British travellers heading to EU countries could face another three years of mobile roaming charges if member states get their way.

In April 2014, MEPs in the EU Parliament voted by 534 votes to 25 to ban roaming charges anywhere in EU member states from 15 December this year (see the EU Parliament votes for ban on mobile roaming charges MSE News story).

This would mean the cost of making a call, sending a text message or downloading internet data would cost the same as at home by the end of 2015. See our Cheap data roaming and Mobile roaming guides to avoid bill shock when using your mobile and data abroad.

But at a Brussels meeting this week the EU Council, which is made up of EU governments, said that mobile phone roaming charges should remain until 2018.

However the EU Council's decision isn't final and it now needs to come to an agreement with the European Parliament and the European Commission – both of which are calling for roaming charges to be abolished a soon as possible. A decision is expected this year.

The current cost caps for roaming in the EU (see below) are due to expire on 30 June 2017, but this date could change depending on the outcome of the negotiations.

'It's high time the EU scrapped excessive roaming charges''s consumer editor Steve Nowottny says: "It's high time the EU scrapped excessive roaming charges – holidaymakers are regularly hit by hefty bills, and sometimes stung for £100s. That's why MEPs voted overwhelmingly for a ban on roaming charges, and for the EU Council to overrule that is frankly baffling.

"The fact that the EU has made some progress in recent years in reducing the cost of roaming makes this latest development even more disappointing – this will now be the first year since 2007 when the cap on costs isn't lowered, a real kick in the teeth for travellers.

"We believe there should be a simple level playing field, so that people travelling in Europe are charged just as they would be at home and can use their UK allowances. Until that becomes a reality we'll continue to warn people how to dodge a nasty bill shock when they return home."

Data roaming cost caps

Mobile roaming costs have been gradually coming down since 2007 and from 1 July 2014, new cost caps came into effect across the 28 EU member states, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, which mean operators can't charge more than the maximum allowed.

The current price limits are:

  • Data: Capped at €0.20 (20p including VAT) per megabyte.
  • Monthly data cap: The maximum you can be charged in one month for using data in the EU before it's cut off remains at €50 (£49 including VAT) – the level it's been at since 2010.
  • Outgoing calls: Capped at €0.19 (19p including VAT) per minute.
  • Incoming calls: Capped at €0.05 (5p including VAT) per minute.
  • Texts: Capped at €0.06 (6p including VAT) per text.

The caps don't apply elsewhere in the world, where mobile providers can charge what they like for calls, texts and data. But wherever you go in the world, providers should still warn you if you're approaching the data cap of €50 (£49 including VAT) and wait for confirmation that you're happy to go over this.

If you've bought a data bundle from your provider you'll automatically be opted out of this limit.

Cut mobile roaming costs

Here are our top tips:

  • Switch off data roaming. Turn it off before you leave the UK and keep it off. While it's on, some apps trigger data downloading, even when you're not browsing the web. If you're checking emails, don't download attachments as this can use a lot of data.

  • Use wi-fi. If you've got a smartphone, use free wi-fi to access the internet and you won't be charged. Before you go, you can also download internet-to-phone calling systems including Skype, or FaceTime for iPhone users, or WhatsApp for messaging as if the person you're calling also has these apps, it's free to talk/message via wi-fi. Many hotels and hostels provide free wi-fi for customers.

  • Get a special add-on to use abroad. Ring up and ask your provider if it has any special add-ons you can use to slash the cost of calls and data abroad. Some add-ons are free, others require a daily or monthly fee.

  • Switch Sim cards. You can get much cheaper calls and receive them free, and get the most cost-effective internet access by switching to a local or international roaming Sim card. You may need to pay a hefty upfront cost, though, so check first how often you're really going to be using your phone.

For more information on all of these, and for further top tips on how to cut the cost of using your using your handset abroad, see our Cheap Mobile Roaming and Cheap Data Roaming guides.