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Best network for roaming

14th September 2021

Best network for roaming

Table of Contents

Using your phone abroad, also called roaming, 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.

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. At the time of writing this most notably means free roaming across the EU on most UK networks, but as a result of Brexit that won’t be offered for much longer.

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 – though when it comes to data there are often fair use limits.

Of course, with the UK no longer in the EU, that is set to change. The specifics of how and when the situation will change varies from network to network and will be detailed below under each network’s heading, but in short while they all offer free EU roaming at the time of writing, most won’t for long – or certainly not on all plans.

That said, the government is at least putting some protections in place, with the main one being that it has passed legislation that puts a £45 per month limit on the amount you can spend on using your phone abroad without manually opting in to spending more.

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Network Roaming Policies

UK Networks Roaming Policies

Network:

EE

O2

Vodafone

Three

Free roaming regions:

53

75

83

71

Free regions covered:

Global

Global

Global

Global

Roaming Limits

50GB in Europe

25GB

Up to 25GB

12GB

Roaming add-on available*

All plans

All plans

All plans

All plans

Deals

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

Note that this chart details the situation as of September 2021, but as explained above the roaming situation in Europe will be changing for most networks sooner or later, so for full details of how this affects things, read on.

EE

The UK’s biggest network is reasonable for roaming as of September 2021, but that will all change on January 1st, 2022.

For all new, upgrading and existing customers, here’s EE’s current roaming policy – along with how it’s set to change - split down according to its two plan types:

Essential plans

Essential plan customers can roam for free in 48 destinations across Europe (see below for a full list) until January 1st, 2022. After that date it will cost £2 per day to do so. However, this change will only apply to customers who’ve joined EE or upgraded from July 7th, 2021 onwards.

If customers are going on a longer break they can purchase a Roam Abroad pass, which costs £10 per month but allows free roaming in these European locations, as well as in Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the US.

There’s also a Travel Data Pass, which gives you 500MB of data and costs £5.02 per day in the US and Canada or £6.27 per day in Australia, China, India, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and UAE. It can also be purchased for £6.27 per day in 45 other destinations including Brazil, Japan and Jamaica, but in these places you only get 150MB of data.

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

Note that an ‘Essential plan’ is any phone or SIM Only plan that doesn’t come with Smart Benefits (explained below).

Smart plans

If you’re on one of EE’s high-end Smart plans (or a ‘Full Works’ plan), you can not only roam for free across the EU (up to a 50GB ‘fair usage cap’) but also beyond.

Smart plan customers can optionally add a Roam Abroad pass to their plan at no extra cost, letting them roam for free in the EU beyond January, and also roam for free in Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the USA, for 53 locations in total. The Travel Data Pass detailed above is also available to Smart plan customers.

Note that the Roam Abroad pass is one of a number of Smart Benefits available to Smart plan customers, so choosing it means you won’t be able to choose something else.

EE Europe Zone Countries

Austria (4G)

French Guiana

Latvia (4G)

Portugal (4G)

Azores

Germany (4G)

Liechtenstein

Reunion Islands

Belgium (4G)

Gibraltar

Lithuania (4G)

Romania (4G)

Bulgaria (4G)

Greece (4G)

Luxembourg (4G)

Saint Barthelemy

Canary Islands

Guadeloupe

Madeira

Saint Martin

Croatia (4G)

Guernsey (4G)

Malta (4G)

San Marino

Cyprus (4G)

Hungary (4G)

Martinique

Slovakia (4G)

Czech Republic (4G)

Iceland (4G)

Mayotte

Slovenia (4G)

Denmark (4G)

Ireland (4G)

Monaco (4G)

Spain (4G)

Estonia (4G)

Isle of Man (4G)

Netherlands (4G)

Sweden (4G)

Finland (4G)

Italy (4G)

Norway (4G)

Switzerland (4G)

France (4G)

Jersey (4G)

Poland (4G)

Vatican City (4G)

Vodafone

At the time of writing, all Vodafone customers can roam at no extra cost in 51 destinations, using their normal allowances. This list of locations is in the chart below, but note that from January 6th, 2022, there will be a £2 daily charge to use allowances in these places – or you can reduce this to £1 per day if you buy an eight or 15-day pass.

However, existing customers won’t have to pay this charge until they upgrade, and there are plans which avoid the charge, detailed below.

Vodafone 51 Charge-Free European Locations

Spain (5G)

Estonia (4G)

Italy (5G)

Portugal (4G)

Austria (4G)

Finland (4G)

Latvia (4G)

Republic of Ireland (5G)

Belgium (4G)

France (inc Corsica) (4G)

Liechtenstein (4G)

Romania (4G)

Guadeloupe

French Guiana

Lithuania (4G)

San Marino (4G)

Bulgaria (4G)

Germany (5G)

Luxembourg (4G)

Slovakia (4G)

Madeira

Gibraltar

Malta

Slovenia (4G)

Croatia (4G)

Greece (4G)

Monaco (4G)

Canary Islands (4G)

Cyprus (4G)

Hungary (4G)

Netherlands (4G)

Sweden (4G)

Czech Republic (4G)

Iceland (4G)

Norway (4G)

Switzerland (4G)

Denmark (4G)

Isle of Man (4G)

Poland (4G)

Vatican City

Azores

Mayotte

Reunion

Martinique

Saint Martin

Aland Islands Balearic Islands Faroe Islands

St Barthelemy

Guernsey Jersey  

Xtra Plans with 4 Xtra benefits

Vodafone has rolled out a range of new plans called ‘Xtra Plans’ which come with ‘Xtra benefits’, and if you get one with ‘4 Xtra benefits’ then you won’t be charged to roam in the EU once the charges come into play.

On top of that, some Xtra Plans go even further and allow for free roaming in 83 destinations – many of which are outside Europe. Note that in all cases though there’s a 25GB fair usage limit.

The additional locations include:

Albania, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Australia, Barbados, Bermuda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Ghana, Grenada, Jamaica, Kenya, Lesotho, Mexico, Montserrat, Mozambique, New Zealand, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, South Africa, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent, St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey and Northern Cyprus, Turks and Caicos, and the US.

Travelling further

For many other parts of the world (107 locations) you can pay £6 per day to use your allowances. These locations include:

Afghanistan, Albania, Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Aruba, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Cambodia, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Democratic Republic of, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Laos, Lesotho, Macau, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Montserrat, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Russia, Saba, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, South Africa, South Korea, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent, Suriname, Swaziland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey and Northern Cyprus, Turks and Caicos, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Uruguay, US Virgin Islands, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu and Vietnam.

5G roaming

Vodafone also lets customers on a 5G plan roam at 5G speeds in select locations, which at the time of writing no other major UK network does.

5G speeds are available in parts of Spain, Italy, Germany and the Republic of Ireland.

Three

While Three is the smallest of the UK’s ‘big four,’ it’s currently one of the best when it comes to roaming – though this will arguably change on May 23rd, 2022, as from that date customers will have to pay £2 per day to use their allowances in the EU, and £5 per day to use them in many global locations – listed below under ‘Go Roam Around the World’.

However, until then, Three’s Go Roam initiative lets all customers (even those on Three’s older Essential Plans) use their phones as normal when abroad in 49 European destinations (up to 12GB of data).

Three Go Roam in Europe Locations

Aland Islands

Austria

Azores

Balearic Islands

Belgium

Bulgaria

Canary Islands

Croatia

Cyprus

Czech Republic

Denmark

Estonia

Finland

France

French Guiana

Germany

Gibraltar

Greece

Guadeloupe

Guernsey

Hungary

Iceland

Isle of Man

Italy

Jersey

Latvia

Liechtenstein

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

Mayotte

And if you’re on anything other than an Essential Plan (including all current plans at the time of writing) you can roam for free beyond Europe, in a total of 71 locations via Go Roam Around the World.

The same 12GB roaming limit applies in these locations, as does the May 23rd date when they’ll no longer be free (unless you sign up for or renew a contract by October 1st, 2021).

Three Go Roam Around the World Locations

Australia

Brazil

Chile

Colombia

Costa Rica

El Salvador

Guatemala

Hong Kong

Indonesia

Israel

Macau

Vietnam

New Zealand

Nicaragua

Panama

Peru

Puerto Rico

Singapore

Sri Lanka

Uruguay

USA

US Virgin Islands

 

 

If you’re on an Essential Plan and want to roam beyond Europe, or on another plan type and want to roam somewhere not covered by Go Roam, 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 48 European destinations. The list can be seen in the chart below, but is similar to that offered by other networks.

However, unlike other networks O2 hasn’t announced plans to remove free roaming, so at the time of writing it’s the only one of the big four UK networks that will likely still offer free roaming on all plans in 2022. Note though that there’s a 25GB data limit when roaming.

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

Liechtenstein

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

Mayotte

On some 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

Anguilla

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

Madagascar

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

Trinidad & Tobago

Turkey

Turks & Caicos Islands

UAE

Uruguay

USA

Venezuela

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, £6.27 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

£1.25 per minute, 62p texts, £5.02 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

£1.88 per minute, 62p texts, £6.27 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. But each network’s roaming initiative can provide massive savings in their own separate way.

As things stand at the time of writing (September 2021) Vodafone arguably tops the pack, as it includes more locations than any other network and fewer restrictions, albeit only on select plans. Three comes close though, as would O2 but for its slightly restrictive minute and text allowances.

For the widest selection of ‘cheap’ roaming locations Vodafone again comes out on top, as it offers add-ons which allow you to roam in locations that aren’t ‘free’ 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), but still leaves Vodafone on top overall.

Vodafone is also the only major UK network to offer 5G roaming at the time of writing, though its availability is limited.

That said, if you factor in the changes coming to networks in 2022 then O2 is the clear winner, as it’s the only one of these four that will still offer free roaming on all plans. Vodafone and EE at least offer some plans that will still include free roaming though, while Three doesn’t.

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

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