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Best network for roaming

2nd April 2019

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.

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 if the UK agrees to leave with a deal then free EU roaming will remain until at least the end of 2020, when the implementation period ends. Whether it continues to be offered after that will depend on the deal that’s arranged and potentially on what the networks themselves decide.

However, if we leave with no deal (with the date for that currently set at April 12th), then there will be no regulations saying that networks have to continue offering free EU roaming, so it will be down to the networks themselves as to whether they do or not. They may choose not to not simply because they can, but because their own costs for offering the service might go up, since networks in other countries will be able to charge them more for their services.

The major UK networks 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 are vague and 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.

UK Network Roaming Policies

Network:

EE

O2

Vodafone

Three

Plans with free roaming:

All Plans

All Plans

All Plans

All Plans

Free roaming regions:

53

75

77

71

Free regions covered:

Europe (global on 4GEE Max plans)

Europe (global on select plans)

Europe (global on select plans)

Europe (global on Advanced plans)

Limits and restrictions:

Up to 15GB allowance in EU, some locations need 4GEE Max plan

120 texts and minutes outside EU, some plans limited to EU, data may be slowed subject to fair usage

No restrictions

19GB data limit in Europe, 12GB elsewhere

Roaming add-on available*

All plans

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

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 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.

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. The Travel Data Pass detailed above is also available to 4GEE Max customers.

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

     

Red Entertainment

All Red Entertainment plans sold with a phone from 15 August 2018 and Red Entertainment SIM only plans sold after 4 September 2018 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.

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 Essential Plans) use their phones as normal when abroad in 49 European destinations (up to 19GB of data or 15GB on Pay As You Go).

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 an Advanced Plan 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 an Advanced Plan 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

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, 48p 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, 48p 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.

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