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Major mobile firms have 'no plans' to bring back EU roaming charges – what you need to know

Fee-free mobile roaming when you travel to European Union countries will no longer be guaranteed from 1 January 2021, but major mobile operators have confirmed they have "no plans" to bring charges back now that a trade deal has been reached.

In 2017, the current 'Roam Like At Home' rules were introduced by the European Union across the EU (plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). These meant that when travelling in the EU, you could make calls or send texts to anywhere else in the EU, or use data, and it would come out of your UK allowance (or you'd pay UK pay-as-you-go rates) just as you would at home, subject to 'fair usage' rules.

However, from 1 January 2021, the guarantee of free mobile roaming will stop as the transition period after Brexit ends. This was already set to be the case before a trade deal between the EU and UK was agreed on 24 December 2020, and means mobile providers are able to charge if they wish. The trade deal simply confirms this, stating that neither the EU or UK has to "regulate rates or conditions for international mobile roaming services".

But of the mobile providers we've spoken to:

  • EE, O2, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone all said they had "no plans" to end current free roaming arrangements, although this isn't an indefinite guarantee and they could always change their approach in the future.

  • Meanwhile, Sky Mobile said users "will continue to be able to use their data plans as they do today" from 1 January 2021, and Three said it "will retain" free roaming "regardless of Brexit negotiations". 

See our 22 Brexit Need-to-Knows for more on how your finances may change from 1 January 2021, and if you're hunting for a better deal on your handset; use our Cheap Mobile Finder tool to find the perfect deal.

The EU's cap on unexpected data use has been written into UK law

Another feature of the EU roaming rules is a default €50 (£44) cap on monthly data usage when you travel anywhere in the world – not just within the EU. The idea is to protect travellers from huge unexpected mobile bills.

The Government has written a similar measure into UK law, which is now in effect, so this will continue to apply. The default cap has been set at £45 per monthly billing period. 

Some networks also have a 'fair use' policy when using your phone abroad, which means they can restrict your full UK allowance – so you could run out of data quicker than at home, and be charged for using more. In practice, the exact amount of your data allowance you can use before these extra charges kick in will vary by provider. 

We're checking that existing fair usage limits haven't changed, but in the meantime it is best to call your provider to check if you're travelling imminently. In addition, the Government has legislated to continue to ensure mobile users in the EU receive alerts when they are at 80% and 100% of their data usage. See our Cheap Mobile Roaming guide for more tips on how to use your phone abroad for less.

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