Travelling abroad? Want to avoid high mobile charges?

Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going.
(Paul Theroux).

As the holiday season reaches its peak, many people, be they tourists or travellers will be going abroad for their annual vacation.  While technology in general and the Internet in particular have made the world smaller, accessing the Internet via mobile phones, laptops and tablets abroad can make phone bills bigger.

Recent changes to regulations have meant that a standard tariff applies to calls, Internet access and texts in the EU.  At present it costs around 24 Euro cents a minute (about 20p) to make a phone call and 7 Euro cents (about 6p) a minute to receive a call. It cost 45 Euro cents (38.5p) per megabyte (MB), plus VAT to use the internet and around 8 Euro cents (7p) to send a text. Texts you receive are free.  These tariffs also apply in parts of Europe outside the EU though not in Switzerland and Turkey

If your holiday destination is outside the EU, check the cost of calls, texts and using the Internet – called roaming charges – with your mobile phone provider before leaving the UK. Ask if there are any special deals available which can help making using your mobile abroad cheaper.

If you have a mobile phone contract, don’t assume that free call minutes included in your phone contract are also included when you travel abroad. You may still have to pay for the calls you make outside the UK.

Download what you need (and is legally available) before you travel.  Downloading or streaming films will be expensive abroad, particularly outside EU countries, so download what you need using your home Wi-Fi connection before you travel.  In July 2013 it costs around £6 to £8 per megabyte (MB) of data to use the internet outside the EU. The BBC estimates that watching a 60 minute iPlayer video over 3G networks can use between 50MB and 225MB of data. At £8 per MB that would cost between £400 and £1,800.

All European Union mobile providers must apply a cut-off limit once you have used 50 Euros of data per month (around £40), wherever you travel in the world, unless you choose to opt out. They must send you a text or email when you reach 80% and then 100% of this limit. They should then cut-off your mobile internet service unless you re-authorise your account. This will happen automatically unless you opt out.

Finally, here are a few further tips

  • Smartphones and 3G/4G enabled tablets automatically seek out internet connections and use them to update apps. This cost can mount up, especially outside Europe. Turning off data roaming before you go abroad will stop this happening
  • Use locally available WiFi (for example at your hotel) to use the Internet and facilities like Skype and Facetime.  You don’t need data roaming to access WiFi
  • You may be prompted to opt out if you buy a large data roaming bundle or tariff which takes you over the 50 Euro limit. If you’re not sure, contact your mobile provider.
  • If you are a parent, take the same precautions with any phones used by your children.
  • Put a passcode on your phone to make it more difficult for thieves to use.

Other useful information can be found at the Ofcom guide to using your smartphone or tablet abroad at

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