Using Internet Abroad

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Using the internet abroad can lead to an expensive bill if you’re relying on your mobile phone data. Find out how to get cheaper broadband abroad, and how to make the most of data roaming if you do choose to use mobile data.

Key points


Using a laptop abroad

If you're planning on taking your laptop abroad and using mobile broadband, you can use your phone as a portable hotspot, or use a dongle.

A dongle is a small device that fits into a USB port on your computer so that you can access the internet wherever you are. You can buy a data package for your dongle like you would for your mobile, but if you want to use it abroad, your package will need to cover this.

Most standard dongles will only provide an internet connection to the device it's plugged into. If a few of you want to use the internet, you might want to consider a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot instead. These work in a similar way to your router at home, except they use a 3G or 4G network.

You can set up a hotspot from your mobile phone, or get a mobile hotspot device and contract from providers like Three, EE and Vodafone.


Wi-Fi hotspots

All over the world you’ll find Wi-Fi hotspots in places like cafes, libraries and other public spaces.

Often these are free, so it’s usually the cheapest way to get online while abroad.


Data roaming

When you use your mobile phone abroad, it's known as roaming. This is when your phone automatically connects to another network while you're away so that you can call, text or use the internet.

Roaming can become very expensive as you're typically charged a higher rate than you would be in the UK.

Your normal data allowance doesn’t count abroad, unless you're on a data plan that specifically covers this.

To prevent accidentally paying for more than you mean to, make sure your data roaming option is switched off in your phone settings.

If roaming is included in your phone plan, you'll need to check your settings to make sure it's enabled in order to use your phone abroad - Apple phones have this switched off by default.

EU law means that people can use their mobile phones in Europe without paying any more than they would in the UK. But with the UK leaving the EU, and no agreement currently in place, this will no longer apply once the transition period that’s expected to end on 31 December 2020 is over.

After this period, customers may see changes to how they can use their mobiles abroad. You will need to keep up to date with any further announcements regarding these upcoming changes.

Ofcom has ruled that no matter where you go in the world, all mobile operators have to cut you off after you've spent €50 of data per month. You can talk to your provider if you wish to have this cap raised.


Data add-ons to use abroad

You can buy a data add-on for an allowance of internet while you're away.

Remember to check what will happen when you use all your add-on allowance, as you may be charged standard rates again.

If you sign up for an add-on, you can automatically be opted out of the EU data cap, check the terms and conditions before you travel.


Use a different SIM card

Alternatively, you could buy an international SIM card that offers lower data prices in the region you're visiting.

Buying a local pay as you go SIM card when you arrive at your destination is also an option. It'll let you pay local rates when you're contacting those in the same country, but it does mean it'll cost more to ring home.

If you're thinking of buying a new SIM, check that your phone isn't locked to your current network provider and check call and data costs before you buy.


Useful apps for travelling

Free apps, like Data Compress, help you use less data, which could save you some money while you're abroad.

Opera Mini is a web browser that’s specifically designed to use less data.

You can also use Google Maps to download routes so you can use them offline, preventing you from using up your allowance while you're exploring.

An app like Pocket will save web pages for you so that you don't have to continually search the internet. If you'd rather not download any apps, you could always screenshot pages instead.

Switch off automatic updates for apps, as this may use up your data. You can change your settings so that updates only ever happen when on Wi-Fi.

Insuring your phone and gadgets

When travelling abroad, you can insure your phone and gadgets in case they get lost, stolen or damaged.

Before you take out specific insurance, check that your belongings are not already covered by your travel insurance, home insurance or bank account.

Some banks and premium credit cards offer cover with certain current accounts. You'll need to register your mobile with them before your policy’s valid and some of these accounts might have a monthly usage fee.


What to do if you lose your device when on holiday

Contact your insurer and network provider as soon as possible if your phone is missing or stolen, to avoid being held liable for calls and charges.

Five of the biggest phone networks - Three, EE, Virgin Mobile, Vodafone and O2 - automatically cap the spend if you report your phone as missing within 24 hours. You'll only be responsible for paying a maximum of £100 for unauthorised use that falls outside of your allowance.

Back up your phone before you go so your photos and videos are stored elsewhere.