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World Cup fans face £1,000 roaming bill in Qatar: How to cut costs

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Written by: Rebecca Goodman
10/11/2022
Brits travelling to Qatar for the World Cup next week may be faced with bills of almost £1,000 a week for using their phone abroad, stark figures reveal.

The country charges some of the highest roaming fees for mobile data, calls and texts.

Just one major provider, Vodafone, includes Qatar in its standard international bundle deal and those using it would pay no more than £42.

The month-long tournament starts on 20 November and over a million football fans are expected to travel to Qatar for it.

Big differences in provider charges

Most providers use the government’s £45 monthly cap for worldwide roaming charges when using data.

People are usually alerted when they’re coming close to the monthly limit. When they reach it they won’t be able to use their phone for data without topping it up with credit or buying a new bundle, which can usually be done online.

Only three providers do not follow this. Lebara Mobile has a £42 monthly cap, Tesco Mobile, £40, and Vodafone, has a limit of £39.33, although it lets travellers use their UK allowance if they buy a £6/day roaming bundle for Qatar which would cost £42 for a week.

But costs vary considerably between providers. Lebara Mobile, for example, charges £14.99 per MB used while Giffgaff charges 20p.

This means the cap could be easily reached if a traveller is using one of the most expensive providers while they’re in the country.

There also isn’t an equivalent cap for calls and texts which could lead to some people having unexpectedly high mobile bills after a trip abroad.

The most expensive and cheapest providers

Travellers using iD Mobile, Virgin Mobile, and Lebara Mobile will face some of the highest costs when in Qatar, according to the data from comparison website Uswitch.

It calculated how much a week’s stay could cost by using the example of someone using 1GB a day of mobile data, 20 minutes of calls per day, and sending 10 texts per day

People with iD Mobile face the highest costs based on this scenario. The provider charges £9.60 per MB of data which means someone could download less than 5MB, the equivalent of one song, before hitting the monthly £45 data wall.

It also charges the highest costs for making overseas calls and texts from Qatar, with phone calls home charged at £6 per minute and each text costing £1.20. Someone using 1GB of data, making a 20-minute call, and sending ten texts a day could end up with a bill of £969 for a week’s trip.

The second-most expensive provider is Lebara Mobile, which has a monthly roaming cap of £42. It charges £14.99 per MB when using data in the country, £3.49 per minute for calls, and 49p per text.

Uswitch said at these prices, the provider’s monthly roaming data limit would be reached after using just 2.8MB, the equivalent of browsing one web page. Those using Lebara could be faced with a bill of £787 for using their phone in Qatar for seven days.

After Vodafone, the cheapest provider is Sky Mobile, where a week’s roaming bill could be £155, based on Uswitch’s analysis. It charges 36p per MB, 72p per minute for calls, and 14p per text.

Of the big four UK providers, O2 charges the most at £7.20 per MB for data. Three charges £6 per MB, EE only allows customers to roam by buying a daily data pass, which costs £6.85 for 150MB of data.

Cut costs with wi-fi and using a local network

There are a few ways to cut costs while in Qatar. One is using public wi-fi areas, which are widely available in the country.

Another option is using a local network. Overseas football fans will be given a Hayya card which gives them access to the games, along with a host of other benefits including free public transport. It also includes a pre-paid SIM, which is valid for three days.

It includes 2,022MB(2GB) of data, 2,022 local texts and 2,022 local calls. It can be topped up during the tournament from QR 25 (£6) for two days’ unlimited data.

Before you travel to Qatar, download anything you might need on your phone such as World Cup apps, maps, films, or games so you can save your data roaming allowance for essential use.

It’s also cheaper to use a web-based messenger app such as Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger for making phone calls. You can do this via a wi-fi network (or your data roaming) and it should be cheaper than using your phone for calls.

‘Unwanted penalty’

Catherine Hiley, mobiles expert at Uswitch.com, comments: “The thousands of Brits heading to Qatar could find themselves facing an unwanted penalty if they aren’t careful to avoid the huge fees for mobile use in the Gulf state.

“Before you go to the tournament, make sure you know what your network will charge while you’re out there for calls, data and texts.

“With the majority of providers not including Middle Eastern countries in their standard roaming packages, the charges for mobile data can be severe. So it’s worth turning roaming off on your smartphone for the duration of your stay.”

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