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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)

  • Alastair says:

    Hello from the Åland Islands!
    Off topic, but once travel opens up it is absolutely worth a closer look by readers here. Unfortunately I think they do need to do some work to promote it as a destination reachable by air (there is an airport but no direct flights anywhere other than Sweden or Finland, and not that many flights) – their main source of traffic is from Baltic ferries. That aside it is an absolutely wonderful hidden gem, which is why I’m back here for a summer for the second year in a row (I do normally live in Helsinki)

    • Paul Pogba says:

      What are the must visit attractions of Aland? How long would you recommend a visitor spend there?

    • Laura says:

      I spent about 2 hours there whilst travelling on a Baltic ferry. Beautiful place but think I would get bored on holiday there!

    • ADS says:

      “obscure destinations such as the Aland Islands (an autonomos part of Finland, apparently)”

      I can’t believe that Rhys hasn’t been – it’s a “must visit” for any travel geek!

      I had about 5 days there back in 2014 – I think my highlight was Kobba Klintar, but there’s plenty of beautiful places to visit.

  • Heathrow Flyer says:

    Strange how both o2 and EE put out their announcements within hours of each other. Is that just coincidence? If I was the CMA I’d certainly be doing some digging.

    • BuildBackBetter says:

      Won’t be surprised if European networks started charging uk networks and these two were the first to pass on the costs.

  • Jens Fallesen says:

    Vodafone also cap data in free-roaming countries to 25GB per month and have done so since they started offered unlimited data plans.

  • NFH says:

    Please do NOT misleadingly state that Three’s “Go Roam” applies in 71 countries. It applies in only 59 countries and territories.

    Three misleadingly advertises that Go Roam applies in “71 destinations” because it counts several countries multiple times. For example it counts “Ireland” and “Republic of Ireland” as separate destinations, counts the Åland Islands in addition to Finland, counts two parts of Spain in addition to Spain, counts two parts of Portugal in addition to Portugal, and counts eight parts of France in addition to France.

    Please also avoid stating that roaming is free with any provider. This is also untrue, because the consumer still has to pay a domestic charge for the service. Perhaps instead say that it is not surcharged or that it is charged at domestic prices.

    • riku says:

      The 71 “countries” is called 71 “destinations” on the 3 UK pages and this is more accurate because the 71 is based on mobile operator licenses. This is why Jersey is listed in the 71 because licenses are awarded separately to the rest of the UK and this is why Aland appears because the awarding of licences there is different to Finland even though it’s part of Finland.
      I think it is Rhys who has turned “destinations” into “countries”

      • NFH says:

        No, the reason that Jersey is listed separately is that it is NOT part of the UK, just like Gibraltar, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and the Falkland Islands.

        The reason for the 71 destinations is for the reason that I explained. It is nothing to do with licences. For example, the Canary Islands do not have separate licences from the rest of Spain. Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are the same country. Counting them both as separate destinations is materially misleading. Perhaps carefully analyse the list and you’ll see that Three has inflated the total from 59 to 71. Perhaps Three should likewise count all 227 Greek islands as separate “destinations“, which would really inflate the total.

  • AJA says:

    Did you mean now or no in the following sentence:

    O2 will let you use your allowance at “now” extra cost across 48 European destinations

    Data usage over 25gb is what you pay extra for if you are on that plan.

  • Simon Barlow says:

    Why not Giff Gaff or Lebara? Surely any sensible reader will have their own, paid for phone by now and therefore be on a sim only contract?

  • Andrew says:

    Oh well. I renewed my Double-E contract last week for two years, so that should cover me for a while – and I always go for a phone with a two SIM slots.

    What’s the position going to be with CI and Isle of Man?

    • Michael C says:

      Sky Talk (or whatever the name is) covers the Isle of Man, but it’s traditionally charged at a very high overseas rate (although to be fair, Manx Telecom charges UK calls likewise).

  • Joe says:

    Toggle mobile was the best for travel, one sim that would give you local numbers around the world and less than 1p a minute calls with cheep data and no monthly fees, went out of business when the European free-roaming started in 2017, let’s hope a model like Toggle will be back again.

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