Roaming charges, the bane of many travellers have just been greatly reduced
Tourists and business travellers across the Europe Union have more than a few reasons to rejoice because roaming charges in the EU has been capped from the 30th of April, ahead of a full ban in June next year.
The reduction and eventual scrapping of additional costs of using a mobile phone on the Continent is the result of years of negotiations between the European Commission (EC) and telecom operators and could save holidaymakers and other travellers a lot of money.
Previously, tourists abroad could be stung by bills of hundreds, even thousands, of euros after downloading films, streaming music or other data during their trips, usually due to simply not knowing the high charges involved.
So, how much does it cost now?
From Saturday 30th of April 2016, the cap on charges will be:
For outgoing voice calls – the domestic price plus €0.05, down from €0.19
For incoming voice calls – the domestic price plus €0.01, down from €0.05
For outgoing texts – the domestic price plus €0.02, down from €0.06
For data per megabyte – the domestic price plus €0.05, down from €0.20.
It’s worth remembering that some countries in Europe are not in the EU and therefore do not qualify for the roaming cap. It does, however, apply to three non-EU members of the European Economic Area (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), but not Switzerland.
Switzerland is not in the EU and therefore not included in the cap
From June 15 2017, roaming fees will be abolished altogether within the EU.
Why does this matter?
Data roaming is your tablet or phone’s use of a mobile network it does not own to send and receive data. It is how mobile users are able to surf the internet, download emails and music, refresh social media, and upload pictures to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook while abroad.
The Citizens’ Advice Bureau, the charity that offers free advice on topics from consumer issues to tax and healthcare, has previously highlighted the risk to holidaymakers from roaming charges. It said consumers have been faced with significant bills – one Briton said he was charged £12,000 for his daughter’s use of a mobile phone in Egypt. It has called for an industry-wide cap on charges around the world, something the EU cap is potentially a step towards.
The EU had previously introduced a €50 cap on data charges, in operation unless the user removed it.
Critics of the ban suggest that the loss of revenue from mobile phone companies could push prices up in general, including for non-travellers.
Concerns have also been raised about whether the Continent’s mobile infrastructure will be able to cope with hundreds of thousands using more of their phones.
Another downside is the increased number of selfies on social media…
“Networks will ultimately need to invest more cost-effective infrastructure in the short term to support the increased use that the abolition of roaming charges will trigger,” said Joe Marsella, chief technology officer at Ciena, a telecommunications company.
Do charges vary from operator to operator?
Broadly speaking the charges, now outside the EU, are similar from operator to operator. It is the way providers offer add-ons and special travel tariffs that differ – see below for the best offerings, or this guide to the best providers for travellers.
How could you maximise your new-found data freedom?
How can I avoid data charges outside the EU?
Turn off roaming
The easiest way to avoid passive or active data download while abroad is to turn off data roaming on your mobile phone. The procedure to turn it off varies from model to model but nothing a bit of Googling won’t solve.
Restrict your internet usage to Wi-Fi
You can still perform all the functions you use data for at home – surfing the Internet, video, photo and music upload and download, for example – via Wi-Fi. You can also phone people via apps such as Whatsapp or FaceTime. Connection speeds can be ropey in remote areas or where thick walls, high user numbers or poor positioning of the router mean the signal is weak, but bearing in mind this may be preferable to paying for expensive data usage.
Think carefully, however, before transferring highly sensitive data using a public Wi-Fi connection, such as banking details or your location. If possible, always try to use a Wi-Fi connection that is secured by a password but even a hotel’s Wi-Fi network might not be secure.
Use apps that don’t use data
Before you leave the UK, download apps that you can use abroad that do not require an Internet connection and therefore do not need data to function.
Currency converter XE.com needs an internet connection for the latest rates, but it caches exchange rates too, meaning that it can still be used to get a rough idea of how much something will cost without using data.
Google Maps can also be saved as offline versions while you still have access to the internet, for usage when you don’t. Full instructions can be found on the Google Support website.
When you download a map for later offline usage, switch your phone to “aeroplane mode” and check it opens correctly to test that it will work once you have data roaming switched off.
Use a local SIM card
If you are travelling for anything more than a few days and know you will be making lots of calls and texts, and using lots of data, it is worth investing in a local SIM card, so you are charged at local rates rather than roaming rates.
Turn off your voicemail
Although call charges are capped within the EU, checking your voicemail can be charged at extortionate rates in other areas of the world. Speak to your mobile provider and check details of your specific handset to work out how to turn off your voicemail while travelling.