Tim Smith | September 6th, 2022

SIMs for roaming and international calling

Making international calls from your mobile phone can be pricey, whether you call abroad from the UK or use your data on holiday overseas. This guide gives you all the information you need to know about international call charges and roaming (using your phone abroad) from keeping your international calling and roaming charges as low as possible, to avoiding huge charges while abroad, since free EU roaming is no longer included as standard for UK mobile customers.

People using mobile phones

Roaming vs international calling

International calling or roaming – what’s the difference? International calling sounds a bit vague, but as far as mobile providers are concerned, it means using your UK mobile phone to make calls overseas. An international call is made to a phone number in any other country, and will require a specific country code before dialling the actual phone number. International calls can incur huge charges if you don’t have them included in your monthly allowance or as an add-on, which tend to offer reduced rates.

Roaming refers to making calls or texts or using your data on your UK mobile phone while you’re abroad. While in the UK you can use your mobile provider’s network signals to make calls, text and use your data, but when abroad, your phone will need to connect to a local mobile network, which is where international roaming charges can kick in. To avoid a nasty surprise bill when you get home, check your roaming allowance beforehand. There are some other tips and tricks to ensure your phone doesn’t rack up charges without you realising, which we’ll go through in more detail below.

Roaming used to be free for UK mobile customers travelling within the EU, but since leaving the European Union, UK mobile providers have begun reintroducing roaming charges. How much you’ll be charged and where the charges will incur will vary based on your service provider, your contract and your destination country. You might still be covered in some countries, as some mobile providers offer roaming add-ons or include limited roaming coverage on certain plans, but be sure to check your terms to avoid any unwanted charges.

SIMs for roaming

You have a few different options available if you’re planning to use your mobile phone abroad. You will likely have the option to roam while overseas, whether you have a contract or pay-as-you-go (PAYG) service, and whether you have a short-term rolling contract or a long-term handset plan. The roaming allowance you have will depend on a few factors, particularly the type of mobile service contract you have, which we’ll look at below.

Contract types

The cost of roaming will vary depending on the type of contract you have and what your service provider offers. Since Brexit, service providers have been reintroducing EU roaming charges and adjusting their fair usage policies. While you can still find free roaming with some providers, it’s important to note this can change at any time, so it’s best to review any contract and allowance details thoroughly before committing. Roaming outside the EU will vary depending on the destination and whether your service provider has a roaming offer available in that country.

  • Roaming on handset contracts – standard handset contracts from the big four UK operators will often include inclusive EU roaming for customers if you signed up prior to a certain date in 2021, as well as pay monthly plans offered by many budget providers
  • Roaming on SIM-only contracts – SIM-only inclusive EU roaming is still available post-Brexit, but most of the big UK providers are only keeping it free for customers who signed up to SIM-only deals prior to certain dates in 2021 (depending on the provider). Any new customers after those dates will have to pay additional roaming charges, at either a daily or monthly rate
  • Roaming on 30-day rolling SIM contracts – at the time of writing, several low-cost service providers such as giffgaff, ID Mobile, SMARTY and some of the big supermarket providers include EU roaming on their 30-day rolling contract plans at no extra cost
  • Roaming on PAYG – most PAYG contracts will not cover roaming charges, though it’s often available as an add-on service for an additional daily or monthly fee

Network providers

Post-Brexit, three of the big four UK mobile providers reintroduced roaming charges in Europe, but O2, Virgin Mobile and some budget networks like SMARTY and ID still offer inclusive EU roaming for now. Keep in mind if you sign up for a long-term contract with inclusive roaming now, you can enjoy inclusive roaming until the end of your contract, even if the company decides to reintroduce roaming fees later on.


EE customers who joined or renewed their contract before the 6th of July, 2021 will still have free inclusive roaming within the EU and can continue to use their UK allowance abroad. Anyone who joined EE after that date will incur a flat fee per day to use their UK data, calls and text allowance while roaming within the EU. Customers on Essential plans get inclusive EU roaming, while customers on EE’s Max Plans have inclusive EU roaming and a handful of other destinations, and they also qualify for inclusive roaming in Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the USA.


Vodafone customers who joined or renewed their contract on or before 11 August 2021, and customers on any of Vodafone’s 'Xtra' plans with 4 Xtra benefits won’t pay any roaming charges within the EU. Vodafone has broken down its charges by roaming zones, and most plans won’t incur any charges if you use your phone in ‘Zone A’, which covers the Republic of Ireland and Isle of Man. More expensive plans include more zone coverage. If roaming isn’t covered, you’ll have to pay a set daily charge for using your allowance in Zone B (Europe), and an increased daily charge for Zones C and Zone D, which include roaming in 32 and 79 worldwide locations respectively. There’s an optional EU roaming pass available for an additional charge.


Three customers who joined or renewed their contract on or before 1 October 2021 won’t pay any roaming charges within the EU. For newer customers, there’s a set daily charge to access the ‘Go Roam in Europe’ scheme, and an additional daily charge to add on their worldwide roaming scheme, though usage terms vary for each.


O2 customers can enjoy free inclusive roaming, even after Brexit, as O2 has committed to keeping roaming free in 48 European destinations. For travel beyond Europe, there’s an optional travel bolt-on you can choose for roaming in certain locations, and select tariffs include the bolt-on at no extra charge.

Specialist roaming SIMs

If your plan doesn’t offer inclusive roaming, or if the options your service provider offers won’t cover your roaming needs, there are some specialist solutions to consider.

  • PAYG local SIM – if you’ll be in another country for an extended period, or you’re travelling in a region that isn’t covered in your provider’s roaming options, the most budget-friendly option is just to buy a local SIM card on arrival, including at the airport. Each country has different requirements for who can buy local SIMs and what you’ll need to take with you to sign up, so check country requirements before you go.
  • Local prepaid SIM – a local prepaid SIM card is the same as a local PAYG SIM, but sometimes you can purchase them beforehand, already topped up and ready to use on arrival. Again, this will vary depending on the provider and the country you’re travelling to, so you’ll have to look into what options are available wherever you’re headed
  • Global prepaid SIM – for people planning to go country-hopping, or those who travel for extended periods, a global prepaid SIM is a useful, but costly option. Global SIMs can be purchased beforehand and you can top up as needed depending on which country you’re going to next, but your allowances will be limited. Global SIMs are probably best left to corporate users, but the option is available if you plan to do an around the world trip sometime soon.

SIMs for international calling

Making calls to friends and families overseas can cost a fortune if you aren’t prepared. Next we’ll have a look at what options are available if you want to phone your loved ones abroad.

Contract types

Plans do exist to cover international calling from your mobile phone, but allowances will vary based on your provider and where (and sometimes when) you call.

  • international calling on handset contracts – international phone calls can be added on to most pay monthly handset plans for an additional fee. Availability and cost will vary by provider, but generally you’ll get reduced per-minute rates for calling overseas, or will get a set allowance of minutes to use for calls abroad
  • international calling on SIM-only contracts – the same optional add-ons are often available on SIM-only contracts from major providers, so you can add on the service as and when you need to
  • international calling on 30-day rolling SIM contracts – most rolling SIM contracts will offer international rate add-ons, so you can update your allowance as required for international calling
  • international calling on PAYG – the same international calling add-ons are available for PAYG by most major providers, but you’ll have to add on the option and then pay for your calls as you make them

Network providers

All major UK providers offer international calling add-ons, so it’s easy to adjust your allowance if you need to make calls to other countries, but it’s not necessarily the cheapest option if you plan to do it frequently. Add-ons will offer reduced calling rates to specific countries or give you an allotted set of minutes you can use to call numbers in certain countries.


EE's pay monthly customers can make international calls at reduced rates to 50 countries with the International add-on or up to 100 countries with the International Extra add-on. PAYG customers get inclusive calls to 34 countries with EE’s International PAYG SIM.


Vodafone’s add-on Extras offer reduced rates for international calls. Plans are available with set monthly minutes for up to 100 countries, and 212 countries respectively.


Three customers can make direct calls to mobiles and landlines in 20+ countries at reduced rates when using their Pay As You Go SIMs. There are also monthly plans that offer a set number of minutes or unlimited calls to numbers in 55 countries.


O2 offers reduced international calling rates for pay monthly and PAYG customers, and offers an international bolt-on and even international bundles for frequent international callers.

Specialist international calling SIMs

If your plan doesn’t offer inclusive roaming, or if the options your service provider offers won’t cover your roaming needs, there are some specialist solutions to consider. In addition to major service providers, you may want to consider specialist networks like LycaMobile and Vectone. These providers offer generous allowances for overseas calls as part of their monthly plans. These plans aren’t necessarily more expensive than the major UK providers, so this option can work well if you make frequent calls abroad.

    Tips to save money

    Whether you plan to call abroad from home, or make calls or use your data while you’re out of the country, we’ve got some helpful money saving tips for you.

    Reducing roaming charges

    In addition to using optional add-ons and checking your allowances before you travel, here are some helpful tips to keep your roaming charges minimal while you’re abroad, and so you can focus on your journey without worrying about unexpected charges when you get home.

    • Turn off roaming on your handset – Most phones are set to automatically connect to a mobile network if we’re out of range. If your phone’s apps are set to update automatically, you can quickly incur data charges while you’re roaming without even knowing it. Turn off auto updates and roaming before you go in order to control your usage
    • Use wifi when possible – this might sound like a no-brainer, but use wifi if you can when you travel. Update your apps, download your holiday playlist and boarding passes, check your emails, post your social updates and make calls back home using wifi to keep your bills under control
    • Check your allowance before you go, not after you get there – we’ve said it before, but it really can make a huge difference to your bill to check your allowance beforehand, and add on whatever service is required to avoid an unfriendly call to customer service to dispute your sky-high bill when you get home
    • Use VOIP or ‘free’ messaging apps to call home – Lots of messaging apps like WhatsApp and Viber offer free calls and video calls over wifi, which can significantly reduce your data usage. If your wifi connection is good, this is a great option, but if the connection is choppy, stable calls and using video might be tricky
    • Watch out for nearby networks – if you’re staying close to a country’s border or in an area split into different regions, you might pick up another country’s network without realising it, and this can be a disaster if that country isn’t included in your roaming allowance. This is something to think about if you’re going on a cruise or road-tripping across a continent, so check your allowance where you’re going and for any neighbouring countries just in case

      Saving money on international calling

      Depending on your service provider, your landline allowance may include international calls. Compare your allowances to see which will cost less. Apps like WhatsApp, Zoom and Skype are great for making calls from home, and you can chat to anyone anywhere for free, as long as you have a strong connection.

Frequently asked questions

What is the cheapest way to make international phone calls?

If you have a decent wifi connection, using an online calling service like Facetime, Skype or WhatsApp is completely free, as long as the person you call is also using the same service. If that’s not an option, check your current mobile allowance to see what add-ons are available, or if you have international calls included in your plan. Your provider can advise the cheapest way to make calls to a certain country if you get in touch.

Is roaming still free in Europe?

From 1 January 2021, free roaming in 47 EU countries, plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein officially ended for UK mobile users, leaving the option to charge for roaming in the hands of mobile providers. Each provider has its own rules and allowances, but technically, you can be charged for roaming everywhere outside the UK. Check your allowance and the options available for your travel destination before you go to avoid returning home to a huge bill of roaming charges.

Is WhatsApp free for international calls?

Voice calling lets you call friends using WhatsApp for free, even if they're in another country. Voice calling uses your mobile phone's internet connection rather than your monthly allowance. Data charges may apply if your wifi drops, so deactivate your mobile network if you’re making internet calls while roaming.