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Today is the End of EU Mobile Roaming Charges, Despite Data Limits

Thursday, June 15th, 2017 (12:01 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 934)
euros currency

From today anybody choosing to use their Mobile phone (SIM) to make calls, text or use data (Mobile Broadband) while roaming around the European Union should be able to do so for the same price as they pay their UK operator (i.e. no extra roaming charges), albeit with a few caveats for data.

The cost of EU roaming has come down significantly in recent years, which is thanks to the European Commission’s regulatory changes. For example, last year saw the maximum surcharge (this is added to your domestic UK rate) that mobile operators could levy drop to €0.05 +vat (£0.04) per minute for outgoing calls, €0.01 (£0.01) per minute for incoming calls, €0.02 (£0.02) per text and €0.05 (£0.04) per MegaByte of data.

No doubt by now anybody that has chosen to holiday in one of the EU’s 28 member states (this currently still includes the United Kingdom) will have already seen some benefit. For example, the volume of data (Mobile Broadband) roaming has already multiplied by more than 100 since 2008, which is hardly a surprise because data roaming became both faster (3G / 4G) and up to 96% cheaper between 2012 and 2016.

The good news is that the above surcharges have today been scrapped as part of the EU’s new “Roam like at Home” policy (i.e. any call, text or data allowance used will come from your domestic plan).

What is ‘Roam like at Home’?

‣ Roam like at home is aimed at all people who travel in the EU for work or leisure from their ‘home’. ‘Home’ means their country of residence, or a country to which a person has ‘stable links’. It covers customers who spend substantial and recurring amounts of time in a country where they study, work, or have retired.

‣ When offering roaming, telecom operators operating in a given EU country must include roam like at home by default in contracts they offer to people who live in that EU country. Travellers can then call, text and surf on their mobile devices when abroad in the EU for no extra charge on top of the price they pay at home.

‣ Roam like at home is not meant to be used for permanent roaming (including permanent use of a SIM card from another country). The operator can question the residence / stable links of customers who, over any 4-month period, both spend more time abroad than at home, and make most of their calls and texts or use most of their data outside the operator’s country.

However there are some important caveats to the new rule, not least with regards to ‘data‘ use because some operators offer “unlimited” or high data allowances for low prices and these could be a problem for some countries where domestic charges are lot higher than in other EU states (e.g. during 2016 a domestic plan with 1GB of data, 600 minutes and 225 texts ranged from £50 a month in Hungary to £7 in Estonia).

As a solution the EU has introduced a restriction, which means that the eligible amount of data would be determined by operators in terms of the wholesale roaming price cap. This is the maximum price operators can charge each other for the data their consumers use abroad.

The exact amount of this cap is €7.7 (£6.5) per GigaByte of data, albeit dropping to €6 (£5) per GB from 1st January 2018 and prices will then continue to fall until 2022. A cap also exists for wholesale call and text charges too, but this is tiny and won’t impact normal roaming use.

The Wholesale Roaming Caps (Euros)

* €0.032 per min of voice call
* €0.01 per SMS
* €7.7 per GB of data – falling to €6/GB in 2018, €4.5/GB in 2019, €3.5/GB in 2020, €3/GB in 2021 and €2.5/GB in 2022

The actual implementation of this wholesale data cap for consumers is a bit tedious. Let’s say you pay £36 inc. VAT (£30 +vat) per month for a UK mobile plan with unlimited data, texts and calls. While travelling abroad in the EU you will still get unlimited calls and texts, but your data allowance would be twice the equivalent of £30 +vat worth of data at the current wholesale roaming price cap of £6.5 per GB (i.e. you’d get more than 9GB).

On top of that if Pay Monthly users go over the above threshold for data usage then your operator is allowed to impose an extra surcharge, which must be no more than the wholesale data cap + VAT. So it’s not unlimited data but is still fairly flexible for basic usage, although you’d be very wise to avoid lots of video streaming or big downloads because the extra charges above your cap could still hurt.. a lot!

Meanwhile Pay As You Go (pre-paid) users will face a similar restriction, albeit limited by their account credit. For example, let’s say you have £20 inc. VAT in credit (£16.67 +vat) on your PAYG plan then you’d simply receive the equivalent of £16.67 +vat worth of wholesale roaming data at £6.5 per GB (i.e. around 2.5GB).

Operators will also be able to check and see that consumers aren’t abusing these changes, although this is unlikely to become a problem unless you spend many months at a time in another EU country other than the UK. Likewise UK mobile operators can also choose to be more generous than the EU’s wholesale data caps and you should check the small print of your operator to see how excess use is handled by each.

One other caveat, which is all too easy to overlook, is that this policy only applies to roaming usage (using your mobile while outside of the UK) and thus any UK to EU calls/texts may still face significantly higher charges because you aren’t classed as “roaming” while in your home country.

Further details can be found here and of course the Brexit vote means that, come the end of 2019, consumers in the UK could lose these discounts and that may result in significantly higher bills for EU roaming. However it’s currently too early to know the final outcome of those negotiations.

UPDATE: Three UK has said that they “are committed to retaining Feel at Home in the EU and regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations“. No other operator has made that pledge.

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4 Responses
  1. Peter Taylor

    People who are on cruise ships whil in European waters should remember that the changes only apply while connected to land based networks and NOT when you are connected to a maritime network on the ship while out at sea. Also be aware if you are somewhere on the edge of the European Union like Gibraltar, with roaming switched on you could accidentally connect to a network in Morocco if the weather conditions are favourable.

  2. James

    Three do this as standard, have for years.

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