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Best network for roaming

3rd April 2018

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 free roaming in the EU, and in some cases free roaming or reduced prices in many other locations.

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 dropped 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 as at home when in any country that’s a member of the EU, whatever network or plan you're on. The chart below highlights roaming terms in Europe prior to that date, and the rest of the world.

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

UK Network Roaming Policies

Network:

EE

O2

Vodafone

Three

Plans with free roaming:

All Plans

All Plans

All Plans

All Plans

Free roaming countries:

53

47

50

72 (including outside Europe)

Free Regions covered:

Europe (Global on 4GEE Max plans)

Europe

Europe

Global

Limits and restrictions:

Up to 15GB in allowance in EU

No restrictions

No restrictions

13GB data limit

Roaming add-on available*

All plans except 4GEE Max

All Plans

All Plans

All Plans

Compare deals and save

* 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

4GEE Essential customers can roam for free in 48 destinations across Europe (see below for a full list).

To roam further they can purchase a Travel Pass, which gives you 500MB of data and costs £5 per day in the US and Canada or £6 per day in Australia, China, India, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and UAE. However, this pass isn’t available if you joined EE on or after 10th May 2017.

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

4GEE Max

If you’re on one of EE’s high-end Max plans, you can not only roam for free across the EU (up to a 15GB ‘fair usage cap’) but also beyond.

4GEE Max customers can additionally roam for free in Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the USA, for 53 locations in total.

EE Europe Zone Countries

Austria

French Guiana

Latvia

Portugal (4G)

Azores

Germany (4G)

Liechtenstein

Reunion Islands

Belgium (4G)

Gibraltar

Lithuania

Romania (4G)

Bulgaria

Greece (4G)

Luxembourg (4G)

Saint Barthelemy

Canary Islands

Guadeloupe

Madeira

Saint Martin

Croatia (4G)

Guernsey

Malta

San Marino

Cyprus

Hungary

Martinique

Slovakia

Czech Republic (4G)

Iceland

Mayotte

Slovenia

Denmark (4G)

Ireland

Monaco

Spain (4G)

Estonia (4G)

Isle of Man

Netherlands (4G)

Sweden (4G)

Finland (4G)

Italy (4G)

Norway (4G)

Switzerland (4G)

France (4G)

Jersey

Poland (4G)

Vatican City (4G)

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.

And now all Vodafone customers can roam at no extra cost in 50 destinations at no extra cost, using their normal allowances.

Vodafone 50 charge-free European locations

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)

Azores

Mayotte

Reunion

 

For elsewhere in the world there’s Vodafone ‘Roam Further’, which will allow you to carry across your usual UK allotment for £6 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 (even those on Three Essential Plans) use their phones as normal when abroad in 48 European destinations.

Three Feel At Home in Europe locations

Aland Islands

Austria

Azores

Balearic Islands

Belgium

Bulgaria

Canary Islands

Croatia

Cyprus

Czech Republic

Denmark

Estonia

Finland

France

French Guiana

Germany

Gibraltor

Greece

Guadeloupe

Guernsey

Hungary

Iceland

Isle Of Man

Italy

Jersey

Latvia

Liechenstein

Lithuania

Luxembourg

Madeira

Malta

Martinique

Netherlands

Norway

Poland

Portugal

Republic of Ireland

Romania

Reunion

Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin

San Marino

Slovakia

Slovenia

Spain

Sweden

Switzerland

Vatican City

 

And if you’re on an Advanced Plan you can roam for free beyond Europe, in a total of 71 locations via Feel At Home Around The World.

The only limit is that users can’t use more than 13GB of their data allowance in Feel At Home Around The World locations

Three Feel At Home Around The World locations

Australia

Brazil

Chile

Colombia

Costa Rica

El Salvador

Guatemala

Hong Kong

Indonesia

Israel

Macau

Mayotte

New Zealand

Nicaragua

Panama

Peru

Puerto Rico

Singapore

Sri Lanka

Uruguay

USA

US Virgin Islands

Vietnam

 

Pay As You Go customers simply need to convert their credit into an Add-On to feel the benefit of Feel At Home Around The World. When roaming in Europe you can just use your credit as normal.

If you’re on an Essential Plan and want to roam beyond Europe, or on an Advanced Plan and want to roam somewhere not covered by Feel At Home, there’s also a Data Passport, which gives you unlimited data in many locations for £5 per day.

O2

O2 allows customers to roam for no extra cost in 47 European destinations. The list can be seen in the chart below, but is similar to that offered by other networks.

O2 free roaming locations

Austria

Azores

Belgium

Bulgaria

Canary Islands

Croatia

Cyprus

Czech Republic

Denmark

Estonia

Finland

France

French Guiana

Germany

Gibraltar

Greece

Guadeloupe

Guernsey

Hungary

Iceland

Ireland

Isle Of Man

Italy

Jersey

Latvia

Liechenstein

Lithuania

Luxembourg

Madeira

Malta

Martinique

Monaco

Norway

Poland

Portugal

Reunion Islands

Romania

Saint Barthelemy

Saint Martin

San Marino

Slovakia

Slovenia

Spain

Sweden

Switzerland

The Netherlands

Vatican City

 

On some new plans you can also roam in Argentina, Australia, Botswana, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Greenland, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mexico, Myanmar, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Rwanda, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela and Yemen. However, rather than your standard allowance you get 120 minutes, 120 texts and unlimited data in these locations.

Want to go further? O2 also offers an O2 Travel bolt-on for £4.99 per day, which gives you unlimited data, 120 minutes and 120 texts in the locations below.

O2 £4.99 non-European Travel Bolt-On countries

Albania

Abguilla

Argentina

Aruba

Australia

Bahamas

Barbados

Belarus

Bermuda

Botswana

Brazil

British Virgin Islands

Canada

Cape Verde

Cayman Islands

Chile

China

Columbia

Costa Rica

Dominica

Dominican Republic

Ecuador

El Salvador

Greenland

Grenada

Guatemala

Guinea

Guyana

Honduras

Hong Kong

Indonesia

Jamaica

Japan

Madagasgar

Malaysia

Mexico

Moldova

Montenegro

Montserrat

Myanmar

Netherlands Antilles

New Zealand

Nicaragua

Panama

Paraguay

Peru

Rwanda

Saint Lucia

South Africa

Sri Lanka

St Kitts & Nevis

St Vincent & the Grenadines

Suriname

Thailand

Trindad & Tobago

Turkey

Turks & Caicos Islands

UAE

Uruguay

USA

Venezuala

Yemen

Zambia

 

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 three of the most popular destinations for UK travellers. 

Roaming Cost Comparison

Country

EE

O2

Vodafone

Three

Australia

£1.20 per minute, 60p texts, £6 per day for 500MB

£2 per minute, 50p texts, £7.20 per MB

£6 per day to use your normal allowances

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

USA

£1.20 per minute, 60p texts, £6 per day for 500MB

£2 per minute, 50p texts, £7.20 per MB

£6 per day to use your normal allowances

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

China

£1.80 per minute, 60p texts, £6 per day for 500MB

£2 per minute, 50p texts, £7.20 per MB

£6 per day to use your normal allowances £2 per minute, 35p texts, £6 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. For global roaming at no extra cost Three comes out on top, as it includes numerous locations beyond the EU, though only on pricier Advanced plans. EE offers a similar but slightly more limited service with its 4GEE Max plans.

However, for the widest selection of ‘cheap’ roaming locations you may actually want to opt for Vodafone or O2, as they offer add-ons which allow you to roam in a huge number of countries for an affordable daily charge.

That’s only worth doing of course if the add-ons cover locations that you plan to roam in (and which you can’t roam for free in on other networks), so for most users Three is probably the best and most affordable option for roaming.

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.

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