Travel and holidays

Data roaming abroad: What happens after Brexit?

Last updated: 07/01/2021

Please note that these rules have been taken directly from the government website and that this information is correct to the best of our knowledge at point of publishing – you can stay up to date with the latest Brexit news by visiting the government website.

In previous years, mobile data roaming abroad has been the subject of much despair amongst travellers as they return home from holiday to an extortionate phone bill, as well as the feeling that it all could have been so easily avoided if they had just put their mobile phone on airplane mode.

But luckily, a change in EU data roaming rules (which came into effect in June 2017) meant that you were able to ‘roam like at home’ when using your mobile phone on your travels. So you could keep your friends back in the UK updated with details of your holiday using all of your favourite social media apps at no additional cost to your phone bill. This included texting, phone calls and internet usage, and any data used would simply be deducted from your mobile phone data plan as it usually would at home.

However, since the UK’s trade deal with the EU was confirmed (from 1st January 2021), the guarantee of free mobile phone roaming throughout the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway has ended. Meaning phone operators will be able to re-implement charges if they want to.

What are the main changes in data roaming laws after Brexit?

As the guarantee of free mobile phone roaming has come to an end, this means that phone operators could re-implement roaming charges if they want to. This is down to each individual provider, but the new deal doesn’t necessarily mean that providers will choose to reinstate charges.

Is there anything in place to protect me against data roaming charges after Brexit?

To help make sure you’re not faced with extortionate phone bills each time you travel to the EU, the trade deal includes a new law which means you won’t face data charges above £45 without knowing. You’ll need to opt in to continue once you hit this amount. There are also requirements for you to be informed when you reach 80% and 100% of your data allowance.

What are phone operators choosing to do about roaming charges after Brexit?

Phone operators are entitled to make their own decision on whether to reintroduce roaming charges, so it’s important to check what’s included in your mobile phone contract before you head off.

Although four of the largest operators in the UK didn’t want to comment on specifics, they’ve said that they don’t plan on reintroducing charges going forward:

Three said they already offer roaming at no extra cost for customers in over 70 destinations and they will continue to retain this great customer benefit regardless of Brexit negotiations.

Vodafone said they have no plans to reintroduce roaming charges.

EE: "Our customers enjoy inclusive roaming in Europe and beyond, and we don't have any plans to change this based on the Brexit outcome. So our customers going on holiday and travelling in the EU will continue to enjoy inclusive roaming."

O2: "We're committed to providing our customers with great connectivity and value when they travel outside the UK. We currently have no plans to change our roaming services across Europe."

If your chosen provider does have plan to charge you for your data roaming on holiday, then it might be worth having a look into whether there are any internet cafés near to where you’re staying, or whether your hotel can provide Wi-Fi, either free or for a small charge – it’ll probably still work out cheaper than data roaming charges.

5 ways to keep your mobile data roaming costs down

As much as we’d love to just switch our phones off and forget about them for a week on holiday, sometimes it’s not always feasible. If you’ll be travelling outside of the countries where your provider allows free data roaming, here are five easy ways to keep your data costs down:

1. Avoid Google Maps

Whenever you get lost at home, it’s easy to just whip out your phone and use Google Maps to find out where you are in a matter of seconds, an especially useful tool if you’ve never visited the place before. However, Google Maps does use data to navigate at a rate of about 5MB per hour. While this won’t break the bank, it’s an easily avoidable additional cost to your phone bill. Try to find a paper map of the local area, or use public transport to get to where you need to be. And worst case scenario, you could always ask a passer-by for directions.

2. Disable your weather

If your phone has a weather app that constantly updates you with what the weather’s doing outside, then it’s more than likely using up data. Disabling this in your phone’s settings could save your battery, and your phone bill.

3. Switch off Facebook auto-play

Remember, every time you load up your Facebook newsfeed, you’re using up data. But the real downfall for Facebook users when it comes to data roaming is the AutoPlay function. This is where Facebook will automatically play videos you scroll past in your newsfeed, so you don’t even have to click on it to accumulate the costs.

Switch off AutoPlay by going to your Facebook Settings > Video Tab > AutoPlay Videos, and selecting ‘Off.’

4. Check your emails less

Whenever you open your email app on your phone, all of your mail will get downloaded automatically, as well as any attachments. The majority of emails will likely just be text, but it’s the sheer volume of them that will use up your data. Take a well-deserved break by avoiding the temptation to check your emails whilst you’re on holiday.

5. Turn off push notifications

Lots of smartphone apps are designed to notify you of any updates without you even opening the app. Whilst this functionality does come in handy, unfortunately it does also mean that these apps could be adding to your bill without your knowledge. To stop this, simply switch off push notifications in your phone settings.

To keep up-to-date on mobile data roaming tariffs, visit the government website.

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