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No More EU Roaming Charges: What It Means For Travelers

In Get Connected by Dave Dean5 Comments

After years of negotiations and promises, the day finally arrived last week. From June 15, mobile roaming charges were banned across the European Union. With a few exceptions, mobile operators in the EU can no longer charge additional fees to their customers for using their phones anywhere else in the region. It’s a huge win for customers, getting rid of ‘bill shock’ after returning from a vacation or business trip, and saving time and hassle buying local SIM cards in each country.

Before breaking out the party balloons, though, it’s worth digging into the fine print. There are a few wrinkles to be aware of, which can still result in unexpected charges for the unwary. Here’s what you need to know.

Where Can You Roam?

View from the balloon, Lake Bled

This change applies in 31 destinations: the 28 countries of the European Union, plus the European Economic Area (EEA) nations of Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein.

For now, that includes the United Kingdom. There’s no information yet on what will happen after the date it’s due to leave the EU (March 2019) — as with everything else to do with Brexit, it’ll be entirely subject to negotiation. Given that UK mobile companies like Three have been offering a similar roaming service for a few years, though, high charges for UK-based customers, at least, would seem unlikely to reappear after that time.

Note that other than the three EEA nations mentioned above, other European countries aren’t covered. That includes places like Switzerland and Turkey, as well as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Some mobile companies have chosen to axe roaming charges in a few of these countries as well, but since it’s not legally required, you need to check the details on a case-by-case basis.

What’s Covered?

Alhambra with snow

The slogan that accompanies this change is “Roam Like at Home”, not “Roam for Free”, and that’s a useful distinction.

What it means is that, with a few exceptions mentioned below, you can be charged no more for calls, data and texts across the EU than you would have been at home. This includes bundled packages, so if you’ve got a monthly deal that gives you 500 minutes of calls, 500 texts, and 500MB of data, for instance, you can’t be charged any more to use them in other EU countries.

This includes making texts and calls to numbers from any of the other EU/EEA countries while roaming. So, if you’re a customer of a German mobile company, and you’re roaming in France, you can call and text French, German, and Italian numbers, for example, at no extra charge.

This doesn’t apply when in your home country, though — there, when calling outside national borders, you’ll pay whatever your normal international calling/texting rate is.

If your package includes unlimited calls or texts, that continues to apply while roaming. Data, though, can be a different story. The regulations allow for some restrictions on those who have an unlimited or “very cheap” data package at home, so those who expect to use a large amount of data overseas need to check the fine print carefully.

If the full amount of your data allowance isn’t going to be available while roaming, the formula that’s used is relatively simple. The example given by the EU regulator illustrates it nicely:
 

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.

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).

 
That €7.7 euro figure is the wholesale rate that mobile companies pay each other for 1GB of data, and will drop over the next few years. As it does, expect the amount of included roaming data to rise proportionally.

Note that the formula gives the minimum amount of roaming data to be provided at no extra cost on high-use plans, and companies are free to offer more — some already are.

If you go over your allowance, you can be charged no more than that €7.7/GB amount on the extra usage. Overage charges on calls and texts are 3.2c/minute and 1c respectively.

Who Does It Apply To?

View from Ithaca

According to the regulations, ‘roam like at home’ applies to residents of the EU/EEC, who are customers of a mobile company in their home country, but roaming elsewhere in the region on a temporary basis. The way they pay for their service makes no difference — it applies to contract, post-paid, and prepaid (Pay as You Go) customers alike.

Theoretically, then, if you’re not an EU resident, mobile companies aren’t obligated to offer you “roam like at home” pricing. That’s potentially bad news for visitors from elsewhere in the world, who plan to buy a SIM card in the first EU country they visit, then use it across the continent.

Practically, though, many carriers are unlikely to bother trying to restrict their service like this. I spoke to a customer service representative for EE, the largest mobile company in the UK, who confirmed international visitors will be treated the same as any other prepaid customer. As long as they abide by the standard fair use policy, they can roam across the EU like anybody else.

My advice for international tourists planning to use a SIM in this way, though, is to ask this specific question before purchase. Each operator is different, and especially in cheaper Eurozone countries, some may look to keep their costs down by enforcing this part of the regulations.

One thing’s for sure, though: this definitely doesn’t apply if you’re not a customer of an EU mobile company. In other words, don’t expect to show up in Germany, switch on your phone with a SIM from the United States, Australia, or other non-EU/EEA countries, and avoid roaming charges. You’ll be hit just as hard by those now as you would have been last week.

 

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What Else Do I Need to Know?

Probably the only other thing worth mentioning is that this roaming policy is intended for people traveling temporarily to other EU countries, not digital nomads, or those moving from a cheap country to an expensive one and trying to keep their costs down.

The basic rule is that, over a four month period, you’re covered by the new regulations as long as you’re spending more than half your time in your “home” country, or more than half your phone usage is in that country. If not, your carrier can contact you, then start charging the same overage rates mentioned above.

If you’re on a tourist visa, and can’t stay in the EU that long anyway, this is unlikely to affect you, but it’s worth noting.


There’s no doubt that the end of almost all roaming charges across the EU is a big win for customers, one that’s been more than a decade in the making. If you’re a resident of one of the 31 affected countries — and likely, even if you’re not — the cost of staying connected while traveling there has just become much more certain, and far less expensive, than ever before.

That gets two big thumbs-up from us.

EU flags image via verkeorg

Roaming charges have been largely abolished across the European Union, but not in every case. Here's what travelers need to know to avoid unexpected costs.
About the Author

Dave Dean

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Founder and editor of Too Many Adapters, Dave has been a wanderer for nearly 20 years and a geek for even longer. When he's not playing with the latest tech toy or working out how to keep his phone charged for just a few more minutes, he can probably be found sitting in a broken down bus in some obscure corner of the planet.

Comments

  1. That sounds great, Dave. I’ll be in the EU for 30 days, with 10 in Ireland, 5 in Scotland, 11 in London and the balance in Copenhagen. If I’m reading this correctly, I need only buy a SIM card upon arrival in Ireland and I’ll be good for the entire trip. That’s fabulous, though I will enquire of the company in Ireland if such coverage is applicable for tourists (or I’ll let ’em think I’ll be a customer for decades).

    1. Author

      You’re reading it right – as long as coverage isn’t restricted for tourists, you’ll only need that one SIM. 🙂

  2. This is a great article, thanks for your coverage. I’m going on a Baltic Sea cruise starting Thursday that departs from Stockholm, Sweden. I’ll be stopping in Finland, Russia, Estonia, and Latvia. Obviously the only country not in the EU is Russia, so excluding that country, if I buy a prepaid SIM with any carrier in Sweden, then it will work just fine at the rest of the countries on my cruise?

    Thanks for your help.

    1. Author

      Assuming they don’t restrict roaming because you’re a tourist, you should be fine. Bear in mind it’ll only work when you’re in range of a land-based cellular tower from one of those countries, though.

  3. Jarrett,

    While within range of your ships wireless may be an issue, I have a tmobile plan in the states with basically free everything international, except for marine cellular, was on a 24 day cruise and got home to a $1200 bill for the times my phone switched to the ship’s cell network t mobile was kind enough to eat it, but with the warning in the future not to let my phone access marine nwtworks, keep in mind it happens automatically, the phone will jump on them when it’s the oNE in range so you might want to look into how that might effect you with this new plan and your cruise

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