Save money on data roaming and calls when travelling

Know your options when it comes to using your phone abroad, so you don’t spend more than you have to.

Amy Smith
Updated 14 October 2019 | 4 min read

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The cost of being connected

Using your mobile phone abroad used to be very costly and an overpriced data roaming bill isn’t something your travel insurance will cover.

Luckily, the rules around data roaming are changing, with data caps and like-for-like data charges helping to control your costs when you're overseas.

Key points

  • Calls, texts and data usage when visiting the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein now costs the same as it does in the UK
  • This won’t be the case if the UK leaves Europe with no deal
  • There will still be a cap of £45 a month on data roaming charges abroad and text alerts that tell you when you’re close to your data allowance

‘Roam like at home’

In 2017, Ofcom ruled that calls, texts and data usage in the European Union, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein will cost the same as in the UK.

This applies to pay-monthly and pay-as-you-go customers, but you should check with your provider to make sure it applies to your phone tariff.

Providers should automatically apply ‘roam like at home’ to all existing and new customers, so you don’t need to sign up.

However, if you’re going on holiday outside the included countries, roaming charges are usually very high.

How does Brexit affect roaming?

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, this ruling will no longer apply and it will be up to the network provider to decide how much they charge.

Data roaming cap

Regardless of what happens with the ‘roam like at home’ rule, there will still be a mobile roaming data use limit of £45 per month.

This means you’ll receive alerts when you’ve used 80% and then again at 100% of your data allowance, so you don’t accidentally overspend.

You can find out more about the rules on data roaming abroad on the government’s website.

Do I need a roaming add-on?

If you’re using data anywhere outside the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein - or if the UK leaves the EU without a deal - then you’ll need a data roaming add-on.

Otherwise, you’ll only be able to access the internet via a wi-fi connection, which isn’t always possible, depending on where you’re travelling to.

You can buy a roaming add-on before you travel so you know exactly what you’re getting, or when you get to your destination.

Buying a data roaming add-on abroad means the price will vary, depending on which country you’re in.

How to save money roaming outside the EU

Calls, texts and data use in countries that aren’t included in ‘roam like at home’ will not be charged as the same as in UK.

Here’s a few ways to save money while using your phone abroad:

  • Use hotel wi-fi and Facetime/WhatsApp for internet calls and messages, instead of spending money on texts and voice calls.
  • Buy an international SIM card, or a local SIM card from the place you’re travelling to, so you can be put on a deal specific to the region you’re visiting.
  • Download any apps you need before you set off on your trip, to avoid unnecessarily wasting data when abroad
  • Make sure you have a cap on your data, so you will never spend more than the set limit
  • Turning off notifications, closing background apps and disabling data-hungry apps can all help to limit your data usage

Bear in mind that your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ for you to use a different SIM card and you’ll usually have to have ID to buy one.

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