What's the best network for using your phone abroad? We see what the likes of EE, Three O2 and the rest have to offer when you take your phone on holiday
Roaming charges are a pain. Nothing can ruin those chilled post-holiday vibes quite like receiving a colossal phone bill, all because you had the temerity to use Google Maps to plot a road trip across France.
Fortunately, things are better than they used to be.
Huge bills from using your phone abroad should now be a thing of the past, particularly in Europe, where EU legislation has resulted in a cap on roaming charges being in place since July 2014.
Prices have been set at €0.19 per minute for making calls, €0.05 per minute when receiving calls, €0.06 per text message, and €0.20 per megabyte of data. No customer can exceed €50 either.
The good news is set to continue. A new cap will be put in place in April 2016, and roaming charges will be scrapped altogether from June 2017. In the meantime, each of the major UK networks is offering its own roaming charge-busting deals.
Here, we look at how the big players compare, and also consider some of the more popular smaller and MVNO offerings.
The UK’s biggest network offers inclusive texts and minutes throughout most of Europe as part of a 4GEE Extra plan. Data needs to be purchased as an add-on.
However, you can then make calls and send texts from and to countries included in the plan at no extra cost.
When it comes to data add-ons, you’ll be offered the options as soon as you land at your destination and open your web browser (with data roaming switched on).
See also: Best smartphone round-up
Euro data add-ons cost £3 for 50MB or £5 for 100MB in a single day. There are also more costly packages that offer more data over a
It’s also possible to buy a Talk and Text add-on that grants you unlimited calls and texts in Europe for £2.
EE's Euro Pass is another handy addtition, giving users unlimited texts and calls plus 100MB of 4G data per day. You'll have another 400MB available too, but that will be just 3G. The Euro Pass will set you back £3 per day and you’ll need to text EUROPASS or EURODATA to 150. The charge will be deducted automatically.
O2 offers a range of bolt-ons to help ease those roaming woes. As with the other networks, there’s a European travel provision called O2 Travel.
This lets you use your phone in most of Europe without worrying about huge bills. If you’re on a monthly O2 contract, it grants unlimited data for just £1.99 per day.
If you’re on Pay & Go, you’ll pay the same for a daily data allowance of 50MB.
As you’ll have noticed, O2 makes no free provision for calls and texts. Making calls under O2 Travel costs you an initial 50p connection charge, and that’s it – as long as your call lasts under an hour. Texts cost 4.8p and media messages cost 25p.
O2 Travel should be available as part of your package on monthly contracts.
Vodafone EuroTraveller lets you take your UK minutes, texts and data with you for just £3 a day throughout most of Europe. The only exceptions are a half-dozen Eastern European destinations.
We’re not saying that you wouldn’t want to visit Belarus on your summer holidays, but… well.
Vodafone WorldTraveller works in exactly the same way for destinations outside of Europe, but for £5 per day. It includes the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and Egypt, among others.
Three customers can use their phones abroad in 18 countries at no extra cost. These include Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Macau, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.
The best thing about the Three deal, other than that fact that it's free, is how easy it is to set up. You don’t have to do a thing. As long as data roaming is switched on, you won’t be charged. In fact, you won't be charged even if it isn’t switched on – you simply won’t be able to get a data connection.
If you’re a Three pay-monthly customer travelling outside of these 18 countries, however, the provision isn’t so great.
Those heading to a European country that isn't covered by the Feel At Home arrangement (such as Germany or Portugal), can purchase a Euro Internet Pass. For £5 a day you receive unlimited data usage – but there's no calls or texts, and tethering isn’t permitted either.
Virgin’s roaming offering isn’t anywhere near as comprehensive as the major networks, which is probably as you’d expect it.
The company offers a three-tier Travel Pass service that will save you money when using mobile data in Europe. You have a choice of £1.50 for 10MB, £6 for 50MB, and £20 for 250MB.
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There’s no provision for outside the EU.
iD from Carphone Warehouse
The newest kid on the block has a surprisingly decent roaming offering. Rather like Three – upon whose network it piggybacks – iD's plan offers free roaming across a number of major destinations. In fact, at 22 countries, it covers more than even Three.
Those 22 are: Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden and USA.
However, there is a catch: this offer applies only to those who sign up to a 24-month "TakeAway" contract. Prices start from £25.50 per month.
Every little helps, but as a fairly bare-bones MVNO offering, Tesco Mobile doesn’t provide any roaming packages whatsoever. So, you’ll be at the mercy of all the usual charges when using your phone abroad.
Like Tesco, GiffGaff has no extra provision for customers who want to use their phone abroad.