Millions of UK residents travel abroad every year, and they rely on their smartphones just as much overseas as they do back home. Everything from e-tickets to online check-ins and finding fun activities is managed on a smartphone these days. However, connecting your smartphone to the internet – and even generic usage – isn’t as simple overseas, as you need to consider the roaming charges that come at your expense. Below, we discuss data roaming, the best networks for data roaming, and how to avoid them altogether.

What is Data Roaming?

Data roaming takes place whenever you use your mobile phone outside of your usual coverage area. The responsibility to pay roaming charges falls on the customer, but that doesn’t mean some networks aren’t more friendly than others.

Roaming charges are applicable whenever you’re connected to an unknown or out-of-area network, and you’ll be paying a lot more for using your apps and other services. Even if you have free internet, calls, and minutes in the UK, these likely won’t apply to you when travelling abroad.

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You need to know what roaming charges you’ll face before you travel, as this will help you spot anything out of the ordinary. If you’ve used your phone and been charged an amount you feel is too much, you have to contact your network to come up with an agreement. The best-case scenario is that the roaming fees are reduced, but the most likely outcome is that you’ll agree to a payment plan to spread the impact.

When you’re travelling abroad, the chances are that you won’t need to access the network continuously. Fortunately, every smartphone gives you the option to switch data roaming off, which allows you to successfully manage the cost.

What is Data Roaming UK Where Brexit is Concerned?

Data roaming charges were a major concern during the Brexit negotiations, but the complete transition ended at the beginning of 2021. Naturally, Brexit has had a significant impact on how UK users are charged when it comes to data roaming. Once the UK officially left the European Union, network providers were no longer obliged to provide free roaming facilities within the EEA (European Economic Area).

This wasn’t such an issue for another year and a half because mobile roamers were protected by a daily charge limit. However, this safeguard ceased in June 2022, which means networks can charge as they please for roaming. Therefore, to avoid seeing overwhelming charges while abroad, people must check with their providers to find out what the fees are.

Luckily, when UK users are making calls to people within the EEA, they won’t be charged for the roaming cost. This makes sense because the originating mobile is still within the coverage area.

What About Roaming in Ireland?

With roaming charges up in the air, many travellers are concerned about the costs associated with travelling to Ireland. After all, it’s a popular destination given its close proximity. Luckily, Ireland isn’t treated like the rest of Europe because it’s considered a “Go Roam” zone.

Essentially, this means you’re able to use your mobile data allowance in the same way as you are in the UK. However, if your allowance is 12GB or more, you will be subject to a fair usage policy. For example, if you make a call from Ireland and you have an allowance, your network can reduce the cost of the call by taking it out of your allowance. However, once your allowance is up, you will be charged 35p per minute.

What About Leaving the European Union?

When you’re roaming within the EEA, your charges will be higher than they were before Brexit. However, thanks to various agreements in place, you’ll still benefit from cheaper charges than if you venture outside of the EEA. Every country outside of the European Union will have a different cost when it comes to roaming charges, which is why you need to contact your network provider before taking a flight.

If you realise that these data roaming charges are unreasonable, you can reduce them by limiting your phone use to inside Wi-Fi zones. Essentially, while you’re travelling outside of the EU, you should be smart and step away from your technology – your bank balance will thank you.

In some cases, you may accidentally turn on data by sitting on your phone or leaving settings like “Turn on Data When Wi-Fi is Unavailable” switched on. If you do this, you have no legal grounds to dispute the charges, so make sure you remain vigilant and double-check all settings before heading off. After all, your phone doesn’t have to be active to use data, as modern smartphones are continuously connected in the background.

Best Ways to Avoid Mobile Data Roaming Charges

Roaming charges can get out of hand if you’re not careful, so it’s a good idea to learn how to avoid them altogether. The two best ways to circumvent data roaming charges are as follows:

  • Buy a local SIM card. Getting your hands on a local prepaid SIM will allow you to bypass expensive roaming charges by using local services. You will need to pay, but it will be significantly less.
  • Only connect to free Wi-Fi. Put your phone into “Flight Mode” and only connect through free Wi-Fi. These days, you will find free Wi-Fi in any number of public spaces from cafes to shopping malls.

How to Find Out Your Network’s Policies

Every single network in the UK will have a different policy when it comes to roaming, and you need to know how to find it. The best way to do this is by heading to their website and checking under the FAQ or appropriate section. Then, if you’re still confused at that point, you can pick up your phone and give your network a call and they’ll give you the correct advice.

If you’ve already landed and you neglected to find out what the charges are, you will receive several text messages once you’re connected to the network. Within these texts, you will be told exactly how much you will be charged for using data, texts, and minutes.

Data Roaming What is the Best Network?

Every mobile network provider in the UK makes an effort to entice travellers by providing reasonable roaming rates and deals, but this doesn’t mean they all do it well. When it comes to the best, many consider Lebara, which has struck the right balance between offering reasonable PAYG (Pay as You Go) SIMs.

The majority of options with Lebara include around 100 international minutes for free before being charged at a reasonable rate, plenty of data, and a reliable network because of its integration with one of “the big four”. As an example, you pay as little as £5 for a SIM and you get 3GB of data, unlimited calls, and unlimited texts. If that’s not enough to pique your interest, you can upgrade this for 300GB at £15 or £25 for unlimited roaming data.

Interacting with today’s world largely relies on smartphone usage, and that doesn’t change when you travel abroad. However, connecting to international networks comes with the high cost of roaming charges. Therefore, you need to understand how to avoid them and figure out the best ways to save money – like using a PAYG SIM.