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Cheap Data Roaming Avoid shock bills using the web abroad

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If you're not careful, using the web abroad could rack up a bill of £100s or even £1,000s. Surfing the net can cost as much as 20p/MB in EU countries, and up to £8/MB around the rest of the world.

The most sensible plan is to keep your phone turned off. But if this isn't possible, there are ways to cut costs. This guide shows you how to get the cheapest data access wherever you are.


Quick tips before you go

If you do nothing else before you go, these quick tips should help to keep costs to a minimum:

How much does data cost?

Using the internet abroad costs a lot more than it does in the UK. Mobile phone networks charge for internet access by megabyte (MB) of data downloaded.

To give you an idea on how much data you'll use, try the Vodafone data usage calculator. As a rough rule of thumb, 1MB will let you send about 20 emails without attachments. The amount you'll be charged depends on your mobile phone network and location.

Every year since 2007 the EU has lowered the maximum cost of using your mobile while within the borders of any of its countries. On 1 July this year new caps again came into force, reducing the cost of data to 20p/MB incl VAT in the EU.

Further afield it can cost as much as £8/MB - this is what Orange charges in the US, for example. As a 30min TV programme is 500MB, that could easily add up to £4,000.

Three mobile

Free roaming with Three Mobile in 16 countries. Three's Feel At Home* feature allows those on contract (plus pay-as-you-go users who've bought an add-on package) to use their UK allowances in 16 countries at no extra charge.

Destinations include the US, Italy, Australia and Hong Kong, France, Switzerland, Finland, Norway and Israel (see the full list here). Any calls, texts and data used will come from your UK allowance, although you'll be charged international rates for contacting foreign numbers.

 

Sim-only customers must be with Three for 30 days before they can use Feel at Home. If you're not already a customer, but you're planning on visiting one of the covered countries, here's a neat trick. You can pick up a pay-as-you-go Sim, buy an add-on with an allowance, and access it immediately abroad.

Data roaming costs outside the EU compared (incl VAT)
EE¹
O2
Orange
Three
T-Mobile ¹
Vodafone
US
N/A
£6/MB
£8/MB
Free
N/A
£3/MB for up to 5MB. then £15 for every 5MB after
India
N/A
£6/MB
£8/MB
£3/MB
N/A
£3/MB for up to 5MB. then £15 for every 5MB after
Turkey
N/A
£6/MB
£8/MB
£3/MB
N/A
45.9p/MB
Australia
N/A
£6/MB
£8/MB
Free
N/A
£3/MB for up to 5MB. then £15 for every 5MB after
Cuba
N/A
N/A
£8/MB
£6/MB
N/A
£3/MB for up to 5MB. then £15 for every 5MB after
¹ EE and T-Mobile customers can't use the internet on their phone abroad unless they buy a data add-on or Travel Booster. The company says this is to prevent users running up large bills for internet usage. Table correct as of 25 July 2014.

Get it wrong, and it could cost you £1,000s

If you don't take precautions before travelling, you could arrive home to a nasty bill shock.

Forumite shockedandstunned really suffered:

Just got my stepson's phone bill and it's over £4,500. He's been to Turkey for 2 weeks and left data roaming on/been on the internet, as it's all data charges. - shockedandstunned - Aug 2012

Use free wi-fi hotspots abroad

If you'll only occasionally need to access the web while travelling, and your laptop, mobile or tablet has built-in wi-fi, using wireless hotspots is the cheapest way to get online.

How to find a free wi-fi hotspot

  1. Be prepared. Set aside a few minutes at home before you go, ask your hotel and check online sites that list wireless hotspots around the world.

  2. Local hotspots. JiWire allows you to type in a place name and search for local spots among the 800,000+ on its database. It's worth checking Free Hotspot and Hotspot Locations too.

  3. Try Google Maps. You can also use Google Maps to find places which offer free wireless access. To find them, type in the name of the area you're going to, click on the marker, then "Search nearby" and type in "free wi-fi". The map will show all locations with free wi-fi. Alternatively, type into the search box on the Google Maps home page: Free wi-fi loc: PLACE NAME, eg, Free wi-fi loc: Calas de Mallorca.

WARNING! Beware cyber hacking and thieves

Mobile data roaming add-ons

Remember, the best option is always to use wi-fi when travelling abroad - it will often be free, and even if you have to pay it's likely to be much cheaper than using data roaming.

If you do have to use data roaming, then it is still possible to cut the cost. If you're a monthly contract customer and you're only likely to use a few megabytes of data, get an overseas data bundle from your network. Below are the major mobile providers' offerings.

WARNING! Opting out of the €50 EU cut-off limit

Data roaming add-ons for within the EU

Orange

Orange EU mobile data bundle*£3/day for 100MB/day

  • What: 100MB daily allowance in the EU
  • Cost: £3/day
  • How: Apply the bundle anytime, you're only charged when you use data in an EU country. To get it, text EU100 to 2088 for free from your Orange phone.
  • Countries not included: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus (north), Faroe Islands, Gaza Strip, Georgia, Israel, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine.
  • Out of bundle charges: If you reach the 100MB limit, the £3 charge and allowance is automatically reapplied. This can be done up to 10 times per day. After this you’ll be charged 19.8p/MB.

If you're with Orange*, there's only one data bundle available for use in Europe, which costs £3 for 100MB lasting one day.

You’ll only be charged for the add-on each day you use data, and any unused data in a day won’t be carried over.

Unfortunately no data bundles exist for pay-as-you-go customers on Orange.

EE

EE Euro roaming data add-on*From £1/day for 20MB/day

  • What: 20MB daily allowance in the EU
  • Cost: £1/day
  • How: This add-on can only be purchased while abroad - turn on data roaming and open your browser to purchase it.
  • Countries not included: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus (North), Faroe Islands, Gaza Strip, Georgia, Israel, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, West Bank.
  • Out of bundle charges: Once you've used the allowance in the bundle, you'll be given the option to buy another. If not, the internet will stop working.

EE* has European data bundles starting from £1/day for 20MB available on pay monthly and pay-as-you-go. You can opt for a higher allowance of 100MB for £3, or for a longer trip take 200MB to use over 30 days at a cost of £35.

On EE you can't use internet abroad without a bundle, so when it runs out you either have the option to buy another or stop using data altogether.

O2

O2 Travel*£1.99/day for unlimited data

  • What: Unltd. data in Europe (50MB/day on PAYG)
  • Cost: £1.99/day
  • How: Before travelling check you have O2 Travel on your account by calling customer services. If not, text TRAVELON to 23336 (on Pay Monthly) or 21300 (on pay-as-you-go) to activate it.


  • Countries not included: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gaza Strip, Georgia, Israel, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, West Bank.
  • Out of bundle charges: If on pay-as-you-go and you reach the daily limit, the service will stop. If you want to use more you can reset your allowance for another £1.99 by texting MORETRAVEL to 21300 or wait for your allowance to be reset automatically at midnight.

The O2 Travel* service costs £1.99 a day for unlimited data on pay monthly - make sure it's activated before you head off. Pay-as-you-go users get 50MB/day, and will have to pay again if they want more data after reaching this limit.

Vodafone

Vodafone EuroTraveller* £2/day to use your UK price plan while in Europe

  • What: Use of your UK allowance
  • Cost: £2/day
  • How: To opt in to Vodafone EuroTraveller, call 5555 or text ADD to 40506 from your Vodafone phone before you go.

  • Countries not included: Belarus, Gaza Strip, Georgia, Israel, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Ukraine, West Bank.
  • Out of bundle charges: EuroTraveller uses your UK price plan's inclusive allowances. If you exceed your inclusive UK allowances, you will be charged as if you are still at home.

Until 31 Aug Vodafone's EuroTraveller* costs £2/day (midnight to 11.59pm, local time) and lets you use your minutes, texts and mobile internet for the same price as in the UK. At the end of August the price will go back to the usual £3/day.

You'll only be charged on the days you use your phone and there's no charge for receiving calls. By opting in to Vodafone EuroTraveller, you'll automatically opt out of the monthly spend limit for internet in its Europe zone.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile Internet Travel Booster*From £1/day for 20MB/day

  • What: From 20MB/day
  • Cost: From £1/day
  • How: Get them from the Euro Internet Booster page when you first access the web abroad; the cost will be added to your bill.
  • Countries not included: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus (North), Faroe Islands, Gaza Strip, Georgia, Israel, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, West Bank.
  • Out of bundle charges: Because you can't use mobile web abroad without a Booster, you will never incur any extra charges that you don't know about. You'll be prompted to buy another Booster when either the time expires or use up your Booster allowance.

Within T-Mobile's Euro travel zone, customers aren't able to access the internet without first purchasing an Internet Travel Booster*. Boosters start from £1/day for 20MB/day.

Three

Three Euro Internet Pass*£5/day for unlimited EU data

  • What: Unlimited daily allowance
  • Cost: £5/day
  • How: Buy the pass before you travel - or Three will send a text prompt to buy when you first turn on your phone in an EU country. To get it, visit the Three mobile site.
  • Countries not included: Can't be used in a number of European countries, incl Switzerland and Turkey. See full list.
  • Out of bundle charges: Standard EU roaming charges of 19.8p/MB apply if you don’t buy a pass every day. Before your Euro Internet Pass expires, you'll receive a text with the option to buy another pass for the following day. You won’t be charged after your pass expires until you re-purchase a pass or accept standard EU roaming charges.

If the country you're visiting is one of Three's Feel at Home destinations, you can use your UK minutes, texts and data allowance for free without having to buy a pass. If it's not or you need more, then the Euro Internet Pass* gives you unlimited access to mobile data for just £5/day.

You can't use it for video streaming or tethering, and streamed music may not play as well as in the UK. If you have an active Euro Internet Pass and you travel to a country where the pass isn’t valid, you’ll be charged for data at standard EU roaming rates.

Three allows you to have one of each add-on per month, which means you can't use the Euro Internet Pass alongside the International Saver, for example.

Add-ons for outside the EU

Orange

Orange Travel Data Saver*From £3/day for 20MB

  • What: From 20MB/day

  • Cost: Bundle costs will depend on the country you're visiting, so check with Orange before travelling. Prices start from £3/day.
  • How: The bundle activates when you use data abroad, so you'll only be charged the bundle fee each day you use data.
  • Out of bundle charges: Once you've used ten times your bundle allowance in one day, you'll be charged £8/MB.

For pay monthly customers travelling outside Europe, Orange offers a Travel Data Saver bundle*, starting from £3/day for 20MB. There are also larger bundles that work on a 30-day or monthly recurring basis.

However there are no bundles available for pay-as-you-go customers.

EE

EE roaming data add-on*From £3/day for 20MB

  • What: From 20MB/day

  • Cost: Bundle costs will depend on the country you're visiting, so check with EE before travelling. Prices start from £3/day.
  • How: This add-on can only be purchased while abroad - turn on data roaming and open your browser to purchase it.
  • Out of bundle charges: Once you've used the allowance in the bundle, you'll be given the option to buy another. If not, the internet will stop working.

Pay monthly and pay-as-you-go EE customers can sign up for a roaming data add-on* when travelling outside of Europe. Prices start from £3/day for 20MB, with larger allowances lasting up to 30 days also available.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile Internet Travel Booster*From £3 for 20MB

  • What: From 20MB to use over 24 days

  • Cost: Bundle costs will depend on the country you're visiting, so check with T-Mobile before travelling. Prices start from £3.
  • How: This Booster can only be purchased while abroad - turn on data roaming and open your browser to purchase.
  • Out of bundle charges: Once you've used the allowance in the bundle, you'll be given the option to buy another. If not, the internet will stop working.

If you're on T-Mobile it's possible to buy one of its Internet Travel Boosters* for using data outside Europe. Bundles start at £3 for 20MB, although there are a range of bundles available depending on how much data you need and the length of your stay.

Whilst Boosters are available on pay-as-you-go, the cheapest costs a hefty £30 for 50MB, and lasts 30 days.

Vodafone

Vodafone Data Traveller*£5/day for 25MB

  • What: 25MB/day
  • Cost: £5/day
  • How: Contact customer services before you go to opt in. Then, you'll only pay for the days you go online.

  • Out of bundle charges: Once you've used your allowance you'll pay standard data rates - £3/MB up to 5MB, then £15 for every 5MB thereafter.

Vodafone's Data Traveller* add-on can be used outside Europe. The cut-off limit is £51 (including VAT) - if you want more data, you'll have to arrange it with Vodafone.

If you're travelling to one of the nine selected countries, including Australia and the US, you can also opt for Vodafone's WorldTraveller* add-on. This costs £5 and lets you use your UK allowance of minutes, texts and data without any roaming fees.

O2

O2 Data Abroad Bolt On*£120/month for 200MB

  • What: 200MB/month
  • Cost: £120/month
  • How: You can sign up for the Bolt On by logging into your My O2 account.

  • Out of bundle charges: The standard data roaming rate outside Europe is £6/MB, which is what you'll pay after exceeding your allowance. O2 automatically caps your data usage at £40 per month while you're abroad.

O2 offers a Data Abroad Bolt on* for pay monthly customers travelling out of Europe, which costs a whopping £120/month for 200MB.

If you exceed the allowance you'll be charged at its standard roaming rate of £6/MB, but O2 will cap your usage at 50MB (£40) per month. If you want to lift the limit you can do so by calling customer services, although this isn't recommended given the cost.

Only the Blackberry Data Roaming Bolt On is available for pay-as-you-go users, which costs £5/month for 10MB. This only gives email and messenger services on Blackberry devices.

Can you use these data add-ons with tablets?

Switch Sim for cheaper rates

If you're a frequent traveller, a heavy data user or going away for a bit longer than usual, you may be better off getting a cheap data Sim specifically for the country you're travelling to - especially if your mobile provider's data add-on isn't that hot.

It's likely to be the most cost-effective way to get online (if you haven't got free wi-fi). The per-MB savings here can be huge, as you'll sidestep roaming rates entirely and only pay local costs.

But it can be a fiddly process, and there's no easy solution to finding the best deal. With most Sims, you'll also need an unlocked mobile (or mobile device).

Finding the right Sim

There are three types of Sim card you can buy to help cut your roaming costs while abroad:

  1. PAYG local Sim (bought on arrival). If you regularly visit the same country, the cheapest way to get online (if you don't have wi-fi) is to buy a local Sim when you arrive at your destination. Though this is the very cheapest way, it is a bit of a faff, and you may prefer to have something set up before you go. More info.

  2. Pre-paid local and global Sims. For those who regularly visit one country or go for quite a while, the alternative (a lot less hassle) is to buy a local Sim for the country you're visiting before you go, and load it with credit. If you travel to numerous countries, a global Sim might be more suitable. More info.

PAYG local Sim (bought on arrival)

To get recommendations of PAYG overseas Sim cards, Wiki Resource is a good tool, although its accuracy depends on how up-to-date people have kept the info. Use the list on the left-hand side to pick a country, and it'll show you available PAYG data Sim options, where to buy them when you arrive and how to get connected once you get the Sim.

Alternatively if you're willing to do a little more legwork yourself, Wikipedia lists the mobile networks available in every country.

Once you know which providers operate in the country you're travelling to, it's possible to compare deals on their sites before you go, and buy a PAYG Sim card when you get there.

Pre-paid data Sims

There are providers offering pre-paid data Sim deals, so if your mobile provider's data add-on deal doesn't meet your needs, consider getting one of these.

As a rule of thumb, if you're going away for a short time it's better to go with your UK provider as they tend to charge by the day - although bundles for longer periods are available, they're costly. If you'll be travelling for longer it may be worth investing in a dedicated data Sim.

We've done a comparison of our top picks by looking at the costs calling from five countries - Spain, Australia, USA, Italy and Brazil. If you think another provider is better however, let us know.

Dataroam

Dataroam*Cheapest overall rates, 40 countries from 6p/MB

  • What: Dataroam International Pre-paid Sim Card
  • Upfront cost: £14.99
  • Free credit: 50MB of data included
  • Cost/MB: From 6p/MB

The Dataroam International Pre-Paid Sim* offers rates from the equivalent of 6p/MB when you buy a data bundle, and can be used in 40 countries, including most of Europe and the US. Check the country you're visiting is included in the low rates before buying. More...

Gosim

GoSim*Best for globetrotters, 3G in 90 countries from 21p/MB

  • What: GoSim International Sim Card
  • Upfront cost: £15
  • Free credit: $10
  • Cost/MB: From 21p/MB

GoSim's International Sim* works in 175 countries, although 3G data is only available in 90 of them - in the remainder, you'll get a much slower data connection. The fact that it works in a large number of countries makes it a good bet for those heading to more far-flung desitnations. Check whether where you're going has coverage on the website.

The Sim costs £15 and includes $10 (about £6) in airtime credit. Rates start from 21p/MB, and vary by location. Although not quite as cheap as Dataroam, because GoSim's card is pay-as-you-go there's no need to buy a bundle of data so you only pay for what you use. More...

What to do if you receive a BIG bill in error

If you arrive home from holiday to a mammoth mobile bill and you've been charged incorrectly, you should be able to get some money back.

Step 1: Complain to your provider

Contact your provider straight away. Send it a copy of your bill, highlighting the relevant charges and the reasons why you are disputing them.

Below are the contact details of some of the main mobile providers:

Online contact Customer services number
Three Call 333 from your Three phone
O2 Call 202 or 4445 (PAYG) from your O2 phone
Orange Call 150 or 450 (PAYG) from your Orange phone
T-Mobile Call 150 from your T-Mobile phone
EE Call 150 from your EE phone
Vodafone Call 191 from your Vodafone phone

Step 2: After eight weeks, complain to the Ombudsman

If after eight weeks you've not resolved the problem or are unhappy with your supplier's decision, you can submit your complaint to one of the two independent Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes. The schemes are impartial and free.

The two to go to are CISAS or Ombudsman Services: Communications. Use the ADR checker on Ofcom's website to check which one your provider's signed up to.

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