When the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 it was inevitable that there would be changes to come to terms with. For many people, roaming charges are something they think about a couple of times a year. Given we’ve basically been trapped at home for the last year, it was perhaps a bit of a distant thought for most people.
But just as the glimmer of foreign travel is sparkling in the middle distance again, we’re finding out that the free roaming we’d enjoyed during the later years of EU membership wouldn’t be assured. This was always a risk of course, but clearly one that was weighed up by the electorate before the EU referendum.
Now, with the transition period over, mobile networks are starting to tweak their tariffs to include roaming charges or reductions in the EU roaming caps. O2 was the first to get caught out, although its charges aren’t especially egregious. So we’ve had a little look around and put together a guide on new roaming changes or changes. We’ll keep this up-to-date as the situation changes.
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So if you’re holidaying or travelling for business, these are how the UK mobile networks and, in turn, their MVNOs (virtual networks, which use one of the big four for their service) are approaching roaming charges. What currently seems strange is that the MVNOs aren’t planning charges, even though their parent networks are.
There are also some general rules that mobile networks will need abide by, which the BBC reports are part of the UK’s trade deal with the UK. A £45 limit on any roaming charges, before they must opt in to more use. There must be a notification when they have used 80% of their allocation and operators must prevent people in Northern Ireland being charged to use networks based in the Republic of Ireland. On the last point, Ireland is excluded from roaming charges, which keeps things simple.
Perhaps the worst of all the networks is EE. Anyone joining the network or upgrading after July 7 will be expected to pay £2 per day to use roaming data in the EU. While £14 might not sound like much for a 7 day break, it’s £14 more than you’d have paid last year. Perhaps small fry in the total cost of a holiday, but with purses being stretched over the last year, still a frustration.
You can also buy a monthly pass for £10, which is obviously cheaper for any trip longer than five days. Some of EE’s more expensive plans include this as a free extra, or you can add it to any tariff if you’re happy to pay. You can also cancel it when you don’t need it any more.
Formerly one of the better companies for roaming. Three were letting customers use data abroad for ages before it became an EU rule. However the company is now capping roaming data to 12GB where previously it was 20GB. This is probably fine in reality, although it’s hard to see exactly what dropping the cap will really achieve.
At the moment, Vodafone is the star of the show. It currently doesn’t have plans to change its roaming pricing. On the downside, Vodafone already has a 25GB cap on foreign roaming on plans that include 25GB of data or more. Lower allowances will be allowed to use all of their data abroad if they so wish.
While Vodadone doesn’t currently have plans to introduce changes to roaming, it may well do so later.
The good news from O2 is that you won’t be charged extra for roaming. What’s new is that plans with more than 25GB included will only get 25GB of free roaming data. On plans below 25GB you’ll be allowed to use all of that data while abroad at no extra cost. If you go over your cap, it will cost £3.50 per gigabyte of data.
Virtual Networks, or MVNOs use the big four to provide service. For this reason you’d expect them to be beholden to the same roaming charges, but in fact it seems like they’re less keen to impose extra charges. This could be because they’re often defined as budget offerings, although they offer mostly the same features as the networks they piggyback on.
GiffGaff (O2 network)
Has no immediate plans to increase charges. Unlike some MVNOs GiffGaff is wholly owned by O2 so that makes it perhaps more likely to introduce the same rules. GiffGaff seems to offer a mix of deals, some state that 20GB is allowed in the EU, while others seem unlimited. Check what applies to your plan with the company if you’re unsure.
ID Mobile (Three network)
Doesn’t seem to have any plans to increase charges currently, but also doesn’t rule it out in the future either. ID is owned by Dixons Carphone though, and that company’s not exactly having the best time at the moment, so time will tell how it adapts to the market.
Sky Mobile (O2 network)
Virgin Mobile (EE currently, moving to Vodafone this year)
Virgin Mobile's charging plans are currently unknown. Virgin Mobile is a weird case because it previously used EE’s network, but transitioned 5G customers to Vodafone at the start of the year. Virgin also merged with O2, complicating things further. It seems likely that it will use O2’s network at some point, but its Vodafone deal is said to run for five years, and it’s not clear if it could exit that contract.
Tesco Mobile (O2 Network)
Again, no current plans to increase charges from Tesco Mobile.