Beware paying for a day of EU mobile roaming but only getting a minute – MSE warns of sharp practices as post-Brexit protections end
MoneySavingExpert.com has today published a new report containing worrying findings on EU roaming. It comes as post-Brexit roaming protections have now ended and most major networks have reintroduced roaming fees in the EU, ultimately leaving mobile users with weaker rights and many with higher costs.
The report – which you can read in full by clicking this link – reveals that consumers could be caught out by unexpected roaming costs as key post-Brexit EU protections have ended. This means mobile networks no longer need to warn users of roaming costs, provide a monthly cap on roaming fees, or offer protections against inadvertent roaming.
In addition, we've found that while three of the four major mobile networks now charge for roaming in the EU, different providers use different definitions of a 'day' of roaming, leaving consumers at risk of overpaying.
Our report contains recommendations for regulator Ofcom and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – and both will be sent copies.
For help using your phone abroad for less, including a free roaming trick, see our Cheap mobile and data roaming guide.
In the report, Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "I've no faith in mobile firms to self-regulate. When we left the EU, they promised not to reintroduce European roaming charges... yet most of the big networks have broken that promise.
"So our report calls on Ofcom to not trust voluntary promises – we need to reintroduce the formal, compulsory consumer protections.
"And it's time too, to define time. We need to ban a daily roaming fee charged for use 'up to 11.59pm' without even mentioning in which time zone. Instead, we recommend all providers must define a roaming 'day' as a 24-hour period from first use, clearly explain that in the arrival text, and alert customers at least an hour before the daily charges end."
Key findings from the report
- Three of the four major mobile networks now charge for roaming in the EU. EE, Three and Vodafone (plus Sky Mobile and Voxi) have reintroduced £2 'daily' EU roaming charges for customers to access their UK allowance on the continent, after originally saying they would not. Some smaller piggyback networks have introduced charges too.
Of the major providers, only Virgin Media O2 is still offering roaming at no extra cost. You can see a provider-by-provider breakdown in our Cheap roaming guide.
- Some pay for a day but only get a minute. Most providers state that chargeable roaming periods start 24 hours from first use, while EE defines a day's use in the EU as anything up to 11.59pm UK time, the same day. So if you sign up at 11.58pm, you would only get a minute's worth. This is not explained in its arrival text to customers.
Some providers measure a day one way in the EU, but bizarrely use a different calculation for travel elsewhere – for example, in the EU, Vodafone charges £2 a 'day', which lasts 24 hours from first use. But in the rest of the world, it's £6 a 'day', which ends at 11.59pm in the capital of the country being visited. See the table below for examples.
|Network||Definition of a 'day' of EU roaming||Daily price of EU roaming||Definition of a 'day' of non-EU/EEA roaming||Price of daily non-EU/EEA roaming|
|EE||Until 11.59pm UK time||£2 a day||N/A
|Sky Mobile||24 hours after first use||£2 a day||24 hours from first use||£2 a day to use UK allowance|
|Three||24 hours after first use||£2 a day||24 hours from first use
||£5 a day to use UK allowance
|Vodafone||24 hours after first use||£2 a day (1)||Midnight to 11.59pm in the capital of the country being visited||£6 a day to use UK allowance|
|Voxi||24 hours from 12.01am (UK time) the day after you purchase a pass||£2 a day (1) (2)||N/A
- Key post-Brexit protections have ended. On 30 June 2022, certain legal obligations on roaming ended, so firms no longer have to send an SMS with pricing information when users begin roaming, operate a monthly cap on data roaming fees (previously £45 a month), or provide protections against inadvertent roaming – for example, when signal from a country across the border is stronger than the one the customer is in.
All the networks have told us they plan to keep following the rules voluntarily for now, but as MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis questions above – for how long?
How to avoid roaming charges in Europe
- Don't renew your contract if you're with Vodafone or EE (with Three, it might be harder to avoid). If you're with one of the three major providers to announce changes to their roaming charges, don't renew your contract – just let it roll on. Beware though, we've seen Three force customers to renew their contracts.
- Switch to a provider that's still offering free roaming in Europe. While three of the big four firms are introducing charges for roaming in Europe, O2 and some smaller networks, such as iD Mobile and Smarty, aren't yet and if you take out a new contract now, it's likely you can keep the benefits for the length of the contract, even if the firm introduces charges later. You can find a full list of firms that aren't charging and more information in our Cheap roaming guide.
To find the cheapest deals, use our Cheap Mobile Finder tool. You can also get the same signal you had with Three, Vodafone or EE by using a firm that piggybacks on their network – just select that in the Cheapest Sim tool options and it'll show you all firms using that network. Again, our Cheap roaming guide has full info.
- Grab a Three pay-as-you-go Sim. Although Three is scrapping free roaming for pay-monthly customers, it will still offer free roaming on its pay-as-you-go Sims. Check out our tip to roam for free in Europe and beyond.
What does Ofcom say?
An Ofcom spokesperson said: "Ofcom is currently considering the options for future roaming protections for customers, looking at the risk of consumer harm and how to best protect customers in this area. We will take these findings into account as part of this process."