Cheap mobile and data roaming

Cheap mobile and data roaming

Use your phone abroad for less, including roam free trick

Whether you want to be a global jet-setter, or just take the odd trip abroad, this guide will show you how to use your phone as cheaply as possible – and how to avoid racking up a huge bill, particularly important as some firms are changing how roaming works.

Free roaming in Europe is no longer guaranteed

Mobile phone firms were banned from charging customers extra fees to use their UK allowance of minutes, texts and data (subject to 'fair use' limits) when in the European Union. But since Brexit, that has changed and so far, three of the big four mobile networks have brought back roaming charges. See our full list of roaming changes below.

Quick tips to use your mobile abroad for less

  • The easiest way to avoid charges while abroad is simply to turn roaming off. While you CAN still use your normal allowance within Europe for now on most networks (with the exception of some on Vodafone, which reintroduced roaming charges at the end of January), some will charge you once you've used up a certain amount of data.

    Plus if you're outside of your limit or travelling outside of the European Union, costs can be eye-watering.

    Our phones will usually try to connect automatically to the nearest signal and this spells danger if you have automatic updates on, leaving you at risk of running up a huge bill without you even realising.

  • The best bet is to use Wi-Fi wherever possible, which you can usually find for free in most hotels, restaurants and bars. Yet it doesn't just offer a cheap way of browsing the web – you can use it for calls, too.

    If you've got a smartphone and free internet access, download an 'internet-to-phone' calling app such as Skype, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger before you go, or use Apple's FaceTime. Providing the person you're calling also has the service, you just need to find a free Wi-Fi spot to call for free.

  • Although finding free Wi-Fi while away is handy for browsing, you probably won't want to start downloading hefty files such as music or films. Instead, get your phone travel-ready by saving your favourite tunes, movies, must-have apps and boarding passes BEFORE you go.

    Download maps on Wi-Fi before you go

    Google Maps, available on iOS and Android, allows you to store maps for offline use. Since data isn't required for the GPS function on a smartphone, you can navigate around the place you're visiting without paying roaming charges, as long as you have downloaded the offline maps.

    For more information, see how to download Google Maps to use offline. Many travel apps work this way and some, such as Time Out's app, include reviews.

    Alternatively, you can also take screenshots or normal photographs of maps to store on your device.

  • Travelling within Europe? If you've recently joined or renewed your contract with Vodafone or EE then it's likely you'll need to pay £2 a day to use your allowance, as both have now reintroduced roaming charges – with Three and Sky Mobile set to follow in May. See roaming changes below.

    Other firms have yet to announce the return of roaming charges, so customers can still use their UK allowance of minutes, texts and data without paying any extra charges if you're in one of 30 countries outisde the UK, including France, Italy and Spain (though some providers have a limit on the amount of data you can use).

    Going further afield? It's much easier to land yourself a large bill when outside Europe, as you can be charged just for receiving calls and texts.

    But there's a trick to roam in Europe and 41 other countries for no extra charge. You just need to grab a Three pay-as-you-go Sim for free, top it up and then pop it in your handset while you're abroad. This will work even if you're not with Three – but you'll need an unlocked phone and you'll have to use the new number.

    And to be clear, this is about getting an additional Sim just to use for roaming, not replacing your current one.

  • Here, quite simply, the same data rules don't apply. Even if you're to set sail in Europe, be extra careful of using your phone while at sea. It's easy to inadvertently connect to a 'maritime' network or a neighbouring country, which may be classed as outside of Europe and so be more costly. We've heard horror stories of travellers running up huge bills by doing this. To be safe, make use of any free Wi-Fi options on board, or just restrict use of your phone to days when you're back on dry land and always check the network your phone connects to.

Travelling within Europe? Roaming charges are back for many, but there are ways to beat 'em...

Under the 'Roam Like At Home' rules introduced by the EU, you could use your UK allowance of minutes, texts and data without paying any extra charges in one of these 30 countries, subject to 'fair usage' rules. Together they're known as the 'European Economic Area' (which includes the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).

Since Brexit, many firms have now brought back roaming fees in Europe, including major providers EE, Vodafone and Three. We've a full breakdown of what fees you may face below. Some firms have told us they've no plans to bring back roaming fees – although this isn't an indefinite guarantee, and they could always change their approach in future.

Roaming charges in Europe

Provider Charges Who is affected? What counts as a day? 
Asda Mobile No extra charges - -
BT Mobile No extra charges - -
EE £2/day for contracts – no extra charges for pay-as-you-go Those who took out new contracts or renewed after 6 July 2021. If you took out a new contract or renewed before this date, you won't pay the extra charges.  Until 11.59pm on the day you connect to a network overseas (UK time)
Giffgaff No extra charges on up to 5GB of data.  All customers TBC
iD Mobile No extra charges - -
Lebara No extra charges - -
O2 No extra charges - -
Plusnet No extra charges - -
Sainsbury's No extra charges - -
Sky £2/day We've asked Sky for this information and we'll update this when it gets back to us.  24 hours from first use
Smarty No extra charges - -
Tesco  From 1 January 2023 Pay-monthly users who joined or upgraded from 16 June 2022 TBC
Three £2/day for contracts – no extra charges for pay-as-you-go Those who took out new contracts or renewed on or from 1 October 2021. If you took out a new contract or renewed before this date, you won't pay the extra charges. 24 hours from first use
Virgin No extra charges - -
Vodafone £2/day (or £1/day if you buy an 8 or 15-day bundle) for contracts – no extra charges for pay-as-you-go Those who took out new contracts or renewed on or after 11 August 2021, unless you're on one of its 'Xtra' plans with 4 Xtra benefits. If you took out a new contract or renewed before this date, you won't pay the extra charges. 24 hours from first use
Voxi  £2/day (or £1/day if you buy an 8 or 15-day bundle) from June 2022, date TBC (1) All Voxi customers. 24 hours from 12.01am the day after you purchase a pass

(1) You must buy a roaming pass to use your allowance in Europe with Voxi.

  • What firms that are NOT currently charging told us...

    • BT Mobile and Plusnet (they're part of the same group) said: "Our customers continue to enjoy inclusive roaming when they travel to the EU and beyond."

    • iD Mobile "remains committed to providing our customers with great value plans that they can use at home and in 50 destinations worldwide, and prides itself on being one of the only UK networks not to have reintroduced roaming charges for customers. We currently have no plans to change our roaming services."

    • O2: "We're committed to providing our customers with great connectivity and value when they travel outside the UK. We have not reintroduced roaming charges to date, and as always any policy changes would be communicated first with our customers directly and openly."

    • Virgin Media: "Offering our customers brilliant connectivity and value when they travel continues to be a priority for Virgin Mobile. We have not reintroduced roaming charges to date, so our customers can continue to enjoy using their inclusive airtime allowances in 43 European destinations as they would in the UK. As always, any policy changes would be communicated with our customers in a timely and open way."

    • Smarty: "With Smarty, customers can continue to enjoy inclusive roaming in Europe, as we currently don't have any plans to change our EU roaming policy post-Brexit. As travel restrictions have eased, customers can continue to enjoy great connectivity and value on their holidays and travels."

    Do check with individual networks for the latest information though, as they may reintroduce roaming fees at a later date. Some operators also cover countries outside the 30 included in the 'Roam Like At Home' scheme, so always check destinations with your provider to be sure – and study any terms carefully.

How you can avoid roaming charges in Europe

While roaming fees aren't huge, if your provider has announced that it's bringing them back, there are a few ways you can get around it.

  • Don't renew your contract if you're with Vodafone or EE (with Three it might be harder to avoid)

    If you're with one of the three major providers to announce changes to their roaming charges, don't renew your contract – just let it roll on. Whether you're affected by the charges depends on when you signed up for your contract (see info in our roaming charges table above). So if you're not affected by the changes and don't renew your contract, generally you'll pay the same price on a rolling monthly contract. Beware, though, we've seen Three force customers to renew their contracts.

  • Switch to a provider that's still offering free roaming in Europe

    While three of the big four firms are introducing charges for roaming in Europe, O2 and smaller networks like iD Mobile and Smarty aren't yet and if you take out a new contract now, it's likely you can keep the benefits for the length of the contract, even if the firm introduces charges later. 

    To find the cheapest deals, use our Cheap Mobile Finder. You can also get the same signal you had with Three, Vodafone or EE by using a firm that piggybacks on their network – just select that in the cheapest Sim tool options and it'll show you all firms using that network.

    It's worth noting, though, that if you're happy with your current deal and don't go away often, it's probably not worth changing provider just for roaming benefits. If you do go away very frequently, it might be worth looking at a local or global Sim.

  • Grab a Three pay-as-you-go Sim

    Although Three is scrapping free roaming for pay-monthly customers, it will still offer free roaming on its pay-as-you-go Sims. Check out our tip to roam for free in Europe and beyond.

You could still face roaming charges if you exceed data limits

Whether firms charge for roaming or not, most networks have 'fair use' policies, which means they can restrict your full UK allowance – so you could run out of data quicker than at home, and be charged for using more. This ranges from 12GB to no cap depending on the firm.

To protect travellers from huge unexpected bills, the UK Government has set the limit on charges for roaming at £45 per monthly billing period when you're travelling anywhere in the world – not just within the EU (a feature of EU roaming rules). You'll get warnings when you're close, and once you hit the limit your data services will stop, unless you actively choose to continue.

You can set your own spending cap

You can add a spending cap which means you won't be able to exceed a set limit, so you can avoid any unexpected bills. This will cover costs incurred by data roaming, calls and texts. You can do this via your network's website or app, though if in doubt just call it and ask.

  • What are main providers' 'fair use' policies for EU roaming?

    Regardless of whether you have to pay to use your UK allowance in the EU or not, firms still have limits on how much of your UK allowance you can use while you're abroad. 

    How the main UK mobile providers' data roaming limits differ (1)

    TABLE_CELL_STYLE Monthly data limit How much you'd pay if you exceed this limit? (2)
    EE If you're on a pay-monthly tariff, there's a 50GB/mth cap. For pay-as-you-go users, the cap is 25GB/mth 0.36p/MB
    O2 25GB N/A
    Three 12GB 0.3p/MB. Three has a worldwide data roaming limit that's set to £45
    Vodafone 25GB  You can add more data via its Data Extra plans and costs vary depending on which plan you're on and when you signed up
    Asda Mobile 25GB  0.4p/MB. Three has a worldwide data roaming limit that's set to £45
    BT Mobile 50GB 0.36p/MB
    Giffgaff 5GB  10p/MB
    iD Mobile Depends on your package – use its online calculator to check Depends on your package – use its online calculator to check
    Sky Mobile All of it – no limit N/A
    Tesco Mobile Depends on your usage – see full details 0.35p/MB

    Table correct as of March 2022. (1) Assumes occasional travel (holidays or short breaks) and not long stays abroad. (2) Usually referred to as a 'surcharge' by your provider. (3) Excludes Vodafone Basics tariff, which doesn't allow roaming. 

  • Frequent traveller or going away for an extended period of time?

    If you're roaming in Europe for an extended period, networks will usually say in their fair usage policies that they'll "monitor your usage" abroad and if they find you spend more time abroad than you do at home (usually over a period of four months), they'll look to add a surcharge to your account. They'll send you an alert before this happens.

    If you're roaming outside of Europe for an extended period of time, Three also says it reserves the right to cut off the service if you use your allowance for more than two months continuously.

    For those going abroad for a long time, a local Sim in the country you're visiting could be a good option.

Travelling outside Europe? You'll usually pay MUCH more

Outside the EU, bundles are more expensive and some providers charge a gobsmacking £7/MB for data (though firms are legally obliged to cap your spend at £45 for data) and £3/minute to make or receive a call, so if you're not careful your mobile bill could set you back a lot.

This includes some popular holiday hot spots, so here are our top tips to cut costs while travelling further afield.

Watch out for some not-so-obvious restrictions

  • If you use a UK number while abroad (including a local or global Sim with a UK number), it won't cost friends and family at home any more to call you. They'll be charged the standard domestic rate. While you won't be charged to receive calls from a UK number if in the EU, you will outside Europe, and it can cost as much as £3/min.

    You can avoid this by buying a local Sim card when you arrive at your destination, giving you a foreign phone number – but then those at home will be charged international rates for calling it. If you've Wi-Fi or data access, get them to call you via Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Apple's FaceTime or a similar service, avoiding these costly rates.

    However, if you can't get internet access, it's free to receive texts anywhere worldwide, so ask friends to message you, not call. Then, as it can cost as much as £1.20/text to reply outside Europe, condense your reply (lrn 2 spk txt agn) and it's still relatively cheap. Don't go back and forth, though.

    Alternatively, use your mobile as a pager – get people to text if they want to chat and then use a cheaper way to call back.

  • Outrageously, you can be charged simply for someone ELSE leaving YOU an answerphone message – even if you never hear it. It all depends on the network you're on and the country you're in, but in some cases with EE it can cost as much as £1.88/min to receive a voicemail, and a further £1.88/min to listen to it. So picking up a two-minute message could cost you over a fiver.

    Ouch... so what can I do about it? First check whether your network charges for the country you're headed to. If it does, your best bet is to simply turn off your voicemail, to stop people being able to leave you a message. Each network has different instructions on how to do this, though you normally have to make a call, so make sure you do it before you travel (and certainly before you leave the UK).

  • EU regulations stated that even if you were roaming OUTSIDE Europe, providers had to cut you off when you'd used €50 (about £44) of data in a month. Post-Brexit this was written into UK law, with a monthly limit of £45.

    You should only get charged more than this if you've agreed you're happy to go over the limit. The cap can be a useful backstop given it's often unexpected data charges that result in massive post-holiday roaming bills – but there's a catch:

    If you sign up for a network's roaming add-on, you may also be opted out of the £45 cut-off limit.

    So read the T&Cs carefully before taking one of these bundles and keep a close eye on your data usage, otherwise you could arrive home to a big bill.

    It's important to note that this cap doesn't cover calls or texts, so you could still run up a considerable bill at up to £3/min.

How to cut roaming costs

There are a lot of factors that make a Sim right for you, for instance, if you can get decent coverage in your area, or extra perks and offers. In most cases, if you're happy with your current deal for UK use it's not worth switching completely for a network that offers cheap roaming. But if being able to use your allowance outside of Europe without breaking the bank is important to you, Three is the only network that really stands out and we've a trick to get its Sim without switching networks in the box below.

Trick to beat the new roaming charges – roam in Europe and 41 other countries for no extra charge, whatever network you're on

Three is charging pay-monthly contract customers for roaming, but the new charges won't apply to its pay-as-you-go customers, which means, even if you're not a Three customer, there's a trick to still grab a Go Roam deal. The deal lets you use your standard allowance in 71 destinations – 41 additional locations outside of Europe – including Australia and the USA.

Just order one of its free pay-as-you-go Sims*, top it up (you can get 10GB for £10, for example) and then pop it into your handset while you're away. You'll have to use the new number (and have an unlocked phone) and need to top it up and use it in the UK at least once first. You'll also need to use it once every six months to keep it active.

And to be clear, this is about getting an additional Sim just to use for roaming, not replacing your current one.

If you're out of contract and thinking of switching anyway (or just want to know what your provider offers), see how many countries each network allows roaming in on its different plans below. Then you can check our Cheap Mobile Finder tool for the cheapest way to get your new Sim (and handset if needed).

How using your UK allowance abroad currently varies by network, depending on your plan 

 

Network Plan No. of destinations you can use your UK allowance in without extra charges
Three*
Go Roam is available on all pay-monthly (1) or pay-as-you-go (2) plans 71 destinations (22 outside of Europe including USA). None on pay monthly after 23 May 2022
Vodafone* Unlimited Data Xtra 81 destinations (18 outside of Europe including Australia and Canada)
Limited Data Xtra
51 destinations (none outside of Europe)
All standard pay-monthly plans   None
Pay-as-you-go 51 destinations (none outside of Europe)
'Red Entertainment' plan (3) 81 destinations (18 outside of Europe including Australia and Canada)
EE* Smart plan (with added Roam Further pass) (4)  53 destinations (5 outside Europe including USA and Mexico)
All other plans (including the 'Essential' plan)  None
iD Mobile All standard pay-monthly plans  50 destinations (2 outside of Europe)
O2* Selected pay-monthly and O2 Refresh plans  75 destinations (26 outside of Europe including USA and Argentina)
Other pay-monthly plans (including its 'Premium International Big Bundle') 48 destinations (none outside of Europe)
Pay-as-you-go plans (including its standard 'International Big Bundle')  29 destinations (none outside of Europe)

Correct as of May 2022, but some providers' roaming policies are changing this year. (1) Excludes those on legacy 'Essential' plans. (2) To use Go Roam on its pay-as-you-go Sim, you have to use the Sim in the UK at least once first. (3) Red Entertainment plans bought between 4 Sept 2018 and 9 July 2019. (4) If you sign up to one of EE's Smart plans, you can add the Roam Further pass as one of its 'Smart Benefits' at the checkout and it will be available for the duration of your contract.  

Check out your provider's roaming rates and charges to add extra countries

If you're a pay-monthly customer, it's worth checking if you can get an overseas data bundle from your network, as these can often work out cheaper than its standard rates. We list the major providers' offerings below – bear in mind though that even buying a bundle can work out expensive (a two-week trip could set you back £80+), so it might just be better to keep your phone off or stick to the free Wi-Fi.

TABLE_CELL_STYLEProvider Roaming add-ons Standard rates (1)
    Data Calls  Texts
EE

For Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the USA, you can add the Roam Abroad pass which lets you use your UK allowance for an extra £10/mth on a rolling 30-day contract.

 

Alternatively, and for other destinations including China, India and South Africa, it offers:

the Travel Data pass – 500MB from an extra £5.02 to £6.27/day, depending on the destination.

 

N/A (2) £1.20/min 60p
O2* If a country isn't covered by your plan, O2 offers: O2 Travel* – unltd data, unltd mins & unltd texts for an extra £6/day. £7.20/MB £2/min 50p
Three*

Three's standard Go Roam (3) includes 71 destinations, including the USA and New Zealand.

 

Otherwise, you'll be charged its expensive standard roaming rates (see right). Check how much your destination would cost before you travel.

£6/MB £3/min 35p
Vodafone* If you require an add-on, Vodafone offers: Roam Further* – use your UK allowance in 107 destinations for an extra £6/day. 12p/MB 60p/min 8p

Table correct as of May 2022. (1) Based on standard roaming rates for Morocco, chosen as an example destination. (2) EE customers can't use the internet on their phone abroad unless they buy a data add-on. (3) Go Roam will not be available after 23 May 2022, unless you signed up before 1 October 2021 or are on one of its pay-as-you-go plans.

Many of the fee-paying packages also bill you on a recurring basis, so you'll continue to be charged until you cancel. If you're only going away for a short time, simply cancel once you get home.

What time period do these passes apply for? 

Time periods passes are valid for can vary

Network Time period (rest of world) 
Vodafone Until 11.59pm on the day of first use (2) in the capital of the country you're in
EE Until 11.59pm on the day of first use (UK time)
Three 24 hours from first use
O2 (1) 24 hours from first use 
Sky Mobile 24 hours from first use

(1) For some on the old O2 system, it will be from midnight to 11.59pm based on the capital of the country you're in. We're trying to find out who specifically is affected by this. (2) 'First use' means making a call, sending a text or using mobile data. 

Frequent traveller or going to be using your phone a lot abroad? Consider switching to a local or global Sim

If you're a frequent traveller, plan to use your phone a lot or are going away for a bit longer than usual, you may be better off getting a specialist Sim.

If you're not travelling to one of the destinations covered by Three's Go Roam service and can't rely on free Wi-Fi, these may be the most cost-effective way to use your phone. 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).

There are two main options – a local pay-as-you-go Sim or a prepaid global Sim.

A pay-as-you-go local Sim (bought on arrival) or a prepaid local Sim

If you're heading to one destination for an extended period, and you don't get free roaming, the cheapest option is usually to buy a local Sim card when you arrive at your destination or before you travel.

Getting info on networks and rates isn't easy, but Wikipedia lists the mobile networks available in every country, including:

Australia | France | Germany | Greece | Poland | Spain | 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 pay-as-you-go Sim card when you get there.

We've some comparisons in the table below to give you an idea of how much they cost. It's worth noting you'll get a different number to your UK one, which can be a hassle. Also, the minutes and texts you get are usually limited to the country you're in, so it's best to use an app like WhatsApp to message or call. As always, though, the cheapest option is just to use Wi-Fi in hotels or cafes if you can.

Cost and allowances for local sims

Country Local Sim (network) Using UK allowance for 30 days
Spain €9.95/month (£8.32) for 10GB (Orange)

EE: £60, or £10 for a 30 day roaming pass if you are on an essential plan

 

Vodafone: £30 for two 15-day passes

 

Three: £60

 

O2: No charge as it stands

United States $30/month (£21.99) for 5GB (AT&T)

EE: £150.60 for 500Mb/day

 

Vodafone: £180

 

Three: £150

 

O2: £149.70

India ₹209 for 28 days (£2.18) for 1GB (Jio)

EE: £188.10 for 500Mb/day

 

Vodafone: £180

 

Three: £3/Mb

 

O2: £7.20/Mb

A prepaid global Sim

Here you use a specialist multi-country Sim card, known as a global or international Sim. While not as cheap as a local card, you only need to buy it once. It can be a good option if you're a frequent traveller to different countries, and you don't want the hassle of swapping in local Sims each time. While it can differ by provider, here's how they typically work: 

  • You buy the global Sim card online before you travel, and use this while you're abroad. This means you'll need an unlocked phone as you'll need to swap the global Sim for your UK one when travelling. You'll also get a separate number, which can be a hassle. You can order these online, and it's best to buy before you travel. 

  • You 'top up' to get data, texts and minutes for each country you visit. You can buy prepaid bundles or use pay-as-you-go for each country you visit – though prepaid bundles tend to be cheaper. This is all done on the same Sim card, meaning you keep the same number when visiting multiple countries. 

What's more, incoming calls to a global Sim will be free for you, though they may not be free for the person calling you.

How much does it cost to use a global Sim? 

There are a number of providers to check, but the main ones we found were TravelSim and WorldSim.

In the table below, we've some examples of what a global Sim could cost you. The examples are based on the cost of 100 minutes and texts to the UK, and grabbing a 2 or 1GB bundle of data. The data is for use within the country you're in. It is pricey, so try to use Wi-Fi as much as possible. 

WorldSim prices by country

WorldSim
Country Data Minutes (1) Texts Price (2)
Thailand 2GB data 100 100 £33
USA 2GB data 100 100  £36
Israel 2GB data 100 100 £48

(1) Prices based on making calls to the UK. (2) Prices based on buying data bundles and using pay-as-you-go rates for minutes and texts.

TravelSim prices by country

TravelSim
Country Data Minutes (1) Texts Price (2)
Thailand 1GB data 100 100 £126
USA 1GB data 100 100  £62
Israel 1GB data 100 100 £71

(1) Prices based on making calls to the UK. (2) Prices are for a group of countries as TravelSim offers package deals and are based on buying data bundles and using pay-as-you-go rates for minutes and texts.

It's worth noting TravelSim offers country 'Zones' so for example, when you select Thailand, you  can also use the allowance in a number of other countries. Call and text rates will generally remain different depending on the country. You get more info on TravelSim's 'zones' on its website

Should you get a local or a Global Sim? 

If you're a bog-standard traveller who goes on holiday for two weeks a year, these aren't for you. These are for frequent travellers or those who spend a lot of time abroad.

Think about your travelling habits. If you're heading to one international destination for an extended period, then a local Sim is likely to be the best option – provided you don't get free roaming with your UK Sim.

If you regularly travel to multiple different countries, then a global Sim might be a better option, as it saves you the trouble of signing up to a local Sim in each individual country, and constantly swapping between Sim cards. A local Sim will almost always be cheaper, but involves a lot more hassle if you're country-hopping.

But as always, avoiding getting a local or global Sim and simply connecting to the Wi-Fi wherever you are is the most money-saving option. 

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