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Best network for roaming

18th April 2017

Best network for roaming

Using your phone abroad used to be a sure-fire way to incur a massive bill at the end of the month. That’s no longer necessarily the case, but it’s still important to examine where each of the major UK networks stands on the matter.

The term for using your phone abroad is ‘roaming’. This is a reference to the fact that you’re no longer using your UK network to place calls, send texts, and access the internet. Rather, you’re using a local network.

Using a foreign network typically incurs additional charges, but a mixture of legislation and cooperation between the world’s networks has reduced the penalty for roaming in certain key territories. In particular, UK networks offer cut prices and various deals when roaming in the EU and other popular travel destinations.

Here’s a breakdown of the roaming policies adopted by EE, O2, Vodafone and Three. But first, a small note on the state of roaming in the EU.

Roaming in the EU

The EU is set to drop all roaming charges from June 15, 2017. This means that making calls, sending texts and using the internet on your phone will cost the same in any country that’s a member of the EU.

Of course, with the UK set to leave the EU in two years, there’s every chance that EU roaming charges will return in the spring of 2019.

Network:

EE

O2

Vodafone

Three

Plans with free roaming:

4GEE, 4GEE Max

None

All Plans

Advanced Plans and PAYG

Free roaming countries:

47

None

40

42 (including Australia & USA)

Free Regions covered:

Europe

None

Europe

Global

Limits and restrictions:

500MB (4GEE), up to 15GB (4GEE Max)

-

No restrictions

3G speeds, 12GB data limit

Roaming add-on available*

Essential plans, PAYG

All Plans

-

Essential plans

* Add-ons come at an additional cost. For more information on available add-ons see the detailed information for each network below.

EE

The UK’s biggest network is strong for roaming, but only in Europe and only on certain plans.

For contract customers who signed up on or after 17 August 2016, here’s EE’s current roaming policy split down according to its three main plan types:

4GEE Essential

EE’s entry-level plan doesn’t offer any roaming allowance as standard, meaning customers on this plan will be susceptible to roaming charges according to the territory.

However, if Essential customers are travelling in one of the 47 Europe Zone countries (see below), they can purchase a Euro Pass that provides unlimited calls and texts plus 500MB of data for £4 a day. All they need to do is text EUROPASS to 150.

4GEE and 4GEE Max

If you’re on one of EE’s standard or high-end Max plans, you already have the ability to make and receive calls and send texts back to the UK or within the stipulated Europe Zone countries (see below) at no extra charge above your usual allowance.

However, this provision doesn’t include making calls or texts from the UK to Europe Zone countries or premium rate numbers and other ‘non-geographic’ numbers.

Where the standard and Max plans differ is on the data front. 4GEE plan customers get 500MB each month to use within the Europe Zone, while 4GEE Max customers can use their standard data allowances up to a 15GB ‘fair usage cap’.

EE’s Euro Data Pass gives you 50MB of data for a fixed fee of £1 a day in Europe Zone countries, and opting in will protect from going over that amount.

Here is a full list of EE Europe Zone countries:

EE Europe Zone Countries

Austria

French Guiana

Latvia

Reunion Islands

Azores

Germany (4G)

Liechtenstein

Romania (4G)

Belgium (4G)

Gibraltar

Lithuania

Saint Barthelemy

Bulgaria

Greece (4G)

Luxembourg (4G)

Saint Martin

Canary Islands

Guadeloupe

Madeira

San Marino

Croatia (4G)

Guernsey

Malta

Slovakia

Cyprus

Hungary

Martinique

Slovenia

Czech Republic (4G)

Iceland

Monaco

Spain (4G)

Denmark (4G)

Ireland

Netherlands (4G)

Sweden (4G)

Estonia (4G)

Isle of Man

Norway (4G)

Switzerland (4G)

Finland (4G)

Italy (4G)

Poland (4G)

Vatican City (4G)

France (4G)

Jersey

Portugal (4G)

 

On older plans, or when outside Europe, you can purchase a Travel Data Pass. This gives you 500MB of data per day and costs £3 in EE’s Europe Zone, £4 in the US, and £5 in 9 other countries.

To get the Travel Data Pass, text TRAVEL to 150 before you go or while you’re abroad.

Vodafone

Vodafone has been one of the better UK networks when it comes to roaming charges of late. Back in May 2016, it scrapped roaming charges altogether for 40 European countries (many of which offer 4G speeds) for new and upgrading pay monthly customers.

For those who’ve signed up to Vodafone’s Red or Red Value Bundles, Vodafone’s inclusive roaming provision includes your normal allowance of minutes and texts, plus up to 4GB of data.

However, the company now has brand new Essentials, Red Extra and Red Entertainment plans as of April 12 2017. If you signed up (or upgraded) on or after that date, you can use your full data allowance.

On the PAYG front, customers buying a Big Value Bundle between 1 March 2017 and 14 June 2017 get 500MB data, 100 minutes and 100 texts on top of their usual UK allowance when roaming in these European countries.

Vodafone’s 40 charge-free European countries are as follows:

Albania (4G)

Estonia (4G)

Italy (inc Vatican City) (4G)

Portugal (incl. Madeira) (4G)

Austria (4G)

Finland (4G)

Latvia (4G)

Republic of Ireland (4G)

Belgium (4G)

France (4G)

Liechtenstein (4G)

Romania (4G)

Bosnia

French West Indies

Lithuania (4G)

San Marino (4G)

Bulgaria (4G)

Germany (4G)

Luxembourg (4G)

Slovakia (4G)

Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey) (4G)

Gibraltar

Malta

Slovenia (4G)

Croatia (4G)

Greece (4G)

Monaco (4G)

Spain (incl. Canary Islands) (4G)

Cyprus (4G)

Hungary (4G)

Netherlands (4G)

Sweden (4G)

Czech Republic (4G)

Iceland (4G)

Norway (4G)

Switzerland (4G)

Denmark (inc Faroe Islands) (4G)

Isle of Man (4G)

Poland (4G)

Turkey (4G)

Those on older (pre-5 May 2016) pay monthly contracts will need to pay £3 a day for Vodafone EuroTraveller, which will allow you to carry across your usual UK allotment of minutes, texts, and data when travelling in Europe.

However, from 11 June 2017 all Pay Monthly customers – even those on the oldest plans - will be able to use their full allowances in Vodafone’s free roaming locations.

For elsewhere in the world there’s Vodafone ‘Roam Further’, which will allow you to carry across your usual UK allotment for £5 per day in 60 non-European countries. Those are as follows:

Vodafone non-European countries

Anguilla

Congo, Democratic Republic of

Indonesia

Serbia

Antigua and Barbuda

Costa Rica

Israel

Singapore

Argentina

Curacao

Jamaica

Sint Eustatius

Aruba

Dominica

Japan

Sint Maarten

Australia

Dominican Republic

Kenya

South Africa

Barbados

Ecuador

Lesotho

St Kitts and Nevis

Bermuda

Egypt

Mexico

St Lucia

Bonaire

El Salvador

Mozambique

St Vincent

Brazil

Ghana

New Zealand

Suriname

British Virgin Islands

Grenada

Panama

Thailand

Canada

Guatemala

Peru

Trinidad & Tobago

Cayman Islands

Guyana

Puerto Rico

Turks & Caicos

Chile

Haiti

Qatar

Uruguay

China

Hong Kong

Russia

US Virgin Islands

Colombia

India

Saba

United States of America

For everywhere else, you can opt to pay £5 per day for 25MB under the Vodafone Data Traveller offering. That’s a lot of money for not a lot of data, though.

Three

While Three is the smallest of the UK’s ‘big four,’ it’s one of the best when it comes to roaming - at least in a number of carefully selected areas.

Three’s Feel At Home initiative lets all customers (except those on Three Essential Plans) use their phones as normal when abroad in 42 selected countries spread across the world (not just Europe) at no extra charge.

The only limit is that users with unlimited data are capped at 12GB and speeds when roaming are capped at 3G.

Pay As You Go customers simply need to convert their credit into an Add-On to feel the benefit of Feel At Home.

Those ‘Feel At Home’ countries are as follows:

Three Feel At Home countries

Australia

France

Latvia

Republic of Ireland

Austria

Germany

Liechtenstein

Romania

Belgium

Gibraltar

Lithuania

Slovakia

Bulgaria

Greece

Luxembourg

Slovenia

Channel Islands (Guernsey and Jersey)

Hong Kong

Macau

Spain

Croatia

Hungary

Malta

Sri Lanka

Cyprus

Iceland

Netherlands

Sweden

Czech Republic

Indonesia

New Zealand

Switzerland

Denmark

Isle of Man

Norway

USA

Estonia

Israel

Poland

 

Finland

Italy

Portugal

 

For pay monthly customers visiting European territories outside of these 42 there’s Three’s Euro Internet Pass, which gets you unlimited data at £5 per day.

O2

O2’s approach to roaming involves paying for one of three tiers of access, or Bolt Ons, depending on where you’re travelling. It’s £1.99 a day for Europe, £3.99 a day in Turkey and £4.99 in selected destinations outside of Europe.

Each of these tiers gets you 120 minutes and 120 texts per day, as well as unlimited data.

Here are the 71 countries featured in the three O2 Travel price tiers:

O2 £1.99 European Travel Bolt-On countries

Austria

Guadeloupe

Isle of Man

Norway

Belgium

La Reunion

Italy

Poland

Bulgaria

French Guiana

Vatican

Portugal

Croatia

Martinique

San Marino

Romania

Cyprus

Germany

Jersey

Slovakia

Czech Republic

Gibraltar

Latvia

Slovenia

Denmark

Greece

Liechtenstein

Spain

Estonia

Guernsey

Lithuania

Sweden

Finland

Hungary

Luxembourg

Switzerland

France

Iceland

Malta

 

Monaco

Ireland

Netherlands

Turkey (£3.99)

 

O2 £4.99 non-European Travel Bolt-On countries

Albania

Chile

Indonesia

South Africa

Argentina

China

Japan

Sri Lanka

Australia

Colombia

Mexico

Thailand

Botswana

El Salvador

New Zealand

UAE

Brazil

Guatemala

Nicaragua

Uruguay

Canada

Honduras

Panama

USA

Cape Verde

Hong Kong

Peru

Venezuela

Outside of these three O2 Travel tiers, O2 provides a spending cap of £43 in Europe (which is only good for 935MB of data) and £40 (excluding VAT) outside of Europe (good for just 50MB), so you shouldn’t get any nasty surprise bills regardless. Though caps can be raised by contacting O2.

O2 PAYG customers traveling in Europe pay £1.99 per day for a daily data allowance of 100MB.

Cost Comparison

As we’ve seen, each UK network has its own roaming provisions and deals that can reduce the cost of using your phone while travelling dramatically. However, they also each have a list of base charges that apply when none of these provisions is met.

By way of a comparison, here is a table that compares the basic unsubsidised costs of placing a local call, sending a text, and surfing the web in six of the most popular destinations for UK travellers.

Country

EE

O2

Vodafone

Three

Australia

£1 per minute, 40p texts, £4 per day for 40MB

80p per minute, 40p texts, £6 per MB

80p per minute, 35p + home rate texts, £3 per MB

£1.40 per minute, 35p texts, £3 per MB

France

4.4p per minute, 1.8p texts, £3 per day for 75MB

3.6p per minute, 1.2p texts, 4.3p per MB

4.6p per minute, 1.8p texts, 4.6p per MB

3.9p per minute, 1.6p texts, 3.9p per MB

Ireland

4.4p per minute, 1.8p texts, £3 per day for 75MB

3.6p per minute, 1.2p texts, 4.3p per MB

4.6p per minute, 1.8p texts, 4.6p per MB

3.9p per minute, 1.6p texts, 3.9p per MB

Italy

4.4p per minute, 1.8p texts, £3 per day for 75MB

3.6p per minute, 1.2p texts, 4.3p per MB

4.6p per minute, 1.8p texts, 4.6p per MB

3.9p per minute, 1.6p texts, 3.9p per MB

Spain

4.4p per minute, 1.8p texts, £3 per day for 75MB

3.6p per minute, 1.2p texts, 4.3p per MB

4.6p per minute, 1.8p texts, 4.6p per MB

3.9p per minute, 1.6p texts, 3.9p per MB

USA

£1 per minute, 40p texts, £4 per day for 40MB

£1.10 per minute, 40p texts, £6 per MB

£1.35 per minute, 35p + home rate texts, £3 per MB

£1.40 per minute, 35p texts, £3 per MB

Conclusion

As you can see, standard roaming charges are hardly what you’d call cheap. Each network’s roaming initiative can provide massive savings in their own separate way.

But there are some clear highlights. Vodafone and Three are the winners here, with Vodafone offering a large number of inclusive roaming locations on most of its plans, and even offering 4G speeds in many of them, while Three has a wider selection of destinations, covering not just Europe but beyond, however speeds are capped at 3G.

As such, if your travels don’t tend to take you beyond Europe then Vodafone is the best, while if they do you should strongly consider Three.

EE is a close runner up. Like Vodafone its inclusive roaming is limited to Europe, and like Vodafone you can get fast 4G speeds in some locations, but it’s not available on all plans, and many that it is available on cap your data use at 500MB.

O2 meanwhile is in dead last, as it doesn’t offer free roaming on any of its plans – though there are affordable add-ons for data use in dozens of destinations, so it’s not a complete failure.

Beyond that, our one piece of advice for frequent travellers, then, is to pick out the UK network that offers the best roaming coverage for the highest number of countries you intend to visit over the coming two years of your contract.

Speaking of two years, keep in mind that EU roaming charges are set to be scrapped altogether from June 2017. This will pay off for UK customers right up until we leave the EU in mid-2019, at which point there’s a fair chance we’ll be paying more once again.

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