6 min read

4 ways to make the most of the new EU data roaming rules

Lucy Burgess
26 June 2017

How does the new EU ban on roaming charges work? And what will happen after we Brexit? We take a closer look at the new rules.

Since 15 June 2017, roaming charges no longer apply in the EU. New rules dubbed ‘Roam Like Home’ now mean mobile network operators have to charge you at UK rates when you’re abroad.

In other words:

  • If you’re on pay-as-you-go, you’ll be charged the same per minute, per text and per megabyte of data rates as in the UK.

  • If you’re on contract or a pay monthly plan, you can keep using your airtime bundle while you’re abroad.

Sounds great, right?

But how do you make sure you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck? And are there any restrictions you need to look out for?

Here’s our list of top tips on making the most of the EU roaming charges ban.

Tip 1: Check your provider’s Roam Like Home coverage before you take off

Roam Like Home only applies within the EU, not to Europe as a whole.

Some countries’ exclusion will be obvious. However, you may find some other exclusions quite surprising. Here’s a list of some of the countries which you may not know fall outside the law’s scope:

  • Andorra

  • Iceland

  • Monaco

  • Norway

  • Switzerland

  • San Marino

  • Turkey

  • Vatican City

British territories such as Gibraltar, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are also excluded. While they fall under the British sphere of influence, they’re not formally part of the EU.

Getting around country-specific restrictions:

If a country isn’t part of the EU, there isn’t much you can do about it. Normal roaming charges will apply.

That said, some UK network operators have extended the ban on roaming charges to certain countries outside the EU. It’s worth checking with your provider if your destination is on that list.

If your provider doesn't cover the country you're travelling to (and your phone is unlocked), you may want to consider getting another SIM for your trip. Or, even better, buy a local SIM.

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Tip 2: Don’t make overseas voice calls from the UK

The ban on roaming charges only applies when you’re abroad. If you call abroad from the UK you’ll still pay roaming rates.

What to do instead:

First things first, avoid making overseas voice calls. Instead, make an audio or video call over your home WiFi network using an app such as Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

But what if you must make a voice call, because you’re calling someone who’s not tech savvy, for instance?

Well, in that case, there are network providers that specialise in offering preferential international calling rates. Some services, such as Skype, also offer great rates.

Tip 3: Watch out for roaming data caps

Roam Like Home prohibits network providers from capping voice calls and SMS. However, they’re allowed to cap your data. This means that your Roam Like Home data bundle may be smaller than your usual allowance. And charges will apply if you exceed it.

It goes without saying that, if you exceed your monthly airtime allowance, you’ll be charged extra for any additional usage. This applies whether you’re in the UK or abroad and includes voice calls and SMS, not just data.

In both cases, the rate for additional usage abroad should be the same as what you’d be charged in the UK.

Getting around roaming data caps:

Your provider should make their roaming policy clear, so start by checking your operator’s fine print.

Next, make it a point to keep an eye on your usage. You can monitor your data usage from your phone’s settings, your network provider’s mobile app or via a free third party app such as Data Usage or My Data Manager (both are available in iOS and Android versions).

Here are some more tips on using your phone abroad without breaking the bank.

Tip 4: Close to an international border? Keep an eye out on your network

Phones and signal towers don’t understand international borders. If you’re within range, your handset may pick up the signal from another country.

If the country isn’t covered by Roam Like Home, you may unwittingly get hit by roaming charges. This can happen even though you never actually stepped foot across the border.

Avoiding involuntary roaming charges:

If you’re going to be close to an international border, it’s best to turn data roaming off, just in case. Otherwise, make it a point to look out for the name of the provider at the top left of your handset.

Network operators are also obliged to tell you about any applicable roaming charges. Most do this by sending a ‘welcome to [country]’ SMS whenever you connect to a foreign signal. Even if it doesn’t specifically say so, the message’s content should alert you that you’re outside the Roam Like Home area.

What will happen after Brexit

The simple answer is: nobody knows.

Once the UK formally leaves the EU, British network operators will no longer be obliged to observe Roam Like Home rules. It’ll be completely up to the government to decide whether to keep, change or discard them.

Meanwhile, you have just under two years to enjoy using your phone surcharge-free on the continent. That’s one less thing to worry about if you're planning a holiday.

by Lucy Burgess

Lucy has a background in law. Having spent a considerable amount of time researching personal finance, she's one of our in-house experts. 

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