There’s a holiday nightmare worse than finding strange marks on the hotel bedspread or something... odd in the swimming pool: returning home to a phone bill that costs more than not just the holiday, but your first car and iPhone XS too.
If you are going on holiday in the EU, you have no worries. EU directives put a stop to sky high roaming charges in 2017 (Brexit may change all that, but hasn’t done so yet).
Head further across the globe, though, and getting tooled-up on some roaming knowledge is essential. How much do networks charge for roaming across the world, and which gets you the best deal? Let’s find out.
Three has perhaps the simplest approach to roaming, one that makes mobile phone use while travelling completely painless. As long as you go to a Go Roam location anyway.
There are 71 Go Roam areas, mostly countries aside from the odd principality. Travel to one of these and you can use your usual contract data allowance just as you would at home.
Three only adds a couple of limitations. There’s a 15GB data use limit in contracts, and 12GB on PAYG. However, that’s an awful lot to use even over a month, so will only be an issue if you start streaming a lot of video. Go over that limit in Europe and you’ll pay 0.5p a megabyte.
Texts are free to receive. Calls back to the UK or between the European Go Roam locations come out of your call allowance as usual.
The real benefit of Three’s Go Roam is lots of locations outside of Europe are included, such as the USA, Australia and Brazil. You can check your next holiday destination for Go Roam coverage at the Three website (opens in new tab).
The downside? In some countries, such as Japan, you have no option other than the sky-high roaming charges of old. There it's £3 per megabyte of data, £2 per minute for calls.
Thanks to EU directives, you can now roam in the 48 European states without incurring any roaming charges. You just use your allowance as normal, and you won’t be stung with a huge bill at the end of the month.
Outside of these countries, Vodafone offers a very comprehensive, but not hugely cheap, way to roam. It’s called Roam Further. This covers 104 destinations, and we can’t find a single remotely popular holiday destination not covered by either Europe or these Roam Further spots. (opens in new tab)
When you use your phone in one of these locations, to send a text, make a call or access mobile internet, you’ll be charged £6 a day. This lets you use your standard UK allowance abroad, and lasts until 23:59pm that day.
Use your phone every day over a two-week break and those £6 charges really add up. However, they are still nothing like the charges caused by £3-a-megabyte roaming.
Those who recently signed up to a Red Entertainment plan from 15 August 2018 get an even better deal. Vodafone's “free” roaming is expanded to include 29 of the most popular Roam Further spots, including the USA and Canada.
This brings it much closer to Three’s Go Roam deal, although you don’t get it on cheap or old contracts
All this only applies to contract users. If you’re a PAYG customer, you won’t pay more in Europe, but charges do change elsewhere. However, they tend to be far lower than Three’s. In most locations, including the USA, Japan and Canada, you’ll pay 12p a megabyte, 60p per minute for calls and 8p per text.
If you travel across the world, not just in Europe, O2 may not be the best network for you. As usual, there are no extra charges when in the EU. Your allowance is used as standard.
For use in 27 other countries you can buy O2’s Travel bolt-on. Check them out at the O2 website (opens in new tab). For £4.99 a day you get 120 minutes, 120 texts and uncapped data. However, speeds are throttled after 150MB of general use and 50MB of streamed video, so this bolt-on won’t be much use for Netflix streaming.
If you forget to opt in for O2 Travel, or go over your allocations, though, the standard roaming rates get scary. Use standard rates in the USA, which is what you have to do if you’re a PAYG customer, and you’ll pay £7.20 for a megabyte of roamed data, or £2 per minute to receive or make calls.
An hour of streamed Netflix video that takes up 1GB data will cost £7200. A costly mistake.
EE sits between Vodafone and EE in its approach to roaming, and all the associated costs. You can roam for free in Europe. That’s a given, as we've seen above.
However, with most contracts you have to buy a bolt-on to use data elsewhere. These do not tend to be comprehensive like Vodafone’s.
In the USA, for example, there’s a £4.80 bundle for 500MB data that lasts 24 hours. For unlimited calls and texts it’s £6, again for the day.
Costs ramp-up significantly in other countries. (opens in new tab) Head to Chad and you’ll pay £10 for 10MB data, or £10 for an hour of calls. Vodafone’s £6-a-day deals are a radically superior deal. However, you also avoid the kind of £6-7.20 per megabyte charges Three and O2 leave you with.
There are no bundles or bolt-ons with budget favourite GiffGaff, no special plans that offer amazing roaming rates. You simply head to the GiffGaff roaming page (opens in new tab), type in the country you will visit, and it spits out the prices.
The good news: data rates usually aren’t too bad for emergency use. In the USA, Japan, Canada and Australia you’ll pay 20p a megabyte. Streaming video at that rate is terrifying, but a quick email check won’t destroy your savings.
Calls are very expensive in more exotic locales, though, with rates to make and receive calls at £1 a minute.
The charges come from your top-up credit. If you usually just purchase a Goodybag each month, you’ll have to add some money before you head off. To check out your next holiday destination's charges, go to the GiffGaff website.
Which is the best network for roaming?
There are two obvious winners here. Three offers the best free' roaming features. Go Roam comes with all monthly contracts, and even PAYG deals bar the totally free SIM option.
However, in countries outside the generous 71-area Go Roam map, charges increase dramatically. If you have the life of a David Attenborough wannabe, flying across the globe every other week to countries way out of EasyJet’s usual remit, Vodafone is almost certainly the best choice.
Not only does its Roam Further cover almost the entire world, standard roaming charges are far lower than those of the other networks.
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