for UK usage.

Rex says:
26 June 2018

I’m surprised that no-one has mentioned using VOIP. An internet connection is all that’s needed. I mostly use Facetime (Apple to Apple) rather than Skype because it’s simpler. They are probably best for family since businesses don’t usually seem to accept VOIP calls. Call quality is usually excellent and drop-outs no worse than usual roaming.

Yes, and when will Voip replace copper phone lines for those who are lucky enough to have proper fibre broadband?

Ruth says:
22 July 2018

Many providers have plans that allow free roaming in a range of countries, not just EU, my O2 Travel Inclusive works in Canada, US, Australia and many other popular destinations, and as many have said – buy a local sim. For Canada, I use SpeakOut (7-11) which stays active for 1 year without topping up, similarly I have a US sim (RoamMobility) that also stays active for 12 months – so it’s even possible to keep the same number provided you go often enough to the country. Not for everyone, but works for me.