/ Travel & Leisure

Have you been hit by holiday mobile bill shock?

O2, Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile may have lost their appeal against mobile price capping in Europe, but we’re left frustrated that there’s still no protection for using your mobile further afield.

A few weeks ago I was asked for advice by a lady who’d just arrived home from an involuntary extended stay in Singapore, courtesy of the ash cloud. A distressing experience in itself, but made worse by receiving an unexpected mobile bill for several hundred pounds for her Singapore mobile phone use.

The rise and fall of calling costs

The cost of mobile calling within the UK is at an all-time low; even the biggest chatterboxes are unlikely to be hit by a mobile bill that will break the bank.

And affordable mobile pricing is starting to extend to using our mobiles overseas. I was delighted to hear the mobile giants lost their bid to overturn price capping in EU countries. This means the European Commission’s rules to ensure mobile operators charge fair prices will remain firmly in place.

The rules are straightforward and reasonable. From 1 July 2010, when you use your mobile in EU countries mobile operators must:

  • Charge no more than €0.39 (about 32p) per minute to make calls, €0.15 per minute to receive calls and €0.11 to send texts (it’s free to receive texts).
  • Apply an automatic cut-off once your bill reaches €50 (about £42), unless you choose another cut-off limit.
  • Keep you well-informed of charges for using your mobile abroad, sending an information text when you arrive at your destination.

But – and it’s a big ‘but’ – the rules only apply in EU countries. Use your mobile further afield, and operators can charge what they like. You have no protection against running up bills of hundreds – or even thousands – of pounds. Sounds crazy, but it’s been known to happen, as the student who ran up an £8,000 Orange bill in a month from using his mobile’s internet service in Paris discovered.

Mobile call rates outside of EU countries often exceed £1 a minute. If you were lucky (or even unlucky) enough to have tickets to a World Cup match in South Africa, you might have come home to a hefty bill. T-Mobile customers, for example, would have paid £1.50 a minute to make or receive calls. And don’t get me started on the extortionate cost of using the mobile internet…

Take some responsibility, mobile operators

Part of the problem is that there isn’t a worldwide equivalent of the European Commission to regulate the cost mobile operators charge on an international scale. But surely the mobile operators should be able to negotiate with each other and voluntarily apply some of the sensible protections the EC has put in place?

Sure, as mobile users we must take some responsibility for staying informed of the cost of services we subscribe to. But even if lowering costs is a step too far for mobile operators, they should be more proactive about providing cost information rather than relying on us to seek it out. And now the technology’s in place to apply a cut-off limit to mobile spending in Europe, it seems a no-brainer to extend this to worldwide use.

In the meantime, anyone who plans to use their mobile abroad should check the charges in advance – and make use of Which? tips on how to keep costs down.

And my advice to the lady who’d been stranded by the ash cloud? Frustratingly the best suggestion I could make was to throw herself on her mobile provider’s mercy and hope for the best. Surely there must be a better way.


Im just back from a week in Tenerife and I had my 3G on sometimes to check things I needed to online. I haven’t yet received my Bill from O2, but if it a massive cost will I be able to pay it off each month? As I cannot afford to pay off a huge bill all at once

Paul says:
9 January 2015

My contract is due to come to an end,my bills i decided to check on online and have discovered ive being paying for a add on from sept 2013 for calls abroad and texts to uk.This add on never worked when abroad and when i phoned them i was credited the amount back to come off my next bill and cancelled the add ons.I have just been in contact with ee and although they can see i was credited the amount for the dates 9TH -24TH SEPT they reckon i didnt cancel the add ons although i was back in the UK.They offered me 3 months overpayment refund , wasnt happy 2 further ee custumer people told me that was all they would offer.Would be very happy what coarse of action someone could recommend i take.I have online billing and only picked up on this when looking to choose new price plans for me and my son who lives his life on his phone.Thanks

Graham Pitt says:
2 February 2015

We’ve just received our final bill from Orange which included a period whilst on a cruise. Knowing that mobile calls cost a lot when at sea, we never used the mobiles unless we were in the European zones.

Orange acknowledged the Belgium and Netherlands zones but forgot about the French zone leaving us with a bill for £142.

We always checked the service on the phone before making a call and it only ever said Orange, T-Mobile, EE or one of euday zones.

Apparently, EVEN if you pay the £2 a day charge for free calls to the UK yu will still get Maritime Mobile satellite charges

8 April 2015

I call vodafone before i went to thialand , they advise me pay £5 per day , only when you use the fone for world traveller package which includes thailand , for data use up to my normal 4GB OF DATA , when i get back i recieve a bill for £1248 .. ridiculous , i asked why and they said Thialand is not included in the package ..
i asked why was i sold it then , when i was told thailand was in the deal . to help save me money
can i do anything about this anyone
not ony that when i get back , they cut my fone off , and sent me text saying call urgent , i try to call but they cut me off , i called them to expllain its a business line , and i am losing business , so how can i pay your bill , if you dont reconnect me cos i need to earn money , being a chauffer driver . someone help , i can afford to pay the bill no problem , but its just really makes me angry they never call me first to discuss , esp being a business which they do know .
Bad service from vodafone , if they worried you wont pay your bill they will cut you off, even if you pay via direct debit .
not good when your rely on your fone to earn an income ,

[This comment has been edited to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

beckyfield says:
6 May 2015


I am in shock after being told I owe orange/ee 500 pounds after a trip to the USA. I know now – they have carefully explained to me – that I didn’t turn my roaming off and as I didn’t switch my phone off I am being charged as it was connected to internet/email, and I received hundreds from work, which I didn’t read as I deliberately didn’t check them. . However I didn’t know to turn roaming off< I thought you had to turn it ON if you wanted it! Prior to going I had phoned orange and followed automated advice to text a number with the country I was going to, I did this, a text reply advised me of all charges for text phone and data but NOTHING about turning roaming off. Orange say that it is in the terms and conditions. When I explained my stupid error they offered a 25% discount and then when I continued to push the point 50% discount. But so far they refuse to waive the fee – I am awaiting a call back from a manager. I can see now I should have checked the website – which does say that roaming is there automatically but it also says I should receive a text when in the country telling me I am using data and the charges. I got a text (read in this country once home) that detailed all charges but didn't specify I was using data.They tell me they can see when data was used but not whether I used email etc. I wanted them to do this as proof of my 'honesty' – as I did not take a call, send a text or email or even read emails, deliberately to avoid charges. They say they can only do this kind of detailed look at someone's account if its a criminal investigation with the police..

I think that they are not obliged to waive the fee but I am arguing that they should give clearer info re: the need to turn roaming off i.e. in the text sent by them to me re: charges for the USA / in the text you get when you enter the country . I am saying I will not pay,cannot pay does anyone have any advice to support my argument?

Many thanks as I am feeling really upset and worried
Becky Field

Hi Becky, thanks for your post – Woah, that’s a shocking bill to receive! We’ve published lots of really useful advice about what you can do, here:


beckyfield says:
7 May 2015

Thank you
I’ve spoken with a manager who is offering me 50% discount as a good will gesture and says I should accept some responsibility. I said I couldn’t accept this and have requested to speak to a more senior manager.Orange do not have a complaints dept as such; no one yet will give me an email to put in anything in writing as you advise. Also, we can’t work out if there was a cap on our usage – it doesn’t seem clear on our T&C so we think perhaps we didn’t have one, which isn’t going to help my case i think? Also they are saying because roaming isn’t using their service / they don’t get updates on a daily basis from the providers in the USA thus why they didn’t / couldn’t get in touch with me until 500 pounds was accrued / did not contact my partner the account holder (and in the UK whilst I was away) – it’s completely out of character from our normal usage – I’ve tried to argue that other providers put a cap on usage , even if this occurs outside the EU and Orange seem to choosing to do it this way to make money out of idiots like me. I think stressing the point that I didn’t get a text stating I was using data – as their own website states – is my best hope – any other suggestions?
thank you

Chris Powell says:
10 May 2015

I have returned from 1 week in Cambodia. Data roaming on my orange phone was off the whole time. I did not make a single call or email. I sent 1 txt back to UK. I recieved 3 txts. I have had a bill for £112 on a £20 a month contract. How?

Lee says:
30 July 2015

My son is in the Army and has been posted overseas in Canada for the last 3 months on exercise.
Most of this time he has been sat out in the middle of the prairie with no communications.
This week I checked some of his mail for him and found that he had left his data roaming on and for this month he has a £2000 phone bill.

Because his comms has been intermittent as he has been out in the middle of nowhere he hasn’t been able to contact O2 and they have now switched off is phone.

I rang O2 today to try and sort something out and was absolutely horrified to find out that he has a bill for over £8000 for the previous 2 months. Over £10000 in total

My son doesn’t know about the £8000 bill for the previous 2 Months.Now he is going to come home to a £10,000 phone bill. I haven’t told him yet because he will be home in 2 weeks. But this will devastate him and he could lose his job over it.

We are going to contest the bill when he gets home but I don’t hold out much hope from what I’ve read up to now.

My wife and I are absolutely gutted for him.

The mobile horror bill shocks just keep coming.

I don’t use the internet on my mobile, but when I go to Europe, I get a text telling me the charges.

As mobile phone companies know where you are, it ought to be mandatory for them to automatically switch off data roaming when you are abroad, inform you of the charges, and only then be able to charge you if you turn on data roaming yourself.

This is something Which? could lobby for.

mazza says:
7 August 2015

Im with 02 and recently went on holiday to egypt. My hotel offered free wifi so i spent some time on facebook and youtube using the wifi. However when i came home i recieved a bill for £3,900!!! Unbeknown to me, when the wifi was not working my phone would automatically shift to data roaming! This was charged at £6 per mb! Theyve agreed to let me pay it off over a few months, but at £500 a month. Thats 57% of my wages 🙁 ive lodged a complaimt with their customer setvice team and am awaiting to hear back :(.

Tim Waring says:
10 August 2015

Waited in Dubai for 1.5 hours for a connecting flight. Wifi stopped working for 20 minutes was charged £900 for 20 minutes.

[This comment has been edited to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods.]

I make regular trips to S-E Asia. Have a Giff-Gaff PAYG sim, in a basic phone. I get advised, £1/min calls, send/receive; 30p texts. Never use data (after a huge bill from O2 3 years ago) BUT I think even my RM 1037 Nokia can go online, and cannot find a “roaming off setting”…..
In my main visiting country, Cambodia, I buy a local PAYG sim, and $10 usually lasts me a month, calls and texts. Always use wifi on my laptop to use Skype (very poor recently) and Facebook to keep in touch with family.
I Have (reluctantly) added a Samsung Galaxy J2 – a nice phone, with decent cameras. This does have a “turn off mobile data” setting. Don’t know if this helps anyone? Thanks.