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Roaming Abroad, using your phone while Abroad: A Comprehensive Guide

ewanmclean2005

Top Member
Please refer to the spreadsheet for an at glance view of all of the information below.


So I don't believe there is a thread about roaming and roaming experiences in this forum and it's something I'd like to help people out with as it's something I'm very passionate about given how much I do travel. So I aim to make this thread a simple guide on what your best options are if you're someone who travels on a regular basis.

In the advent of roaming charges being reintroduced on some networks there are still ways and means of being able to roam abroad and it not costing a ton of money, we just need to be pointed in the right direction so I aim to give people a heads up in this thread on what the best way to do that is and I'll try my best to give a guide on what mobile networks are currently offering.

EE based Networks

EE
is the most expensive roaming network. There’s a £25 a month pass which allows you to roam abroad. (it's a rolling add on so can be opted out of any time). If you are on one of their plans which gives you a free add on or two you may be able to roam abroad and it's included in your plan. Worth checking your plan to see what's available to you. If you don't have a Roam Abroad pass, EE charges a flat rate of £2.29 per day to use your inclusive allowance in roaming destinations. If you are on a short trip and don't go abroad often, the £2.29 per day is actually a reasonable surcharge.

The fair usage policy is 50GB, you can use your phone in 47 locations including all EU countries the USA, Mexico, Canada, New Zealand and Australia and you will have access to 5G services.

1pMobile Includes EU roaming with a Fair Usage Policy of 14GB (anything above this is charged at the standard 1p rate). If you roam outside of EU destinations you will be subject to roaming charges. If you use 1p mobile as standard pay as you go, there are no surcharges on top of the 1p rate you pay with 1p mobile within the EU.

Lyca Check your individual plan before going away. Most of their plans come with a roaming allowance and it will be a maximum of 14GB. Bear in mind that EU/Shengen area countries are inclusive except for Switzerland. If you roam further than the EU then roaming charges will apply beyond, however these charges are very ambiguous and I am finding it rather difficult to get a straight and clear cut answer. Lyca Mobile's website is a mess.

O2 Based Networks

Virgin/O2
is one of the UK's best networks for Roaming and International. For all of their standard plans there are no EU roaming charges and they will allow you to roam for free with a Fair Usage Policy of 25GB of Data within the EU. O2 standard plans have the Travel Bolt on which is £6 per day if you are outside of the EU. Please note that some plans include extra destinations with O2. If you have a Plus Plan this allows you to roam in up to 75 destinations, if you are on one of these plans the FUP is still 25GB.

I will not be including Virgin in this document as Virgin is starting to fold.

Tesco Mobile will reintroduce roaming charges in January 2025 (with a possibility of further extentions to the service) if you are on a plan which started after June 2022. In the meantime however they have the best offering for people roaming in the EU who have high data usage needs. If you have unlimited data you are able to use your entire allowance within the FUP set by the network. Just note there are currently no data add ons for customers going to non EU destinations (USA, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Canada and Turkey).

Sky charges £2 per day to access your allowance in 55 countries (this includes the USA). If you are on holiday for more than a week these charges can mount up and Sky could well indeed be one of the more expensive options for using your phone abroad if you are travelling for any length of time. This might be a very good option for a 5 night stay in an EU destination, but if travelling to the USA for 2-3 weeks there might be better options available.

GiffGaff includes EU roaming however be weary as GiffGaff will start charging you 10p/MB after just 5GB of data has been used. Roaming charges will be applicable outside of the EU.

Three Based Networks

Three
used to be the roaming network. It was quite jarring when they reintroduced roaming charges however all is not lost with Three as their roaming has come back to being fairly good value but don't get caught out. Roaming on Three is far more complicated now than it was. I want to highlight the next one because it might be some people's best and cheapest option, especially when visiting countries outside the EU.

Three Pay As You go, still has Roaming Included on its data packs. Three doesn't advertise it, but it is there. The caveat is you have a 12GB data roaming cap in all Three Go Roam destinations but Three has ALWAYS had this. Please note that if you go for this option and it's temporary that you top up, activate and use the sim at least once before you go away.

Three Pay Monthly plans have 3 plan tiers. Standard, Plus and Premium. Roaming is included with Plus and Premium plans and 71 go roam destinations. Roaming on the plus plans has weird complications. You get 28 daily roaming passes included with the plus plans for your plan length on Plus and 56 daily roaming passes included per year on Premium plans. The destination count is good but you're limited on the days you can roam abroad during your contract term.

Smarty has EU roaming included up to 12GB. If you need to unlock your entire data allowance they provide passes at £3 a day and £7 per 3 days. Roaming is not included outside the EU and is chargeable per unit/min/text. Might not be the best option for people outside the EU travelling. Please note that while EU roaming is included, some Schengen area countries are not included most notably Switzerland. However Norway /is/ included.

iD If you like Three's network then iD is probably the best roaming network for Three. There is a very generous 30GB FUP in EU destinations, iD also includes Azerbaijan, Macedonia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Again be weary if you are travelling to Switzerland, Switzerland is not included.

Vodafone Based Networks

Vodafone has roaming passed available. They have 8 and 15 day passes which are the equivalent of around £1 per day.

Their Xtra plans offer extra perks as well which include roaming. However these plans are very expensive much like EE's. The Xtra plans are also Tiered so make sure the destination you're going to includes roaming.

Voxi also charges for EU roaming passes and are chargeable in days. Much like Vodafone there is an 8 day pass for £8 and a 15 day pass for £15. Voxi's around the world passes are very expensive £15 for 2GB of data for 8 days and £25 for 4GB for 15 days (both plans allow you to use 100 mins and texts).

Lebara is without a doubt the best value Vodafone network for roaming. Its plans include 30GB of data to use while youre roaming within the EU. Rivals only iD and O2.

Summary

Most networks have a solution to the roaming woes introduced by our departure from the EU and some options are better than others.

The Best and easiest

ID, O2, 1pMobile, Tesco Mobile (Ending in December), Three (Pay As You Go)

ID is now best value to allowance for the long term. Tesco Mobile is best value for the sort term. Three (Pay as you go) is best value for travellers who want to go further. I have mentioned O2 here because some people will already have their premium plan to allow them to roam further abroad.

1. ID, has a generous allowance of 30GB and will continue beyond this year for now.
2. Tesco Mobile, has extended its roaming service to Jan 2025. Excellent value for money with no data usage FUPs (just the FUP on unlimited plans really). Quite honestly my current personal favourite roaming service. The only reason it’s not number 1 is because of the time limits in place til Jan 2025. Suitable for short trips less than 1 month.
3. O2, doesn't seem to be going anywhere with its generous 25GB offering and plans with more than just the EU included.
4. 1pMobile, If you are looking for an EE network which has all of the EE mod cons and not the prices, 1pMobile is a good option with a 14GB FUP.
5. Three PAYG, Allows the most destinations for your money but with a 12GB data allowance, Three PAYG itself can be expensive though compared to Smarty.

I have personal experiences using Three PAYG, Tesco Mobile, Smarty and Lyca. All of them worked well. My best roaming experience by far has been Tesco Mobile though. 5G roaming works with them, none of the other networks I have tested work with 5G roaming.

The Worst and most expensive

Three (pay monthly), Vodafone, Voxi, EE, Sky

1. EE, If you’re in a bind I might recommend this option, but £25 for a month just to be able to use your phone is an insane price for mobile service in any market regardless of roaming service. I’d be actively avoiding this unless I had money burning a hole in my pocket.
2. Voxi, Although not the most expensive, their options are very limited. Avoid at all costs! Very little options.
3. Sky, The less said about Sky the better. Offers little to no value for money. You're just better off being with O2 at this point. £2 a day is not terrible but it mounts up. I don't know anyone who uses Sky Mobile, not even on these forums.
4. Three PAYM, It doesn't need to be this complicated, 3 plan tiers, not very clear which plans have roaming included and for how long. You really need to read between the lines. The '26/56 roaming passes' is not clear on whether that's for the entire plan or if it resets each year. I think it's for the entire plan.

Other Options

If you don't care about being able to phone or text people. Buy a SIM in your destination country. If you're going to a country with a highly competitive market (like India for example) it could well be the cheapest option for you. Bear in mind though other markets are not as competitive. Markets like the USA and Canada are very expensive for mobile phone service in comparison to the UK.

Roaming eSIM providers

There are apps available which find you deals for different providers. This might be a convenient option for people who need high data allowances when abroad. Some of these can be very expensive though. Do some shopping around but also do your research before opting for one of these.

Most recommended are Airolo, EasySIM and Nomad. They are apps that you download onto your phone and just pay for via the app. They’re very simple to use however cost a lot. You pay for convenience with these providers.
 
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Lebara - works for me, regularly call my brother in Australia, cousin in Canada and worked fine during our recent week in Arricife. 5G most places when I looked.
 
Both. Calling Oz and Canada from the UK, (the full list is on the web site). In Arrecife (Lanzarote) worked fine for incoming and outgoing calls and data. No additional costs. 5G seemed to be available whenever I looked at the handset when we were there. Did not test for speed however.
 
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Plusnet includes EU roaming with a Fair Usage Policy of 15GB. If you roam outside of EU destinations, you will be subject to roaming charges.
Plusnet isn't a valid option for new customers anymore. Plusnet and BT Mobile are both now effectively closed for anyone new or upgrading.
 
I think it may also be important here to mention which networks you can connect to whilst roaming abroad. This has such a high degree of variabilities however, right down to which plan you are on on which MVNO. Three/smarty is the go to network in my book for this, as every country i've been to, they've had access to every network there. Same goes for smarty. Lebara, Vodafone Pay as you go and Talkmobile will lock you to a Vodafone network if there is one present in the country you are travelling to. This is very unhelpful for some people as the Vodafone network in other countries can often be below par. This affected me in Spain as my family were all using smarty (I was still on Three and didn't want to pay the £2 per day so I was using a throwaway Lebara mobile SIM card). My family could access every network there on the smarty Sims - Movistar having my award for the best Network in Spain - whereas I was locked onto the awful Vodafone ES network. Same place and time, vodafone pulled 1mbps down and up and could barely load a website for the huge ping times (in excess of 5 seconds) and Movistar Smarty roaming was 120mbps down, 20 Mbps up with a 70 ping. My Three SIM was also able to connect to every network in Ireland and Italy too. Best network for Ireland was Three IE and TIM was best in Italy.
 
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I’ve only used Lebara in Spain, and yes it did lock to the local Vodafone network. I didn’t find it a problem but I didn’t stray outside a city (Seville).

My iPad with a Three sim locked to the Movistar network. Again, no problems. As most of my data use is on the iPad I will stay with the Three network as long as they include roaming. I still have Feel at Home on my contract which as been useful for use in Australia etc. For how much longer, who knows? Three ended my phone contract with Feel at Home while I was abroad which was inconvenient. To put it mildly.
 
Just be careful if you're used to roaming in the EU and you go to the US without checking -- most roaming agreements don't go there, and you'll probably hit your off-tariff bill limit (assuming you've set one...) before leaving the terminal. DAMHIK... :-(
 
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I’ve only used Lebara in Spain, and yes it did lock to the local Vodafone network. I didn’t find it a problem but I didn’t stray outside a city (Seville).

My iPad with a Three sim locked to the Movistar network. Again, no problems. As most of my data use is on the iPad I will stay with the Three network as long as they include roaming. I still have Feel at Home on my contract which as been useful for use in Australia etc. For how much longer, who knows? Three ended my phone contract with Feel at Home while I was abroad which was inconvenient. To put it mildly.
The two iPhone SEs and the galaxy A12 and my Galaxy S20+ (mine at the time) all locked to different networks on Three.
First SE - Vodafone ES
Second SE - Orange
Galaxy A12 + Galaxy S20+ - Movistar

This could all be changed with a quick network search, locked all bar mine to Movistar (I turned the Three sim off to avoid £2 per day charges).
 
Going to just cross post this from my Three/smarty thread.

I used Telenor in Norway and it is has the consistency of EE and the speeds of Three combined into one network even in super rural locations. It was rare I ever seen 4G! They’ve been quick to roll out N28 with speeds in rural areas easily getting to 300mbit/s. Telenor is an overall better network than anything we have in the UK. It was super reliable. The best network I’ve ever used. (Tesco Mobile roaming allows you access to 5G, excellent experience was able to use other networks too)

In Germany I always had 5G, I roamed on 5G so I think it’s likely that my speeds were being throttled. I always got about 200mbit/s on O2.de and Telekom.de (T Mobile). (Tesco Mobile again access to 5G)

In Switzerland I roamed to Swisscom and it was 4G roaming. Their LTE networks were amazing. The worst speeds I recall having with Swisscom were about 40mbit/s on 4G in rural areas even at the very top of a mountain. (With Three was able to access Salt and Sunrise also but swisscom was most consistent).

Spains mobile networks have super speedy 4G. I roamed onto Movistar in Alicante. I clocked 400mbit/s on 4G there and it was consistent. (Three was able to use Movistar and Im sure I also tried Yoigo, albeit good not as good as Movistar)

The USA is where things are a little different. There were 4 networks there the last time I was there and there’s now 3. I could only ever use two of them. AT&T and T Mobile. I’m lead to believe 5G isn’t great in the USA but 4G from my experience does vary. AT&T is consistently usable but doesn’t break the neck with speeds. T-Mobile has great speeds in urban areas but lack consistency in rural locations. Verizon is kinda like the EE of the US market and Sprint is like what O2 is in the UK market. (I was on Three when roaming in the USA I only get access to ATT and T Mobile, but this was at a time when CDMA networks were still a thing). Last time I was in the USA I was only able to access ATT.
 
The only form of Telenor I've ever used was Telenor Maritime and with the prices, I think a Yorkshireman like myself would have had a fit.
 

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Hi I think it's important to mention that you can now bypass roaming charges from your operator with eSIM mobile plans. Most devices support eSIM (it's like a digital SIM). I have used several brands (Ubigi, Airalo, Nomad...) and it's perfect for traveling. I always compare before my trip to select the cheapest provider for my destination (try esimdb.com to compare). I go for eSIM data plan, it means I only buy mobile internet as I will use whatsapp to call or send message. What's really cool is that you can use it alongside your existing SIM, so people can still reach you. It's installed in less than 5 minutes and you save lots of money!
 
There are few apps available that claim to find you the best esim for a given country. I tried one a few months ago and it seemed to work. I can’t remember the name of it unfortunately.
 
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One for the OP to add but there's also Honest Mobile which uses the Three infrastructure however uses more than one operator when roaming outside the UK eg in Austria, you could be using any of the Three (pun intended) operators there so you're in a situation where your roaming partner offers slow speeds and another offers fast speeds.
 
One for the OP to add but there's also Honest Mobile which uses the Three infrastructure however uses more than one operator when roaming outside the UK eg in Austria, you could be using any of the Three (pun intended) operators there so you're in a situation where your roaming partner offers slow speeds and another offers fast speeds.
that's what I was on about, Three and smarty also do this
 
There are few apps available that claim to find you the best esim for a given country. I tried one a few months ago and it seemed to work. I can’t remember the name of it unfortunately.

I’ve found they don’t offer as good value for money as some of the options already available in the UK. There seems to be a huge markup on the amount they charge on data. Might be a good option if you’re needing a ton of data but I’d say it would probably be better to be using EE’s roam abroad pass at £10 if you’re with EE or just buying a SIM card from a provider that already allows roaming (Such as O2, Tesco, or Three PAYG) to roam in the EU. If you’re roaming in the USA and you can live with 12GB for two weeks just do that.

These roaming esim providers might be helpful if you’re needing a ton of data and in the USA. However I’ve been finding roaming is with a UK SIM card has overall been better value for money on my part. Everyone will obviously have different wants and needs.
 
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