Britons holidaying in the EU racked up an eye-watering £573 million in roaming charges over the last 12 months, despite caps on charges intended to make it easier to track spending and put an end to horror stories of so-called ‘bill shocks’.
According to research from uSwitch Tech, a fifth of Britons have returned from a trip to the EU in the past year to face a higher-than-usual bill.
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One in six paid an extra £100 on their normal bill, with the average additional payment coming in at £61.
Caps imposed by UK carriers generally limit customers’ spend in the EU to around 50 Euros.
However, whether a cap applies to data alone or for all usage differs between providers, confusing consumers.
The findings come after EU countries disappointed consumer groups when they reneged on long-standing pledges to scrap roaming charges altogether this year.
Worryingly, news of the EU’s reversal, which surprised industry watchers, has it seems yet to reach many Britons, leaving them once again at risk of racking up unexpectedly high charges on their summer holidays.
A quarter of those surveyed were under the impression that the EU is still planning to scrap roaming charges this year.
A lack of awareness around roaming extends to the parameters of the EU, with more than four in ten admitting they incorrectly believe Turkey is an EU country.
More than one in ten of the sample thought that African holiday destinations Morocco and Egypt are within the EU.
In countries outside the EU even higher roaming charges apply than in Europe, once again leaving geographically challenged travellers at risk of racking up a huge bill.
Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch.com said: “What’s clear is that a real lack of awareness persists when it comes to using your phone abroad.
“People are confused about the different roaming charges, what countries they are protected in and how the mobile data caps work.
Doku added: “Measures in place to financially protect UK mobile users abroad aren’t robust enough, and are too easily rendered ineffective.
“The networks’ cap of around €50 is clearly insufficient in that it only covers mobile data, and doesn’t extend to calls, texts and voicemail costs - and 13% even end up opting out of their network’s roaming caps, often because the cap is too restrictive.”
Britons are also falling victim to unforeseen higher charges due to easy-to-overlook pitfalls.
Of the sample, 22% said they forgot to turn off their mobile data when they landed in their holiday destination, while 19% said they thought they were using WiFi and not mobile data.
A further 7% said that not switching off voicemails was the mistake that led to higher charges.
Some carriers charging customers if a caller leaves them a message irrespective of whether the message was actually picked up.
View uSwitch's international roaming press release and research in full here: Brits still hit with annual mobile roaming bills of £573 million after holidaying in the EU
Arm yourself with the information you need to avoid roaming charges by reading on our network-by-network guide: Guide to roaming and top tips for travellers