The long awaited European Union (EU) law to abolish roaming charges for people using their mobile phones abroad has now come into force.
Under the new rules those travelling within the EU will be able to call, text and browse the internet on mobile devices at the same price they pay at home. The European Commission considers the legislation one of its greatest successes, and it should mean the end of shock bills when returning home from another EU country.
Until now roaming, or connection charges have been added to the cost of calls, texts and data when consumers from one EU country travelled to another and, connected to a foreign mobile network. News reports have previously highlighted customers running up bills in the £1,000's when inadvertently streaming TV shows and other media, or using the internet.
Which charges have been dropped?
Now phone calls and text messages can be sent as they would back home, with no extra charges. If texts and calls are included in your pay monthly or pay as you go plan, it’s the same charge for doing so abroad as doing it back home.
Consumers can also call and text to someone back in the UK just they would when at home, without any extra charges.
Cross-border texts and calls carry costs, so a call to France or Italy from the UK isn’t free, even if using your mobile over there is.
In a statement the European Commission said: “Each time a European citizen crossed an EU border, be it for holidays, work, studies or just for a day, they had to worry about using their mobile phones and a high phone bill from the roaming charges when they came home.”
Exceeding agreed minutes, texts and data would still be charged in the EU as it would in the UK, with providers charging different rates
Watch out for data – still!
When it comes to calls and text, the new rules are pretty straightforward, heavy data users might want to take note though. Ostensibly, data use is the same as back home – mobile phone owners can stream, upload, make skype calls, use Whatsapp etc.. But the new rules allow providers to impose “fair use” policies which means that monthly data allowances might not be the same as when using mobile internet in the UK.
Each of the four major UK operators have different allowances.
EE: EU data is capped at 15GB per month. So if your allowance is less than that, you’ll pay for extra data as usual. If it is more, users will have to purchase an add-on.
Vodafone: Vodafone’s terms and conditions do not define a data cap.
O2: There is no data cap for pay monthly or business customers, and most pay as you go customers. Those pay as you go customers who have bought the £30 Big Bundle – which includes 20GB of data – will have their roaming data capped at 10GB. After that you’ll have to buy a bolt-on.
Three: Pay monthly users have a 12GB limit and pay as you go users is now 9GB, so even if your domestic allowance is above that, your data might be suspended.
Additionally, each operator also has restrictions on certain uses of data, mainly tethering a laptop to your phone.
Which countries are covered?
EU roaming rules cover the 28 countries in the EU.
Those countries are: Austria, Azores ,Belgium, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, French Guiana, Germany, Gibraltar (UK), Greece, Guadeloupe, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madeira, Malta, Martinique, Poland, Portugal, Reunion Islands, Romania, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin (French), San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands and Vatican City.
Some operators are also covering countries in the European Economic Area, such as Iceland, and Norway. Customers are advised to check coverage with their operator before heading to EEA countries.
GiffGaff customers beware
GiffGaff customers should note that, while it is forced to comply with ‘Roam like home' legislation for EU countries, it is increasing charges for countries outside of the European Economic Area (EEA), which include Switzerland, Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Monaco.
Along comes Brexit to spoil the party
No-one knows what will happen after Brexit. Operators that feel they are losing out, might backtrack and re-implement roaming charges. As citizens of a non-EU country, Brits will no longer have the automatic right roam freely. There is the possibility of negotiations between the EU and the British Government coming up with equivalent measures, but it's probably not something that is high on their list. Only time will tell, in the meantime, customers are encouraged to enjoy their new mobile roaming freedom.