What is data roaming?

Close-up of using smartphone at sunset mobile data roaming

Roaming charges are the fees mobile providers charge for roaming onto another network. This won’t just be for data roaming – they’ll likely charge you for calls and texts too, though it depends on which network you are with and what plan you have.

These charges are often higher than you would pay at home and might not be included in your monthly tariff. If you don’t check before you travel, you could end up facing a hefty bill when you return home.

To save on roaming charges, it’s a good idea to compare SIM only deals to see if you can find one that offers inclusive or cheap roaming at your destination.

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What is data roaming?

Data roaming is when you use your mobile data abroad to access the internet. This could be for web browsing, checking email, social media, streaming music or movies, using messaging apps like WhatsApp or something else entirely. 

Because your phone can’t connect to your local phone network, it has to seek out another network from which it can get a signal in order to send and receive internet data. Once it connects to another network, you’re roaming and could therefore incur higher charges.

Data roaming on iPhones should be switched on by default. But if for some reason yours isn’t, you can turn it on very simply. Just tap Settings > Mobile Service > Mobile Data Options > and toggle Data Roaming on. 

Data roaming on Android phones should be automatically enabled. But if it isn’t, you can switch it on yourself. Exactly how you do this will vary by phone, as the user interfaces often differ, but it should be fairly similar. On a Samsung Galaxy handset, for example, tap Settings > Connections > Mobile Networks and toggle Data Roaming on.

Roaming in the EU

Roaming in the EU is generally cheaper than roaming outside of it, but it’s complicated.Many networks have updated their policies since Brexit, so there’s a lot of small print to dig through. 

Some offer roaming in Europe free of charge, so you can use your phone just like at home without worrying (as long as you stay within your monthly allowance), while some charge extra. You can see a comparison of each network’s roaming policies inside and outside the EU lower down this page.

Roaming in Ireland

No networks charge for roaming in the Republic of Ireland. This means that, if you’re travelling to Ireland from anywhere in the UK, you’ll be able to use your usual allowance of texts, calls and data without being charged any extra, no matter which network you’re with.

Roaming outside the EU

As we say, roaming outside the EU is often more expensive than within it. But it all depends on your network and package, so make sure you check before you travel. In this section, we’ll look at roaming charges in popular worldwide destinations to help you estimate how much it’ll cost you to use your phone while you’re away.

Roaming in the US

Generally speaking, the further from the UK you travel, the higher the roaming charges. Hence roaming in the US costs more than in Europe. Fees generally vary between £2 and £6 a day.

To roam in the US, your phone will have to be compatible with VoLTE Roaming – also known as 4K Calling abroad. And ‘VoLTE’ will have to be switched on in your device settings. This is because as of January 2023, mobile providers in the US switched off their 2G and 3G coverage to make more room for the faster 4G and 5G networks. 

All iPhones from the iPhone 7 onwards (running iOS 15 or later) support 4K Calling abroad, as do the Samsung S10 and above, and Samsung A series, running Android 12 or higher.

To check if your phone is compatible, look in the mobile data section of the settings menu. 

Roaming in Turkey

You’ll often need an add-on to roam in Turkey, but it depends on your network and package. It often falls into the same band as the US, with similar daily charges of between £2 and £6.

Roaming in Dubai (UAE)

Some networks require an add-on to roam in Dubai, while others let you use your UK plan for a small additional daily fee. This just works automatically, so you don’t need to set it up.

Roaming in India

You’ll usually need to buy an add-on to use data in India, but not always. Lebara lets you use your UK allowance in Europe and India for free. So you can surf, call and text as if you were at home for no extra cost.

What is my network's roaming policy?

Network roaming policy Who does it apply to? Cost Destinations covered Fair usage (applies if data tariff is above amount mentioned)
Three Go Roam Customers who signed up or upgraded after 1 October 2021 £2 per day for EU countries, £5 for some countries outside of the EU 71 destinations 12GB fair usage limit
Vodafone EU destinations Customers who signed up or upgraded after 11 August 2021 £2 per day to use your UK plan 48 destinations 25GB. £3.13 charge for each subsequent gigabyte used past limit
Vodafone Rest of the world All customers on new pay monthly plans £6 per day to use your UK plan 104 destinations 25GB. £3.13 charge for each subsequent gigabyte used past limit
EE Customers who signed up or upgraded after 7 July 2021 £2.29 per day to use your UK plan 53 destinations 25GB. £6 charge for each subsequent gigabyte used past limit
O2 Europe Zone Usage All customers on new pay monthly plans (not PAYG) None 47 Europe Zone destinations 10GB. Can spend up to 60 days in roaming zone over 120-day period
O2 Full Travel Bolt-On Select phone-and-tariff plans on 4GB or 15GB or above £6 per day 75 destinations worldwide 10GB. Can spend up to 60 days in roaming zone over 120-day period
Tesco Mobile Home from Home All customers on pay monthly or PAYG plans None 48 Europe Zone destinations 12GB. Can spend up to 60 days in roaming over 120-day period
Sky Roaming Passport All customers on pay monthly plans £2 per day 36 Europe Zone destinations None
BT Roam Like at Home All customers on pay monthly plans None 47 destinations 15GB. Can spend up to 60 days in roaming zone over 120-day period
iD Mobile Roam Like at Home All customers on pay monthly plans None 52 destinations Only applies to some SIM only customers. Can spend up to 60 days in roaming zone over 120-day period
SMARTY roaming All customers None up to 12GB 35 destinations Not specified

Three data roaming

Three customers can use their monthly allowance for an extra £2 a day in Europe and £5 a day in Go Roam Around the World destinations.

Three’s Your Way plan includes up to 56 days of roaming. You can also buy three-day, seven-day or 14-day Go Roam Passes. 

All roaming in Go Roam destinations is subject to a 12GB fair usage limit. 

You can also get unlimited data to use when roaming with a £5-a-day Data Passport.

Three retains the £45 monthly data cap (£54 including VAT) while roaming to prevent bill shock.

Vodafone data roaming

Vodafone charges £2.25 a day (or £10 for 8 days or £15 for 15 days) for contract customers roaming in Europe. Pay as you go customers are charged from £7 for 8 days.

This rises to £6.85 a day for destinations further afield, including Australia, Barbados, USA South Africa, Afghanistan and Vietnam.

A 25GB fair usage limit applies.

Vodafone’s Unlimited plans are capped at 25GB of data a month while roaming. You can set your own spending limit using Vodafone’s Spend Manager feature.

EE data roaming

For data roaming within the EU, EE charges £2.29 per day (or £25 per month) for contracts or £2.50 per day (or £10 for 7 days) for pay-as-you-go.

Those travelling further afield will need a Travel Data Pass. This gives you 500MB of data for £6.26 a day in Canada and the US, 500MB for £7.84 a day in nine countries including Australia, India and China, or 150MB for £7.84 a day in 45 other destinations, including Brazil, Japan and Jamaica.

If your plan includes more than 50GB of data per month, EE will cap your usage at 50GB when roaming abroad.

EE retains the £45 monthly data cap (£54 including VAT) while roaming to prevent bill shock. This doesn’t apply when customers are opting in to additional payments. It also has variable spend caps that customers can set themselves.

However, EE recently hiked its roaming prices by up to 150%. Find out how this affects you and whether it is worth getting. 

O2 data roaming

O2 is the only major UK network that currently doesn’t charge for EU roaming. Since Brexit, Vodafone, Three and EE have started charging again. This covers 48 countries.

Travellers going outside Europe can buy unlimited data, calls and texts for £6 a day. Selected Plus Plan customers can also get the O2 Travel Inclusive Zone. This covers roaming in 75 countries, including the US, Mexico, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina and Australia.

A 25GB fair usage limit applies.

O2 retains the £45 monthly data cap (£54 including VAT) while roaming to prevent bill shock. Customers can also set their own spend caps.

Sky Mobile data roaming

Sky Mobile’s Roaming Passport Plus lets you roam in 55 countries around the world, including Europe, the US and Australia. It costs £2 per day and doesn’t require setting up before you go.

No fair use data limit applies.

Sky Mobile retains the £45 monthly data cap (£54 including VAT) while roaming to prevent bill shock. Customers can also set their own spend caps.

iD Mobile data roaming

iD Mobile doesn’t charge any extra for data roaming while in Europe, nor in select other countries including Azerbaijan, Macedonia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

A 30GB fair use data limit applies.

giffgaff data roaming

giffgaff doesn’t charge any extra fees for roaming inside Europe (and a few select other countries), though the 5GB data limit is much lower than most other networks.

In other countries, extra charges apply.

How to avoid roaming charges

Jump on the Wi-Fi

Wi-fi hotspots are a traveller’s best friend. They let you connect to the internet for free, saving your valuable data allowance. So find your nearest and check if they have a usage limit (some kick you off after just 30 minutes). 

Many hotels offer free Wi-Fi, as do lots of coffee shops, gyms, airports and shopping centres. They can be unsecured though, meaning your data could be exposed. So try not to reveal any sensitive information while using them like bank details or passport info.

Use apps to call

If you have access to Wi-Fi, use it to the full. Instead of calling using your allowance of minutes, call over Wi-Fi using apps like Zoom, Skype, FaceTime or WhatsApp. 

Not only will the call be free (provided you are connected to the Wi-Fi, that is), it’s so much more intimate seeing the person’s face and not just hearing their voice. And you can show them what an amazing time you’re having.

Set spending caps

Some networks have retained the pre-Brexit £45 monthly spending cap while roaming, but some haven’t (Tesco Mobile, for example). This means you could unwittingly rack up a big bill. 

But lots of networks let you set your own spending cap so you don’t come back to a huge bill. Find out how yours works and use it – it could save you a fortune.

Download before you go

Just as you pack your case before you set off, so you should fill your devices with content to watch, read and listen to. Lots of apps like Netflix and BBC iPlayer let you download content and keep it for a set period, which means you don’t have to stream it and potentially eat through your data allowance, which could be pricey when roaming. 

Download using your home Wi-Fi before you go. Not only will it save your money, it’ll be quicker too, as home broadband is usually faster than a data connection and when it comes time to watch you won’t have to wait for the content to load. And it’ll mean you can watch even if you don’t have any mobile reception.

Stay within the fair use policy

Most networks have a fair use policy for roaming. This is a set amount of data you’re allowed. And once you use it, they might cut you off until the next month’s billing period starts or severely restrict your mobile internet speeds, making the internet all but unusable (remember the dark days of dial-up modems?). 

Using the internet once you’ve exceeded this limit could also come with some big charges per MB of data. Find out your network’s fair usage policy before you go and stick to it.

Don’t go beyond your allowance

Just because your network provides free roaming within the EU, that doesn’t give you carte blanche to use your mobile as much as you want. Your normal monthly allowance still applies. 

If you exceed your allowance, you’ll be charged the same ‘out of bundle’ charges as you would if you did the same at home. So while your bill might not be as excessive as some holidaymakers’ horror stories, it could still be an unwelcome surprise.

Check your messages

Your network should alert you by text message when you reach 80% and then 100% of your limit. So don’t ignore these if you want to avoid a costly bill.

Beware cruises

It’s extra tricky out at sea, as the normal rules no longer apply. You could unknowingly connect to another country’s network – one which you have no intention of ever visiting – or even a maritime network, neither of which might be included in your network’s roaming options. 

And that could cost you dearly. Stay connected to the ship’s Wi-Fi instead and switch data roaming off until you’re back on dry land.

Try an eSIM

An eSIM lets you hop between networks and could help you find the cheapest roaming deal around. There’s more info below.

It might take a bit of investigation but you should be able to pick up a cheap prepaid SIM card for a local network at your destination. 

You’ll have to take your current SIM card out of your phone and pop in the new one, and you won’t be able to use your existing phone number while your normal SIM isn’t in use. But if you intend to stay somewhere for a while, it could work out much cheaper.

An even simpler option is to just buy a pay as you go SIM and to use that while abroad. Just make sure you do your research first in order to bag a good deal. Some networks might offer free roaming on their pay as you go plans but not on their monthly contracts, for example.

You’ll have to use a new number while you’re away, but as long as you share it with the relevant people, it shouldn’t cause any issues. You might have to use it and top it up at least once in the UK before you travel, too. 

And don’t rely on the same holiday SIM year after year without using it every now and again. Some networks require you to top up a pay as you go SIM every few months, otherwise they’ll deactivate it. Check each network’s small print before you buy.

Should I get an international SIM card?

An eSIM card is a digital version of a SIM card. That means it’s a tiny microchip that’s built into the phone, so you can’t take it out, as opposed to a traditional SIM card, which is a physical card that you insert into the phone’s SIM slot.

You can only use one traditional SIM card at a time, because there’s simply no space to accommodate more than one physical SIM card inside the phone (dual SIM phones – which can take two SIMs at once – do exist, but they’re quite niche and most aren’t sold in this country).

But because eSIMs are digital, you can have multiple phone plans and even multiple phone numbers operating from the same handset at the same time.

That means you can have separate personal and business numbers on the same handset without needing a work phone and a personal phone. But the big advantage for travellers is that you can switch networks – or use multiple networks simultaneously – without needing to buy and keep track of a new SIM card.

Going abroad? Just hop onto the local network with a local plan, rather than pay the tourist rates for roaming. It’s the equivalent of shopping in the local market rather than the tourist trap one with rip-off prices.

A word of warning. You will need to research local networks and which plans are on offer to work out if they’re cheaper than your network’s roaming charges. If something goes wrong and you get billed more than expected, it might be harder to communicate with a foreign network to complain or claim money back.

And your phone will have to be sufficiently high-specced to have an eSIM in the first place – most modern iPhones support it, as do Samsung Galaxy S handsets from the S20 onwards.

For more information on eSIMs, check out our guide that explains what an eSIM is and how it works.

Should I keep data roaming on or off on my phone?

Data roaming allows you to connect to other mobile networks that you aren’t signed up to so that you stay connected and don’t lose signal. It only really makes a difference when you’re abroad, so there’s no harm in leaving it on when you’re in your home country. You won’t be charged any extra for doing so.

But if you’re travelling abroad and want to avoid any extra fees, you can turn data roaming off. Because your phone won’t connect to any other networks, you won’t be charged anything extra while it’s switched off. You could then connect to Wi-Fi and access emails and the internet without turning roaming back on and without incurring any extra charges.

Of course, if your network doesn’t charge extra for roaming, or you’ve bought a bolt-on or are happy with the extra charges, leave data roaming switched on. Otherwise you won’t be able to use your phone abroad until you’ve connected to wi-fi.

Has Brexit affected roaming charges?

Yes, it has. Back in 2017, roaming charges were abolished in the EU. As Britain was still part of the EU, that meant all UK networks couldn’t charge any extra for using your phone in Europe, as long as you stayed within your monthly allowance. After Brexit, this all changed.

With the UK no longer part of the EU, UK mobile networks could once again start charging for roaming in Europe. And most of them did, as of 1 January 2021. Since 30 June 2022, networks also didn’t have to place a limit on roaming costs, though most have kept the £45 (£54 including VAT) monthly limit that was already in place. Many also let customers set their own limits to avoid unwittingly racking up high bills while abroad.

The current situation is confusing, with some networks (like O2) not charging extra for roaming within Europe and others offering a mix of bolt-ons, daily charges and different data limits, many of which vary depending on where in the world you are travelling.

Our advice? Check with your network before you travel.

The situation could change though. UK communications regulator Ofcom is consulting on three proposals to prevent exorbitant roaming charges. These include text alerts to let customers know they have started roaming and how to set bill limits; requiring mobile providers to protect customers against inadvertent roaming; and introducing new best practice guidance to mobile providers. Watch this space…

Can my mobile network provider change their data roaming charges at any time?

They can, but under law they’ll have to give customers at least a month’s warning for any change to their contract. This includes roaming charges.

You’ll most likely receive notification of any changes to your contract by text message. But just in case you miss it, we would still check with your network before travelling to get the full lowdown.

Do calls to the EU from the UK count as data roaming?

They don’t, because you’ll still be in your home country while you make the call. But they can still cost you extra.

Most plans don’t include international calls, so you might need to add credit to your account on top of your monthly allowance before you can call the EU.

International calls within the EU are capped at €0.19 (16p) +VAT per minute under EU law. But that doesn’t apply to the UK since Brexit. The UK government didn’t maintain the price regulation on the basis that calls from the EU to the UK would not be capped.

How can I find out how much my mobile provider charges for roaming?

All UK networks show their data roaming charges on their websites. But it can be a bit confusing, so some let you search by destination. Some networks have different charges depending on when your contract started as well.

If you can’t find the information you’re looking for, get in touch with the network. You should be able to do this over the phone, by email or by live chat (you should see this option appear in the corner of the screen when you head to the network’s website). 

Failing that, you could contact the network on its social media accounts like X/Twitter. Most networks want to avoid negative publicity and so respond very quickly when contacted on social media.

What is the difference between mobile data and data roaming?

Mobile data is what your phone uses to connect to the internet wirelessly. This isn’t just for web browsing. It could be to check emails, use social media, use apps or send messages using chat apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

Data roaming is the same thing, but using a mobile network in another country. So if you travel to France, you will have to connect to a French mobile network in order to use data (as well as to make calls and send texts). This can bring higher charges, depending on your UK mobile network’s policy on where you are travelling to.

Find out how to haggle with your mobile provider if you think you’re paying too much for your mobile contract.