Travel and holidays

What you need to know about mobile data roaming abroad

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) now means that you’re able to ‘roam like at home’ when using your mobile phone on your travels. This means that you can 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 includes texting, phone calls and internet usage, and any data used will simply be deducted from your mobile phone data plan as it usually would at home.

Which countries are covered under the new mobile data roaming laws?

You can now access free mobile data roaming across 31 countries; the 28 countries that are currently members of the European Union, as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

It’s important to remember that this only applies to these countries noted above, so if you’re travelling anywhere outside of these countries, you may still be subject to hefty data roaming charges.

To be clear, there are also a couple of countries and territories that are part of Europe that aren’t part of the European Union, and so are not automatically covered by these rules. This includes countries such as Switzerland, Monaco, Andorra and several Eastern European nations, as well as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

There isn’t currently any consistency among service providers as to what you will be charged for mobile data roaming, so it’s important to check what’s included in your mobile phone contract before you head off. If your provider plans 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.

What’s the catch?

Whilst data roaming in the EU is now essentially ‘free,’ there are a couple of ‘fair-use’ catches built into these rules that could still land you with a large phone bill:

Data roaming past “a reasonably high volume”

While you can make as many voice calls and send as many texts as you like abroad at domestic prices (the amount you pay at home), this does have its limitations. If you go beyond “a reasonably high volume” of data usage at domestic rates, then you may have to pay a data roaming surcharge of about £8.30 per gigabyte (€7.70/GB plus VAT). However, this amount is expected to decline year on year, and will be dependent on your service provider.

Taking out contracts in low-cost countries

This clause has been added to discourage people from taking out mobile phone contracts in low-cost countries, such as Bulgaria and Romania, to avoid paying more for a contract at home. Essentially, if you’re found to be using your mobile phone more abroad than you do at home (or where the contract was taken out), then you may be subject to further data roaming charges from your service provider.

What do I need to do to take advantage of free data roaming?

Nothing at all. If you already have a mobile phone contract in the UK, then this should already be built into your plan. Whenever you use your mobile phone data abroad, the minutes and texts you use should automatically be deducted from your data plan as normal. However, it’s a good idea to double check your contract before you head off to make sure that the country you’re visiting is covered by these EU data roaming rules.

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 the EU data roaming rules apply, here are 5 easy ways to keep your data costs down:

1. 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. Weather

If your phone has a weather widget 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. Facebook

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. Checking your email

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. 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 as Brexit negotiations continue, please visit the European Commission website.

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