/ 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.

James Conroy says:
5 July 2010

I have been ripped off so much by my network operator in the past for international calls. I remember the worst bill I received was when I was not aware data cost extra – that was a £400 round of applause when I opened that bill! Surely in this technological age data should not be charged at such extortionate rates? Which should investigate those charges.


Fiona Ross says:
10 September 2010

We too are suffering a huge shock. My 21 yr old is just back from Turkey (1 week) and his phone stopped working. He didn’t use his phone on holiday. He received two txts. The phone was suspended by vodaphone by their “spend checker service” as the bill has exceeded all his free minutes etc and is …. wait for it …. £660 BEFORE VAT! It takes time for the information to reach them to enable the spend checker to block the account when the sum reaches £300! as he was in Turkey the information was not received! We feel totally ripped off.


Hefty charges for using mobiles abroad has just come top of a 'holiday rip-offs' list in research by the Post Office. Looks like these new rules are very much needed.

Magster says:
22 August 2010

I have incurred massive charges under so called roaming by TMobile. When I specifically agreed
to have the booster deal which would half the tarrif!! This was while I was visiting the USA at the end of May, and right up to last months bill were operating their creative accountancy policy. I have queried
this twice and managed to obtain a £9.00 refund but that has not resolved over charging me for
Roaming after I had returned to UK and deactivated the service?? But I have not given up the fight yet, and will continue to pursue them to the bitter end. Also if I have to end my Contract with them I will unless they get their excessive charging sorted.

Tina E says:
30 October 2010

I flew to Germany and received an automated text saying with Vodafone passport calls cost £0.75 plus the normal network rate (or nothing if you have free minutes). I then continued my journey to Turkey. No text to inform me of anything. I was convinced that Turkey was one of the passport countries and even the Vodafone shop assistant thought the same. When I came back I discovered that I had been charged £1.65 per minute and I had a bill of over £90!! I called Vodafone and asked why they didn’t text me to inform me of their extortionate charges when I went to Turkey, but they could not answer that. Vodafone is not treating their customers fairly and I feel totally ripped off!


is it true there is a fault on some iphones as after returning home from being stuck in Canada due to the ash cloud my bill was over £1,900, do I have to pay this, I was not using it much at all , mostly to keep checking web site for airline, thanks for any advice.


Hi Sue,

Ouch – sorry to read you’ve been hit with such a hefty bill. This is another prime example of why, as I say above, we think mobile operators should voluntarily apply the EU price capping in other countries.

Have you checked your bill to see exactly when these charges were incurred and if they correspond with when you were using the internet? Unfortunately, the cost of using the mobile internet abroad is incredibly high and even relatively low use can have a high financial impact. You don’t say who your operator is, but as an example O2 charges £6 for a single MB outside of EU countries. If the airline webpages had a large file size, regular checks could have added up.

Another thing to check, did you turn off your ‘push’ updates (eg email) while you were away? If not, your iPhone might have been logging on to the web to check for new emails, Facebook updates and the like without you actively connecting – and this will have incurred charges.

In answer to your question about whether you have to pay the bill, unfortunately, your mobile company is under no legal obligation to waive the bill. However, I do know that mobile operators have been known to be flexible and reduce charges when there have been extenuating circumstances. I’m not sure what conversations you’ve already had with your operator, but it could be worth writing to them explaining your situation and why you needed to access the internet, and asking them to consider reducing or waiving the charge on this occasion.

I’m sorry I can’t be the bearer of better news.


Ah well – yet another reason for having a pay as you go – If I could use it overseas I’d be stopped after £10. I only use land lines abroad.

Liz McShane says:
25 April 2011

My husband is on week’s golf break to Turkey. I called him from my business vodafone. It cost him £11 to receive the call on his O2 PAY & GO PHONE- roughly 5 mins. What a rip off. To send a text from Turkey cost him 49p. O2 has the world divided in to 2 areas.. Europe & Rest of the World.


My wife has just returned from a long holiday abroad. She turned her phone on (for 1 hour) in Dubai to take a photo of the kids and was hit with a data roaming bill for £400.55p This seems a bit on the steep side. T-Mobile says its her own fault. We think the opreator should ask you if you want to roam when you are away and not try to screw every penny from its customers cause its nigh on impossible to know what these phones are doing at home let alone when you are abroad. Any advice anyone may have to appeal this bill is very welcome.
thank you.

Peter Davies says:
20 October 2011

Checked my Internet banking to find a moderate (kidding) Orange mobile phone bill for £837.21p (20/10/11)
My wife telephoned Orange and they reduced it by £500 immediatly, however, still not happy as she only used the phone 6 times. Orange said it was Roaming Charges and I said it was Rip Off charges. I have contacted my bank and had the Direct Debit reversed…Phew!!. However, I have now got to speak to Orange on my good lady’s behalf to try and sort out the £337.21 yet to pay. My gut feeling is to cancel the Orange contract forthwith and cause as much bad publicity as possible (alledged thought!). Orange has said they have to pay the foreign provider, don’t know how much but I am sure it is not £300. Any advise out there would be appreciated.


First thing is to ascertain what the charges relate to (which you should find in detail in your online bill) and then compare them with the Orange tariff for the location you were in.

Secondly, what type of phone is it? If it’s a smartphone (or even worse an iPhone) you could be unwittingly racking up data charges due to apps connecting to the internet on a regular basis to check for updates (Facebook and Twitter are well known for this).

For others reading this, even if you disconnect your data connection and use wifi, some phones will automatically switch back to data if the wifi connection is lost. I have seen charges of £8 per megabyte being incurred (and a megabyte gets you nowhere nowadays).

Best of luck with Orange.


The phenomenon called “bill shock,” where people unexpectedly find out their mobile phone bill is hugely inflated, has infuriated millions of individuals. Federal regulators announced last year that they wished it to not occur to customers. However, cellular providers and the FCC have reached a deal that could control bill shock by supplying people more warning in advance.

[Hello erikablare, we have taken out the link at the end of your comment as it made your comment look like spam. Thanks, mods.]

lauren says:
21 November 2011

well i come back from holiday in tunisia and my bill 1087 pound!! t mobile are usually okay and i only had the internet on my phone for 2 days and then i got cut off ! fuming! i havent got a phone its right before christmas and i havent got a clue how im gona pay it !

Peter Davies says:
22 November 2011


Phone them up and tell them that you cannot afford to pay that amount and that you know that they can refund a majority of roaming charges, my bill with Orange started at £837.00 and Orange immediatly credited £500 I took it even further and got another £207 credit, just keep trying, copy Ofcom in on e-mails/letters and also include your local MP. If you pay by Direct Debit contact your bank and ask them to refund the monies back into your account.

Sheila says:
21 September 2012

Just got a T-mobile bill for £437.07. I am in shock.
I have spoken to two people in customer services on two occasions , they said they would investigate, haven’t heard back from them yet.


Hi Sheila, the advice here should help – https://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/ask-which-orange-mobile-bill-unexpectedly-high/ – it might be worth asking to be put straight through to the complaints department if you haven’t already done so. I’d also keep a record of all your contact.

Abby says:
13 October 2012

Before travelling to Turkey I was sold 1000 mins for £20.00 , only to return to a £500.00 bill !!!.

I have tried relentlessly to resolve this problem only to be told “well you have used 400 minutes” constantly promised someone will look into it , never materialized. Then I was cut of until I paid the amount or face being black listed CCJ. i was told pay the bill and we will look into the matter with 24 hours, 4 days have passed and nothing.

It is high time people start looking at the possibility of getting a high court judgment to make them pay for mi-selling products. I have spoken to 2 lawyers and they feel there may be a case here for millions of people entitled to compensation just like the PPI SCANDAL. Orange are doing the same MIS -SELLING PRODUCTS and need to be challenged.

Michael says:
27 October 2012

They sting you incredibly high call costs internationally. We went on holiday to Turkey and they charged £1.50 per minute and a £1.50 connection charge. The same charges on my O2 phone were 25 p per minute. I really do dislike them now and will cancel both our T Mobile phones as soon as the contracts end.

I would warn anyone against using T Mobile and certainly you need to make sure that you disconnect their international roaming. Don’t get caught out. Honestly they are sharp as a razor when it comes to taking huge chunks of money out of your direct debit and lousy on customer service

Gemma hankinson says:
13 May 2013

I recently travelled to Cyprus on holiday. I received 2 texts from O2 on arrival saying don’t worry you are in Europe, calls are 50p to connect and then free for 60 mins. I only called uk landline from my hotel room. When I returned home I had a huge bill, it turns out some calls connected in Cyprus and some via Turkish mast. Turkey is not in the EU so got charged at a higher rate. I was not in Turkey, so how was I supposed to know I was going to be charged via Turkey. O2 originally said they would refund charges but then changed their mind. They are rude and unhelpful and do not care about my 7 years of loyal custom.


I expect you will find that Turks in Turkey pay a few Lira for their calls.
I have an unlocked pay-as-you-go phone and if I go abroad I buy a local Sim card and pay very little for calls. Admittedly, almost all the countries are in the EU, but so is Cyprus. I believe the mobile providers should warn their customers of countries where charges are extortionate. Turkey and Dubai would be top of the list.

Lisa says:
4 July 2013

I recentley travelled to tunisia and was using wifi in the hotel but didn’t realise it automatically jumps on to mobile data when the wifi connection is lost my bill I was only on for half an hour and got 186 pounds bill Vodafone did refund 30 pounds of it back but that’s not good enough

Alex says:
8 July 2013

My phone was stolen whilst on holiday in Barcelona. Unfortunately I did not have a pin lock on the phone at the time so the thieves managed to rack up a huge phone bill before Orange decided to block it, with vat on top I am now faced with a bill of £3900!!!!

I have phoned Orange numerous occassions but they have not been helpful, they are threatening to cut the phone off if it is not paid. All they have done is given me extensions to sort out payment.

What can I do??

11 July 2014

I had my mobile stolen by a black girl in South Africa the day I arrived. She started a phone shop business with it & I had calls & texts every 5 minutes from early in the morning to late at night. In two weeks I was billed £2000.

T Mobile aren’t interested in helping & are threatening to sue me for payment. They say I can’t prove I didn’t make the calls.

I didn’t realise my phone was stolen, as I use a local mobile in South Africa & thought the UK mobile was still in my bag. I only discovered it when I got the bill oniine. I am a 70 year old pensioners & I am very distressed by this & don’t know how I can pay. I already have had to pay £1000 & now have another £ 1000 bill


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.]

william says:
20 February 2017

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.