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Cheap Data Roaming

Avoid shock bills using the web abroad

** PLEASE DESCRIBE THIS IMAGE **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 up to 20p/MB in Europe, and as much £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:

Switch off data roaming and use wi-fi

Turn off automatic app updates

Don't watch TV, films or download music

Pack your Kindle Keyboard for free web access

Get special apps to compress the amount of data you use

iPhone users: update your software

Are you opted into the EU cut-off?

Use "offline" maps

Don't download attachments and manually retrieve emails

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 a mobile to contact any European Economic Area (EEA) number while within the borders of the zone, which covers all 28 EU member states, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway (but not Switzerland).

On 1 July this year new caps again came into force, reducing the cost of using mobile data to 20p/MB incl VAT in the EEA. A full list of EU and EEA member states can be found on Gov.uk. 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

Free roaming in 16 countries

Three's Feel At Home*

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, Australia, Hong Kong and a whole host of European countries, plus others (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 contract customers must be with Three for 30 days before they can use Feel at Home. However if you're not already a customer and are planning on travelling soon, there's a neat trick: you can pick up a pay-as-you-go Sim, buy an add-on with an allowance and then access free roaming abroad immediately.

Data roaming costs outside Europe compared (incl VAT)
EE1 O2 Orange Three T-Mobile1 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 N/A 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 27 November 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 have free iOS and Android app that allow 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. 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.

While the existence of wireless networks accessible to everybody is undoubtedly a great thing, be wary of cyber hacking and thieves. Don't enter any secure info when using public wi-fi spots, as there's a risk it can be intercepted by others on the network and used for identity theft.

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.

Opting out of the €50 EU cut-off limit

Current EU regulations mean providers have to cut you off when you've used €50 (around £48 including VAT) of data in a month when roaming overseas (see the MSE News story Data charges slashed).

When signing up for one of the mobile provider add-ons listed below, you may be automatically opted out of the EU €50 cut-off limit. This means you'll have to monitor your data usage carefully, otherwise you could arrive home to a big bill.

Data roaming add-ons for within Europe

Orange

Pay from £3/day for 50MB/day

Orange

Orange* customers who pay £3/day can get a 50MB daily allowance in the EU. Alternatively you can get 100MB/day for £5/day.

If you reach the allowance limit, the charge and bundle is automatically reapplied. This can be done up to 10 times per day. After this you'll be charged 19.8p/MB. The allowance is for pay monthly customers only; no bundles exist on pay-as-you-go.

How do I use it?
  • Apply the bundle anytime, you're only charged when you use data in an EU country. To get it, text EU50 to 1139 for free from your Orange phone. Unfortunately no data bundles exist for pay-as-you-go customers on Orange.
  • 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.
  • While a number of countries are included, the following are not: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus (north), Faroe Islands, Gaza Strip, Georgia, Israel, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine.
EE

Pay from £3/day for 50MB/day

EE*

EE* customers who pay £3/day can get a 50MB daily allowance in the EU.

You can opt for a higher allowance of 100MB for £5, or for a slightly longer trip take 200MB to use over 7 days at a cost of £12. The bundle is for both pay monthly and pay-as-you-go customers.

How do I use it?
  • This add-on can only be purchased while abroad - turn on data roaming and open your browser to get it. 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.
  • While a number of countries are included, the following are not: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus (North), Faroe Islands, Gaza Strip, Georgia, Israel, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, West Bank.
  • 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

Pay £1.99/day for unlimited data

O2 Travel*

O2 pay monthly customers paying £1.99 a day can get unlimited data in Europe with the O2 Travel* service. Pay-as-you-go customers receive 50MB per day.

How do I use it?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • While a number of countries are included, the following are not: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gaza Strip, Georgia, Israel, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, West Bank.
Vodafone

Pay £3/day and use your UK price plan in Europe

Vodafone*

Vodafone customers paying £3/day can use their UK price plan in Europe with the Vodafone EuroTraveller* add-on. You'll only be charged on the days you use your phone and you can receive calls for free.

How do I use it?
  • To opt in to Vodafone EuroTraveller*, call 5555 or text ADD to 40506 from your Vodafone phone before you go.
  • While a number of countries are included the following are not: Belarus, Gaza Strip, Georgia, Israel, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Ukraine, West Bank.
  • 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.
  • A day is from is classified as midnight to 11.59pm, local time.
  • By opting in to Vodafone EuroTraveller*, you'll automatically opt out of the monthly spend limit for internet in its Europe Zone.
T-Mobile

Pay from £3/day for 50MB/day

T-Mobile*

T-Mobile customers paying £3/day for an Internet Travel Booster* add-on are entitled to a 50MB data allowance, or £5/day for 100MB. 200MB (£12) and 500MB (£25) bundles - which last seven days each - are also available.

Because you can't use mobile web abroad without the service, you will never incur any hidden extra charges. You'll be prompted to buy another Booster when either the time expires or use your allowance.

How do I use it?
  • Get the service from the Internet Travel Booster* when you first access the web abroad; the cost will be added to your bill.
  • While a number of countries are included the following are not: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus (North), Faroe Islands, Gaza Strip, Georgia, Israel, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, West Bank.
Three

Pay £5/day for unlimited EU data

Three*

Three customers who spend £5/day receive unlimited free EU data. 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.

How do I use it?
  • 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.
  • The add-on can't be used in a number of European countries, incl Switzerland and Turkey. See full list.
  • 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.
  • 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 Europe

Orange

Pay from £3/day for 20MB/day

Orange*

For pay monthly customers travelling outside Europe, Orange offers two Roaming Data Bundles, starting at £3/day for 20MB depending on your exact destination. There's also a 100MB bundle available for £10/day, although none exist for pay-as-you-go customers.

How do I use it?
  • The bundle activates when you use data abroad, so you'll only be charged the bundle fee each day you use data.
  • Once you've used ten times your bundle allowance in one day, you'll be charged a painful £8/MB.
EE

Pay from £3/day for 20MB/day

EE*

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 seven days also available. Bundle costs may depend on the country you're visiting, so check with EE* before you go.

How do I use it?
  • This add-on can only be purchased while abroad - turn on data roaming and open your browser to purchase it.
  • 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.
T-Mobile

Pay from £3/day for 20MB/day

T-Mobile*

If you're on T-Mobile it's possible to buy one of its Internet Travel Boosters* for using data outside Europe. The smallest bundle starts at £3 for 20MB to use over 24 hours, up to £40 for 500MB lasting a week.

The same service is also available on pay-as-you-go for the same price. Bundle costs may depend on the country you're visiting, so check with T-Mobile* before travelling.

How do I use it?
  • This service can only be purchased while abroad - turn on data roaming and open your browser to purchase.
  • 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.
Vodafone

Pay £5/day for 25MB

Vodafone*

Vodafone's Data Traveller* add-on can be used outside Europe in any country in its Rest of World Zone 1. The cut-off limit is £50 (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 additional roaming fees.

How do I use it?
  • Contact customer services before you go to opt in. Then, you'll only pay for the days you go online.
  • Once you've used your allowance you'll pay standard data rates - £3/MB up to 5MB, then £15 for every 5MB thereafter.
O2

Pay £120/month for 200MB

O2*

O2 offers a Data Abroad Bolt on* for pay monthly customers travelling out of Europe, which costs a whopping £120/month for 200MB. We don't recommend you sign up for this one.

How do I use it?
  • Opt-in to the Bolt On by logging into your My O2 account.
  • 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.
  • 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)

Switch Sim For The Cheapest Deals

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:

France | Spain | Germany | Poland | Greece | Turkey | Australia | USA.

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.

With any company in this area of the market, be aware that you have very little protection should things go wrong or it goes bust.

Dataroam

Cheapest overall rates - 40 countries from 6p/MB equiv

Dataroam*

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.

Using the 50MB of data that comes preloaded while in the US will cost £14.99 (the one-off upfront cost). That same 50MB would cost you £300 using an O2 mobile with no data add-ons.

Anything else?
  • The data Sim card will work in unlocked mobile dongles, tablets, smartphones and portable wifi hotspot devices. The global data Sim will not operate outside the destinations included. The credit will expire after 30 days, as will any data bundles you've bought (including within the UK).
  • On top of the 50MB which comes preloaded, you can opt for a 200MB bundle for £30 or 1GB for £60. If you're visiting just one country you can the cheapest rate by buying one of Dataroam's country-specific Sims, but you'll have to pay for each card individually.

If you've used Dataroam, please share your experiences.

Roamline

Lowest upfront cost - £4.99

SimplyRoam*

With SimplyRoam's* Global Data Sim you'll pay an upfront cost of £4.99 and from the equivalent of 6p/MB for data.

There are three 'zones' you can buy a bundle for - Europe, Business Traveller and Globetrotter - depending on where you're going. These are available through the website, and you can buy them after you've received the Sim. Each covers more countries than the last, and the bundles are more expensive accordingly, for more details see the website*.

For example, using 200MB of data while in Brazil will cost about £22 (including the upfront cost of the Sim), compared to a whopping £1200 using a Three mobile to roam while abroad.

Although its roaming rates generally aren't as cheap as Dataroam's, Simplyroam covers a lot more countries and it has a lower upfront cost

Anything else?
  • A bundle only lasts for 30 days before expiration, although you can set auto-reload if you want it reactivated at the end of this period.
  • The cheapest rate per MB comes from buying a 1GB bundle, although 500MB, 200MB and 100MB bundles are also available, depending on your destination.

If you've used SimplyRoam, please share your experiences.

Gosim

Best for globetrotters - 3G in 90 countries from 21p/MB

GoSim*

GoSim's International Sim* works in 195 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.

As an example, using the $10 of credit that comes preloaded will get you 22MB of internet-use while in the US, compared to £132 for the same amount of data using an O2 mobile roaming abroad.

Anything else?
  • GoSim also sells a Data Sim* card costs either £38 with 200MB or £76 with 1GB, and can be used in 55 different countries. For £28 more you can also buy a device which enables you to create a portable wi-fi hotspot, for sharing internet with other devices.
  • It also sells a Europe Sim* for £15 (incl $10 credit), although we wouldn't recommend this one as the rates for using data are on par with what your operator will charge in Europe, and sending texts and receiving calls are more expensive.
  • Lastly there's the USA 4G Sim* which costs £15 and includes 50MB of 'free' data via a faster 4G connection, and offers additional bundles starting from $9 (£5.50) for 100MB. It also comes with $10 of credit preloaded.

If you've used GoSim, please share your experiences.

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.

These schemes are impartial and free and work as middlemen between phone providers and users. The decision made is binding on the company and enforceable in court. This means if the phone company is found to be in the wrong it could be required to make an apology, explain what went wrong, correct the problem and even pay an extra financial reward of up to £10,000.

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.