Using your mobile abroad

Published: 20 July 2023

Since 31 December 2020, the EU rules on roaming charges ceased to apply in the UK. This means that, like other destinations, the amount your mobile provider can charge you for using your mobile phone in EU countries, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein is no longer capped.

Each of the UK mobile providers has different approaches to roaming charges and fair use policies. It is important to check with your provider to see what their approach is before you use your mobile abroad.

Since 1 July 2022, the roaming rules as previously set out in UK legislation no longer apply. These covered things like roaming welcome messages and data roaming spend limits. Some providers still provide these services on a voluntary basis. Ofcom has been looking into the options for roaming protections for customers. We do not have the power to stop mobile providers charging customers for using their services when travelling, so this work has not looked at the level of roaming prices. Ofcom recently announced that new roaming protections will apply from 1 October 2024. We will update this page when the new protections are in place.

For general advice on roaming, and to help you understand the protections that remain in place at the moment, we have answered some frequently-asked questions

Under Ofcom rules providers must publish details of their standard tariffs, including standard roaming charges, on their website. However, if you are having difficulty finding them or you are concerned by the costs, speak to your provider before you travel to understand the charges for the country you are visiting and any packages or discounted rates it may offer.

When you enter another country, some providers may send you an automatic message (unless you have opted out of receiving such messages) notifying you of basic pricing information. It is important to check with your provider to see what their approach is before you plan to use your mobile abroad.

Phone providers may change the terms of your contract with them but they must give you at least one month's notice and a right to exit the contract without penalty if the change does not benefit you. However, you won’t have the right to exit the contract if the change being made is:

  1. exclusively to your benefit, for example a speed upgrade;
  2. purely administrative and has no negative effect on you, for example a change in the address or bank details of your provider; or
  3. directly imposed by law, for example, a change in the rate of VAT.

Some providers have contracts which set out that the monthly prices you pay will increase at certain times during the contract, for example increasing by inflation each year. This should be made clear to you when you sign the contract so you know what you will have to pay at different points in the contract. If this was made clear at the point you entered the contract, you won’t have the right to exit without penalty when the increase takes place.

We have advice for customers on how these rules work.

Setting a limit on your bill

Your provider should offer you the option to set a bill limit or spend cap when you enter or renew a contract. Or you can request one, amend or remove an existing one, on reasonable notice at any time.

A bill limit allows you to you set a monthly spend limit on your bill. Once this bill limit is set, your provider must notify you when the limit is likely to be reached, and it can only be exceeded with your express consent.

See our guide for more tips about how to set mobile bill limits.

Providers are required to give up to date billing information to customers. Your provider should also notify you when a service included in your tariff plan is fully used up. This alert should include information on the charges you will need to pay if you continue to use the service.

Some providers may also offer data roaming limits on a voluntary basis. For example, providers may continue to apply a £45 a month (excluding VAT) cut-off limit on data regardless of where you travel in the world.

Your provider may also send you an alert to your mobile device when you reach 80% and then 100% of the agreed data roaming limit and stop charging for data at the 100% point, unless you agree to continue to use data It is important to check with your provider to see what their approach is before you plan to use your mobile abroad.

Turn off data roaming

To help you manage when your phone accesses data, you can turn off data roaming on your handset.

Use wifi where available

If you want to regularly browse the web on your phone, use local wifi hotspots instead of your phone's mobile internet connection.

You can usually access wifi in places like cafes, restaurants and hotels, sometimes for free, or you can pay to access the internet for a set time period. Some phone apps can seek out wifi networks and prompt you to connect to them so that you don't have to do this manually.

This is particularly useful for downloading maps, checking emails or browsing social networks – all of which would otherwise soon rack up data charges if a mobile internet connection was used. Remember, you don't need 'data roaming' switched on to access wifi. But this does mean you will need to stay within range of the wifi to avoid losing your connection. If you haven't turned data roaming off while using wifi and the wifi signal drops, your phone may automatically seek out a mobile network to keep you connected and you may therefore incur data charges.

General advice

If you're not using wifi, avoid data-heavy activities such as watching videos, updating social media with photos or downloading music. Also, if you are checking emails, avoid opening large attachments. Alternatively, it might be worth considering buying a SIM for the country you are visiting.

See our guide for more tips on avoiding bill shock.

If you live in border areas such as those in Northern Ireland, you may experience ‘inadvertent roaming’. This is when a mobile signal in a border region is stronger from the country across the border, like Ireland for example.

Some providers may choose to continue to offer ‘roam like at home’ tariffs which could prevent inadvertent roaming from resulting in additional charges, or offer refunds or other support for customers affected by inadvertent roaming.

If you have any concerns about inadvertent roaming, Ofcom would encourage you to speak with your provider.

Mobile phones used in coastal areas or at sea may not be able to connect to land-based 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G networks and may instead seek out the ship’s satellite connection. Charges can therefore be higher than normal roaming.

If you think you will need to use your phone at sea, check with your provider before you travel to see how much it will cost to use your phone via a satellite connection. You could consider manually selecting a preferred network on your handset while you are on the boat/ship to avoid satellite connections but signals can vary and this will mean you wouldn't receive calls or texts when out of range of the selected network.

Be extra careful when taking your phone abroad as thieves often target tourists.

You should take care when using your phone in public, don't let it out of your possession.

Not only are many smartphones worth hundreds of pounds, but thieves can quickly rack up huge bills on stolen phones.

You may be liable for all charges run up on your phone when it goes missing up until you report it as lost or stolen to your provider.

If your phone goes missing and you are with Three, Virgin Media O2, Vodafone or EE for mobile services, you should only be responsible for paying up to a maximum of £100 for any unauthorised usage outside of your allowance - if you report your phone as missing within 24 hours.

If you are with Vodafone and you miss the 24 hours but report your phone as missing within five days, you should only be responsible for paying up to £500 for unauthorised usage outside of your allowance. See the Government's announcement.

Therefore, if your phone goes missing when you're abroad, it's important you contact your provider as soon as possible to avoid facing high charges because of unauthorised use. Even if there's a slim chance you may find your phone, it's worth talking to your provider about whether a temporary bar can be placed on your account.

Once you have reported your phone as lost or stolen, your provider can bar your SIM to stop calls being made on your account. Your provider can also stop anyone else from using your phone by blocking its IMEI, a unique 15-digit serial number. You can get your IMEI number by keying *#06# into your handset or by looking behind your phone battery. Make a record of this number, as well as the make and model of your handset and keep it somewhere safe.

You can also download an app which can trace your phone if it is lost or stolen and can enable you to wipe details remotely – such as findmyiphone and Android Device Manager.

Some mobile insurance policies may provide some cover for unauthorised use so it is worth checking the terms and conditions of your existing policy, or when considering a new policy.

Remember, if you do decide to take out mobile phone insurance, you may be obliged to let your insurer know if your phone is lost or stolen within a certain time frame too.

You should still also let your mobile phone provider know.

Make sure you put a passcode on both your handset and SIM to make it more difficult for thieves to use.

The Met's guide on protecting your phone is also a useful source of advice on how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of phone crime.

How to report your phone lost or stolen

ProviderDialling from the UKDialling from abroad
3 333 (Three phone) 0333 373 3333 (any other phone) +44 7782 333 333
EE 07953 966 250 +44 7953 966 250
O2 0344 809 0202  (pay-monthly) 0344 809 0222 (PAYG) +44 344 809 0202 (pay-monthly) +44 344 809 0222 (PAYG)
Vodafone 03333 040191 +44 7836 191 191 (pay-monthly) +44 7836 191 919 (PAYG)
Tesco Mobile 4455 (Tesco Mobile phone) 0345 301 4455 (any other phone) +44 845 3014455
Virgin Mobile 789 (Virgin Media phone) 0345 6000 789 (any other phone) +44 7953 967 967

This depends on the type of phone you have, the arrangements your mobile provider has with the networks in the country you’re visiting, and whether the 2G and 3G networks are still available in that country.

Some countries have started to switch off their 2G and 3G networks and this might affect your roaming experience. In some cases, you might not be able to make calls or use data unless you are connected to WiFi (especially if you have an older phone model).

Each country has a different timetable for switching off 3G. The USA, for example, has already switched off all of its 3G networks. It's important to speak to your provider before you travel.

We have published a guide to 3G switch-off in the UK.

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