We’ve all seen the stories in the papers about a family on a Mediterranean holiday who have downloaded the latest episode of their favourite soap onto a phone or tablet and been landed with a massive bill for data on their return home. Recent changes in EU rules have promised to put an end to these elevated roaming charges, but is it all good news for the UK holidaymaker?
At present, there is a very confused picture when it comes to using your phone overseas. Some people are on contracts which allow them to use their mobiles in Europe at the same rates as at home. Others have the option to pay an extra daily sum which allows them to text, call or use the internet to set limits. Another group doesn’t have any special deals for internet use overseas, and this is where the huge bills for making a call or logging onto social media can arise. Since 2016 there has been a cap on the charges applied to calls, texts or mobiles, but these can still mount up over the course of a fortnight in the sun. The European Parliament has been debating the issue of roaming charges for years, and it’s worth bearing in mind that these charges affect visitors to the UK as well as UK travellers overseas.
The changes proposed by the EU are due to come into force on 15th June 2017. After that date, UK visitors to any European country will be able to use their calls, text and data on the same basis as at home. Although many phone providers and networks are advertising this change as “free” roaming that’s not strictly speaking the case; the deal allows you to use whatever bundle of calls, texts and data you have agreed with your provider throughout the EU. You will be charged the same for a call or text whether you Manchester, Malaga or Munich. The same rules apply to data, although if you exceed your agreed limits with your network provider, excess charges will apply as they always do.
This all sounds very positive and it’s great news for tourists and business travellers who want to use their phones or tablets all over Europe without being hit with huge charges. It’s important to remember though which countries constitute “Europe” in this sense – these changes in roaming only apply to EU member countries, not members of the wider European Economic Area such as Switzerland or Norway. It also doesn’t include the popular holiday destination of Turkey, or anywhere else in the eastern part of Europe which hasn’t yet applied to join the EU. Further afield, you’ll have to check charges with your mobile phone provider if you are travelling outside Europe. The good news may also be short lived as once the UK leaves the EU at some point in 2019, this agreement will cease. The UK government may negotiate a continuation of the agreement, but this remains to be seen.