What are data roaming charges?

Using your phone as a map, tour guide or translator is often just as important as it is for keeping in touch with friends and family – especially if you’re abroad. But with the UK no longer part of the European Union, using your phone abroad often means you’re hit with ‘roaming charges’. Here, we explain what these are and how you can avoid paying more than you need.

Find the best mobile phone contract and SIM deals for you with Uswitch.

What are roaming charges?

Roaming charges (sometimes called data roaming) describe the fees you’re charged for using your mobile phone outside of the UK. These charges are usually applied to any airtime you use – so that includes data, minutes and texts.

If you’re travelling somewhere far flung, it won’t be a surprise that using your phone while there will cost you money. But before the UK left the European Union (EU) most of us could use our phones in Europe just as we could at home. Since then, some network providers have reintroduced extra costs for the privilege of using your phone not just in faraway destinations, but within the EU too.

Is roaming free in Europe?

This depends on your network provider. Some don’t have roaming charges at all, some do, while others offer free roaming but only up to a certain limit.

With that in mind, it’s important (and cost-effective) to check what your phone contract says about using your phone in Europe. If you are able to use your phone, it’s also essential to find out which countries are included. For example, your phone plan may provide free roaming within the EU. Remember that popular holiday destinations like Croatia and Türkiye are not within the European Union.

Currently, network providers that do not charge at all for using your phone in Europe, include:

How much do roaming charges cost?

Network providers set their own international charges so you’ll need to look at your contract if you have one or visit your provider’s website for details. In most cases, providers will charge you a flat fee per day to use your phone as if you were in the UK. For example, it will cost you £2 per day to use your Sky mobile in Europe but this ‘Roaming Passport’ will mean you get to use your UK data, minutes and texts as normal.

Alternatively, some providers will let you use a percentage of your airtime allowance or data. When you reach this limit, you’ll then be charged international roaming rates.

What is a ‘fair usage policy’?

Network providers often have something called a fair usage policy (FUP). These policies ensure that all network users have equal access to services. They mainly apply to deals that come with an ‘unlimited data’ allowance, but they could also apply to any other mobile phone deal.

Fair usage policies mean that your phone provider can limit your phone’s data connection speed at peak times. It also enables them to cap access to your usual data allowance. For instance, if you usually have 150GB of data, you might only be able to use 50GB.

Fair usage policies are often applied if you use your phone abroad so it’s worth double checking what your contract says about this.

How do I avoid roaming charges?

The key to avoiding roaming charges is to find out what your contract says about using your phone abroad and being prepared. Tips include:

Switch off roaming

If your phone is set to ‘roam’ it will automatically connect to an available network which could mean you’re charged. Instead, switch this feature off on your phone (you’ll usually find this in your ‘settings’).

You should still be able to make calls as well as send and received texts (subject to your network’s conditions ).

Set your phone to airplane mode

This means you won’t be able to use your phone at all – even for calls and texts. You will still be able to use your phone’s other features, including the camera and other apps. You’ll also still be able to watch and listen to anything downloaded to your phone.

Use Wi-Fi

If you’re somewhere with access to Wi-Fi, use this to connect to the internet rather than use your data allowance. You can also call friends and family using Wi-Fi calling plus any apps including FaceTime and WhatsApp video calling.

Only use your allowance

If you’re allowed to use your phone up to a certain allowance, make sure you don’t go over this. Providers will usually send you texts before you get to your allowance and some will automatically cut access to data when you reach it.

Buy a local SIM card

If you’re a heavy phone user or you’re likely to be away for a while, you could also buy a local SIM card from the country you’re in. To do this, you’ll need to make sure your handset is unlocked (which means it can use a SIM card from any provider and not just the one you use normally).

Bear in mind that if you’re still within contract and your phone is locked, you might not be able to unlock it or there may be a fee.

Compare mobile phone deals

When it comes to choosing the right mobile phone plan for you, it’s good to start with what you actually need rather than jumping to what would be nice to have. To help you work that out, we put together a guide on how to pick the best mobile phone plan which can help ensure you get value for money.

Find the best mobile phone contract and SIM deals for you with Uswitch.


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