You’ve probably had that sinking feeling when you receive your phone bill after a holiday and discover you’ve gone over your data allowance whilst away. Data roaming charges can be expensive, yet we live in a time when we are more reliant than ever on data to see us through our holidays – whether it be streaming to keep little ones entertained, using GPS to get our way around an unfamiliar place without having to butcher the local language or catching up on social media.

Since Brexit, UK mobile phone providers are no longer obligated to provide free roaming around the EU, and most of the main networks have reintroduced charges while abroad. This has led to hefty bills for those who are unaware or need to use mobile data in an EU country, despite the eye-watering rates.

If you’re not keeping an eye on your usage, it can be easy to spill into overtime on your plan and incur charges. Some providers even have charges set at standard and you may not even know. We wanted to see how this has really affected the British public whilst away and so we polled the nation to reveal some pretty shocking results.

What did we find?

One of the main results we uncovered is that more than a third of British people (35%) on holiday in popular European Union destinations are paying for additional roaming charges, with some paying up to £1,000. In fact, the average of all those who were overcharged came in at just under £70. Now, place that against the backdrop of the current difficulties with the cost of living, and it makes for grim reading. 

As for networks who have dished out the hefty charges to British holidaymakers, Vodafone came top (22%), followed by Tesco Mobile (20%), O2 (14%) and EE (12%). Others included Virgin Mobile (11%) and 3 (8%) while some poll participants either didn’t want to specify or couldn’t remember.

Even though survey respondents were on holiday overseas, use of data didn’t cease, especially when it came to scrolling their social media feeds — and perhaps also updating their followers with envy-snaps and videos of beaches and bars. Altogether, 44% of participants said they used mobile data roaming for this purpose.

Getting around in a foreign country can be one of the most difficult parts of being abroad, especially if you don’t know the language of your destination, so it’s no surprise to see that almost an equal number of those using social media (42%) used their data for maps. Using GPS and having a live location can be quite data heavy, and this was high on the list.

We also found that over a quarter of users (28%) consumed mobile data for music streaming and 25% for video streaming platforms. Mobile games that use data were also popular among holidaymakers, with 20% of respondents saying that was their use of choice; and even whilst away, dating app usage came in at 16%.

What can you do to avoid being overcharged?

Fortunately, there are a few things that can be done to help beat the charges whilst away. First of all, you can set a data cap with your provider, whereby you are informed when you’re close to your usage limit and have the choice to authorise extra data for extra charges. Whilst not ideal, this does give you an element of control back, albeit with the faff of setting it up in the first instance.

Always look for wifi hotspots so that you’re not eating into data. This does come with a word of warning, though, as often these can be public and unsecured, so make sure that you’re only using a properly secured network before connecting. Even then, many hotel and bar wifi networks won’t allow you to conduct all of your typical uses whilst connected, such as streaming or downloading, so you may be disappointed.

Get yourself a SIM-Only Deal where you know your limits and can stream to your heart’s content. Our mission at Lebara is to help people save money on their mobile bills. Unlike many major network operators, we are not bringing back EU roaming charges, and those who travel to the EU on their holidays can use their phone as they would at home, at no extra cost. They can use all their data allowance available on the plan while roaming in the EU — up to a max of 30GB.

Our plans start from just £5 a month for 3GB of data and include 5G by default, if you are on a compatible phone within a 5G network area.