flame Compare Deals and save hundreds of pounds Sim Only Deals Phone Deals

Best network for roaming

3rd February 2020

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. 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.

Free Roaming in the EU on all networks

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 now in the process of leaving the EU, that could soon change. The situation at the time of writing is that free EU roaming will remain until at least the end of 2020, when the transition period ends. Whether it continues to be offered after that will depend on the agreement that’s arranged between the UK and the EU during this period, and potentially on what the networks themselves decide.

The major UK networks (meaning Three, EE, O2 and Vodafone) have all broadly said that they have no current plans to change their roaming terms, regardless of the terms of our withdrawal from the EU, but their statements leave the possibility of roaming charges returning in the future. The exception to this is Three, which offered free roaming in much of Europe before it had to and claims to remain committed to that.

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.

Network Roaming Policies

UK Networks Roaming Policies

Network:

EE

O2

Vodafone

Three

Free roaming regions:

53

75

77

71

Free regions covered:

Europe

Europe 

Europe 

Global

Roaming Limits

50GB in Europe

120 texts and minutes outside EU

Up to 25GB

20GB Europe,

12GB elsewhere

Roaming add-on available*

All plans

All plans

All plans

All plans

Deals

Compare deals

Compare deals

Compare deals

Compare deals

* 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 reasonable for roaming, but arguably not as good as its main rivals.

For all new, upgrading and existing customers, here’s EE’s current roaming policy split down according to its two plan types (as of February 2020):

Essential plans

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

To roam further they can purchase a Roam Further Data Pass for £10 per month. This adds roaming in Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the US.

There’s also a Travel Data Pass, which gives you 500MB of data and costs £4.80 per day in the US and Canada or £6 per day in Australia, China, India, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and UAE. It can also be purchased for £6 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.

Smart plans

If you’re on one of EE’s high-end Smart plans, 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 Further pass to their plan at no extra cost, letting them 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 Further pass is one of a number of Swappable Benefits available to Smart plan customers, so choosing it means you won’t be able to choose something else, but as the name suggests, these benefits are swappable, so you can add and remove Roam Further as needed.

Roam Further also comes as standard on EE's older 4GEE Max plans, but these are no longer offered.

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

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 48 destinations, using their normal allowances.

Vodafone 48 Charge-Free European Locations

Spain (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)

Guadeloupe

French Guiana

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)

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

Martinique

Saint Martin

     

Global Roaming Plus

All Unlimited Max plans bought from 10th July 2019, along with all Red Entertainment plans sold with a phone from 15th August 2018 to 9th July 2019, and Red Entertainment SIM Only plans sold from 4th September 2018 to 9th July 2019, additionally have access to ‘Global Roaming Plus’, which is free roaming in the above locations plus 29 more, for 77 total.

The additional locations include:

Albania, Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, Australia, Barbados, Bermuda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Ghana, Grenada, Jamaica, Kenya, Lesotho, Mexico, Montserrat, Mozambique, Netherlands Antilles, New Zealand, South Africa, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent, St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos, UK Virgin Islands, USA.

Roam Further

For elsewhere in the world there’s Vodafone ‘Roam Further’, which will allow you to carry across your usual UK allowances for £6 per day in 104 destinations, which 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, 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 one of the best when it comes to roaming - at least in a number of carefully selected areas.

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 20GB 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 only real limit is that users can’t use more than 12GB of their data allowance in Go Roam Around the World locations.

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.

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

Note that there’s a 20GB data limit when roaming with an unlimited data plan, but this limit doesn’t seem to apply with other plans, some of which come with more than 20GB of data.

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

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 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, £4.80 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. But 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 Vodafone comes out on top, 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.

Beyond that, our one piece of advice for frequent travellers 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.

Latest Offers

Sim Deals

SIM Card Triple SIM
8 GB Data UNLIMITED Minutes UNLIMITED Texts £8.00 a month
Exclusive Deal
View Details
SIM Card Triple SIM
9 GB Data UNLIMITED Minutes UNLIMITED Texts £8.00 a month
Max speeds 10mbps
View Details
View More

Latest Phones

Compare phone deals and save
Sign up for our newsletter.