Author Ben Leonard

It has been bubbling away in the background for years but finally, we’ve been given a date for the much-anticipated ban on roaming charges in the EU. Does this really spell the end of those hefty roaming fees and the beginning of free roaming? Are we finally going to be able to use our minute, text and data allowance abroad at no additional cost? And why are EE saying that they will still charge some customers to use data in Europe?

As we board the plane or enter the Chunnel, it’s become a force of habit for many of us to double check that the data roaming settings on our mobile phones are firmly switched to off.

Although providers had already introduced caps to roaming charges, further to EU legislation that came into force just over a year ago, many of us still shied away from using our mobile phones abroad, due to horror stories still haunting us of holidaymakers returning back to Blighty to find that their mobile phone bill was more expensive than the holiday itself.

New EU rules should mean free roaming

Dubbed “Roam like at Home”, mobile phone users from the UK (and the rest of the EU) should, from 15th June this year, be able to travel throughout the EU and pay domestic prices for their texts, calls and data.

In essence, this means that you should be able to use your contracted minutes, texts and data allowance on your next trip away to any EU country.

After working on this initiative for a decade, the European Parliament and Council have finally achieved their ultimate goal with regards to roaming costs and in only a few short weeks, we should all reap the rewards of their hard work (or at least we will when that much-awaited summer holiday finally comes around).

You can also use the “Roam like at Home” rules if you visit non-EU countries Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, as these countries are part of the European Economic Area (EEA). However, the rules will be applied in these countries a little later.

Is it really free roaming for all?

Sounds too good to be true? Actually, it is going to save those of us who like posting jealousy-inducing pictures of ourselves drinking cocktails on a sunny Spanish beach, quite a lot of money.

As with many rules, there are caveats and here is the main one: if, as part of your mobile phone contract, you get unlimited mobile data or ‘very cheap’ mobile data, your operator may apply a ‘fair use’ limit on data you use when you’re abroad.

We’re told that this ‘fair use’ limit will be enough to cover most, if not all, of our roaming needs (other than those of us who have a cat video addiction, I would imagine) and our mobile phone operator should inform us, in advance, of any limit. Additionally, you should be alerted if you reach this limit.

If you choose to continue roaming after you’ve reached the specified limit, the EU have set a maximum amount that you can be charged: €7.70 per gigabyte (that’s £6.52 at today’s rate), plus VAT. This figure will gradually decrease until it reaches €2.50 (£2.12) per gigabyte in 2022.

EE have announced that they will charge some customers

Early last week, EE confirmed that it would be applying a data roaming ’fair use’ limit of 15GB per month for its customers. Anyone who has a limit of more than 15GB per month as part of their contract would only be able to use the first 15GB of their package for free roaming in the EU.

While this may be frustrating for some, this will not affect the majority of holidaymakers, who will still comfortably be able to share the odd photo or have a daily Facebook feed skimming session, to locate anyone having a better time than themselves. To use over 15GB of data on a week’s holiday, you would probably need to be streaming videos, for example.

Although EE is the first to announce their plans, other operators are likely to follow and we expect more to reveal their ‘fair use’ limit in the coming weeks. Three, for example, has announced a roaming cap of 12GB for pay-monthly customers and 9GB for its customers on PAYG.

Free roaming for EE customers

How it will work

Unlimited minutes and texts won’t be restricted, so if you have these as part of your allowance, you will still be able to call and text as much as you like, when you’re on holiday in the EU.

It’s only if you get unlimited or ‘very cheap’ mobile data, that you could see your data roaming allowance restricted.

If you’re with EE and you go above the 15GB ‘fair use’ limit, you will need to buy an add-on if you want to use more data abroad.

EE will let you know if you hit this limit when you’re out of the country. Costs for add-ons vary but you can purchase 1GB to use for a week for £6.99 or an additional 10GB to use until the end of your billing cycle for £19.99.

Brexit could spell the end of free roaming

Until the UK officially leaves the EU, currently scheduled for early 2019, European laws continue to apply in Britain. This means that the “Roam like at Home” rules will apply for Brits abroad in the EU, up until this point.

What will happen after the UK leaves the EU? This all depends on what is agreed in the negotiations between the UK and the EU. It’s very difficult to predict what the outcome will be with regards to data roaming (and indeed many other European laws that currently apply in the UK) but it may well be the case that this policy is scrapped and we’ll have to start paying for our roaming again.

Clearly, these rules will benefit many British holidaymakers this coming summer. Although there are restrictions with regards to data usage, this won’t affect the majority of us, who will enjoy sunning ourselves in the knowledge that we can use our mobile telephone as we would at home. Bonnes vacances!