Millions of mobile phone customers with an allowance package will benefit from reduced roaming charges in most of Europe from tomorrow, ahead of the blanket ban on such charges from June next year.
The roaming caps will apply when using your UK phone abroad in any European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) country – this comprises all 28 EU member states, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway (but not Switzerland). A full list of EU and EEA member states can be found at Gov.uk.
In practical terms, the new limits mean price cuts of up to 80% for most users. But out-of-bundle and pay-as-you-go (PAYG) charges will effectively be subject to the current limits, introduced in July 2014, because the new caps are calculated differently from in previous years.
Roaming charges come into play when you use your mobile abroad. It's when you connect to an overseas network and calls are routed via that network, instead of your home network, at a vastly increased cost.
Tomorrow's introduction of the new limits is a forerunner to a total ban on roaming charges in all EU and EEA member states, to be rolled out on 15 June 2017.
For full advice and details on mobile roaming in Europe and the rest of the world, check out our dedicated guide.
What are the new rates?
Until now, roaming caps have been set with a limit per incoming call, outgoing call, text and megabyte (MB) usage, regardless of what you pay to use your service in the UK.
The new caps, however, are calculated by the 'domestic price' of the service (how much you pay at home in the UK), plus a Euro cent rate per unit (or surcharge), which for most people is much less than they would have previously been charged.
On top of this, the combined cost of the domestic price plus EU surcharge must not exceed a certain total limit; these limits are the same as the current caps.
New EU roaming caps (from 30 April 2016 to 15 June 2017)
|Cost of service
|Total maximum cost of service (ii)
|Data (per MB)
|Domestic price + €0.05
|Outgoing calls (per min)
|Domestic price + €0.05
|Incoming calls (per min)
|Domestic price + €0.01
|Texts (per SMS) (i)
|Domestic price + €0.02
|Prices exclude VAT. Euro-sterling rate to be used yet to be published by BEREC. (i) Outgoing only – you will never be charged for incoming texts. (ii) The domestic rate + the surcharge must not exceed this rate.
There is also a monthly limit on the cost of data used abroad anywhere in the world (not just Europe), which will remain at €50 (c. £49 including VAT).
How will this affect me?
For most people, most of the time, they'll only end up paying a small amount on top of their existing monthly cost. This depends on your exact circumstances though:
I'm on pay-monthly or pay-as-you-go with a monthly bundle. For every call you make or receive, text you send and MB of data you use while roaming, you'll have one unit deducted from your monthly allowance, plus be billed the surcharge in the table above. It is not 100% clear whether this would apply to calls/texts to any EEA number, or just to UK numbers, though regulator Ofcom believes the former is the case – check with your network to make sure.
If you've used up your allowance, or make a call to a non-inclusive number, you'll be charged whatever your provider would charge for it if you were in the UK, plus the surcharge. The caveat is this may not exceed the 'total maximum' in the table above.
I'm on pay-as-you-go and use my phone on a pay-per-unit basis. PAYG rates tend to be expensive in the UK, at up to 35p/minute for calls, for example – more than the total maximum cost permitted. This means in most cases the maximum limit cap will kick in and this is what you'll pay (the same as under the current caps).
How can I beat roaming charges?
Three's Feel at Home feature means no extra charges are applied for its users when roaming in 18 selected countries – making them free to call or text UK numbers and use data without fear of significant bills. See our Sim-only top picks for whether any of its plans are competitive for your needs.
If you don't want to become a pay-monthly customer with Three, it's possible to get one of its free pay-as-you-go Sims and buy an add-on from £5 to use abroad – see here for details.
iD Mobile also has its 'Takeaway' pay monthly plans, which allow you to roam without additional charges in 29 different countries, though these tend to be more expensive because of this.
Tesco Mobile is also running its 'Home From Home' scheme this summer, which lets its customers use their phones in 31 different European countries at no extra charge. For more information, see the MSE News story Tesco Mobile customers avoid roaming rates.
Most networks offer roaming bundles, but these tend to be pricey. Otherwise, it's possible to purchase a global roaming Sim before leaving, or you may find it cheaper to pick up a local Sim at your destination.
If you don't have a specialist roaming add-on or Sim, always turn data roaming off BEFORE you go abroad; see here for instructions on how to do this.