Using your phone while in the European Union is no longer subject to punitive roaming charges, as long as you stay within the call, text and data limits of your contract.
But outside of the EU’s 27 countries, things become a lot more confusing, with some networks offering similar arrangements in select destinations and others still charging sky high rates for the privilege of using your phone.
With VAT due to be added to bills for those roaming in non–EU countries, now’s the time to get clued in. Here’s our network–by–network guide on using your phone while travelling outside of the EU.
Three’s Feel At Home service, which allows users on its Advanced Plans to make calls, send texts and use data without paying extra, now covers 60 destinations. Most of these are within Europe, including non–EU countries such as Switzerland and Iceland.
But it also extends around the globe, meaning you can use your phone in the United States, Brazil, Singapore, Hong Kong and in a number of Caribbean Islands. The full list is available on Three’s website.
There are restrictions on Feel At Home, with limits of 12GB of data when travelling, as well as caps of 5,000 texts and 3,000 minutes outside Europe. You can’t tether your phone and use it as a hotspot either.
However, Three’s Data Passport, which costs £5 a day, allows for unrestricted data usage, including tethering and VPN access. It works in 78 destinations worldwide, even including Myanmar, South Korea and Russia. Outside of these countries, local rates apply, so it’s best to turn on Airplane Mode and stick to Wi–Fi networks.
EE explicitly warns about the addition of VAT to roaming charges outside the EU on its website. The move, announced by the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, during the March budget, means an additional 20% will be levied when using your phone outside the EU if you don’t buy a bolt on or bundle.
The UK’s largest 4G network has a simple way for you to discover roaming fees in any country – just text RO and the name of the country you’re visiting to 150 to get a full cost breakdown.
Those on 4GEE Max plans can use their phone at no extra cost in 53 destinations in total (including Europe), with USA, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico among them.
EE also offers a Travel Data pass for those not on a Max plan. For £4 a day in the USA and Canada and £5 a day in Australia, China, India, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and UAE you get 500MB of data, as well as calls and texts to UK numbers. Text Travel to 150 to set up.
You only need to do this once while you’re away and it’ll activate on any day you use your phone while away, reverting to normal back in the UK. To stop it while you’re away, text Stop Travel to 150. EE says it will text you when you reach 80% and 100% of your roaming allowance. More details can be found on its website.
Like rival networks, O2 now offers all customers free roaming within the EU, as well as its own wider Europe Zone, including non EU countries on the continent.
Customers who are on O2 phone-and-tariff plans with 4GB or 15GB or above and who signed up after 22nd March 2018 get inclusive roaming in 75 locations across the globe for no extra cost.
Anyone on these plans can use their allowances as they would in locations in O2's Europe Zone. But they're also granted a daily allowance of 120 texts, 120 minutes, and 150Mb of data, to use in 27 international O2 Travel destinations further afield. These include USA, Australia, Argentina and New Zealand.
O2 users on these contracts can also pay £4.99 per day for the same daily allowance (120 texts, 120 minutes and 150Mb of data) to use in a further 33 destinations. These include Hong Kong, India, Turkey and Thailand.
If you're not on a plan that includes an extended worldwide roaming scheme as standard, you can sign up for an O2 Full Travel Bolt On for £4.99 per day. That buys you 120 minutes and 120 texts per day and uncapped data to use in locations outside O2's Europe Zone.
You can acess O2 Travel either through a My O2 account or by texting O2TRAVEL to 23336. It’s free to activate and like EE’s pass, works automatically on the days you use your phone, with no charges when you don’t.
By not using O2 Travel, you could be liable for £6 per megabyte data charges, as well as local call and text rates. O2 mitigates this by placing a £120 cap on data spending outside of the EU, which customers can remove by calling the network.
Vodafone has a comprehensive global roaming package, covering 60 non–European destinations. These include the USA, Canada, Mexico, most of South America, China, Japan and Australia. A full map can be found on the network’s website.
The package, called Roam Further, costs £6 a day and works automatically for Vodafone Pay Monthly customers whenever using their phone in one of the 60 destinations. You can make calls, send texts and use data as you would at home and you won’t be charged for days you don’t use your phone. Sky Sports and NOW Pass won’t work, but Spotify Premium will.
Pay as you go customers are subject to different, heftier charges, depending on local rates. Data used outside of your bundle is capped at £39.33, with a notification sent when you’re close to maxing out your allowance.
Vodafone says it will increase its roaming prices for those who don’t use its bundles from 10th December, in line with the Chancellor’s VAT decision. Full details on out of bundle charges can be found on its website.
Sky’s cheap deals have been the talk of the mobile industry in 2017. However, while its EU roaming packages are broadly in line with their rivals, outside of Europe its offer is far short of the major networks.
Its Roaming Passport Plus costs £5 a day, activates automatically when using Internet–based services and works in 10 destinations: Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Qatar, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey and the US.
However, this only covers data, with calls and texts being charged at local rates. That means relying on services such as WhatsApp to stay in touch with local friends and avoiding making calls where possible.
A full breakdown of roaming charges is available in Sky’s Tariff Guide.
As an example, making and receiving calls while in the USA costs 80p per minute, with texts costing 35p.
Virgin caps data costs at £42 while travelling, mitigating against excessive bill shock. But outside of the EU, the network’s offering doesn’t match up to its rivals. There are no non–EU bundles, although it does make costs clear on its Roaming Hub. For example, calls in the USA cost £1.50 to make and £1 to receive. Texts cost 30p, whole data is £5 per MB.
Like others, Virgin is raising its non–EU roaming costs due to the implementation of VAT. It starts charging more from 7th November.