Mobile roaming charges in Europe: What you need to know

By Anthony Reuben
BBC Reality Check

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The mobile operator EE has become the first UK operator to introduce extra charges for its customers using their phones in Europe after the UK left the EU.

Since 2017, UK consumers have, within reason, been able to use the minutes, texts and data included on their mobile phone tariffs when travelling in the EU.

But since January 2021, UK operators have been allowed to reintroduce so-called roaming charges because the UK's Brexit trade deal with the EU, signed at the end of 2020, did not rule them out.

What charges will there be?

Until EE broke ranks, all the major UK operators had said they had no plans to reintroduce roaming charges.

From January 2022, EE will charge customers who join or upgrade their contract after 7 July £2 a day to use their tarrif allowances in 47 European destinations. Customers will not be charged to use their phones in the Republic of Ireland.

There will also be 30-day packages available for people travelling for longer periods.

EE said the charges would "support investment into our UK-based customer service and leading UK network".

Will other networks be charging?

Vodafone, Three and O2 still say they do not plan to introduce roaming charges

But there are "fair use limits" on the amount of time that customers will be allowed to use their phones abroad.

You could not, for example, get a mobile phone contract from Greece and then use it all year round in the UK.

UK customers have been told that their operators will charge extra if they spend more than half their time overseas, generally measured by being in another country for more than 62 days in a four-month period.

That could have happened while the UK was still part of the EU, but some operators have only just started enforcing it.

Similarly, data limits are also subject to fair use restrictions. Customers of O2 have a monthly data limit of 25GB and will be charged £3.50 for each GB after that. Vodafone's limit is also 25GB with a £3.13 charge per GB after that.

From July, Three will be cutting its fair use limit from 20GB a month to 12GB and will charge £3 per GB above that.

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EE's £2 a day fee is still relatively small compared with the costs customers had to pay before the EU banned roaming charges.

In the past some people returned from European trips to face bills for hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

Are there any limits to what can be charged?

The UK's trade deal with the EU said that both sides would encourage operators to have "transparent and reasonable rates" for roaming.

The UK government also passed legislation to provide some safeguards for consumers:

  • A £45-a-month limit on the amount that customers could be charged for using mobile data abroad before having to opt into further use
  • Requirements for customers to be informed when they have reached 80% and 100% of their data allowance
  • Operators also have to take "reasonable steps" to avoid customers being charged for accidental roaming in Northern Ireland, which could happen if a phone in Northern Ireland locked onto a mobile signal coming from the Republic of Ireland

Will other companies end up charging customers more?

It's not clear.

Without the EU rules in place, the charges levied depend on agreements between UK operators and their counterparts in EU countries.

While these agreements may mean charges haven't increased so far, there's no guarantee that they won't do so at a later date.

However, there is a reasonable chance that some UK operators may choose to keep offering inclusive roaming:

  • Some UK operators are already part of companies which also operate in other EU countries
  • Individual companies can make reciprocal deals. For example, a UK and French operator could agree to offer each other's customers inclusive roaming while in the other country
  • Each EU country has more than one operator, so UK operators have a choice of companies to deal with

The four main operators in the UK declined to comment on the commercial deals they have with other operators but Vodafone, Three and O2 says they have no plans to introduce roaming fees.

The UK government recommends that customers check the details of their individual tariff with their phone operator before travelling.

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