5 ways to save money on mobile roaming this summer

Along with all the other price increases we’re facing during the cost of living crisis, roaming charges for using your calls, texts and data while in Europe are making a comeback. Of the big four UK mobile networks, EE, Three and Vodafone have already announced that they are reintroducing roaming charges for customers traveling in Europe.

That leaves just O2 and a collection of smaller networks still offering free roaming in the EU. Depending on the terms of your contract, mobile roaming can end up being extortionate in Europe, and even more expensive further afield.

However, there are a number of ways to cut your costs while traveling, from switching providers to getting a roaming-friendly pay-as-you-go Sim, or even a local Sim card in the country you’re visiting.

See how your mobile provider ranks in our survey of the best and worst UK mobile networks.

1. Stick to using wi-fi

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. It’s pretty common to get free wi-fi in holiday accommodation these days, and bars, restaurants and other venues will often be happy to provide you with a password for their public wi-fi. This is the easiest way to make savings on roaming costs, and can cover you in most situations if you’re frequenting the same spots.

In terms of whether it’s safe to use public wi-fi, if you stick to legitimate wi-fi networks of the venues you’re visiting (don’t just try and hop onto any available network), avoid those who request too much personal data to sign up, and you’re only using it for general browsing rather than more sensitive activities, like online banking, you should be fine.

Read our guide to mobile roaming costs to find out more about using your phone abroad.

2. Pick a provider that doesn’t charge for EU roaming

If you’re traveling within the EU, there are still providers that allow you to use your UK bundle at no extra cost. Check the table below for a summary of mobile providers that offer free EU roaming, and click the links to view SIM prices.

Information correct as of 6 July 2022. 1Giffgaff has said that from 9 August 2022 it will cap roaming allowance at 5GB per month from any Goodybags 2Tesco EU roaming is currently free, but will change from January 2023 for new and upgrading customers.

Always check the terms and conditions in case anything has changed since the last time you traveled, make sure the country you’re traveling to is included, and be aware of any data usage limits. If you use more than a certain amount of data while traveling, you might start being charged for roaming.

Switching mobile provider is now easier than ever. And you can use Which? Switch Mobile to find the best cheap Sim-only deals.

Mobile phone coverage in cities

3. Traveling outside the EU? Look for a good roaming package

Providers who have reintroduced roaming charges are now offering roaming add-ons. You pay a set fee to be allowed to use your bundle of calls, texts and data in a different country than you would in the UK. Bear in mind that when charged ‘per day’, this can be either 24 hours from first use, or until 11.59pm (UK time) from when you start using it, depending on the provider.

Having to pay for these add-ons may be worth it if you don’t want to switch, or try one of the other methods below, but they could easily add £30 or more per person to the cost of a two-week holiday.

As always, make sure you read the terms and conditions carefully so that you don’t end up with a shockingly high bill when you return home.

It’s even more important to keep on top of your mobile usage while abroad, as you can be hit with data caps and excess usage charges. Read our tips on how to keep track of your data and minutes.

4. Buy a Pay As You Go (PAYG) Sim just for your holiday

If your mobile provider is charging for mobile roaming but you don’t want to switch provider, you could just buy a Sim for your travels and swap it into your phone. If you have a phone with a dual-Sim slot, you can keep your existing Sim and use your phone settings to switch between them when you go on vacation.

You’ll have a new phone number, but this could be manageable. For example, you could set up a new Whatsapp profile called ‘(Your Name – holiday Sim)’ and then share this new number with people you will need to contact while traveling.

The table below shows how much a range of providers charge for PAYG call and data costs, including when you roam in the EU. You could buy a second Sim on a rolling monthly contract, but the obvious advantage of PAYG is that there are no recurring fees – you top up your call credit manually and then only pay for what you use. However, check the T&Cs on PAYG deals, as they usually require you to use the Sim (eg: make a call, or use data) periodically to ensure it is not deactivated.

Bear in mind the cost per minute or data could soon add up if you want to use your phone frequently, so this PAYG option might be best if you will only use your phone occasionally, for low-data activities like sending text-only messages, or for emergencies.

Haggling mobile phone 446434

5. Get a local Sim card

If you are traveling to a destination on a longer trip, or return to the same country multiple times a year, it might be worth getting a local Sim card.

As with getting a PAYG Sim, this would involve getting a new number.

Depending on how long you will be in the country and how much you expect to use your phone, you can either get a prepaid Sim card, or sign up to a rolling monthly deal.

You can buy a prepaid Sim card when you arrive in the country, which includes a local phone number and a bundle of calls, texts and data that you can top up as often as needed. These are often available from airports, or mobile phone stores and newsagents.

You will then be able to make calls, send texts and use data just like you would at home, but without paying any roaming fees.

A prepaid Sim card is usually valid for 6 months from the moment you activate it, or from each time you top up.

  • In Spain with Movistar, the largest mobile provider in the country, €10 will get you 40GB of data and unlimited calls and texts to use over a month, or €20 gets 140GB of data.
  • Alternatively, you could get a rolling monthly deal, which with Movistar starts at €7.48 per month for 8GB of data and unlimited calls and texts, but it will increase to €14.95 per month after three months.

Do some research before you travel. It’s easy enough to navigate the websites of providers in other countries using your internet browser’s automatic page translation. You don’t necessarily need to buy anything in advance, or know exactly what you want, but being aware of the options before you arrive means you know exactly what to look for.

For more general advice and tips on cutting costs, read our 10 ways to save money on your mobile phone bill.

Other things to consider when using your phone abroad

Before you leave on your travels, it’s also worth considering the following:

  • Spend caps: Your mobile provider should have a spending cap to help you avoid inadvertently racking up high bills. Once you hit this, you’ll need to request it is removed to keep using your phone connection. Hopefully, if you’ve followed our advice, you won’t ever need to.
  • Double-check T&Cs: More and more providers are reintroducing roaming charges, so always double-check the situation before you go away. If you’re traveling outside the EU, make sure you find out what charges are involved for your destination.
  • Turn off roaming: If you will be incurring a charge to roam, or are with a provider that charges you for a roaming package when you use your data abroad, keep roaming switched off in your phone settings until you really need it.
  • Use a hotspot: If someone else you are traveling with has a roaming package, you could use their phone as a wifi hotspot and connect to it with your phone. Just double-check that your roaming package allows this – sometimes referred to as ‘tethering’.
  • Do your prep: There are a number of things you can do in advance of a holiday to save data abroad. Read our guide on how to prepare your mobile phone for holidays abroad for more tips and ideas.

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