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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)

  • AJA says:

    The reality is that we all get far more data for a lot less than we used to pay. I switched from Three because the signal was terrible where I live in London despite living within sight of a phone mast. Moved to O2 last July and not only saved money but also have a lot more data.

    The data cap doesn’t mean a lot to me as it is way more data than I pay for. But it doesn’t matter anyway as I have yet to use up all my data allowance. I am 3/4 through the billing cycle and so far have used just half this month’s allowance. I have so much data I hardly ever bother connecting the phone to my home WiFi. Last month was my highest ever usage and it was still under 75% of my data allowance.

    When in countries where O2 will charge me a lot I simply buy a local sim card. My phone had dual simplicity capabilities but I’m more likely to just swap the sim as I can still use WhatsApp and email to contact family and friends when out of the UK.

  • Bob says:

    I’m getting just 1mbs speeds with Three at many places in London. I’m looking forward to get rid of it once my contract ends.

    • Paul Pogba says:

      I used Three until ~2018, when I lived in SW Herts it was just about useable for voice, and generally good for data. I then moved to SE5 and it became pretty much unusable for both – I’m not sure if they have spectrum/capacity issues which means it becomes less usable in the places you’d expect it to be better. I was considering going back when travel reopened for the roaming but from all the comments on here it doesn’t sound like anythings changed.

  • Matarredonda says:

    UK mobile operators said in 2016 when questioned about free EU roaming “why would we change”.
    Pure and simple they are using this to push up revenues to feather there by own nests.
    What really gets me is most have own company in most EU countries.
    Rhys, thank you for your article but can you tell me if O2 have suspended the fair useage policy which gave you 63 days in the EU without an extra charge and then you incurred an additional monthly charge of £3.50?
    Due to Covid movement restrictions I have been caught with this although after a great deal of arguing because I have been on contract with them for 17 years to they eventually gave me dispensation.

  • Tony1 says:

    Brexit – the gift that just keeps giving.

    First they took away freedom of movement

    Now they have come for our phones.

    I can not see any benefit to the average traveller for this, apart from hassle and fees.

    Next it will be visas and permits.

    We will only see the full effect when ( if ever ) the Covid cloud clears away.

    • Gary_Dexter says:

      We all paid roaming charges post-June 2017 so what’s the difference in doing it now?

      • Babyg says:

        because we are in 2021, not 2017…. things change and people get used these new(now old) benefits…

    • Lord Doncaster says:

      Tony1

      A British passport allows you to move quite freely…COVID restrictions aside

  • Martin says:

    Vodafone have always had turkey as an included roam free destination..
    Just went back and checked my texts and last year it was still included

    • Dawn says:

      It is, but if you go there longer than 60 days (like I do as i go for three months) they will send you a message and tell you that they will be charging you.

  • Paul says:

    Ah Good old Brexit the gift that keeps giving! Project fear now project reality!

    I use three and they have always been superb overseas. I will continue to stay provided the deal remains but, as soon as the move to charging then my custom goes to others as the signal in the UK can be very patchy.

    There needs to be roaming in the UK so that masts are shared.

  • zebrum says:

    My experience with Three’s free roaming in Australia wasn’t very good. Although I was connected to a 4G tower with great signal my Internet speed was very slow, never over 1Mbps, i.e. 125K/s, I did some investigation and found my traffic was being tunnelled to the UK and if I was browsing an Australia site that was 2 trips around the globe! Switching to a local pay as you go SIM resolved the issue and I got the full 4G speed. So it was fun to try but I wouldn’t rely on it again for Asia or Australia.

    • Lady London says:

      What also happens in some destinations is customers roaming there from other countries are throttled by the local network ie deliberately given lower speeds. Even if the network being roamed in is super fast and not overloaded.

      Seen this a lot incl in NZ and the US. It’s annoying because your network and the local network can claim they fulfilled the roaming commitment yet the service can be unuseable.

  • Nick says:

    I left EE for Three and so far I’ve had zero issues in London or with EU roaming. Granted at home inside the coverage isn’t too good, but WiFI calling means I haven’t missed a call or text.

    Ironically I left Three for EE in 2015 as I found the Three network very slow with 4G data speeds. Despite good coverage! I think this was a major issue a few years ago. Fast forward to 2021 and I think Three have significantly improved their network and personally I’ve had faster speeds with Three than I did with EE on 5G!

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