/ Travel & Leisure

Have you been caught out by mobile roaming charges outside the EU?


New Which? research shows the startling difference that providers can charge for using your mobile phone around the world, as it calls on the government to publicly commit to prioritising free roaming in post-Brexit trade deals. 

Ever the unprepared traveller, the surprise €30 visa fee stung at the Turkish border.

This was soothed a little when I turned on my mobile phone and received a text from my provider, Vodafone, telling me not to worry about roaming charges because Turkey is in its Euro Zone.

As most of my recent travel has been to Europe, which has enjoyed free roaming for almost a year now, it hadn’t even crossed my mind that roaming charges still existed beyond its borders.

Fortunately, my lack of research paid off and I was able to scroll social feeds and stream videos for the duration of the trip without the fear of landing a massive bill the following month.

My co-travellers on other networks weren’t so lucky – they either had to do what they could when they found open wi-fi networks or pay the roaming charges.

And in Turkey, these can be extortionate, as a Which? member discovered when they were charged £500 to make calls from the country to the UK to sort insurance cover following a hospital visit.

Worldwide charges

On another recent trip, this time to New York, it was me who was caught out by mobile roaming charges. My co-travellers’ mobile phone plans included Roam Like at Home in the States, but I was left lost without map apps, stranded without Uber and abandoned without instant messaging.

I didn’t dare turn on data roaming for fear of the ‘bill shock’ on my return. And chatting to a colleague, it seems this would have definitely been the case. Following a recent short trip there, where my colleague made a few necessary phone calls, checked their maps occasionally and made one Uber booking, their bill came to £80.

For some, a forced phone break might be a blessing in disguise, but being connected is such a vital part of modern life that I found it more restricting than relaxing.

How are you meant to make a call in an emergency family situation? There are hardly any pay phones around any more, so your only option is to turn on your data, make the call, then brace yourself for the bill.

Of course, you could also pack several Sim cards with different networks in the hope that one of them offers Roam Like at Home, but that seems ludicrous.

Call for free global roaming

We recently analysed the wildly varying fees tourists can face when using their phone in more than a dozen countries outside of the EU, including Canada, India and Turkey.

We found there was a significant variation in cost according to the network provider and the country visited when using a mobile device to make a call, navigate using Google Maps or load a webpage abroad.

We’re now calling on the government to ensure free roaming is maintained post-Brexit and think there’s a real opportunity to extend the benefit worldwide in future trade deals.

That way, we can spend more time enjoying our holidays and less time worrying about how we’ll stay connected when we’re on them.

Is free mobile roaming important to you? Is it a consideration when you’re choosing a destination to visit? Or do you relish the forced mobile phone and data break when you’re outside of the Euro Zone?


Why do you need mobile data in order to make a voice call? And surely in a family emergency, the cost of calls is bottom of your priority list, no?

Hi Darinda,

Lots of people make calls using apps like Whatsapp and Skype these days, which would use data. As you point out you can obviously make regular calls with your phone, though these are far more expensive outside Europe as well.

Out of interest, have you been on holiday and used your phone in the EU since the roaming regulations came into place last year? Personally I’ve found it to be a real advantage. Sure, family emergencies are one thing, but being able to check a few restaurant reviews, use Google Maps, or simply send a few photos back while on the beach without worrying about how much it might cost me is a big plus.

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Please take this in the right spirit (I’m overgheated from cutting the lawns 🙂 ) but there is an almost identical Convo https://conversation.which.co.uk/travel-leisure/global-roaming-mobile-data-streaming/ started on 4th April. Surely continuity in topics like this is better than splitting them up? Contributors will miss relevant comments and duplicate comments.

This happens with other important topics. Why not insert an up to date summary of key points made in a Convo, and then carry it on with a bit of publicity to draw attention to it?

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@malcolm-r @user-66219 Hi both, hope you’re well. You’ll have seen in the past that we do update certain convos (rather than create entirely new ones) depending on how large the updates are. In this case Amelia is discussing new Which? research, as well as our new calls for the government to ensure that free roaming is maintained post-Brexit.

Sometimes we’re able to quickly update an older convo, but sometimes the new info can be substantial enough to warrant a fresh piece of its own, especially when we also publish a corresponding news story:


Hope this helps explain our thought process a little – appreciate that sometimes topics can be similar as the news evolves.

@gmartin, thanks George. Hope you had a nice holiday on Dartmoor. We’re currently basking in sunshine on the English Riviera. Do you think it possible we could ever get worldwide agreement on mobile charges? As far as I know there are still big disparities on landline costs. I wonder whether we expect too much from government. They have a struggle to even run things properly at home 🙁

Thanks Malcolm. Hope you’re having a great time and enjoying the sunshine. I think worldwide agreements are something we should be striving for in an ever more connected world – especially when there’s now so much more reliability on internet access for essential services. I remember a few years back in the US I was lost with a group of friends – we ended up huddling outside a closed coffee shop in the early hours using their free Wi-Fi as it was the only way we could get hold of a map!

In a way I would expect any traveller to a country to check the Foreign Office site for the information that is important before going. Travel agents are not necessarily to be trusted.

The Visa costs seem to be $20 or $30 depending whether you do it beforehand or at the border. Yo seem to have paid in Euros which may be useful knowledge. A quick glance suggests that there are some possible non-Turkish government sites willing to take your money and card details.

I am curious as to whether Which? or another body actually provides up-to-date charges by country? I see the quoted data is from June 2017 and we know the industry delights in changing prices frequently.

” I was able to scroll social feeds and stream videos for the duration of the trip” Turkey is a wonderful country even if the current politics stink. So much to see and do.

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I’m sorry but if you are paying out £500 in calls for an insurance claim or large amounts on non-EU roaming then I have little sympathy. Anyone with an ounce of sense should look online or contact their carrier to find out roaming charges and if in doubt switch off data roaming. I have travelled around Asia and the States, I have either purchased a sim card while out there or just used wi-fi. When I needed to make a call after an accident I purchased unlimited UK landline calling from Skype for £2.40 (other VOIP services are available) and before Skype existed I purchased a calling card. I would also note that many emergency insurers lines offer collect calling or will ring you back. I do think caps should be put on as standard to avoid bill shocks and regular texts for usage and charges. I also think large companies like EE and Vodafone that have a large international presence could follow Three’s example and offer free roaming in a large number of countries.

Very good points. I also think that where mobile networks operate an international brand that is uniform across many countries, then legislation should require their pricing likewise to be uniform. For example, if Vodafone wants to operate the same brand in the UK and in Egypt, then its UK charges should apply when roaming on Vodafone’s branded network in Egypt.

I have used local SIM cards since long before the EU banned roaming surcharges within the EEA. Even when travelling to other EEA countries, I still often use local SIM cards. Although Three UK charges me a very reasonable 1p per megabyte (£10/GB) in the UK and in 57 countries (including 30 EEA countries), for example my Lithuanian SIM card charges me just €1.49 for 1.5GB (€1/GB), so when I’m in Lithuania it’s less than a tenth of the price to use my Lithuanian SIM card than to use my Three UK SIM card. Another benefit is that a local SIM card gives a much better quality and faster data connection than roaming with a UK SIM card, particularly as Three throttles data roaming bandwidth and limits it to 3G.

When I’m in the UK, there’s wifi almost everywhere I go, so mobile data just fills in the gaps. But when I’m abroad I tend to use large quantities of data, not least for maps and because my iPhone doesn’t automatically log on to national wifi networks. Therefore using local SIM cards, and keeping them active for future trips, is still very appealing. My incoming calls come via a Flextel UK 07 number, which forwards calls at the caller’s cost to the local SIM card, but friends and family phone me via VoIP so they don’t get stung with the cost.

Like many things it is a matter of consumers thinking. If you go abroad perhaps once a year on holiday the time spent in worrying or acting to get the cheapest rate is almost certainly going to be time wasted. It is almost a certainty that what was true for a country/carrier in 2016 was not true in 2017.

Of course the other side of the equation is usage. If you are the type of person who feels the need to be in contact at all times, or streams back photos, then your requirements are very different from the person who views the smartphone as an emergency tool that might be required on holiday but hopefully will remain unused.

It would be interesting to know how holidaymakers split on this facet.

The figures for overseas visits are up according to data here: ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/leisureandtourism/articles/traveltrends/2016 however the figure inflation seems in a significant way to reflect EU workers visiting friends and families in Poland , Rumania and I guess France.

For holiday visits ABTA figures might be more interesting : abta.com/assets/uploads/general/Holiday_Habits_Report_2017.pdf
It is notable that city breaks are the most popular type of holiday which almost by definition means short stays. Therefore the overall amount of time spent abroad per person is perhaps multiple City breaks rather than say two weeks touring a country pre 2000.

As with so many surveys one feels the 2,000 respondents probably provided some interesting outliers but all we see is averages. The trouble with averages is that they can conceal much – the human race has less then two legs once averaged.

So is this ” Call for free global roaming” in the scale of things is it really that important other than to a small but vociferous minority or is it space filling? It seems almost bizarre to travel to foreign lands and have an expectation for prices and access to be what you are comfortable with without you, the traveller, adapting to local conditions and costs.

Just do your research before you go and adapt to the places you visit. Government action on the trivial but with global agreement required seems really rather an unrealistic thing to be demanding.