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Best networks for roaming: How to get cheap data roaming abroad

Fiona Leake
Fiona Leake
  | Edited by Tom Church
Updated 8th February 2021

If you’re a frequent traveller, you might be wondering which network’s SIMs are best for international roaming. In this guide, we provide you with tips to avoid racking up expensive phone bills when on holiday and share the best SIM cards for travelling.

What is data roaming?

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Data roaming is the use of mobile data whilst abroad. You use mobile data for many tasks including sending multimedia messages (MMS), checking emails, using social media, maps and much more. 

If you don’t have a SIM card that offers data roaming deals, you could end up with huge charges when using your mobile phone abroad.

Do I need data roaming in the UK?

It makes no difference whether your data roaming is on or off in the UK. This is because any data you use whilst at home will come out of your monthly allowance. The usual charges will apply if you exceed your data allowance in the UK. 

Data roaming in Europe

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In 2017, 'Roam Like At Home' was introduced by the EU. This meant mobile phone networks were banned from charging extra when using your monthly allowance of calls, texts and data when travelling in the European Union. 

However, these rules technically no longer apply as the UK’s Brexit transition period is now over. The main UK mobile providers have said that they don’t plan on reintroducing these charges. So, data roaming in Europe remains free for the time being.

‘Roam Like At Home’ isn’t guaranteed to continue forever, so always check with your network provider before travelling within the EU to make sure that the policies haven’t changed. 

Watch out - you could still incur roaming charges if you exceed your data limits in Europe. 

Some network providers have a ‘fair use’ policy. This restricts using your full UK allowance in the EU. 

Here’s how the main UK networks restrict free EU data roaming:

NetworkHow much of your UK data can you use in the EU for free?What are the charges for exceeding this limit?
EEPay monthly users - 50GB data cap.PAYG users - 25GB data cap.36p per 100MB.
O2Your full allowance as long as you follow O2’s fair usage policy.£4.50 per GB.
Three20GB data cap for all users.3p per MB.
VodafoneUnlimited data tariffs are limited to a 25GB data cap. All other users can use their full allowance.Buy more data with Data Extra plans.
Tesco MobileDepends on your usage.35p per MB.
Asda MobileYou can use your full allowance.N/A
BT Mobile50GB data cap.10p per MB.
Sky MobileYou can use your full allowance.N/A
iD MobileDepends on your usage - use iD Mobile’s online calculator to check.Depends on your usage - use iD Mobile’s online calculator to check.
Giffgaff20GB data cap.36p per MB.

How to avoid roaming charges

If you’re unsure of how to use your phone abroad, follow our tips to avoid unexpected roaming charges on your bill.

1. Turn off data roaming

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The best way to avoid roaming charges while abroad is to turn off data roaming. Smartphones automatically connect to the nearest signal if roaming is switched on when abroad. This could rack up a huge bill, especially if your apps are set to automatically update, using a lot of data. 

‘Roam Like At Home’ for free when in the EU might not last much longer as the UK has left the European Union. This means that it can be safest to just turn off roaming, whether you’re in the EU or further afield.

2. Use free Wi-Fi 

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Try to use free Wi-Fi wherever you can when abroad. Usually, hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes will offer a free internet connection. Make sure you have roaming switched off as when the Wi-Fi signal drops out, you’ll be transferred to mobile data. 

You can also use free Wi-Fi to call home using apps such as Skype, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

3. Download entertainment before you go

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Free Wi-Fi is handy for sending a few messages and checking emails but you don’t want to be downloading music and films whilst on holiday. 

Instead, download any music, shows, movies and boarding passes before you go on holiday. You won’t need to hang around free Wi-Fi for hours or use any precious mobile data. 

Most TV streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video offer the ability to download TV shows and movies onto your devices.

4. Check how much your destination costs with your mobile network before travelling 

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If you know you’ll need to roam abroad, avoid any nasty surprises by checking with your network provider what charges you can expect to face. 

Even if you’re just travelling in the EU, double-check it’s still free with your provider and what their ‘fair use’ policy is. As of 1st January 2021, UK providers are no longer required to offer free roaming in EU countries. Whilst most providers are still offering free roaming, this could be subject to change.

If you’re planning an international trip, work out how much roaming will cost with your providers. Some networks are better than others in certain countries, we will cover this in more detail below.

5. Be careful of roaming costs when on a cruise

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Data works differently when you’re at sea. Even if you’re on a European cruise, it’s easy to connect to a neighbouring countries network that isn’t in the EU. 

So, when on a cruise, turn off your data roaming and only use the ship’s Wi-Fi when you need to access the internet. 

6. Check roaming add-ons from your network

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Most of the major UK networks offer roaming add-ons that give you an allowance of calls, texts and data to use abroad. If you buy an add-on, you’ll only pay for the cost of the allowance.

Buying a roaming add-on is a good idea if you’re travelling out of the EU and know that you’ll need to access the internet regularly. Check your network providers website or call to find out if they offer add-ons.

7. Consider buying a SIM card for travel

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If you’re travelling to a different country for a long period of time, you could consider buying a local SIM. This SIM will be provided by a local network provider to the country and you’ll be able to top it up with pay-as-you-go credit. 

An alternative is to buy a UK SIM with good prices for international roaming. We have shared our recommendations below.

This is a good idea if you’ll be staying in a country for a while. 

Should data roaming be on?

When you’re in the UK, it doesn’t make much difference whether data roaming is on or off. You won’t be charged as you aren’t connected to a foreign network.

However, if you’re travelling abroad, we recommend that your data roaming is switched off. This will avoid any unexpected charges to your bill. Even if you’re travelling in the EU, data roaming should be switched off until you need it. Otherwise, you could use up your ‘fair use’ allowance without even knowing it. 

Better be safe than sorry - switch roaming off! 

How to turn off data roaming

Thankfully, it’s really easy to switch off data roaming, which makes it easier to avoid those unexpected charges! 

How to turn off data roaming on Android

  1. Open Settings and tap on ‘Connections’
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  1. Tap ‘Mobile networks’
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  1. Turn off ‘Data roaming’ by swiping the button left
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How to turn off data roaming on iPhone

  1. Open Settings and tap ‘Mobile data’
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  1. Tap ‘Mobile Data Options’
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  1. Turn off data roaming by tapping the button so it’s no longer green
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Best network for international roaming: Three

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If you’re looking for the best network for international roaming, look no further than Three’s Go Roam

Any Three customers on its ‘Advanced’ pay monthly plans and pay-as-you-go users can use their normal allowance of minutes, texts and data abroad in 71 countries with Go Roam. There’s a 'fair usage' cap of 12GB data, 3,000 mins and 5,000 texts abroad.

The 71 locations cover the EU and include the United States, Australia, Switzerland and more. Click here for the full list of countries.

If you travel anywhere outside of the 71 countries listed, you will be charged expensive roaming rates. So, this might not be the best deal if you were travelling to Turkey, for example. 

Best Vodafone SIM deals for roaming

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Vodafone also has an extensive roaming offering with its Global Roaming Plus which offers roaming at no extra cost in 81 countries. If you bought a Red Entertainment plan between 4th  September 2018 and 9th July 2019, or an Unlimited Max plan from 10th July 2019, you’ll have Global Roaming Plus. 

This is Vodafone’s best roaming offering but the plans that qualify for it aren’t the cheapest.

For more of Vodafone's roaming offers, check out the website.

Best O2 SIM deals for roaming

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O2 Refresh tariffs of 90GB and above, and SIM only tariffs of 100GB and above can benefit from free travel in O2’s Inclusive Zone. The O2 Travel Inclusive Zone Bolt On offers data roaming in 27 international destinations.

You’ll get a daily allowance of 120 minutes, 120 texts and uncapped data. The data will be subject to O2’s fair usage policy.

You can purchase the O2 Travel Inclusive Zone Bolt On as an extra if you have a pay monthly phone with a 30GB - 89GB tariff or pay monthly SIM with a 30GB - 99GB tariff.

Best EE SIM deals for roaming

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EE offers free roaming in European countries, much like every other major UK network. 

If you’re travelling to Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand or the United States, you can purchase the Roam Further Pass which lets you use your UK allowance for £10/mth on a rolling 30-day contract. ‘Smart’ plans allow you to add Roam Further as a swappable Smart Benefit at no extra cost.

For more locations, you can buy a Travel Data Pass and World Select Talk and Text

Best Tesco Mobile SIM deals for roaming

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All Tesco Mobile customers can roam with their monthly allowance of calls, texts and data at no extra cost in 48 European countries. 

If you’re planning to go further afield, you’ll have to face extra charges

Best iD Mobile SIM deals for roaming

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All iD Mobile plans offer inclusive roaming in 50 different locations, mainly throughout Europe. 

This is a fairly impressive offering considering that iD Mobile is largely a no-frills budget mobile service provider.

However, if you use your mobile to make calls, texts or browse the internet in countries outside of the 50 free destinations, you’ll face extortionate charges. Find out how much, by destination, here.

Best BT Mobile SIM deals for roaming

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BT Mobile customers can use their monthly UK allowance in 47 locations at no extra charge.

If you’re roaming outside of the EU, you can buy a Travel Data Pass for £6 a day. This buys you 500MB of data per day to use in Andorra, Australia, Canada, China, India, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, UAE and the USA.

Best Virgin Media SIM deals for roaming

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Virgin Media offers the 'Roam Like At Home' scheme to all customers, offering inclusive roaming within the EU.

However, if you’re with Virgin Mobile and travelling outside the EU, you’ll be subject to the standard charges abroad. Take a look at these charges here

Best Sky Mobile SIM deals for roaming

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All Sky Mobile customers can enjoy inclusive roaming in over 30 destinations with its Roaming Passport scheme

If you’re travelling further afield, Sky’s Roaming Passport Plus covers 12 more locations, including the USA, Hong Kong, Thailand and South Africa. This add-on will cost you £6 per 24 hours and will allow you to use your usual monthly allowance in more locations.

Best Giffgaff SIM deals for roaming

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Giffgaff offers inclusive roaming for all of its customers in 37 locations in the EU and beyond. You can easily top-up via the Giffgaff website if you run out whilst abroad.

If you travel further than these 37 locations, you’ll be subject to expensive roaming charges.

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