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Best network for roaming

8th August 2022

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. Prior to Brexit that most notably meant free roaming across the EU, but while that’s no longer the case on every network and plan, the costs are still usually affordable.

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 meant that making calls, sending texts and using the internet on your phone used to 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 came to data there were often fair use limits.

Of course, with the UK no longer in the EU, that's all changed. The specifics of EU roaming terms vary from network to network and will be detailed below under each network’s heading, but in short many either don't offer free EU roaming anymore or only do on select 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

0

Free regions covered:

Global

Global

Global

N/A

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 August 2022, and where we've listed locations as 'free' they might only be so on select plans.

EE

For all new, upgrading and existing customers, here’s EE’s current roaming policy:

Essential plans

Essential plan customers can roam for £2 per day in 48 destinations across Europe (see below for a full list). However, this charge will only apply to customers who’ve joined EE or upgraded from July 7th, 2021 onwards. Older customers who haven’t recently upgraded can roam in these places at no extra cost.

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 £5.48 per day in the US and Canada or £6.85 per day in Australia, China, India, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and UAE. It can also be purchased for £6.85 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 have the option to 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, 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

French Guiana

Latvia

Portugal

Azores

Germany

Liechtenstein

Reunion Islands

Belgium

Gibraltar

Lithuania

Romania

Bulgaria

Greece

Luxembourg

Saint Barthelemy

Canary Islands

Guadeloupe

Madeira

Saint Martin

Croatia

Guernsey

Malta

San Marino

Cyprus

Hungary

Martinique

Slovakia

Czech Republic

Iceland

Mayotte

Slovenia

Denmark

Ireland

Monaco

Spain

Estonia

Isle of Man

Netherlands

Sweden

Finland

Italy

Norway

Switzerland

France

Jersey

Poland

Vatican City

Vodafone

Vodafone has introduced a £2 daily charge to use allowances in 51 European destinations – or you can reduce this to £1 per day if you buy an eight or 15-day pass.

However, customers on plans taken out before August 11th 2021 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

Italy (5G)

Portugal

Austria

Finland

Latvia

Ireland (5G)

Belgium

France (inc Corsica)

Liechtenstein

Romania

Guadeloupe

French Guiana

Lithuania

San Marino

Bulgaria

Germany (5G)

Luxembourg

Slovakia

Madeira

Gibraltar

Malta

Slovenia

Croatia

Greece

Monaco

Canary Islands

Cyprus

Hungary

Netherlands

Sweden

Czech Republic

Iceland

Norway

Switzerland

Denmark

Isle of Man

Poland

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.

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 or for those who don’t have a plan that offers inclusive roaming in 83 locations, you can pay £6 per day to use your allowances in 105 locations. 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 Ireland.

Three

Three’s customers will have to pay £2 per day to use their allowances in the EU (across 49 destinations), and £5 per day to use them in many global locations – listed below under ‘Go Roam Around the World’. In both cases that’s up to a 12GB limit. The European locations can be seen in the chart below.

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

The places beyond Europe that can be roamed in for £5 per day are listed in the chart below.

Note that in all cases these charges only apply to customers who signed up to or renewed their contract on or after October 1st, 2021. For everyone else, the locations in these charts can be roamed in at no extra cost (until you upgrade or renew). All Pay As You Go customers can also roam in these places at no extra cost.

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 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 still offers free roaming on all plans. 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.

Want to go further? O2 also offers an O2 Travel bolt-on for £6 per day, which gives you unlimited data, minutes, and texts in the locations below.

O2 £6 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

£1.35 per minute, 67p texts, £6.85 per day for 500MB

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

£6 per day to use your normal allowances

£5 per day to use your normal allowances

USA

£1.35 per minute, 67p texts, £5.48 per day for 500MB

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

£6 per day to use your normal allowances

£5 per day to use your normal allowances

China

£2.05 per minute, 67p texts, £6.85 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 (August 2022) O2 arguably tops the pack, as it's keeping roaming free on all plans. That said, for a wide selection of destinations, Vodafone comes out on top, and you can still roam for free on some plans with that network.

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 as a top pick overall.

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

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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