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EU roaming charges are back – what are the best UK mobile networks for travellers?

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UK mobile networks are re-assessing their roaming charges. Now that Brexit is a done deal, EU regulation, which has stipulated fee-free roaming in the bloc since 2017, no longer applies.

Yesterday both EE and O2 announced changes to how they will treat roaming in the EU:

  • Anyone who joins EE after 7th July, either as a new customer or by upgrading an existing contract, will pay a £2 per day flat fee from January 2022 for EU roaming, excluding the Republic of Ireland
  • O2 won’t be charging any roaming fees but is introducing a ‘fair use’ cap of 25GB per month in the EU, with additional charges for any usage above this level
EU roaming charges are back - what are the best UK mobile deals?

With two of the biggest networks having changed their policies it could just be a matter of time before others follow.

Given the changing landscape we thought we would take a look at the best UK mobile networks for roaming.

Note that the packages below are what is currently offered to new customers. If you are an existing customer of one of the networks below you may be on a different legacy tariff.

The best mobile networks for travelling

We have ranked the four major UK networks based on how many countries you can roam in at no additional cost. We’ve ignored all virtual mobile networks (such as Giff Gaff, VOXI etc) for now as there are simply too many to keep track of!

Best UK mobile network for roaming travelling

Three – free roaming in 71 countries

Three is by far the best network for international travel. It offered free roaming to many countries before EU regulations mandated it and is arguably most likely to continue to do so in the future.

Currently, anyone on a Three pay monthly plan can use their allowances at no extra cost in 71 destinations under a scheme called ‘Go Roam’. Some of these include obscure destinations such as the Aland Islands (an autonomos part of Finland, apparently) but most include useful, global destinations.

Here is the full list:

Aland Islands, Australia, Austria, Azores, Balearic Islands (Ibiza, Mallorca, Menorca, Formentera), Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France (including Corsica, Mayotte & Reunion), French Guiana, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece (including Crete & Rhodes), Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Isle of Man, Israel, Italy (including Sardinia & Sicily), Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Madeira, Malta, Marie-Galante, Martinique, Mayotte, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Republic of Ireland, Reunion, Romania, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, United States (including Florida Keys), Uruguay, US Virgin Islands, Vatican City, Vietnam.

A monthly fair usage cap of 12GB of data, 3,000 minutes of calls and 5,000 texts applies. You can read more about Go Roam here.

If you’re a pay monthly customer you can also opt to pay for the Data Passport add-on, which lets you use your normal allowances for £5 per day in 89 countries worldwide. Confusingly, these countries are not identical to Go Roam countries. For example, the UAE and Ukraine are eligible for the Data Passport but are not included in Go Roam.

Standard rates: Anyone travelling to destinations not included in Go Roam must pay standard rates of £2 per minute to make or receive calls, 35p per text and £3+ per MB depending on your location.

Best UK mobile network for roaming travelling

Vodafone – free roaming in 51 destinations

Vodafone lets you use your allowance for free in 51 European destinations under its ‘Roam Free’ program.

If you have unlimited data Xtra plan (from £40 for unlimited allowances) or Unlimited Max plan you can roam free in a further 29 countries, including Albania, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Australia, Barbados, Canada, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Ghana, Grenada, Jamaica, Kenya, Lesotho, Mexico, Montserrat, Mozambique, Netherlands Antilles, New Zealand, South Afirca, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, Turks & Caicos and United States of America.

If you don’t have an Xtra plan then you can pay £6 per day at 105 ‘Roam Further’ destinations to use your usual allowance. These include:

Afghanistan, Albania, Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Aruba, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Cambodia, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Democratic Republic of, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Laos, Lesotho, Macau, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Montserrat, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Russia, Saba, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Saint Eustatius, Saint Maarten , Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore , South Africa, South Korea, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Swaziland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey and Northern Cyprus, Turks and Caicos, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Uruguay, US Virgin Islands, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Vietnam.

Best UK mobile network for roaming travelling

O2 – free roaming in 48 destinations

O2 will let you use your allowance at no extra cost across 48 European destinations, up to the fair use cap of 25GB per month.

Standard rates: Outside of Europe you are charged at standard roaming rates, which means you’ll be charged £2 per minute to make and receive calls, 50p per text and £7.10 per MB of data. This is scary stuff, especially for data.

You can also pay for an O2 ‘Travel Bolt On’ which will let you use up to 120 minutes, send 120 texts and use your normal data allowance in countries worldwide. Pricing starts from £4.99 per day and is only open to pay monthly customers.

Certain plans, such as Refresh plans with between 30GB and 89GB data allowances, get the Travel Bolt On for free in O2’s ‘Travel Inclusive Zone’, which includes:

Argentina, Honduras, Australia, Madagascar, Botswana, Mexico, Canada, Myanmar, Chile, New Zealand, Colombia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Paraguay, El Salvador, Peru, Greenland, Rwanda, Guatemala, United States, Guinea, Uruguay, Guyana, Venezuela and Yemen.

Best UK mobile network for roaming travelling

EE – no free roaming

Anyone joining or upgrading their EE plan from the 7th July will be charged £2 per day to use their data allowance in 47 European destinations.

Standard rates: Outside of the EU, you will be charged standard roaming fees: £1.88 per minute to make or receive calls, 62p per text and 67p per picture message. You’ll need to buy a data add-on for browse the web, which typically start from £6 for 150mb.

For an extra £10 per month, you can purchase a ‘Roam Further’ pass that lets you use your allowance for free in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. You can also select ‘Roam Further’ as your benefit on ‘Smart’ contracts.

You can check roaming costs and data add-ons on this useful tool on the EE website.

Conclusion

The best UK network for when you’re travelling is, for most people, likely to be Three which offers free roaming to many countries outside of Europe on all its monthly plans.

Three is also one of the cheaper networks, which makes it even more competitive against some of its competitors who offer add-ons for international roaming. Even if you don’t want to switch to Three as your main network, many mobile phones now let you use two SIMs.

It may make more sense simply to supplement your normal plan with a 1 month contract from Three, which range from £16 for 4GB to £26 for unlimited data. You’d only have to stay somewhere for 2.5 days for the 4GB plan to come out cheaper than Vodafone’s £6 per day ‘Roam Free’ add-on …..

Comments (215)

  • Marc says:

    Three throttles your data speed when you use your plan abroad (certainly outside the EU.) I found it impossible to use data-heavy apps/services (E.g. Google Maps, social media etc.) when I was in the USA and on Three. I’ve since switched to Vodafone who don’t throttle your data speeds abroad.

    • Carl says:

      I’ve never had this issue with Three and quite happily used data in the USA. I do however think their U.K. coverage is a bit rubbish

      • chabuddy geezy says:

        I’m currently using Three, while the free roaming is useful I find the phone signal almost unusable in London. I will probably have to give Vodafone or the virtual networks a go at the end of my contract.

        Sunlit uplands etc

        • MD says:

          Not sure what parts of London those complaining about Three inhabit, but living and working in Zone 1 I find them to be very good. Excellent 4g speeds, and increasing amounts of (admittedly slightly flaky and outdoor only) 5g on about half my walk to work now, giving some pretty impressive speeds. Always had good speeds roaming too, including the US. No evidence of any throttling.

          • Sarah says:

            I struggle with signal with Three in south London, but don’t generally have issues when using it abroad.

          • John says:

            I don’t know about Z1 but with Three, my old house in Z5 you had to go to the window, my current house in Z3/4 it only works in one and a half rooms (the half is that it can receive texts but not calls), my friend’s house in Z2/3 it only works in his kitchen and my friend’s house in Z6 it works right in the middle of his living room, but not at the edges or outside. Strange.

            Using the same Three SIMs I have had excellent reception in the remote Scottish Highlands, in the remote Swiss alps and at the far edges of Greater Sydney where even my Australian Optus SIM had poor signal.

      • Michael C says:

        Exact same: Internet great in US, incredibly fast in Brazil (though I’ve never been able to make calls, which you’re meant to). The other massive plus is tethering in the EU (up to now!!).
        However, I can’t even receive an sms for online banking transactions in my house, and have to walk round the garden for a signal!

        • Jody says:

          We live in a newbuild with virtually no signal on any network! We’re both on Three, and called up and were sent a box free of charge (can’t remember exactly what it’s called, but it’s to improve your signal). We both now get full phone signal and receive SMS with no problem.

    • CarpalTravel says:

      I’m with Three and whilst their speed is poor in the Uk they are at least cheap. In the US I found the speed throttled heavily but still allowed me to use Maps and Waze, which was all I really needed. How much does it cost you to use Vodafone in the USA?

      • Doug M says:

        £5/day in US for me with Vodafone. That’s allows you to use your inc minutes texts and data. Voda OKish in London, but very intermittent in my home and garden in N16.

    • Alan says:

      Totally agree, I’ve found 3 almost unusable previously outwith the EU and would be very wary about relying on them.

    • The Lord says:

      No issues for me with three. Get 5G at home in London and 4G was decent in Greece this year plus benefit of non-EU countries. All for £15 a month

    • Lady London says:

      It’s the local networks see my comment around page 3. Try to manually select another network. Check home network doc first as not all networks in a location might have a deal with yours.

  • Matty says:

    I use GlocalMe and Voice Bridge.

  • Save East Coast Rewards says:

    Problem with Three is the UK coverage can be poor in some areas. Hopefully improved a lot since I last tried it, but I still know people who have switched and regret it (but also others that are very happy). Check before tying yourself to a contract.

    Moving to Italy has shown me that UK mobile contracts are a complete rip off, here €7/month for 100GB data, unlimited calls and texts is possible with no minimum term contract. Currently I get free calls to the UK, but will that last?

    • Save East Coast Rewards says:

      Looking at the comments above Three is still useless, at least in London. Maybe the best option is to get a local SIM at the destination. If your home operator supports eSIM then the latest iPhones and many Android phones support that freeing up your SIM slot for another network.

    • CarpalTravel says:

      If you think the UK is a rip off you should see USA prices!!!

      • Paul Pogba says:

        Canada is the absolute worst of all the places I’ve been. It is embaressing though that the British public will be ripped off on a 24 month contract for the price of a sausage roll.

      • Save East Coast Rewards says:

        Very true. US mobile prices shocked me, but in Italy it’s basically as cheap as a couple of Aperol Spritz a month 😁

    • Lady London says:

      Is that with Three or TIM, @SECR?

  • patrick C says:

    One of those great Brexit benefits 😉
    Three & Vodafone are hreat for the travelling Nomad. When I was still in the UK the three network (in Londom) was so-so, but I think they are a lot cheaper than Vodafone. They also haven’t complained that I didn’t return to the UK in ober a year…, though don’t use them much atm.

  • Richmond_Surrey says:

    Yes, Three has poor reception in many places. I switched to them couple of years ago to have free roaming when traveling. Very useful in USA, Australia, Norway, Hong Kong, etc. You can also use pre-paid card just for travel. Top it up and then buy package for 30 days.

  • Yuff says:

    So perhaps I keep our existing EE contracts, when it expires in Jan, as it includes EU roaming.
    The alternatives don’t seem great as roaming is a deal breaker for me and I prefer to keep my Uk number

    • Chris H says:

      I would consider getting a Local Network SIM – I personally recommend Mobal because they can deliver to you in the UK prior to the trip, multiple data options including unlimited and coverage across the whole of Japan.

      Alternatively, you can get a mobile router which essentially gives you free wi-fi everywhere which is also a solid option.

      I personally prefer SIMs due to access to data speeds & also having the ability to text/make calls if needed.

  • Claire says:

    My daughter is due to travel to Japan next year for a school trip. I’ve noticed there is an issue as most networks don’t cover there. From this article it looks like Vodafone might be an option or does anyone have any other recommendations?

    • John says:

      If travelling through Narita, there used to be a place outside the arrivals hall where one could rent sim cards or wireless routers (which come with an integrated sim card). I went with the latter myself and it suited my needs perfectly – providing sufficient speed for both my phone and an iPad. The router itself comes with a battery so just stuck it in a jacket pocket when travelling around – no worse than carrying a second mobile. The counter giving them out was next to where you bought coach tickets into the city. On departure simply dropped the kit back at the counter.
      I’m sure lots has changed post covid, but I would think someone would still be offering something similar!

    • Jalpo says:

      I’ve stuck with Vodafone because of the easy £6 a day charge in Japan, Singapore and Cambodia. The other networks seem to still be on variable roaming charges in these countries.

    • mr_jetlag says:

      Japan historically had a different Cdma/gsm frequency so have always been an island in terms of mobile coverage. Perhaps 4g is different, but I always used a local number there (in the early 2000s I even hired a neat Docomo unit from the airport for my stay)

      • Max says:

        Japan is much more sensible now re: mobile frequencies. Pretty much any 4G phone will work. Voda’s data passport works perfectly and whilst expensive is very fast. Japan also historically made it vertu difficult to get a SIM card (as a local or otherwise) largely due to a form of scam perpetrated almost exclusively against the elderly called an “ore-ore” scam whereby anonymous callers would ring up old people (who’s this? “me! me!” hence (“ore-ore”) pretending to be in distress and demanding immediate bank transfers. Luckily the SIM rules were largely liberalised a couple of years ago so data-only sims can be purchased in most major electronics stores (BIC Camera, Yodobashi Camera) for approx. £20-25 for 5-10gb. Pay attention to the small print on “unlimited” SIMs which almost always have a miserly (c. 100mb) daily limit over which you are throttled to the point of unusability for anything but WhatsApp.

        • Stu N says:

          I just bought a local SIM at Haneda. It’s the only place I’ve been in last five years that hasn’t been covered by Three.

          • Save East Coast Rewards says:

            “ I just bought a local SIM at Haneda. It’s the only place I’ve been in last five years that hasn’t been covered by Three”

            London? 😁

    • lcylocal says:

      Pre-Covid you could buy a Japan Travel SIM from the Japan Travel Centre in Holborn. The setup was quite fiddly though and you may well find if it is a trip there is a no mobiles rule of sorts, so wouldn’t rush to worry about this.

    • Ian M says:

      My wife is from Japan and we travel back there at least once a year. We always get a sim before we go from the London based Japan Experience travel agency. Data only is fine as your daughter can use messenger, whatsapp etc for calls.

      Good value and very easy, just pop the sim in soon as you land and you’re set.

    • J says:

      A couple of times in the past, I’ve bought a Japanese data SIM card in advance of travel, from Japan Rail Pass. Found it worked very well, and their customer service was excellent. Arrived by post very promptly. I was buying it as an add-on to a rail pass, but it looks like you can buy the SIM card on its own: https://www.japan-rail-pass.com/services/simcard

      • Alan says:

        Ditto – did the same about 18 months ago and it worked very well.

      • Ian M says:

        Yes, this is the one I was referencing too. Highly recommended.

    • Julian says:

      Presumably in quite a few places your daughter will be going there will be access to free Wifi, in which case calls and text message can be made via WhatsApp wherever that free wifi coverage exists but obviously not on the Japanese mobile networks without having an appropriate roaming data plan of some kind.

    • lumma says:

      If you’re in or near a train station or 7eleven in Japan, you can connect to a free WiFi. I wouldn’t bother with the expensive data SIMs

    • ADS says:

      When you arrive into Narita there’s about half a dozen shops and stalls selling SIMs from different companies. I’m sure your daughter’s whole class will be buying them !

  • Paul Pogba says:

    You can usually get a decent rebate from the un-nameable sites, is there an opportunity for HfP to setup links to these mobile networks and earn a bit of cash before the weekend?

    • Rob says:

      We have never, over the years, found it worthwhile – the mobile networks tend to guard their affiliate schemes. I am surprised Avios never got an official mobile partner with a good travel product.

      • Paul Pogba says:

        Interesting, I just assumed you had an account with someone like awin and were able to create referral links to anyone on their list/panel.

        • Rob says:

          No. You need individual approval and in certain sectors, like mobile, they go ‘invite only’ because the operators don’t want a huge number of comparison sites setting up in direct competition to their own sites.

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