Guide To International Roaming

by - Last Updated on July 7, 2017

Thinking about taking your mobile phone abroad with you? Recent changes in mobile roaming laws mean that the costs might not be as prohibitive as you think. However, there are always exceptions to the rule. We’re taking a look at everything you need to know about mobile roaming, so before you take your phone on your hols, read on!

What is Mobile Roaming?

Mobile roaming is very basically the charges that you get for using your mobile outside of the UK. In some countries you’re going to pay more, in some countries you won’t. There are also some additional issues, such as whether or not your phone will actually work outside of the country, so we’ll cover those too.

Mobile Roaming Inside the EU

Let’s start out with the good news: as of June, 2017, mobile roaming charges inside the EU have been abolished. Essentially, this means that you can use your phone in any of the 28 countries of the EU in the same way as you would at home. If you’re on a mobile contract, then the minutes, texts and data you use will simply be deducted from your regular monthly limits, just like at home. If you’re pay as you go, then the prices will be the same as at home. Simple. But…

There has to be a but. There are two concerns here. The first concern is that as long as you stay within your limits, you’re fine, but exceed your monthly limits, and you might not be. If you have, say, 100 calling minutes, and you use 101 calling minutes whilst abroad, that extra minute could cost you premium prices. Each network has their own rules for extra charges, so you’ll need to check those out with your operator before leaving home.

The second concern is that there are a few countries that you might think are in the EU, but that actually aren’t. Liechtenstein, Andorra, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland are NOT EU members, which means that this no-roaming charge rule does NOT apply in these countries.

Before Travelling in the EU

To avoid any complications, before you go on your holidays, there are two things that you’ll need to check out with your operator. The first is those charges for exceeding your monthly limits. Secondly, you’ll need to make sure that your phone is able to go into roaming mode. Some operators need you to call customer service and activate roaming before leaving the country (this tends to be more true for PAYG customers, but can apply to contract customers too).

Dealing with these two questions is pretty easy. Just give customer service a call (or an email). Contact info for the major UK operators is:

If you’re concerned about exceeding your monthly contract limits and having to pay extra, then it could also be worth adding a few minutes, texts, or a little data to your monthly plan before travelling. Many operators allow add-ons or bolt-ons, where you can add, for example, 1 GB of data to your plan for the current month. You’ll need to arrange this before you leave!

Mobile Roaming Outside of the EU

Outside of the EU, operators are free to charge you roaming fees, and these can get pretty expensive. Distance isn’t always an indicator of price, either. Countries that tend to be popular with UK travellers, such as Australia and the US, tend to get cheaper roaming prices than places that are closer but less popular as destinations, like Morocco, for example.

Roaming prices vary not only by operator, but also depend on the country that you want to travel to. Some operators will also offer specific roaming packages, so you can get cheaper service whilst abroad. You can find out more about roaming with major UK operators here:

Do be aware that roaming charges add up very quickly and can be very high. This is especially true for mobile data. If at all possible, try to get a roaming package deal to cut costs.

Can’t I Just Use a Local SIM Card?

As an alternative to possibly costly mobile roaming, you may choose to use a local SIM card. Just go into a mobile operator when you arrive at your destination and get either a PAYG SIM or a monthly contract SIM. This shouldn’t be too pricey, and depending on how long you plan on travelling for could be a great plan.

A local SIM isn’t without its negative sides though. First of all, you’ll miss any calls or messages that go to your normal number. This may or may not be a problem for you. Secondly, you will need to ensure that your phone is unlocked before leaving the UK, otherwise a local SIM will not work. The simplest way to check if your phone is unlocked is to borrow a SIM card from a friend who uses a different network. If that SIM doesn’t work, then your phone is locked.

To unlock your phone, contact your operator using the contact info we listed above. The operator is required to unlock your phone when asked, but there may be a small charge, and the process could take a few days.

Will My Phone Even Work Abroad?

This is a slightly more difficult question to answer. There are two kinds of mobile phone network: GSM and CDMA. Chances are that your phone works with one or the other, since very few phones work with both. If you got your phone inside the EU then it’s almost certainly a GSM phone. This means that inside of the EU you should be absolutely fine.

The real problem areas are the US and Asia, since many of these countries use a combination of GSM and CDMA networks. If you take your mobile to the US, for example, you can freely use AT&T as an operator (since it’s GSM), but you won’t be able to use Verizon (CDMA).

This probably isn’t going to be an issue for you for the most part if you’re simply using roaming. If you want to buy a local SIM card, it could be more tricky. The best plan here is simply to take your phone anyway. If it doesn’t work, you can always buy a cheap disposable mobile to make your calls.

Disputing Mobile Roaming Charges

If you get a bill that has huge mobile roaming charges on it, is there anything you can do? You can try to dispute your bill. However, for the most part you are responsible for any charges incurred during your vacation, and saying that you didn’t know about those charges is not going to be an acceptable excuse. Most mobile operators tend to be quite reasonable though, so you can try giving customer service a call.

There are a couple of exceptions here. If you were travelling inside the EU and got charge mobile roaming fees when you shouldn’t have been charged them, or if your phone contract has a cap on it (some operators allow you to set a monthly spending limit, if your bill is over that limit, you may have a case). Your first step should be to contact your operator.

If you do not get a satisfactory result through your operator, you can then go on to consult an independent ombudsmen. Your mobile operator will either be a part of CICAS or Ombudsmen Services: Communication, simply check your operator’s website to find out which, then contact the appropriate office with your complaint.

Mobile Roaming in Conclusion

Taking your phone on holiday is a lot cheaper than it used to be, at least inside the EU. Travelling further afield can get pricey though. It’s up to you to check out possible extra costs before leaving, since you will be held responsible for them (ignorance is no excuse!). So do your homework before you leave!