Using your mobile phone abroad used to be an expensive business. Flash back ten years and the newspapers were full of stories about people being hit with huge bills after accidentally leaving their data roaming on and downloading information and content.
All that changed when the EU introduced rules that capped the charges a business could apply – and made them warn you if you were using your agreed data limits. However, everything changed after Brexit when many (but not all) mobile phone providers said they were going to introduce roaming charges again. And, of course, outside of the EU these charges continued to apply anyway.
If you’re going to switch to a new mobile phone provider then data roaming might be key to your decision. So here is Resolver’s guide to the right to roam. Don’t forget that you can contact a business, pass on feedback or make a complaint about all the mobile phone providers at Resolver for free: https://www.resolver.co.uk/rights-guide/mobile-phones
We often use terms without fully understanding what it is they apply to, so let’s tackle downloads and roaming first.
Data roaming is where you jump from your mobile network provider on to a network in a different place when you are outside of your network’s boundaries or reach. This allows you to do all the usual things with your phone or gadget, like make calls, download data and use the internet. While your mobile network might have partnerships with other networks abroad, chances are charges will apply. Data roaming must be switched on to work though.
Wi-Fi – or Wireless Fidelity – is a wireless way to link up to the internet. Wi-Fi networks are key if you are on holiday as they are generally free and save your data roaming allowances.Getting a working Wi-Fi connection is often the holy grail of a holiday! You may have to loiter in the ‘business’ area of your hotel if you need a strong link.
Downloading is a word used so commonly in English that it’s easy to forget what’s involved. Downloading isn’t just when you click a button to download something like a song or a film. If you open an app on your phone, you are automatically downloading information. So even if you are reading a news app, your phone may well be essentially downloading data. Not all online content works this way though, but it pays to err on the side of caution.
The simplest answer is to turn off data roaming when abroad and stick to Wi-Fi where possible. But that’s not always possible. There are a number of things you can do to minimise costs, like using free apps like WhatsApp to call and send pictures (texting pictures can be pricey even when you are not abroad!).
Speak to your mobile phone provider. They can tell you if roaming charges have come in yet, potential costs in different countries and what your allowance is. Many have ‘bolt on’ packages allowing you to increase your data allowance, for example. It’s also a good opportunity to find out if you out of contract (and can switch or negotiate a new deal). You may also find that your existing allowances don’t cover your current needs, so check the bill and see what you’re regularly using.
Every wonder how people are watching films on the plane? If you plan in advance, you can download films, TV and content on the main streaming sites which can then be accessed even when ‘airline mode’ is on. Don’t assume you can do this from abroad though. Even with Wi-Fi, some sites only allow streaming from in the UK.
If you go over your data limit then charges may well apply. The Government has capped these at £45 and you should get warnings – but with money tight for many, it makes sense to keep an eye on the data you use. And if the kids are stuck to their phones make it clear what the dangers are too.
If you are heading outside of Europe where charges can be huge, you might want to consider getting a sim only deal. There are a few of these about that you might find useful. You can just buy a sim in the country you go to, or alternatively, there are ‘global’ sims for the roving traveller.
While many firms have announced that data roaming is back, the details are still being ironed out. So it’s vital that you speak to the network provider before you travel.
EE, Sky, Vodafone and Three are all charging £1 to £2 a day depending on the contract you have. O2, Giff Gaff and many of the branded supermarket or shop services are not currently charging in Europe. You can find a full list of the charges here.