How to shrink your holiday phone bill (the anti-roaming guide)

Cheap mobile roaming calls

There’s nothing worse than coming home from a holiday to find you’ve racked up a massive phone bill Instagramming your hot dog legs pictures from the pool. Unfortunately roaming charges are a nasty reality of going on holiday, and they can be extortionate, especially if you’re not in the EU.

cheaper holiday roaming

Holidays in the EU

The EU have slowly been pushing roaming costs down and they currently stand at a maximum of €0.19 p/m to make a call, €0.05 p/m to receive a call, €0.06 to send a text and €0.20 per megabyte of data used. At current exchange rates that actually works out as better value than some UK pay as you go tariffs. All of the big UK networks charge exactly (or very close to exactly) the maximum amount you’re allowed to be charged in the EU - isn’t that nice of them?

However, by June 2017 the EU plans to totally abolish roaming fees, and before that they’re going down again in June 2016 to €0.05 p/m to make a call, €0.02 per text and €0.05 per megabyte of data, so there’s something to look forward to!

eu roaming charges

Outside the EU

The phone networks bring out the big guns with roaming charges when you go on holiday outside the EU, where networks can charge you as much as £2.50 a minute to send or receive calls. To put that in perspective, if you were on holiday in Cuba and used EE to receive a 20 minute call, then sent ten texts, you’d have a £60 bill when you got back, and that’s barely even using your phone. One woman was faced with a bill of £20,000 for uploading her holiday snaps in Turkey, so you really have to watch out.

If you’ve got a contract on Three Mobile then you’re in luck, as Three’s Feel at Home promotion lets you use your normal minutes, texts and data at no extra charge in 18 countries all over the world. It includes some popular holiday destinations like the US, Australia, Italy and Spain, and if you’re a contract customer it’s automatically added to your account. If you don’t already have a Three contract you can sign up for a 30 day sim only contract from £14 for 1GB of data, unlimited texts and 600 minutes, or all you can eat data (up to 25GB if using Feel at Home), unlimited texts and 200 minutes for £20 - great for social media addicts. One thing to watch out for is that Feel at Home is supposed to be for UK residents on holiday, so if you spend more than three solid months using it they might cut you off, and for that length of time it’s probably worth getting a local sim card.

outside eu lower roaming prices

Wi-fi Only

The ideal solution for high roaming costs is not to roam at all. By switching your mobile data off and relying solely on wifi you could save hundreds of pounds. In most holiday destinations you can find free wifi hotspots at bars, restaurants, beaches and some hotels come with free wifi included too.

Our favourite app for calling and picture and text messaging over wifi is Whatsapp. It’s easy because a lot of people already have it and it’s free for the first year (then $0.99 USD a year), and you don’t need to be Facebook friends with the person you’re sending things to. Unlike our second pick, the Facebook Messenger app, which also now has a feature that allows you to call someone over wifi, and is 100% free to download.

If you’re in desperate need of calling someone’s actual telephone then your best option is to either buy some Skype credit, or get a free month trial of Skype Unlimited and remember to cancel within 27 days so you won’t be charged £8.49 a month. You can use it to call landlines or mobiles with the Skype app on your phone, tablet or laptop, so it’s a good option if you absolutely must call your Nan.

internet phonecalls

Roaming Packages

Probably one of the least cost-effective ways of using your mobile abroad is to take out a roaming package from your phone network. The cost of these varies between countries/networks, but they’re all quite expensive, so check the price with your network and decide whether it’s worth it before you commit. Only go for these if there’s no wifi available whatsoever, as it’s tempting to buy more and more packages as you browse the web.

For example EE’s Euro roaming data add-on 50MB gives you 50MB of data to use for 24 hours and costs £3 a day, to put that in perspective that’s £3 to watch (approximately) three YouTube videos and nothing else. If you were planning to use the internet a lot every day for a week, it’d probably work out cheaper to get a Three 30 day contract.

Gap year or year abroad

If you’re going to be overseas for more than three months, the Three Feel at Home contract is not going to work for you. Depending on whether you’re staying in one country or backpacking through numerous you can either pick up a local or global sim card.

Global sim cards are convenient for travellers as you won’t need to buy a new sim as you pass through different countries, and they can be cheaper than using a UK sim, but not always. E.g: contacting the UK from Australia on EE it costs £1 a minute to send or receive a call, and 40p per text, and the best bundle available for data is 500MB of data over seven days for £40; with GeoSim it would be 14p p/m to make a call, 7p p/m to receive a call, 8p a text and 10p per megabyte of data (so it would be £50 for 500MB), plus factor in that the sim card itself costs £15. It’s important to do your research to find out what is going to be best for you, ask friends who’ve been on a gap year and check out forums for more tips.

Students doing a year abroad as part of their course or just staying in one place for a long time on a gap year should consider picking up a local sim card. You can pick up a sim card reasonably cheaply from your destination, but you will need an unlocked phone to put it in. It’s worth getting your phone unlocked in the UK before you leave, as you might find it difficult to get someone to do it once you’ve arrived.

However, as we said before, it’s best to use wifi or even internet cafes as much as possible. Using Skype, Whatsapp or Facebook through wifi is always going to be cheaper than topping up your phone.