If you’re someone who travels a lot for work or for leisure, you might want to consider your network’s roaming options when choosing a new mobile deal. Roaming is an extra available on most phone plans, allowing you to use your phone and SIM card abroad, sometimes for no extra cost. With the UK having now left the EU, it is more important than ever to check your current mobile phone contract, and future contracts, to see if any roaming charges within the EU are now applicable to you. Here’s everything you need to know.
Roaming is the term used to describe your phone’s connection when you leave the network in your home country. For example, if your phone uses a Three SIM card, when you leave the UK, you will no longer be in a Three network range. However, thanks to international mobile roaming, most network providers have agreements with networks in other countries that’ll allow you to connect to a local network. These agreements mean you can make and receive voice calls and text messages, go online, email and the like while visiting another country. If you are not on the right plan, however, and outside any roaming partnerships your mobile operator may have then this could prove costly.
If you’re using a UK mobile network, roaming is usually free within the EU. That said, there has been no absolute update about the impact of Brexit on roaming charges. Since the UK has left the EU, however, all mobile operators have continued to offer EU roaming as part of your existing mobile contract. Roaming beyond Europe will usually come at a cost, though it’s often discounted if it’s provided via an add-on package. If you’re after the best international data plan for your trip, you should check with your provider to see if they cover your destination and to what extent.
This all really depends on how often you travel and if you use a mobile phone while abroad. In many cases, roaming comes free for a certain number of countries, usually within Europe although this could change now the UK is out of the EU, so it’s a handy extra to have. Other times, you will have to pay extra to have roaming enabled in more remote places. If, for example, you travel to a family home in America twice a year and are familiar with the area, you might prefer to buy a local SIM that you keep specifically for those trips (provided your phone is also unlocked).
If you’re a more casual traveller, booking weekends away here and there, you won’t want to be worried about getting your hands on a local SIM card. That’s when a little research into the best phone plan for international travel can give you great peace of mind and let you make the most of your holiday.
Before Brexit all the major UK networks covered the main European destinations as standard on their plans, although this doesn’t always apply for customers on a pay as you go (PAYG) plan rather than a pay monthly plan.
As of 1 January 2021 the UK is no longer governed by European rule which effectively does mean that the current status quo of no roaming charges among major networks could change. All of the networks have said that they will continue to offer this service as standard but the official UK government stance is as follows: "The guarantee of free mobile phone roaming throughout the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway will end. Check with your phone operator to find out about any roaming charges you might get."
When it comes to PAYG and possible roaming chargers, the good news is that the situation before Brexit is to remain. This means that there is a mandate for mobile operators to apply a financial limit for data roaming usage. This is currently €50 euros (£45). This is set to continue and operators are also required to send out alerts when you have reached your 80% and 100% of your own data roaming limit - this is a worldwide situation so should offer some piece of mind that you won’t come home to a horrific bill.
Below is a list of the main network operators and what they offer when it comes to roaming SIMs. It’s worth noting that, despite Brexit, all major mobile operators cover roaming in Europe as part of their plans. This isn’t the case for PAYG so it is worth checking to see what the situation is with roaming on a pay as you go plan.
As an international brand, Vodafone offers one of the most extensive roaming networks – Vodafone Global Roaming. Its plans break down into three categories:
Here there are 51 European destinations where you can Roam-free. This means you are free to use your UK plan for data, minutes and texts. Even with Brexit, this is currently still part of a Vodafone plan. Vodafone also prides itself for being ‘first for 5G Roaming’. As it says on its site: “We’re the first UK mobile network to offer 5G roaming in Spain, Germany and Italy – reaching 47 European towns and cities in total, including Milan, Rome, Naples, Madrid, Barcelona, Malaga, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Hamburg.”
It is worth noting that, for some reason, the iPhone 12 is not yet compatible with 5G roaming. According to Vodafone, this should change some time in 2021.
This is a service that is available in 105 global destinations, where you can use your UK plan for just £6 a day. Pay monthly, SIM-only and mobile broadband Vodafone phone deals come with these roaming plans as standard. But it’s worth noting that this doesn’t include Vodafone Basics SIM-only deals.
If you choose a Vodafone plan that has Global Roaming Plue, then you will get 81 destinations included in your plan that you can roam in at no extra cost. These are all the European destinations, plus countries such as the USA, Australia and Canada.
If the country is not included in your roaming plan, Vodafone will text you when you arrive at your destination to let you know about the local charges.
Customers on Unlimited Max or Unlimited/Unlimited Lite plans will have slightly different coverage (and a usage cap of 25GB) so be sure to check your roaming allowances with Vodafone before you jet off.
Three has two roaming plans on offer, both of which reside under the ‘Go Roam’ banner. These are:
Go Roam in Europe is available in 49 European destinations and is automatically added to all of its plans.
Go Roam Around the World is available in 22 global destinations, taking the total Go Roam destinations to 71.
Terms apply for both roaming services - this is what you need to know:
In European destinations: up to 20GB of data at no extra cost. According to Three, if you go over this fair use limit, then you are subject to a surcharge. The good news is that there are no fair use limits for calls made or texts sent within its Go Roam in Europe destinations.
In other destinations:
Up to 12GB of data at no extra cost (if your usual plan allowance is higher than this)
Up To 5000 texts per month to UK numbers (if you usually have unlimited texts)
Up to 3000 minutes to UK numbers (if you usually have 3000 or more minutes)
Three will text you with local charges when you arrive at your destination. PAYG customers will need to have used their SIM card in the UK before Go Roam can be activated abroad. All other customers will have their devices automatically switched to roaming.
O2 has several options for roaming abroad:
O2 Europe Zone: this allows roaming in 44 European destinations (something that hasn’t changed with the UK leaving the EU)
O2 Travel Inclusive Zone: This allows roaming to 75 global destinations at no extra cost (the 44 European destinations plus 21 others) This allows you 120 texts and 120 minutes daily plus data and is available on O2 Refresh and SIM-only tariffs. There is no data cap but traffic management is used.
Daily fixed charge for all other plans and something called the O2 Travel Bolt On, which allows further roaming to destinations outside its Inclusive Zone for £4.99 a day.
O2 Travel options can only be used for periodic travel, not extensive stays abroad.
There are myriad roaming options available through EE. Here are the options you can go for.
EE allows roaming as part of its mobile contracts to 47 European destinations
Max plans bought after 10 May 2017 include roaming for the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico.
EU roaming is free of charge with EE, as it is with the other major suppliers. The EE Travel Data Pass covers more remote destinations, providing a set data allowance at a daily price:
500MB will cost £4.80 a day in: Canada, USA
500MB will cost £6 a day in: Australia, China, India, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, UAE
150MB will cost £6 a day in 45 destinations including Bangladesh, Brazil, Jamaica, Japan
You will only pay on days when you use your phone, and you don’t need to cancel it when you get home. It will automatically reactivate the next time you next head abroad.
After you use up your daily data allowance, none of the EE roaming plans will charge you without warning. Instead, you’ll be prompted to extend your roaming plan so you can stay connected.
This depends on your network provider. Bear in mind that not all destinations will be free to roam in or included in your plan. Your ability to roam in any destination should be treated as subject to change, so always make sure to confirm if your destination is covered by your network provider before travelling. Even where roaming is free and requires no special activation, you should still double-check if there are any fair use limits before you start using your phone abroad.
Last updated: 14 January 2021