The cost of using your phone abroad

The cost of using your phone abroad

If your first name is Sheikh, or your idea of jumping in the car involves summoning a chauffeur, overseas data roaming costs probably aren’t much of a concern.

For most of us, however, the costs of using our phones abroad can be quite frightening.

Tesco Mobile customers landing in the United Arab Emirates will be greeted on arrival by a friendly text message informing them mobile data is charged at £5 per megabyte.

A Spotify subscriber wanting to stream high-quality music in Abu Dhabi would hypothetically end up paying around £350 per hour.

And since smartphones are designed to latch onto a mobile network as soon as we step out onto foreign soil, data roaming costs quickly spiral without us even noticing or realising.

Travelling in Europe

Despite our proposed departure from the European Union, travellers to mainland Europe are presently exempted from rip-off roaming fees.

This is thanks to a policy known as ‘roam like at home’, covering existing and new customers of the big mobile networks.

UK residents visiting EU nations (plus Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland) are generally able to make calls, send texts and access mobile data at prices broadly similar to back home.

Even so, it’s worth checking the small print in any contracts before using your phone abroad.

Some networks have ‘fair usage’ policies in place to prevent customers streaming HD movies on a Spanish beach.

And before booking a winter escape, bear in mind Brexit could scupper this. The UK Government says roam like at home won’t apply if we crash out of the EU without a deal.

With luck, mobile networks might decide to maintain the existing situation on behalf of their customers. And a no-deal Brexit is by no means guaranteed at the time of writing.

Even if it does happen, the Government has pledged to cap roaming data costs at £45 per month.

Travelling outside Europe

This is where things get more complex.

Every mobile network has a table of roaming costs in different countries, with varying call charges and service availability.

For instance, Three Pay As You Go customers visiting South Korea will be charged £2 per minute to make or receive calls from the UK.

Quoted costs are often baffling. EE Pay As You Go customers visiting Mexico will be charged 60p to send a text, but only 48p to send a multimedia picture message.

Vodafone subscribers in Cuba can send texts but not picture messages, while O2 offers a cut-price Travel Inclusive Zone covering Argentina but not Brazil, and Rwanda but not Kenya.

Prior to using your phone abroad, search for ‘roaming’ on the network operator’s website.

Check the quoted costs, and consider whether it’s possible to manage without mobile data.

Slash roaming costs while using your phone abroad

If occasional access to mobile data is essential, these tips ought to keep costs manageable.

Firstly, turn off mobile data, to prevent incoming messages and app updates munching through megabytes of expensive data.

Use free WiFi wherever possible, bearing in mind it’s likely to be insecure (and therefore unsuited to mobile banking or other sensitive online activities.)

Save maps offline, or go old-school and print out maps and directions for any planned day trips or excursions.

Finally, choose someone in your party (ideally on a network with the lowest roaming costs in the destination country) to conduct Google searches and map checks.

By splitting any incurred costs and avoiding duplicated searches, costs will be minimised.

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