This post was originally published in May 2022, but has been updated in July 2023 to reflect changing prices and offers.
In summer 2021 all four of the UK’s mobile network providers updated their roaming policies in response to Brexit.
For Vodafone* and EE* that meant additional per diem charges – unless you’re on a premium contract – while O2 and Three* introduced usage caps. Three has also since introduced new per diem charges, following in the footsteps of its competitors.
In my day job as a travel writer, having free roaming is incredibly helpful for keeping up with emails and assignments on the go, and even occasionally writing Money Talk.
I’ve been with ID mobile* for years because of that but it’s by no means comprehensive – and in some corners of the world, I found it wouldn’t even connect to the local network.
With all that in mind, this week I wanted to explore some of the cheaper alternatives to the usual suspects.
Why Brexit affects roaming
First, a bit of background on why Brexit is affecting roaming charges.
As anyone who has used their phone abroad will know, roaming charges used to be hideously expensive.
But on 15 June 2017, the EU passed the Roaming Regulation, which established something that became known as the “Roam Like At Home” scheme.
It meant that mobile network providers within the EU were banned from applying roaming surcharges within the EU (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden) and European Economic Area (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) countries.
When the UK was still in the EU, you could use any minutes, texts or data that’s included in your plan in any of those 30 countries as you would at home without any surcharges, subject to fair usage policies.
The benefits of the scheme have been so welcomed that the EU has just extended it for another 10 years.
But since the UK is no longer in the EU, there’s nothing to stop mobile network providers from reintroducing those charges – as some of them have.
Roaming outside of Europe
As you’ve probably gathered, the “Roam Like At Home” scheme only applies to a handful of European countries.
There’s no legislation covering roaming charges outside of Europe – or even in Switzerland – so they can be and often are still extortionate.
Three was one of the early mobile network providers to offer affordable roaming outside of Europe but it’s since been matched (and surpassed) by Vodafone and O2.
Of course, now that prices are going up, finding an affordable plan in far flung destinations may become much harder.
Cheap mobile networks for roaming
The good news is, while all four major UK mobile network providers have put up their roaming charges, there are plenty of others who have kept it free.
Even better: some of them start from just £5 a month – and you can cancel any time after the first 30 days.
It’s worth bearing in mind though that the list of destinations covered under free roaming plans vary from provider to provider.
Most will cover EU and EEA countries as standard but if you’re going further afield (or to Switzerland), it might be worth double checking you’re covered before you go.
The list below only includes the options under £10.
- Asda Mobile – £5 a month for 3GB data and unlimited minutes and texts. Can cancel after the first 30 days. Roaming in 37 destinations including EU and EEA countries.
- Lebara* – £5 a month for 3GB data and 1,000 minutes and 1,000 texts, plus 100 international minutes. Can cancel after the first 30 days. Roaming in 42 destinations including EU, EEA countries and India (the list of countries may vary depending on where you get your sim).
- iD Mobile* (from Carphone Warehouse*) – £6 a month for 4GB data and unlimited minutes and texts. Can cancel after the first 30 days. Roaming in 50 destinations including EU and EEA countries.
- giffgaff* – £6 a month for 2GB data and unlimited minutes and texts. Can cancel after the first 30 days. Roaming in 41 destinations including EU and EEA countries.
- Smarty* – £6 a month for 4GB data and unlimited minutes and texts. Can cancel after the first 30 day. Roaming in 35 destinations including EU and EEA countries.
- Tesco Mobile* – £7.50 a month for 2GB data and unlimited minutes and texts. Cancel after 12 months. Roaming in 48 destinations including EU and EEA countries. You also get Clubcard points and can use your Clubcard vouchers to offset your contract.