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Mobile roaming charge confusion: How to avoid shock bills

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As Brits gear up for the summer break, holidaymakers are warned to check their mobile phone contract terms after a host of providers brought back roaming charges following Brexit.

Although the UK government imposed a roaming data cap of £45 a month to mitigate the impact of higher mobile costs when Brits are travelling abroad, it doesn’t include calls or texts.

Price comparison site Uswitch has warned that outside of Europe, mobile users can run up serious bills in no time at all.

Mobile providers have gradually brought back EU roaming fees but according to Uswitch, it found a quarter of customers had no idea what costs they face when using their phone abroad.

Three, EE, Sky and Vodafone have brought in roaming charges while Virgin Media O2 has committed to free EU roaming.

While roaming fees for EU countries usually come to less than £14 for a week’s holiday, Uswitch warned that charges can quickly add up for further afield destinations – particularly in Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Some providers such as Vodafone let customers use their domestic monthly allowance of calls, texts and data while on holiday outside the EU for £6 a day, meaning a week’s break will cost no more than £42 in the 156 destinations it covers.

But, many popular destinations are excluded from overseas data, call or text bundles.

‘Brits likely to face extra charges for phone use’

Uswitch found holidaymakers travelling to Egypt face charges of up to £7.20 a MB for data, calls costing £5 a minute, and texts billed at 60p each. This means that a holidaymaker using 1GB of data, making 20 minutes of calls and sending 10 texts a day could end up with a £787 bill within a week.

A huge variation in charges between providers means Brits visiting Turkey can pay £2 a day with Sky Mobile to access their full mobile plan allowance, while those on EE would need to spend over £20 to get a similar deal.

A Virgin Mobile customer visiting Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, UAE or Saudi Arabia will be charged £5 per minute for making a call or checking their voicemail, and 60p for sending a text.

Uswitch has come up with the following roaming red list (click to expand):

With glaring differences between countries and providers, for one in four people, they will use their phone less on holiday as they’re confused about charges.

Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at Uswitch, said: “Millions of Brits will soon be enjoying a hard-earned holiday abroad, and thoughts about the cost of using their mobile will be far from their mind.

“For many, it will be their first foreign holiday since EU roaming fees returned, so it’s important to remember that you’re now likely to face extra charges for using your phone.”

He added: “If you regularly travel abroad, it may be worth considering switching to a provider without EU roaming fees, or looking at a 30-day SIM-only deal to reduce your charges while you’re away.”

How to keep mobile costs down while away

Download at home, not away

Download any maps, shows, films and music before travelling to avoid data costs abroad.
If using your mobile on holiday, focus on low-data activities and apps. An hour of Google Maps will only eat up 5MB, while streaming an HD movie for the same time will use about 2GB – 400 times as much.

Check the cap fits

Even if you are paying for a bundle to roam abroad, you may not have the same data allowances as you do in the UK. Check your provider’s fair usage policy, which will govern how much data you can use before you incur extra charges. You can also set up a spend cap with your provider to avoid any surprise bills when you return.

Switch off voicemail

When overseas, you can expect to pay the same per-minute rate for checking your messages as you do for making calls. Yet sometimes even receiving a voicemail on holiday can cost you. If your provider includes this charge, call them before you travel and get it switched off.

Wi-Fi wins

To save your data allowance, use hotel and cafe Wi-Fi connections whenever possible. You can also enable Wi-Fi calling or use services such as Whatsapp to make audio calls without using your minutes. Make sure access points are safe and secure before logging on and avoid activities like online banking on public networks.

If in doubt, engage flight mode

Flight mode is not just for when you’re up in the air – although it will stop any chance of connecting to other networks while flying across the countries. Activating it on holiday, particularly in destinations with high fees on calls, texts and data, can remind you to watch your usage and save you from unexpected costs.

Go SIM-only

If you’re with a provider that has roaming charges, it’s worth considering buying a one-month SIM-only deal that will cover you for your time away. Lebara, which runs off the Vodafone network, offers a 5GB monthly SIM-only contract for £5.95, which comes with free roaming in the EU and India.