Even just a few years ago, using a mobile phone abroad was an expensive ordeal preserved for business travellers or those with deep pockets. But changes in European regulations have made it cheaper to roam, and now additional charges have been outlawed entirely across the EU.
There’s a growing awareness within the mobile industry that its more beneficial to make it easier to let customers use their phones when abroad, rather than try and make the most money out of them. This means that using your phone in countries beyond Europe is now becoming affordable too.
So there’s no need to turn off data roaming in a panic as soon as your plane hits the tarmac any more, and the risk of bill shock is reduced. The roaming offers from each operator vary however, so here's a handy guide to the five best SIMs for using your phone abroad.
Three has led the way in roaming over the past few years with ‘Go Roam’. Not only will Three let you use your call, text and data allowances across the EU, it also includes some more exotic destinations like the US, Australia, Hong Kong and large swathes of Central and Southern America. This brings the total number of locations to 71.
Within the EU there are absolutely no extra charges, but in other countries it will cost extra to make calls and send texts to non-UK numbers. In all locations there are some usage limits, such as a 12GB data cap, and tethering is not allowed anywhere (apart from in the UK). It’s also likely you’ll be restricted to 3G.
In the UK, you can use your entire data allowance using a personal hotspot, plus, certain streaming services (including Netflix) can be used without affecting your data allowance. Three’s cheapest deals start at £9 a month.
If you want 4G roaming, then your best bet is with EE, which will let you roam on 125 LTE networks in 76 countries around the world. Of course, not all of these are inclusive and will incur standard roaming charges. EE does promise to provide you with usage alerts and data caps, but this could be an expensive way to use your phone.
Like other operators, EE will let you use your UK allowances across the EU at no extra charge. On top of this, there are 500MB daily travel passes for the five extra destinations, as well as China, India, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and the UAE for between £4 and £5 a day.
Vodafone is the best network in terms of destinations covered, but there is a two-tier system in operation. All Vodafone price plans come with inclusive European roaming, but there is one non-EU country that is also included that may be of use to many holidaymakers – Turkey.
On top of that, Vodafone will let you use your home plan in 60 more destinations for an additional £6 a day. While this does give you a guaranteed price, it does mean that if you send a single text, you’ll be charged the full amount. This could make things expensive if you’re going away for a long time. Other countries are subject to Vodafone’s standard roaming rates.
Vodafone's 3GB deal is plenty to ring home and post pictures to Facebook while you're away.
O2’s inclusive roaming is again limited to Europe, but it does have an impressive number of countries available as part of its ‘O2 Travel’ add-on. For £4.99 per day, you get 120 minutes to make or receive calls and 120 texts. This includes destinations in Asia, South America, the USA, Canada and Australia.
An added bonus is that there is no data cap, so you can use your apps to your heart's content. O2’s add-on is cheaper than Vodafone's, but similarly, the cost of paying the charge could eventually add up.
This deal offering 5GB of data for just £15 a month should more than suffice for your trip. However, if you want a bigger chunk of data, for £29 you get 50GB and free roaming in 75 destinations – including the USA.
Carphone Warehouse’s iD Mobile network has developed a reputation for a low-cost, no-frills service and this makes it ideal for those who want to get a cheap SIM to take abroad.
iD’s inclusive roaming is largely limited to Europe, but this is perfect for anyone who is going on a quick jaunt to Spain or France and just wants to call home or send a few texts.
If cost is the biggest concern, then iD Mobile also has a deal which will give you 1GB of data for just £5 a month. What’s more, all ID SIM-only deals are on a rolling monthly contract, so you can cancel at any time should you wish.
Over the past few years, the EU has been reducing the cost of using your phone abroad and last summer it abolished charges entirely. This is part of its Digital Single Market initiative and is based on the belief that it shouldn’t cost you any more to use your phone in another EU state.
For EU roaming, no. For other countries and specific offers you may need to opt in to a specific plan. This is usually done by texting a certain number to your operator, so it’s best to ask.
Yes, most smartphones allow you to switch off roaming in the mobile data section of the settings menu. Some devices, such as the iPhone, allow you to enable roaming in the EU, but not in other locations, ensuring you can make the most of the new legislation without getting caught out in other destinations.
Then the cost could be significantly higher. Check with your operator for specific rates and see if there is a usage cap in place to protect you.
Outside of the EU, it’s possible you will be charged to open texts or receive calls if you are in a destination not covered by an inclusive plan.