An end to ‘bill shock’ as EU mobile roaming charges are slashed

New rules that slash roaming charges for using mobile phones in other European countries have come into effect

Controversial roaming charges holidaymakers pay to use their mobile phones in another European country will come down dramatically from today, and are set to disappear altogether from 2017 following EU intervention.

For several years the European commission has been battling with the big mobile providers to force through cuts to the cost of making cross-border calls and using data in another country – the much hated roaming charges that leave many in “bill shock”.

Following lengthy negotiations, the EU announced in October last year that it will ban these charges from June 2017. Monthly call allowances will then apply across the EU as if the user were in their home country.

In the interim, the EU has put a cap on the amount operators can charge – which comes into force today. A roaming surcharge can now be no more than:

• €0.05 extra per minute for calls.

• €0.02 extra per SMS sent.

• €0.05 extra per MB of data.

Previous reductions have already seen the cost of roaming within the EU fall by 75% since they were first brought in, the European commission says.

Today’s changes mean EU roaming charges will fall by at least a third. Call costs will go down from around 16p a minute – typically what is added to cross-border calls – to a more palatable 4.4p. Data charges – the cost of accessing the web with a smartphone – will typically come down from 17.4p per MB to 4.3p. Such charges have often caught out unwary travellers, landing some with bills running into thousands of pounds.

However, it should be noted that contrary to what is said on the big phone company websites, roaming charges are levied on top of the cost of a UK call. So if you make a five-minute call from Madrid to Manchester, five minutes of your calls allowance is used, plus you pay the top-up rate of 4.4p a minute – a total 22p to the UK operator.

If you’ve used up your monthly calls allowance it starts to get very expensive. Most of the big operators – EE, Vodafone and O2 – typically charge 40p-45p a minute for calls made outside the allowance, so those roaming can be paying almost 50p a minute to call home.

Make a pay-as-you-go call and you’ll be charged around 30p-a-minute plus a 4p roaming top up.

The cost of receiving a call from the UK while you are abroad has also come down from around 4.4p to either 1p a minute or free, depending on the operator. EE charges 1p a minute while Vodafone, Tesco and O2 have scrapped them entirely.

Mobile phone users will now have to decide if it is worth their while paying extra for holiday roaming deals or bolt-ons. For example, EE offers unlimited calls and 100MB of data a day in Europe, but that costs £4. It remains a good deal if you make lots of calls – but if you are only making the odd call and not accessing data the extra expense is not worth it.

Other big firms offer similar deals – check out the best ones offered by your provider before you head to the airport. Data deals are particularly good value if you don’t have Wi-Fi where you are staying, and still want to update Facebook or search online.

If you roam a lot you may be better off switching provider. Three has led the way with its Feel at Home tariff which won’t charge anything extra to call or text the UK or for data use in 18 countries, including many in Europe, the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Carphone Warehouse-owned iD network is also worth considering for frequent travellers looking to avoid roaming charges before 2017. Its TakeAway tariffs include free roaming in 29 countries including the whole of the EU, the US and Australia. Plans start at £12.50 a month for a sim-only 12-month contract.

Tesco Mobile announced this week that it is scrapping extra roaming charges for its customers travelling to any of 31 European countries between 23 May until midnight 3 September.

Note, most of the above prices only apply if you are visiting another EU country, which excludes a number of popular tourist destinations – for example, Turkey. Visitors there this summer will typically pay £1.20-£1.50 a minute to make calls, and a frightening £6 per MB of data downloaded. Tourists to other non-EU countries face similar charges. You have been warned.

What you will save

Let’s assume that Jane is heading to Madrid for the weekend. She makes three five-minute phone calls to home in Manchester, sends five texts and uses her banking app, checks the weather forecast and gets around the city with a mapping app, adding up to a total 20MB of data.

Let’s also assume that Jane is on a Vodafone pay-monthly contract with a certain number of minutes and data, and that she hasn’t exceeded her monthly limits.

Last week in Madrid she would have had to pay £2.47 for the calls, 25p for the texts and £3.48 for the data – a total of £6.20.

From this weekend she will pay 64.5p for the calls, 4.5p for the texts and 86p for the data – £1.55 in total.

So from Saturday she’ll be saving a total of £4.65. Happy holidays!


Miles Brignall

The GuardianTramp

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