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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)

  • J says:

    Just to double check the EE policy – the £2 a day is to use your data allowance? So there is no £2 charge if you are only making/receiving calls or sms?

  • Dawn says:

    I’m using Vodafone with the 81 countries because it’s the only one that covers Turkey and S Africa where I spend a considerable amount of time. All the packages now will send you a text message if you are out of UK for longer than 60 days and will then start charging you. You only find this info in the small print – thankfully a Vodafone sales agent told me about it.

  • Gary_Dexter says:

    We paid roaming charges before and managed just fine.. what’s the difference now?

    • Gavin says:

      It was far less convenient, and often far more expensive back then. I “managed” fine, but it wasn’t great! It’s so much better having free roaming around the EU and not having to think about it.

    • Babyg says:

      @Gary the clue is in the title “EU roaming charges are back – what are the best UK mobile networks for travellers?”

    • Aidan says:

      Is this Brexit logic?

      • Save East Coast Rewards says:

        I managed fine without a mobile phone and internet access – doesn’t mean I want to go back to that! People managed without a lot of things but it doesn’t mean we want to go backwards

      • Gavin says:

        No logic at all – with that attitude we’d all still be living in caves.

  • KBuffett says:

    Does anyone use an iPhone with two connections in the UK? How does it work in practice and is it easy and convenient to manage calls, messages and data between the two connections?

    • Nick says:

      It’s easy. There are some videos on YouTube if you search for “eSIM iPhone”.

      But currently only Vodafone, O2, and EE support eSIM. So you need one of these as the eSIM and then another for the physical SIM. So you could potentially get a Three SIM and use this when roaming. Hope this helps.

  • Muzer says:

    Three’s reception in the UK is pretty awful though. I’m quite happy sticking with O2.

  • VinZ says:

    I’ve had three for 11 years now, never regretted it for a day. Sometimes their signal is not the strongest but being in the US and not paying a single penny extra for data is worth the pain.

    • Sav K says:

      VinZ, I will be working in the US from next year, can you expand on what plan you have and what you get please, as this may work for me?

  • Lady London says:

    Another tip is always switch off your phone or at least disable mobile data or roaming data if you’re on a boat. You can find yourself connected to an expensive boat system or satellite system and your apps may choose to use data even if you don’t.

  • Lady London says:

    TBH something may be going on within Europe as well as this year there seems to be a trend for mobile phone firms to exclude calls to other countries in Europe from contract inclusions which were very longstanding included before and to try to force higher tariff contracts on users to keep intra-EU calling. I can’t work out if some crossborder agreement or price control has been removed or if it’s just profiteering. But it seems to be intra-Europe not just UK-Europe

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