Will EU roaming become more expensive after Brexit?

With British voters having chosen to leave the European Union in the June 23 referendum, one of the many areas affected by "Brexit" is the cost of Brits using their phones on the continent. As it stands, EU law restricts how much operators based in one member state can charge for calls, texts and data in another. And in the next year roaming fees between EU countries will be abolished altogether.

So following the referendum result, what does the future hold for European roaming?

UK EU data roaming

Staying in the EU would've meant an end to roaming fees altogether from June 2017.

Right now UK networks are bound by EU caps on roaming prices. Starting April 30 2016, calls could cost no more than €0.05, texts no more than €0.02, and data no more than €0.05 per megabyte. Roaming fees between EU countries are set be abolished altogether by June 15, 2017.

In effect, that would give subscribers to one EU network coverage throughout the union — assuming the appropriate roaming agreements are in place — thus opening up competition between international providers, particularly in border areas.

When the UK leaves the EU British networks would (eventually) be free to charge whatever they wanted for roaming on the continent. And equally, subscribers to EU networks would once again have to pay to roaming fees when visiting the UK.

Even so, this wouldn't happen overnight. Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union provides a two-year negotiation period for a member state seeking to leave the union. During this time the UK would remain subject to EU treaties and laws, including the planned abolition of roaming rates in June 2017. Exactly when Article 50 will be triggered has turned into a contentious political issue, with Prime Minister Theresa May saying it won't happen until 2017 — so it's possible "Brexit" won't be concluded until early 2019.

In theory there'd be nothing stopping networks from raising roaming prices — but this couldn't happen overnight.

This could place carriers (and their customers) in a precarious position whereby European roaming is free for a time, only for roaming fees to be reintroduced 18 months later.

Even so, in a competitive market like the UK, rivalry between the carriers would likely keep post-Brexit roaming prices in check. While UK operators' roaming prices in some countries are extremely expensive, networks like Vodafone and EE have surprisingly palatable rates for many destinations outside the EU, including the United States, Australia and Canada. The situation may even highlight the issue of roaming fees, and allow some operators to differentiate by offering inclusive EU roaming even after the UK and EU part ways.

For the moment though, the big four haven't said much about any planned roaming changes, offering basically no information to the BBC as part of a recent feature leading up to the referendum. As with many other aspects of the Brexit issue, customers may just have to wait and see what happens once the dust has settled.

Alex Dobie
Executive Editor

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.

46 Comments
  • Although considering the operators were having the "no roaming fees" forced on them it's logical to speculate they would have increased prices elsewhere to make sure they didn't lose too much money; so those people who don't roam would end up paying more.
  • That's questionable. From a technological standpoint there is almost zero reason for roaming charges. In the best-case scenario the only cost is a length of a cable in a colo space and a couple of lines in operator's exhcange rules. There will of course be some increased number of terminated calls but it should distribute evenly between incoming and outgoing so equally for both peering partners. Networks are designed with overhead anyway so no big deal there. Roaming charges is just easy money for all operators, that's why they are lobbying so hard against abolishing them. So in effect, yes, the operators will see decreased profits but they will not lose a single dime. And since lowering roaming charges is already ongoing and the operators still post higher and higher profits I seriously doubt they will suddenly go boom after forcing zero roaming charges on them. In fact, most of the big operators in EU are already global, like Telefonica, Orange or Deutsche Telekom so it will have pretty much zero impact on them.
  • Hopefully this thread doesn't turn into a referendum debate... My opinion? I think a lot of things will get more expensive if the UK exits the EU. The carriers are highly reluctant to not charge for roaming. It's a big easy money maker for them. The prices goes up every year on all the tariffs and the competitiveness of the carriers is laughable at best.
  • Don't worry, I'm sure that won't happen... It's best to assume I'm being sarcastic. if I'm ever serious I'll type "/s" to make it clear.
  • Too late! Its going to be a huge mess all round if we leave. Just a bunch of racist homophobic pensioners moaning about a total non-issue that will screw us all over. Roaming charges are the least of our worries.
  • When losing an argument, label everyone a racist... Yeah that'll work Goody gumdrops. Get us a cup of tea, will you, Errol?
  • "racist, homophobic pensioners" well, if the flat cap fits... I don't wanna generalise, there's some lovely old folks knocking about. But there are one hell of a lot for whom this description fits perfectly. And how can they be losing an argument they aren't having in the first comment? Ridiculous! It's best to assume I'm being sarcastic. if I'm ever serious I'll type "/s" to make it clear.
  • I think you meant xenophobic? In any case that's probably going a bit far. I agree with some of the leave people's worries with immigration but I think their philosophy behind why immigration is an issue is flawed.
  • Hey, Johnny UKIP, how'd you like to spend 4 quid per megabyte for data on your Spanish holiday? Or £2.50 per text when you're off to France to stock up on cheap booze and ****? It's best to assume I'm being sarcastic. if I'm ever serious I'll type "/s" to make it clear.
  • Fàgs! I'm English, it wasn't weird till you made it weird AC! It's best to assume I'm being sarcastic. if I'm ever serious I'll type "/s" to make it clear.
  • Lol that's awesome. Gotta love those comment filters. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Well having followed both sides avidly :p , one thing I can say for sure is Britain will be flooded, invaded by Switzerland, barber shops will be abolshed, and mass starvation will ensue if we leave the EU. Coincidentally this will also happen if we stay in the EU apparently - so phones will be the least of our problems. Did I read all those scare stories right?
  • Nothing is stopping the UK from making laws that prohibits roaming tariff at least for UK citizens visiting the Eu. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yeah like that's likely to happen...
  • So you mean UK should copy EU laws after Brexit? Why Brexit at all then?
  • Because we do don't want to be ruled by the EU!!! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Big business has always put the consumer first so I'm sure it'll be all fine. Alternatively they'll wait patiently for the first company to hike their roaming charges and then all follow suit swiftly afterwards. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I'm assuming this is sarcasm? Big business puts the shareholder first and always first. Consumers and staff is typically at the bottom of the list.
  • Absolutely sarcasm
  • So much sarcasm it hurts, fuelled by genuine fear that the shortsighted Brexiters will win. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Look Switzerland : all national operators are all much more expensive than the most expensive one in Europe... for such a little country (no infrastructures like for bigger countries)... there s no competition at all (they try to show you a mafia competition but all is wrong)... Posted via the Android Central App
  • If the UK votes to leave, I think roaming is the least of British concerns. The big devaluation the pound will suffer will get in the way of Brits easily paying for trips around Europe for a start.
    Then there will be the restrictions applied to British citizens free movement (and you can bet some European countries will retaliate against Brits for voting to leave). Not to mention that Britain will have to renegotiate each treaty individually, even if they stay within the EEA. My bet is on, even if Brits vote to leave, they'll end up reverting the decision within those 2 years. They'll realise just how bad a deal leaving unilaterally is. They'd do better to wait for the EU to crumble to the ground. Posted via the Android Central App
  • 'Big devaluation the pound will suffer' ... and your evidence for this is...? Concrete evidence, not the opinion of so called experts whose forecasts are little better than Mystic Meg's. Oh, what that I hear... the sound of silence. NOBODY knows what is going to happen to the pound, to the Euro, to the speed at which my socks develop holes, etc after the referendum. NOBODY. No definitive statements can be made. Free movement is all in the mind. To leave this trumped up Island one must show one's passport at the port of departure. how is that 'free movement'? Once in mainland Europe, one can move freely from country to country. Are you seriously suggesting that should voters choose to leave that every country in the EU is going to reinstate border controls just to prevent Brits moving freely around Europe? Renegotiate each treaty individually - What's wrong with that? you say it as if negotiation terms that better suit us is a bad thing. If we leave, I'd say other countries will use the result to demand reforms. And that could be a good thing. But nobody knows.
  • Roaming fee won't be up if UK leave EU. Other countries doesn't depend from UK. So they will be free even without UK Posted via the Android Central App
  • Higher roaming charges ? A mere trifle compared to the fragrant scent of freedom from the fascist EU. And those who love the rank stench of the EU so much......it's only twenty three short miles away.....please don't come back. I'm sure us remaining Brits will muddle on somehow, like we did for thousands of years before the EU.
  • So anyone who voted to remain in the EU is no longer welcome in their own country? What an interesting view.... Posted on LG V10 via the Android Central App
  • Of course roaming charges will shoot up. Telecom operators hated being forced to lower them by EU law. They had such a nice little racket going. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I personally hope they leave the EU but if they don't I hope the EU suggests that they switch to driving on the right side of the road and adopt the Euro currency. Jeremy Clarkson would be peed off if they do.. Posted via my Motorola Startac
  • The UK us screwed now. Boris Johnson will take over as PM in the Autumn, Scotland will hold a 2nd Referendum and gain independence this time around as it overwhelmingly voted against leaving the EU and Ireland will vote to reunify. All the world needs now is for Donald Trump to become President of the USA and the whole world will be f**ked. But I don't think European roaming charges will be affected as the Network Operators have already raised prices elsewhere to cover that Posted via the Android Central App
  • What's wrong with having your sovereignty back? England has the fifth largest economy, you will be fine. It will take time of course. Hey, my 401k is going to take a huge hit today. Posted from Nexus 6
  • Think you mean the UK? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yeah, what do I know. I'm a stupid American. Lol Posted from Nexus 6
  • Find it funny for 1000+ years UK was fine before the EU. Did not join the European Union until 1973. And now it's going to be a disaster if they leave, and they have the fifth largest economy in the world? As someone that does have dual citizenship Germany and United States. And have family that live in both countries. I can see it from both sides as a European and someone that lives on the other side of the pond. Don't see how this will effect UK that badly, granted in the short-term it might be a little bumpy. But in my opinion in the long term UK is going to be for the better. I mean you guys were paying £12.9 billion roughly that amount a year to be a member in the EU and honestly what do you guys have to show for it minus a bunch of regulations from EU bureaucrats. Will be interesting to see how this unfolds Sent via Tandy Color Computer
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    before you see the light, you have to deal with the darkness
  • Good post. I voted to stay in but unlike some of the other remain voters I don't think it'll be the end of the world or anything. I think we're in for a bit of a rocky road short term and after that some things will he better and some will be worse but it'll all turn out fine. Couple of points re EU regulations, it's very easy to focus on those that are silly/pointless (there are enough) but some have also been very good, roaming charges being an appropriate one for this website. Not saying there's as many or more good ones just saying they're not all bad. Posted on LG V10 via the Android Central App
  • I'm £5000 down on my finances already due to those 'Leave' idiots. Idiocracy ahoy.
  • Hope this doesn't lead to war. http://youtu.be/mxJi-si5FRY Posted via the Android Central App on a BlackBerry Z10
  • Noone knows if we shall leave the Eu. The referendum was only an exercise on asking the plebs what they think. It's not a legally binding result. Leaving or not is camerons decision alone. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Cameron is leaving. Posted from Nexus 6
  • Surely this is the most important consequence. Posted via the Android Central App
  • No, that's my 401k. Posted from Nexus 6
  • Oh, I hope the comments section doesn't turn into what I think it's possibly gonna be...
  • I can't wait for the EU to crash and burn. Italy and France will be next to want a referendum. And i can honestly see there being no EU for Scotland to join anyway. Bring on the wall's. The best thing Britain has done in a long time absolutely good riddance bin waiting for this day for year's and the absolute best thing was seeing cry baby Cameron welling up giving his resignation speech. Brilliant. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Really, "the absolute best thing was seeing cry baby Cameron"?! I'm no huge fan of his or anything but what a strange thing to say. On a completely unrelated note to the post above I found the statistic saying 66% of people who left school aged 16 voted leave and 71% of university graduates voted remain interesting.... Posted on LG V10 via the Android Central App
  • So happy UK has left the EU! the only reason the UK joined the EU in the first place was the idea of a single market, which I support. What we did not sign up for was to also get governed by the EU, I'm not having a politician who the UK people didn't vote in make our laws and tell us what to do. The EU and Merkel can go f*uk themselves. They need us more than we need them....the pound will bounce back in no time. Posted via the Android Central App
  • At the moment there are companies with better prices and tariffs than the big brands out there. I figured that this is the same as everywhere else when you pay more just for the brand name and because it is so ‘out there’, that everyone thinks it’s the only option or the most trusted one. I’ve actually had a terrible experience with one of the biggest providers when I got a $93 bill for an incoming 2 min long international call! If you try and spend a few hours looking for alternatives, you can find much cheaper options from new brands, which actually will be ready to walk that extra mile for you and offer good service. Currently using this one https://pondmobile.com/rates
  • Wow, you're racist and xenophobic for wanting a country to be governed by those accountable and elected ? Good to see some of you were more worried about roaming costs in the face of a huge vote. After some of you have educated yourselves on the EU here's a little bit on roaming charges. EU Roaming charges Turns out the EU aren't the champion of getting shot of roaming charges as they like to claim if the below link is anything to go by. The European Commission have been making a great deal of noise about roaming charges being abolished next year and with the EU referendum in the UK many refer to the fact it was the EU that kicked started the whole idea. Who's heard of the INTUG (International Telephone Users Group)? They by all accounts are the ones who have pushed for roaming charges to be abolished and their report back in 1999 that promoted the EU to take a look. Keep in mind it has taken the EU nearly 15 years to actually do anything about it. In 2010 the OECD published a report that then saw the WTO get involved. Then in 2013 the OECD stated that "international mobile roaming services are believed to fall under the scope of these provisions" and "more clearly so under section 5 a) of the Annex on Telecommunications". That means the EU shouldn't be taking exclusive credit for roaming charges being abolished but are the first to do so. India as of 2013 are committed to getting rid of them, the US, Latin America and Africa are all moving in the same direction. Roaming charges are though only going to have greater impact on those who travel abroad for business. Holiday makers will also see a benefit but how many times do you go on holiday exclusively in Europe? In the US, Australia and other non EU countries I wouldn't be paying for using my data or calling UK numbers....that's not down to the EU but my network provider having deals in place. Roaming charges are a revenue stream for networks. It isn't cheap to run one and you'll just see costs go up elsewhere and a big possibility that we'll see an end to 'free phones' and even PAYG. It's good that they are being abolished but it isn't an EU exclusive and the EU shouldn't claim it to be. For it to be of real benefit roaming charges should go worldwide not just in a bloc of 28 nations. ) the UK will still benefit according to the UK government. More on that here - http://www.euractiv.com/section/digital/news/brexit-won-t-affect-roaming...