What will happen to mobile roaming charges after Brexit?

Following Britain’s departure from the EU on 31st January 2020, one of the many questions that has been raised is about what will happen to mobile roaming charges.

But before we look into what is likely to change from January 2021, let’s just quickly remind ourselves of what roaming is. This is the ability to automatically make and receive calls, send and receive messages and use mobile data when you’re travelling outside of the geographical coverage area of your home country. So, when you go outside of your mobile network provider’s coverage area, your device starts to “roam” and search for other available mobile networks to use. It works because most mobile network providers have made mutual network sharing agreements with other mobile network providers in other countries. Since 2017, UK consumers have, within reason, been able to use the minutes, texts and data included on their mobile phone tariffs when travelling in the EU.

Mobile roaming charges post Brexit

In January 2021, EE, O2, Three and Vodafone all stated they had no plans to reintroduce roaming charges, despite Brexit giving them the option to do so. For customers, this means that you can still use your mobile device within Europe to make calls, send text messages and use mobile data services for no more than what you’ll normally be charged when in the UK.

However, Mobile operator EE has now announced that it will charge new UK customers extra to use their mobile phones in Europe from January 2022. Under the new rules, those customers joining or upgrading to EE from 7 July 2021 will be charged £2 a day to use their allowances in 47 European destinations. There will also be 30-day packages available for people travelling for longer periods. It is also worth noting that UK customers will not be charged extra to use their phones in the Republic of Ireland.

EE has said that it’s introducing the charges to “support investment into its UK based customer service and leading UK network”.

While EE is the first UK mobile operator to reintroduce the charges since the EU trade deal was signed in December 2020, it is also suspected that others may follow suite. We’ve also heard that from July 2021, Three will be reducing its ‘free’ data use limit from 20GB a month to 12GB in European ‘Go Roam’ destinations and will charge £3 per GB above that. And finally, O2 is introducing a ‘free’ data use limit of 25GB per month. From the 2nd of August 2021, Pay Monthly customers will be charged £3.50 for every GB of data used over this 25GB cap.

The UK’s trade deal with the EU says that both sides will encourage operators to have “transparent and reasonable rates” for roaming, but charges are not banned.

Other government safeguards

The UK government also passed legislation to provide some safeguards for consumers:

  • A £45-a-month limit on the amount that you could be charged for using mobile data abroad. This means that you cannot continue to use mobile data services when roaming unless you actively choose to do so
  • Requirements for customers to be informed by text when they have reached 80% and 100% of their data
  • Operators also have to take “reasonable steps” to avoid customers being charged for accidental roaming in Northern Ireland, which could happen if a phone in Northern Ireland locked onto a mobile signal coming from the Republic of Ireland

The UK government recommends that customers check the details of their individual tariff with their phone operator before travelling.

Want to know more how you can use mobile services abroad? Check out some of our other posts on the topic: