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O2 customer charged £3,000 roaming fees after being told she was in a different country

An O2 customer accidentally racked up over £3,000 in roaming fees, after receiving texts which said her calls and data would be taken out of her UK allowance – here's what you need to know to make sure you don't fall foul of complicated rules. 

When Rahime Sulja visited Kosovo this summer, she received texts saying 'Welcome to Slovenia', which said all calls and data would be taken from her UK allowance.

Yet when she returned to the UK, she discovered that she had been billed for £2,751.43 on one phone and £663.41 on a second.

After Rahime contacted MoneySavingExpert.com, O2 revoked the charges and says it is reviewing its text alerts for the region to see why she didn't receive the usual 'Welcome to Kosovo' text.

For full help on using your phone abroad, see our Cheap Mobile & Data guide.

'I wouldn't have used my phone if O2 hadn't texted me'

Rahime, 46, of Leicester, visits Kosovo several times a year and claims she has been receiving the 'Welcome to Slovenia' messages (pictured below) for at least four years.

She received the texts while in Prishtina, which is in the middle of Kosovo and over 500 miles away from Slovenia.

Rahime says that after receiving the same texts on previous visits to Kosovo, she contacted O2 to tell it she wasn't in Slovenia and was assured that she still wouldn't be charged – although O2 denies this.

She has now discovered she was charged for previous visits, but because her trip includes going to Albania, where she knows roaming charges apply, she says she didn't realise she'd been charged for roaming in Kosovo too, as her previous bills were much smaller.

Here are two examples of the texts Rahime received:

Following her trip, her direct debit to O2 failed, she was disconnected for several weeks and she was charged a further £32 in bank fees.

She said: "I would never have used my phone and data while in Kosovo if not for the messages O2 sent confirming all my calls and data would go out of my monthly allowance."

What were the charges?

Rahime received the standard welcome text for Slovenia, which is a member of the European Union – meaning UK visitors can use their usual mobile allowances there at no extra cost. 

Free roaming across the EU was introduced in June 2017 and means you won't be charged extra fees to use your UK allowance of minutes, texts or most of your data. See our 10 things you need to know about mobile roaming MSE News story for more.

However, as Kosovo is not in the EU, O2 charges £2 per minute to make and receive calls and £7.20 per MB of data used.

O2 says that as Kosovo borders several other countries, visitors may pick up networks from neighbouring countries – which could lead to other customers facing similar errors. It says that the only way to avoid this is for customers to set their handset to a manual network selection, and then select the local network.

Don't get caught out while roaming

Roaming rules are complicated and as Rahime's story shows, you must ensure you know your network's rules and charges for the country you're visiting, and consider turning roaming off if you could be charged.

It can be particularly confusing if you're visiting areas close to borders or going on a cruise. Here are some guidelines: 

  • 'Free' roaming only applies when in the EU. As a general rule, you'll be able to use your phone for the same cost as in the UK. So minutes, texts and data will come out of your UK allowance, and when you exceed your allowance (or if you're a pay-as-you-go user), you just pay what you would in the UK. There are a couple of exceptions though – see below.

  • Beware using lots of data, even in the EU. Some firms have 'fair use' limits, which cap the amount of data you can use for free in the EU – even if you haven't used up your monthly allowance. So if you've got an unlimited or generous data allowance as part of your UK plan, keep an eye on your usage abroad to avoid extra fees.

  • Be careful when close to borders. Programme your handset to manual network selection to avoid automatically connecting to other countries' networks. 

  • Turn off roaming when on a cruise ship or ferry. If you're travelling by sea and manage to connect to the terrestrial phone network of a nearby country, you'll be charged under its roaming rules – so if you connect to the network of an EU country, your use should come out of your UK allowance. But if your phone gets a signal from the onboard satellite system, it won't be bound by EU rules and charges are likely to be hefty. 

See our Cheap Mobile and Data Roaming guide for more tips.

What does O2 say?

An O2 spokesperson said: "We've apologised to Ms Sulja for any confusion and credited her account. Kosovo is not in the EU and roaming charges apply.

"We're reviewing the text alert process for customers visiting the region."