30th June 2015
Data roaming charges for using smartphones within the European Union will be abolished by June 2017 under a new ruling.
The European Commission says that over the preceding 14 months, providers will be able to add surcharges at a reduced rate.
This summer caps will remain as they have been since 1 July 2014, as set out in the current EU roaming rules (€0.19 per minute of call made, €0.06 per SMS sent, and €0.20 per MB of data, excl. VAT).
From April 2016, prices will be even cheaper: operators will be able to charge a small additional amount to domestic prices up to €0.05 per minute of call made, €0.02 per SMS sent, and €0.05 per MB of data (excl. VAT).
Gautam Srivastava, mobiles expert at MoneySuperMarket says: “The end of roaming charges in the EU is a massive win for customers both in the UK and in Europe. This is a fantastic signal of intent by the European Commission to move toward a free and fair single digital market in the EU which will mean even greater freedom for customers.
“Whilst European roaming charges have been falling since 2007 and caps have been put in place – many customers still suffer bill shock when travelling in Europe. From June 2017 though, you’ll be able to use your mobile in the EU as you would do right here in the UK – so no more worrying about data limits or making and receiving calls when you’re on your holidays.
“However, customers should note that whilst this is great news for travel to European destinations, if you’re travelling outside the EU you could still be stung by roaming charges. Data prices outside of the EU can be as high as £8 per MB of data used – although there is a 50 Euro cap across all networks. This cap currently applies to roaming charges both inside and outside the EU but, beware that if you opt in to a travel package with your network you could be opting out of this cap – so always check first.”
But Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch.com, is disappointed at the length of time it will take for the new rules to come in.
He says: We’ve heard this before. Data roaming charges were due to be abolished in the EU at the end of 2015 and the U-turn confused and frustrated people.
“Mid 2017 is a long way off, particularly when a fifth of UK holidaymakers have returned home from an EU trip in the past year to find their bill was, on average, £61 higher than usual – amounting to £573 million collectively. Of these, around one in six had to pay upwards of £100 on top of their normal bill.
“Let’s hope there’ll be no more backtracking after Europe’s mobile networks have had their say.
“The ‘safeguards’ to address the recovery of costs by operators will have to be suitably robust to financially protect mobile customers and make sure bills don’t rise.
“The second announcement, on net neutrality, is a big step with positive implications for consumers. If providers cannot prioritise some services over others then, essentially, it’s a move away from a two tier internet model.
“But it’s early days and, like the debates over scrapping EU roaming charges, these good intentions could still unravel.”
As data roaming charges will not be scrapped until June 2017, MoneySuperMarket offers some tips on how to avoid a bill shock in the meantime:
Before you travel speak to your UK network and see if they have bundles for your destination. These can be really reasonably priced (normally around £3-£5 per day) and end up saving you a small fortune. Be aware though, some of these packages opt you out of the 50 Euro cap.
Use free Wi-Fi hotspots
Free WI-FI is readily available with hotels and restaurants of course – but now increasingly in pubs and bars, public spaces and even museums offering access. Ask around, you’ll be surprised by what you might find.
Use over the top services
Data usage is capped in the EU but calls and texts aren’t – avoid these inflated charges by downloading apps that use data calling/messaging such as Whatsapp, Skype, Viber and Facebook Messenger. With these apps you’ll be able to call and text but using data rather than your network. This is free if you’re connected to WI-FI.
Get a local SIM
If you don’t need to keep your number whilst abroad look at investing in a local SIM card. This will be much cheaper to make calls with within your destination and should come with a bundle of data. Be careful to check the call costs though as calling back to the UK could be expensive and if you give your number out those calling you will be charged international rates.
If you are looking at getting a local SIM card for your phone think about a mobile dongle or ‘hotspot’ – this is particularly useful if you’re travelling with others. With a dongle you can get a local SIM and transmit mobile data into your own personal Wi-Fi network. So rather than getting a new SIM card each, you can all log on to this bit of a kit. It won’t be incredibly fast but is great for browsing and doing simple tasks.
Download maps before you go
Maps use GPS to navigate rather than data – so if you download the maps you need before you go you can use them at no additional cost.