In the past, traveling from the UK to mainland Europe could've landed you with a massive, unforeseen roaming bill. The EU recently imposed roaming price caps on European carriers, though, and as such, the major UK networks have been stepping up with a range of new roaming deals offering everything from inclusive minutes and data to reduced per-minute rates and even unlimited data in certain cases.
But there information from each individual carrier is often tricky to track down, and it's not always easy to know which network offers the best rate for your individual needs. That's why we've scoured the 'tubes for all the latest roaming rates and deals from the UK's leading mobile networks, and put them all in one place, along with a little guidance on which network might have the best roaming package for you.
If you're making the trip from the UK to Europe this summer, you'll definitely want to check out our definitive UK network roaming guide after the break.
Note: The information is correct at the time of writing, in late July, 2012. Networks may change these packages at any time, so it’s best to double check with them before you travel.
O2’s new O2 Travel service covers most of European countries. Data usage costs £1.99 per day, and gets you a limit of 25MB per day. When you’re making or receiving calls, there’s a 50p connection charge, after which you use your inclusive UK minutes. O2 won’t charge for calls received up to 60 minutes (excluding the connection charge, of course.)
The compete list of countries eligible for O2 Travel is as follows -- Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Monaco, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guernsey, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Vatican, San Marino, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Though power users may balk at the idea of 25MB per day, this should be more than enough for most mainstream customers. For more data-intensive O2 subscribers, 300MB for £120 under the higher spend cap option isn't horrible, but it's a little difficult to swallow when you compare it to what Three and Vodafone are offering.
If you want to use more than 25MB per day, you can opt out of O2 Travel by texting NOTRAVEL to 23336. That means calls within the UK and Europe will be charged at 28p per minute, receiving calls cost 7p per minute and texts cost 8.5p to send (texts can be received free of charge). If you’re still using MMS messages, they’ll cost you 25p each.
Outside of the O2 Travel package, data is charged at a rate of 69p per MB. After you clock up £40 worth of data usage on your bill, O2 will stop billing you until you reach 100MB of usage. After 100MB, your data service will stop unless you’ve opted into the higher spend cap option, which gives you a 300MB allowance with a spending cap of £120. You can apply this higher spend cap by texting DATALIMIT200 (yes, 200) to 23336.
Both O2 Travel and the network’s standard European roaming rates apply to Pay Monthly and Pay As You Go customers alike.
Three has recently launched its Euro Internet Pass, alongside lower roaming rates to bring it in line with EU guidelines. The Euro Internet Pass is simple enough -- you’ll be charged £5 per day for unlimited roaming data. Once you’re overseas, head to http://www.three.co.uk/static/html/wifi/index.html on your phone to activate your pass for the day (passes expire at midnight UK time each day). The Euro Internet Pass gives you unlimited data roaming in the EU, though tethering isn’t included in the deal. (That said, we’ve been unable to verify whether users are actually prevented from activating tethering when they’re overseas, so tread carefully.) Unfortunately, the Euro Internet Pass is not available for Pay As You Go customers.
The Euro Internet Pass is available in Three’s Europe zone -- Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal (incl. Azores & Madeira), Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain (incl. Balearic & Canary Islands), Sweden, Vatican City, Monaco.
Voice calls aren't included in Three's Internet Pass deal, but if you're after unlimited roaming data, this is the only way you're going to get it. £5 per day will add up over time, but at least you won't have to cut down on your data usage at all when you're traveling.
Within the Europe zone, you’ll pay 28.8p per minute to make calls to the UK and other Europe zone countries, or £1.84 per minute to countries outside the Europe zone. Receiving calls is charged at 7.9p per minute. Texts cost 8.4p to send, and are free to receive. If you’re not signed up for the Euro Internet Pass, you’ll pay 69.6p per MB for roaming data. These rates apply for both PAYG and contract customers.
Vodafone charges Pay Monthly customers £3 per day to use their UK price plan in Europe as part of its EuroTraveller service. Voda customers can enable this by texting ADD to 40506. The £3 charge is applied each day you use your phone in a Vodafone’s Europe zone. So if you’re opted in, it’s simple, and not terribly expensive either.
Voda’s Europe zone includes Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey), Croatia, Cyprus (exc. Northern Cyprus), Czech Republic, Denmark (inc. Faroe Islands), Estonia, Finland, France, French West Indies, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy (inc. San Marino and Vatican City), Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal (inc. Madeira), Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain (inc. Balearic Islands and Canary Islands), Sweden and Switzerland.
For most consumers who don't want unlimited data, and aren't traveling for several weeks at a time, Vodafone's EuroTraveller is an attractive deal. A flat fee lets you use your UK allowances, which most subscribers should already be familiar with.
If you’re not opted in to EuroTraveller, but you’re a contract customer, you’ll pay Vodafone’s standard rates -- 28.8p per minute to make calls, 7.9p per minute to receive, 8.9p to send texts, 37p to send MMS messages and 69.6p per MB of data.
Pay As You Go customers get a slightly cheaper standard rate -- 28p per minute to make calls, 7p per minute to receive, 8p for texts and 36p for MMS. Data is billed at 69p per MB for the first 2.9 MB, after which there’s no charge until you hit 25MB. After that, it’s billed at 69p per MB once again.
T-Mobile customers can purchase one of three Internet Travel Boosters in Europe. This allows them to use 3MB per day for £1, 20MB per week for £5 or 50MB per month for £10. Customers can buy boosters online or via text, and once the allowance or time period expires, another booster can be purchased. If you’re on contract, the amount is added to your next bill. For those on PAYG, it’s deducted from your current balance.
T-Mo’s Euro Travel Zone includes Austria, Azores, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Canary Islands, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, French Guyana, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guadeloupe, Guernsey, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madeira, Malta, Martinique, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Reunion, Romania, San Marino Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the Vatican.
T-Mo's Internet boosters aren't the best value deals around, but the fact that you're required to top up after every 50MB means it's impossible to get carried away and blow a small fortune on roaming data in the EU.
For most European countries, T-Mobile UK customers will pay 28.8p per minute to make calls, 7.9p to receive calls, 28.8p per minute to retrieve voicemail, 8.9p per text and 30p per MMS message. T-Mobile has no standard rate for data, as it requires that customers purchase an Internet Travel Booster to use data overseas.
“Europe Traveller Bundles”
Orange charges a standard rate for calls and texts in Europe, and also offers various bundles that offer a discount on that standard rate, as well as a data allowance in some cases. If you don't have a separate roaming data allowance, you'll be limited to 16MB of data on contract, or 12MB on PAYG. Unless you have a data bundle of some description (see below), Orange sets up its data roaming so that users will never spend more than €50 on data.
Here's a quick run-down of the EU roaming bundles available through Orange for contract customers. Check orange.co.uk/roaming for details of how to order. Usually this can be done by sending a text.
- 25% off calls in any European destination, plus no charges for the first 200 minutes - £5.10 for 30 days
- 25% off calls in any European destination, plus no charges for the first 1000 minutes - £10.21 per month
- 30MB, 40 minutes and 100 texts, plus a 64% saving on the standard Orange rates - £15 for 7 days
- 30MB per day, plus 85% saving on standard Orange rates - £3 per day
- 30MB of data, plus 27% saving on standard Orange rates - £15 per month
- 150MB of data, plus 51% saving on standard Orange rates - £50 per month
- 500MB of data, plus 56% saving on standard Orange rates - £150 per month
Pay As You Go customers can get bundles providing 30 minutes of calls in Western Europe for a month, and a saving of 40%, or 4MB of data, both for £5 each.
The network's European rates apply in the Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands and Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, French Guiana, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guadeloupe (inc St Barthelemy and St Martin), Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Martinique, Moldova, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal (inc Azores and Madeira), Reunion, Romania, San Marino, Satellite, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain (inc. Canary and Balearic Islands), Sweden, Switzerland, Vatican City (Italy).
Needless to say, Orange's rates represent a confusing minefield for consumers who may not be sure exactly how much data they'll use when overseas. If you're not a heavy data user, however, the 30MB per day bundle represents reasonable value for money, as does the 150MB for £50 deal if you're a heavier user.
Orange contract customers will pay 28.86p per minute to call other European numbers or voicemail, or 7.96p per minute to receive calls, 8.95p to send texts, or 69.66p for MMS. The standard rate for mobile data outside of any bundled allowance is 69.66p per MB. Calling countries outside of Europe is charged at 71.5p per minute.
Charges are slightly different for PAYG customers. Calls to European numbers cost 28p per minute to send and 7p per minute to receive; calling non-European countries will set you back 80p per minute to make, and 11p per minute to receive. Voicemail costs 28p per minute, MMS is charged at 69p per message and texts cost 8p each. Mobile data is charged at 59p per MB.
Networks other than the big five (e.g. Tesco Mobile, TalkMobile and GiffGaff) generally charge for roaming at a rate roughly equivalent to the usual standard rate -- approximately 28p per minute for calls, 7p per minute to receive calls, 8p for texts and 69p per MB for data. We’ve yet to come across any smaller carriers that offer any kind of specific roaming package like the major UK networks. If you know of one, be sure to let us know in the comments.
So which is best?
The EU ruling on roaming costs means that none of the big five's roaming deals are terrible value, though it's still easy to spend more than you might anticipate, depending on which package you are (or aren't) opted into. Mainstream users should find themselves well catered for by most of the major networks, with the possible exception of Orange.
But we're not all mainstream phone users, and Android phones in particular are prone to rapidly burning through data when you've got accounts syncing and features like Google+ Instant Upload turned on. With this in mind, the clear winners, for us, are Vodafone and Three.
Voda offers subscribers a simple European roaming plan that lets users take their domestic tariffs with them when they travel to Europe for a more-than-reasonable fee of £3 per day. And calls are included in this too, which isn't the case with most other UK networks. Meanwhile, Three's Euro Internet Pass is the best option for heavy data users, though you'll be paying for your calls and texts separately, and a lack of tethering is the price you pay for unlimited European data roaming.
Any roaming horror stories, or cautionary tales? Hit the comments and let us know how you've been using your phone on your travels.
Alex is global Executive Editor for Android Central, and is usually found in the UK. He has been blogging since before it was called that, and currently most of his time is spent leading video for AC, which involves pointing a camera at phones and speaking words at a microphone. He would just love to hear your thoughts at email@example.com, or on the social things at @alexdobie.
Alex, great article. However, could you clarify on what Pay as you Go customers can expect to pay? I was in London over the last 2 weeks and ended up with a Three UK SIM and was quite happy paying 15 quid for the 300 min/3000 SMS/Unlimited data. I used close to 1.5GB while there for ~12 days and was quite happy with the service. I return to the UK in late August, but also plan on doing some travel to Oslo for a weekend and to another country for 5 days or so. Are there any good plans I can look into for these two trips outside of the UK? I can probably get away using T-Mobile or Voda, would you agree?
I agree with Gadgetluva, the article is great for UK readers, but with the Olympics starting what is needed is something for the short term traveler for other parts of the world who want to pop in a locally purchased sim to check email, send Google Talk messages, and maybe place a few local calls. To this kind of traveler, data is more important than phone calls or SMS. (They don't know anyone over there to call or SMS anyway). They can call home with skype or google talk (voice) if they need to, but mostly they want to keep in touch with home via email, facebook, and google talk text, etc.
In that case, Three wins by a country mile. They have a PAYG plan with gets you unlimited data and a bunch of calls and texts for 30 days for £15.
Thanks for the tip on the payg plan. I too am head over to London for a week for the olympics (from the states) and want a good simple sim to throw in my nexus. Where is the best place to grab a Three sim when I get there? Also, do you know if the 3000txt includes texts back to the US or just UK? Not that it matters much, I want the data mostly.
Unlikely, you'll probably need to top up some more if you want international calls/texts. Best place to get a Three SIM is any Three store :)
If not, use Google Voice. I would only need data if I traveled to another country because I could text and make free VoIP calls back to the States with my Google Voice number. If I needed to call locally for some reason, I could use whatever minutes I got with my plan to do that.
I used TEP Wireless MiFi last time I was in Italy. It was fast and worked great. I would recommend it for sure!
Three's deal is good when it works, sadly it's very temperamental. It will work one day, when you try to renew the following day it gives an unhelpful message and fails. You then get stuck dealing with their dodgy customer service who seem unable to do anything to help. In my experience the Vodafone offering is a lot better.
As for prefer roaming simcard. I travel quite often... and bills cause of roaming, lets say...were not small... So i decided to use roaming simcard. I spend hours and hours choosing "the right one" :P and it payed back, stopped on TravelSim (www.travelsim.com) what can i say...im satisfied with service,rates, plus they have 24h support
I'd choose anything with free Skype. I'm enrolled in http://preply.com/en/polish-by-skype for practicing both my British accent and Polish language lessons. As this is a business need, it is important that I am able to attend my classes daily.
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