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EU roaming is now free - what you need to know
The EU’s long running attempts to abolish roaming charges for customers across Europe have finally been fruitful, with carriers across the block set to drop roaming charges for hundreds of millions of prepaid and postpaid customers.
Beginning today, June 15, the EU’s directive says mobile carriers cannot charge any extra to use your phone in Europe than they would for you to use it in your ‘home’ country. As the name “Roam Like Home” suggests, this ensures you won’t suffer from bill shock – unexpected and significantly larger-than-normal mobile phone bills when traveling.
Sounds great, right? It sure does! But now that this concept has made its way into reality, what exactly do you need to know about this new law? How does it impact roaming outside of Europe?
What’s this all about?
For years, the European Commission has been trying to abolish roaming charges and has met plenty of opposition from carriers in the process. Yet, tackling the fundamental problem of the high fees between carriers applies a level playing field and allows this directive to be implemented.
The law applies to all new and existing contracts. As I found out with one of the carriers in the UK (more on that below), chances are you don’t need to do anything to be eligible for it. Putting the onus on the carrier to get everyone activated with no input from customers means the Commission can ensure there are no more surprises.
What’s covered under the law?
The law essentially means you can roam from your home European country to all the other European countries listed by your carrier and not pay any charges for making and receiving calls, texts, or using data. Instead of being charged an inflated fee for usage while roaming in another country, your carrier instead has to deduct the usage from your regular monthly allowance.
If you have Unlimited minutes or texts, these remain unlimited and can be used to call the country you’re roaming in, your home country, and any other European country. Calls to non-geographic, premium rate, and other non-standard numbers aren’t included and have an additional charge. Crucially, you can’t use this for free calls to a European country when in your home country; this is only for roaming.
For data usage, it would come out of your regular allowance, so if you have 5 GB of data at home, you’ll be able to use the same 5 GB when roaming. Of course, that 5 GB is collective for use at home and abroad (not individually) so if you use 4 GB while roaming and 2 GB at home, there may be additional charges due.
Where this becomes a little complicated, however, is with tariffs with unlimited data on them or where you have a large data allowance. For users with unlimited tariffs, the EU says:
Your operator must provide you with a large volume of roam like at home data depending on the price of your mobile bundle. Your operator should clearly inform you of this roam like at home data allowance. In case you use more data while roaming than the data allowance foresees, you may have to pay a small charge
How is this limit calculated? The EU says:
If you want to check the operator’s calculation, here is how: the roaming data volume must be at least twice the volume obtained by dividing the price of your mobile bundle (excluding VAT) by €7.7. For your information, €7.7 is the maximum price that your operator has to pay the foreign operator for 1 GB of data when you are abroad in the EU during 2017. This means that you may get more roam like at home data than the volume your operator can purchase with your monthly subscription from the foreign operator whose network you are using abroad.Example: At home, you have a mobile bundle including unlimited calls, SMS and data for €42 (€35 excluding 20% VAT). When travelling in the EU, you get roam like at home for unlimited calls and SMS, and at least 9.1 GB of data (2*(35 / 7.7) =9.1).
Now, for users who have a package with a large data allowance, the calculation is a little more interesting. First, your carrier can only apply a data cap when the amount you pay per gigabyte (after dividing your monthly rental by the inclusive gigabyte data allowance) is less than €3.85/GB. This will drop to less than €3/GB in 2018 and even further to less than €2.25/GB in 2019.
If your carrier doesn’t tell you about any cap when roaming, you get to use your full allowance. I think it’s safe to say that almost all carriers will impose these limits where they can so how do they calculate it? You divide the price of your mobile phone bundle (excluding VAT) by €7.70 (the max a carrier has to pay for 1 GB of roaming data in 2017) and the cap must be double that calculation.
Here are two examples from the EU:
Example 1: At home you have a mobile bundle including unlimited calls, SMS and 3 GB of data for €30 (€25 excluding 20% VAT). In this case, €25/3GB = €8.3/GB. When travelling in the EU, you get roam like at home with unlimited calls and SMS, and 3 GB of data, exactly like at home.Example 2: At home you have a mobile bundle including unlimited calls, SMS and 10 GB of data for €30 (€25 excluding 20% VAT). The calculation is €25 /10GB=€2.5/GB. When travelling in the EU, you get RLAH with unlimited calls and SMS, and at least 6.5 GB of data (2*(25/7.7) =6.5). If the operator wishes to apply such a data limit while roaming, they must clearly inform you of the volume available and whenever you have consumed that volume while abroad.
Keeping up with us? No? I don’t blame you really – this is rather complicated. But stick with us… we’re almost there.
There are lots of other examples on the EU’s FAQ page, but we don’t need to list those. Instead, how much will you pay if you go over any inclusive allowances? The costs are limited to 3.2 cents per minute for voice calls, 1 cent per SMS and €7.70 per gigabyte of data, all excluding VAT.
Does this mean no more roaming bills, like ever?
This all sounds pretty amazing, but is there a catch? For almost everyone, no. This law is designed to protect average consumers from humongous bills that line corporate pockets so while there are circumstances where the law doesn’t apply, chances are you’ll be fine.
However, if you fit one of the two following categories, then there will be additional complexities you need to discuss with your carrier:
- Travellers: If you spend more time travelling in Europe than in your home country, then you’ll be foul of the fair use policy. If this is the case, your carrier may contact you – carriers will be on the lookout for abuses of these laws and can check domestic activity over a four month period. If you do fall foul of this, you’ll be asked for clarity within 14 days and if you continue to roam, you’ll potentially be levied with the charges above.
- Migrations: Roam Like Home is designed for travellers but if you spend enough time in country that isn’t your home (say you live in Wales and work in Ireland with long stays in Ireland), the EU can argue that you have set up durable residence in that country. In this case, your home network no longer has to offer you free roaming, and instead you’ll need a subscription from your new network.
- Cruises: Alas, the days of cruising the French Riviera while Snapchatting and Instagramming your travels with no concerns over the price are not quite here. The law only applies to fixed terrestrial communications, so those on cruises – or any other activity that uses satellite radios, not terrestrial – won’t be included. Guess you’ll just have to enjoy the pool, facilities and company!
The exclusions are few and for 99.9%+ of European consumers, roaming is now free!
What about roaming outside of Europe?
Roaming outside of Europe is, understandably, not bound by the European Commission’s new law. Neither is roaming to Europe on a non-EU carrier. However, at least in the UK, carriers have been very competitive in recent years on offering excellent non-EU roaming packages, and indeed this has continued further with the new changes today.
Considering the EU and carriers have been working towards this for several years, it’s unsurprising that UK carriers have been focusing on capturing the non-EU travellers as subscribers over recent years. Three already offers Feel At Home free roaming in several countries, while both Vodafone and EE offer very competitive paid-for add-ons for non-EU countries.
None of that is new, but what is new is EE’s free roaming outside of Europe, Vodafone’s Global Roaming plan and Three’s extended Feel At Home program. Here’s what the three carriers offer (fourth carrier O2 has no special inclusive plans for non-EU roaming other than a £5/day charge for limited allowances):
Vodafone Global Roaming
Vodafone has long been a pioneer of affordable roaming, both in Europe, and outside of it. For non-EU roaming, the company has offered a similar package (under various guises) for several years now.
Now called Vodafone Global Roaming (an evolution of Vodafone WorldTraveller and Vodafone Passport), it allows you to take your UK allowances and use them for free in 40 European countries and to ‘Roam-further’ in 60 non-EU countries for a low cost fee of £5 per day. The full list of Roam-further countries is available here and you are only charged on the days you use your phone.
Three’s extended Feel At Home Program
Three followed Vodafone by pioneering to scrap all roaming charges entirely, anywhere in the world. Of course, this is a rather fanciful dream, but the company has been instrumental in driving down the cost of worldwide roaming for UK customers, as well as offering free roaming in several non-EU countries.
Following the EU’s changes, Three has made roaming free to all European countries, but also extended its Feel At Home service, so you won’t pay to make or receive calls and texts and use data in lots of non-EU countries. The full list is available here and has today expanded to include the likes of Brazil, Singapore and French Guiana.
EE has a rather checkered past with roaming – at one time, the company was fantastic and offered the best bang-for-buck roaming add-ons (you could get 1 GB of roaming data in the US for just £25 whereas recently it had risen to over £70) and while this did change, the company is making a somewhat determined march up the ranks again.
Beginning today, EU roaming is free for all customers and those on a 4GEE Max plan (which had the highest inclusive EU roaming allowance), will now be able to use their allowances for free in the USA, Australia, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand.
What would roaming outside of Europe cost on each UK carrier?
Taking the examples of Australia, Hong Kong, India, South Africa and the USA as would-be destinations, how much would 300 minutes of calls (back to the UK for simplicity), sending 300 texts and using 1 GB of data over a two week period cost you on each of the four carriers?
|Carrier||Australia||Hong Kong||India||South Africa||USA|
Australia:£34.93 (£4.99/day * 7 days)
Hong Kong:£34.93 (£4.99/day * 7 days)
South Africa:£34.93 (£4.99/day * 7 days)
USA:£34.93 (£4.99/day * 7 days)
Carrier:For the purpose of the O2 calculation, we're assuming that you won't use more than 120 minutes of calls or 120 texts in any single day. Data has no upper limit but is subject to traffic management.
Australia:Free on 4GEE Max plan
USA:Free on 4GEE Max plan
Carrier:EE offers various data add-ons. For the purpose of this calculation, we're assuming you pay £40 for the 750MB data add-on followed by an additional £20 for a further 250MB add-on. Both last for 7 days or until the allowance is used up. This table also assumes that you're on a 4GEE Max plan to get free roaming in the USA and Australia
Australia:£35 (£5/day * 7 days)
Hong Kong:£35 (£5/day * 7 days)
India:£35 (£5/day * 7 days)
South Africa:£35 (£5/day * 7 days)
USA:£35 (£5/day * 7 days)
Australia:Free (Feel At Home)
Hong Kong:Free (Feel At Home)
USA:Free (Feel At Home)
O2 Travel makes things rather complex to understand as it offers 120 minutes of making calls and 120 minutes of receiving calls as well as 120 texts each day for £4.99 in select countries. It also includes an unspecified data allowance that is subject to traffic management and fair use.
Sign me up, Scotty!
This turned out to be a lot longer than intended, but it’s a topic that can be complicated. There are plenty of caveats that will affect just a handful of users so for most people, and this means the end of would-be astronomical phone bills abroad. It also means there’s no need to rush and buy a local phone for short travel, as you can now just use your regular phone instead.
How do you get onto the new packages? It’s pretty easy; you do nothing. That’s right – all carriers have to automatically stop charging users for roaming from today onwards. When you’re next roaming in Europe, expect a message from your carrier telling you it’s free and snap, post and tweet everything you do. Don’t forget to send us a postcard!