No roaming charges in the EU - can I use my phone abroad for free?

Man using phone on beach

Question

EE just told me that I can use my phone abroad without worrying about roaming charges? Is this really true? Where can I go - are there still hidden charges to worry about? If you could clarify this, I’d really appreciate it.

Karen McShane, via email

Our expert Duncan says...

It's true - as of Thursday 14 June, roaming charges have been abolished within the European Union. That means that if you go to any of the countries in the EU bloc, you can use your standard phone plan - just as you would at home in good ol' Blighty.

Here's what you need to know:

What are the EU's new roaming rules?

It's actually fairly simple, and boils down to this - no more roaming charges. Anyone from an EU country (and for now that does include the UK) can make calls, send texts and use data at the same rates as they would in their home country.

This is a good thing for all of us - no more bill shock when you return from a holiday and no need to pick up roaming add-ons when you take a trip. It's a simpler system that will make it easier to stay in touch when abroad.

It also means we'll all almost certainly see more pictures of smug friends sunning themselves of a Spanish beach on Facebook while we're stuck at work, but hey - it's a price I'm willing to pay.

Phone on beach

(Ergh. So smug.)

Which countries do the rules cover?

All countries in the EU and European Economic Area are covered. They are (deep breath):

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

Can I use my phone abroad for free?

It's not free, no. The rules mean that you use whatever plan you have at home anywhere in the EU - so if you have unlimited minutes and unlimited texts for example, you'll still use them abroad. If you use data, it will be deducted from your monthly allowance, just as it would here. Basically, wherever you use your phone - be it in Barcelona, Milan or sunny Luton, the same rules apply.

Are there any hidden charges / things to look out for?

The new rules make things very straightforward, so you shouldn't have to worry about encountering hidden charges. But there are still some things to watch out for.

One thing worth remembering is that not every country in Europe is in the EU. If you head into a non-EU area - such as Switzerland or the Vatican - you could face increased roaming charges.

So while you're safe to roam within the EU countries listed above, you'll need to check with your mobile operator about other countries, to see if they're included or you need to buy an add-on before you head off.

Woman using phone in Paris

 

What happens after Brexit?

Well, that's a big question. It's something that will need to be negotiated, and - to be frank - considering the country's top politicians and pundits can't at the time of writing seem to decide whether we're in for a soft Brexit, hard Brexit, semi-Brexit, uber-Brexit, mini-Brexit, or Super Mario Brexit, it's unlikely that a guy who writes about phones and broadband for a living is going to have much insight either.

Still, I can think of a few possibilities when it comes to roaming. If we join the European Economic Area (like Norway, for example), the rules here will likely apply.

If we hard Brexit, it seems probable that roaming charges will be back. That's the case in Switzerland, where roaming rates are the highest in Europe.

So the short answer is a big, fat 'TBC'.

Finally...

Hope that helps, Karen - and anyone else curious about the new roaming rules. If you want to know more, including different providers' roaming policies, take a look at our comprehensive guide:

Guide to mobile roaming

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