It costs pay-as-you-go and pay monthly customers who have exceeded their allowance more to make calls and send texts while in the UK than it does when travelling in Europe, research from MoneySavingExpert.com has found.
After the European Union (EU) last month introduced new, lower caps on the cost of roaming in the region for the seventh consecutive year, we've today launched a report investigating the prices charged by the UK's major operators.
Bizarrely, we found on the majority of networks it now costs UK users significantly more to make calls and send texts when they are at home than when they are in Europe.
Typically it can cost up to three times more to text UK numbers at home compared to when roaming. For example Vodafone pay-as-you-go customers pay 14p for each text to UK numbers when at home, compared to just 5p when roaming.
The result of this is that, counter-intuitively, it can actually be cheaper to use a French or German Sim card in the UK than a domestic Sim, particularly on pay-as-you-go (see our Cheap Mobile Roaming and Cheap Data Roaming guides to find out exactly how much it'll cost you).
It is also more expensive for UK mobile users to make an international call to a number in another European country when they are at home than when they are travelling in a third European country.
So we're calling for mobile networks to reduce their domestic prices to reflect the EU cost cap. This will help simplify the complicated mobile phone market and ensure UK mobile users are offered the same price safeguards at home as they are when travelling in Europe.
'Defies logic and common sense'
Steve Nowottny, consumer and features editor at MoneySavingExpert.com, says: "It simply defies logic and common sense that calling and texting a UK mobile often costs more from within the UK than it does when travelling in Europe.
"Despite being introduced to help keep costs down, the EU cost cap has led to a financial paradox and mobile prices which are bizarrely skewed. People are getting savvy about protecting themselves from big bills when they go on holiday, but now they need to wise-up to the tips and tricks that can keep their costs down when making calls and sending text messages on home soil.
"Ultimately though, mobile phone networks need to take a long hard look at their pricing structures and explain why they're able to charge their customers less when they're using their phone abroad than they do when they're at home."
What are the EU roaming caps?
Since 2007, European Union roaming regulations have determined the maximum price mobile providers in countries within the European Economic Area (EEA) – all 28 EU member states, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – can charge for roaming services within the EEA.
Since their introduction the regulations have reduced the cap costs and from 1 July this year the maximum an operator can charge now stands at the following (inclusive of VAT):
- Making calls: 19p/minute.
- Receiving calls: 5p/minute.
- Sending texts: 6p/text.
So what exactly did the report find?
The key findings from our research are as follows. For the information see our full Mobile Roaming Report.
1. It can be cheaper to use a foreign Sim in the UK, even if only calling/texting within the UK
The combination of relatively low EU roaming caps and high UK charges means that counter-intuitively it can actually be cheaper to use a foreign EEA Sim card within the UK than a local one.
We found that on every network bar Three's pay-as-you-go service, it is cheaper to text the UK while holidaying in Europe than it is while in the UK.
Meanwhile on all networks with the exception of Three and GiffGaff, pay-as-you-go users pay more to call UK numbers from home than when in Europe. Pay monthly customers on all the major networks pay more to make calls outside of their allowance to UK numbers when in the UK compared to in Europe.
According to telecoms regulator Ofcom, the average UK pay-as-you-go user sent 135 texts and made 51 minutes of calls in a month during 2012.
Paying the average UK pay-as-you-go rate on the major networks, this would cost £26.91. Making the same number of calls and texts using a Sim from another EEA country would cost a maximum of only £17.79 by comparison.
Crucially however, you would would pay to receive calls if using a foreign Sim. Assuming you'd receive a similar number of minutes worth of calls each month, this would add a further £2.55 the costs, taking the total to £20.34 – still less than the £26.91 on a UK Sim.
Others would also pay international rates to contact you as you'd have a non-UK number, even if you were in the UK at the time. Plus, mobile data in Europe is still comparatively expensive at 20p/MB (incl VAT).
2. Consumers are charged more to call European numbers from their own country than from anywhere else in the EU
Despite the fact greater costs are incurred by a home operator when one of its customers uses roaming services, customers are also charged more to call and text numbers elsewhere in Europe when they're at home in the UK.
The biggest difference we found was for pay-as-you-go customers with O2. Here, a ten-minute call to an Italian number from the UK would cost £15, yet the same call made from Sweden with the same O2 Sim would cost only £1.80.
It suggests that pricing is being dictated much more by EU regulations than the costs involved.
How can I cut international call costs?
Operators do sell add-ons that include international calls and texts, but these tend to be expensive. Instead, consider the following:
- Using what's known as an override provider from a landline or mobile can cost as little as 0.5p per minute. Use our International Callchecker tool for information on the providers with the best rates, which vary by country.
- Computer and mobile applications such as Skype and Viber offer free calling and messaging via the internet, as long as the person you're trying to contact also has internet access. See our Free Web Calls guide for more info.
- For contacting those without access to the internet, specialist mobile apps can offer low rates. Localphone, for example, offers calls to German mobiles for 3.8p per minute, compared to the average rate of 90p when calling from your phone via your mobile network.