Using your mobile in another European Union country became cheaper yesterday, after European Commission price caps came into force.

However the vast majority of the new caps do not apply to the rest of the world, where using your handset could still cost the Earth.

Providers can only charge about 69p per megabyte (MB) of data in the EU, cutting the cost of using the internet on iPhones, BlackBerrys, Androids and other phones and tablets, such as the iPad.

Before Sunday, there was no cap on what operators could charge per megabyte of mobile data in the EU, including services like maps and social networks, but they had to limit overall usage to around £49 unless otherwise requested. This cap remains.

You can easily use a MB browsing just a few web pages.

The cost of calls and texts in the EU also fell slightly yesterday, but it is the data cuts that are the big news given users can rack up huge charges, often unwittingly.

This is also the first ever cap per megabyte, and is a far cry from possible charges last week of up to £3 per MB in the EU.

A number of providers have recently launched bundles to cut the cost of using your phone abroad. See an assessment of whether they are any good.

Overall, the commission says the new regulations on mobiles – taking into account calls and texts as well as data – will mean customers will be charged just a quarter of the rate they would have been five years ago.

Marzena Lipman, policy manager at lobby group Consumer Focus, says: "The cuts to the charges phone companies can impose on their customers when travelling in Europe are very welcome.

"The data roaming caps are particularly good news, as data use can incur some of the biggest and most unexpected bills for consumers."

Further cuts will see the cost of roaming for data, as well as calls and texts, slashed further in 2013 and again in 2014, after which mobile networks in other EU countries will be able to compete for your custom.

New price caps

The price limits (excluding VAT) that now apply on roaming charges in the EU are:

  • Data: Capped at €0.70 (56p) per megabyte from July 2012, €0.45 from July 2013 and €0.20 from July 2014.
  • Outgoing calls: Capped at €0.29 per minute from July 2012, €0.24 from July 2013 and €0.19 from July 2014. Was €0.35.
  • Incoming calls: Capped at €0.08 from July 2012, €0.07 from July 2013 and €0.05 from July 2014. Was €0.11.
  • Texts: Capped at €0.09 from July 2012, €0.08 from July 2013 and €0.06 from July 2014. Was €0.11.

Non-EU caps

The only measure that will help anyone travelling outside Europe is the £49 cap on data.

Travellers will get a warning text message, email or pop-up window when they are nearing that threshold, or another pre-agreed level.

Consumers will then have to confirm they are happy to go over this level to continue data roaming.