Using your mobile abroad
Since 31 December 2020, the EU rules on roaming charges no longer 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 operators have 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. Some consumer protection measures (e.g. welcome messages, data roaming limits etc.) remain in place and apply regardless of the country you use your mobile phone in.
For general guidance on roaming and to help you understand the protections that remain in place we’ve put together 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.
Regardless of where you travel, when you enter another country, your provider must send you an automatic message (unless you have opted out of receiving such messages) notifying you of basic pricing information.
Companies must give customers at least a month’s notice of any changes to their contract that would particularly disadvantage them. Customers have the right to exit their contract without being penalised in these situations. We have advice for customers on how these rules work.
Data roaming limits
Unless you have opted into a different limit, providers are required to apply a £45 a month (excluding VAT) cut-off limit on data regardless of where you travel in the world.
Your provider must send you an alert to your mobile device when you reach 80% and then 100% of the agreed data roaming limit. Operators must stop charging for data at the 100% point unless you agree to continue to use data.
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.
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 e.g. Ireland.
Some providers may choose to continue to offer ‘roam like at home’ tariffs which could prevent inadvertent roaming from resulting in additional charges. However, where this is not the case, providers must take reasonable steps to protect customers from paying those additional charges and must make information available on how to avoid 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 or 4G 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.
Please note: The worldwide data limits do not apply to roaming whilst on a ferry or cruise.
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 Mobile, Vodafone, EE or O2 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 as a result 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/stolen
|Provider||Dialling from the UK||Dialling 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|