How Frequent Travellers Can Choose the Best Mobile Phone Contracts

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Today’s article is by the newest member of the TLFL team, Sylvie. We are now at full strength again with a team of writers to help give a greater variety of topics. You can learn more about Sylvie and our team on the About us page. Sylvie is taking one for the team, trying out some of the budget airlines to beat the ridiculously high prices of airfares currently. Look out for her reviews in the next couple of weeks.

In the modern day, our mobile phones are something we can rarely go without. It isn’t just about calls anymore: our e-mails, web browsers, maps, and more are all on our phones. With Brexit on top of that, EU roaming charges are no longer free with many phone providers.

idmobile.co.uk have done some research into how Brit’s use their phones on holiday. (Michele – I’m definitely one who has been hit with an unexpected bill. I once turned my phone on for about 60 seconds in Abu Dhabi airport and got hit with a £40 bill!)

Infographic with statistics showing UK data roaming habits and usage

When I get a new phone contract, one of the most important things I look at is the roaming charges. If you choose the wrong contract, you could be paying out hundreds every time you go away. Whether you’re travelling for business or pleasure, it’s essential that you find the best mobile phone contract you can to save money and get the best service!

When selecting your package, you should be aware of:

Data roaming charges

When you take your phone abroad outside of the home network coverage, extra charges are usually added for using internet service, making phone calls, and sending texts with your phone. All UK customers were entitled to free EU data roaming pre-Brexit, but this isn’t the case anymore.

Pay monthly vs Pay-As-You-Go

Depending on how much you’re travelling, where you’re going, and how much you’ll use your phone. Different packages might be more cost-effective to pay monthly, while others are better to top up as you go.

Service coverage

Take note of what providers are and are not available in your country of origin and which frequencies your phone will connect to as a replacement.

Temporary vs Permanent Roaming Contracts

Make sure you work out if you’re travelling often enough to have a permanent contract or whether you should just open a temporary traveller’s package for each trip.

 

Best Phone Contracts With Inclusive Free Roaming

These phone contracts from some of the UK’s top providers contain inclusive free roaming, making it much easier to get where you need to go without worrying about anything!

 

O2

Europe InternationalBusiness Travellers

O2 still provides free data roaming across their Europe Zone as part of their packages. If the UK data package is over 25GB allowance per month, the customer is entitled to 25GB Europe Zone roaming data without any extra charge. After that, extra data is charged at £3.50 per GB of data. You can also add a ‘Bolt On’ for more data.

Outside of Europe, there is also an Inclusive Zone of 27 countries which can get inclusive data roaming with a Bolt-On. If you are travelling outside of the EU and the Inclusive Zone, then you must purchase the full travel Bolt On for £6/day. Pay-As-You-Go tariffs are not eligible for the Inclusive Zone.

It’s important to make your phone provider aware of longer travel plans, as O2 restricts EU usage for lengthy trips.

If you have a sim-only contract, it must be a 12-month contract with 100GB to qualify for the Inclusive Zone or with 30-99GB to have the Inclusive Zone as an add-on. Any other sim-only contracts are not eligible.

What Countries are Included?

Europe Zone countries

AustriaGreeceMayotte (Voice and text only)
AzoresGuadeloupeMonaco
BelgiumGuernseyNetherlands
BulgariaHungaryNorway
Canary IslandsIcelandPoland
CroatiaIrelandPortugal
Cyprus (not inc. Northern Cyprus)Isle of ManReunion (Voice and text only)
Czech RepublicItalyRomania
DenmarkJerseySaint Barthelemy
EstoniaLatviaSaint Martin
FinlandLiechtensteinSan Marino
FranceLithuaniaSlovakia
French GuianaLuxembourgSlovenia
GermanyMadeiraSpain
GibraltarMaltaSweden
 MartiniqueSwitzerland

Inclusive Zone Countries 

ArgentinaYemen
AustraliaHonduras
BotswanaMadagascar
CanadaMexico
ChileMyanmar
ColombiaNew Zealand
Costa RicaNicaragua
EcuadorPanama
El SalvadorParaguay
GreenlandPeru
GuatemalaRwanda
GuineaUnited States
GuyanaUruguay
 Venezuela

Smarty

Roaming

Smarty (which uses the Three Network) offers a SMARTY plan for EU travel which uses the UK plan’s allowance within their EU zone for no extra cost. Smarty’s prices to build a personalised plan here. Within the EU zone, calls and texts are unlimited within the boundaries of the UK plan, while up to 12GB of data can be used abroad in the EU at no charge. Extra data requires an add-on. You must update your settings while travelling in the EU.

Outside of the EU, Smarty offers a pay-as-you-go option which varies in price depending on the country. Any unused payments can be used toward the next payment of your standard UK contract. The prices by country are listed here.

Both the pay-as-you-go outside of the EU add-on and the within EU extra data add-on can be purchased here.

Countries Included

Europe Zone countries

AustriaIreland
BelgiumItaly
BulgariaLatvia
Comoros & MayotteLiechtenstein
CroatiaLithuania
CyprusLuxembourg
Czech RepublicMalta
DenmarkNetherlands
EstoniaNorway
FinlandPoland
FrancePortugal
French GuianaReunion
GermanySlovakia
GibraltarSlovenia
GreeceSpain
HungarySweden
Iceland 

 

BT

Roaming

BT’s Roam Like Home policy means that all of their sim plans include free data roaming across 47 different Europe Zone countries. It must be switched on in settings before travel. There are two Roam Like Home zones (1a and 1b). If you go over your allowance, set charges apply for calls, texts, and data depending on the Roam Like Home zone, which can be found at the link above.

Outside of the EU, there are twelve countries in which you can purchase a Travel Data Pass of 500 MB/day for £6/day. It will renew automatically every day unless you turn it off or leave the country.

International calling prices vary by country and can be found here.

Countries Included

Roam Like Home Zone 1a

AustriaItaly
BelgiumLatvia
BulgariaLithuania
CroatiaLuxembourg
Cyprus (excludes Northern Cyprus when connected to a Turkish provider)Malta
Czech RepublicMonaco
DenmarkNetherlands
EstoniaPoland
FinlandPortugal (Incl. Azores & Madeira)
FranceRomania
GermanySlovakia
GreeceSlovenia
HungarySpain
IrelandSweden
Isle of ManVatican City

 

Roam Like Home Zone 1b

Canary IslandsMartinique
French GuianaMayotte
GibraltarNorway
GuadeloupeReunion
GuernseySaint Barthelemy
IcelandSaint Martin
JerseySan Marino
LiechtensteinSwitzerland

 

Travel Data Pass Countries

New ZealandAndorra
South AfricaAustralia
ThailandCanada
TurkeyChina
UAEIndia
USAMexico

 

Virgin Mobile

Data RoamingRoaming Costs

Virgin offers coverage in more than 140 countries, including within the EU, at no extra cost to the UK contract. They also offer data caps to help control use abroad. UK allowance cannot be used outside of the UK.

Within the EU, prices are the same as the contract at home, even if you need to buy extra minutes or data on a Roam Like Home basis. Data is automatically capped at £51.50 unless you choose otherwise. As with other networks, if you are in a Roam Like Home country but near a border and your phone connects to a non-EU network (e.g., in Northern Cyprus), then Roam Like Home no longer applies.

Using data outside of the EU carries charges of up to £12.50 per megabyte. You can check all roaming costs by country here.

Countries Included

EU Roam Like Home Countries

AustriaLithuania
BelgiumLuxembourg
BulgariaMadeira
Canary IslandsMalta
CroatiaMartinique
CyprusMayotte
Czech RepublicMonaco
DenmarkNetherlands
EstoniaNorway
FinlandPoland
FrancePortugal
French GuianaRéunion Islands
GermanyRomania
GibraltarSaint-Barthélemy
GreeceSan Marino
GuadeloupeSlovakia
HungarySlovenia
IcelandSpain
IrelandSweden
ItalyThe French Antilles
LatviaVatican City (Italy)
Liechtenstein 

 

GiffGaff

Roaming

GiffGaff allows roaming at no extra cost to UK contracts in EU countries and some others. Pay-as-you-go tariffs are also charged at standard UK rates in these countries. There is a 5MB roaming cap for data, after which you will be charged 10p/MB.

Outside of this zone, you will have to add travel credit to your account before you go. You can search your destination country at the link above to find the act costs.

Countries Included

GiffGaff Free Roaming Destinations

AustriaLatvia
BelgiumLiechtenstein
BulgariaLithuania
CroatiaLuxembourg
CyprusMalta
Czech RepublicMartinique
DenmarkMayotte
EstoniaNetherlands
FinlandNorway
FrancePoland
French GuianaPortugal
GermanyReunion
GibraltarRomania
GreeceSan Marino
GuadeloupeSlovakia
HungarySlovenia
IcelandSpain
IrelandSweden
Italy 

 

Companies with Roaming Add-Ons or Daily Charges

If you don’t intend to buy a long-term inclusive package or the places you go are not covered in the standard free roaming packages, add-ons and daily charges (some of which were touched on above) are also an option. These can be very useful as you can select and pay for only what you need. However, if you’re not careful, the prices can add up fast – so be sure that your choice fits your travel needs.

Three

Three using your phone abroad

Roaming Data Passport

For all eligible Pay Monthly and Advanced plans, you can unlock your UK contract for use in 71 destinations worldwide for a daily set fee using the Go Roam program. This is £2/day within Europe and £5/day in the rest of the world.

Three also offers the Data Passport. For £5/day, you can access unlimited and unrestricted data worldwide.

You can check costs for roaming outside of Go Roam countries here.

Countries Included

Go Roam Countries

Aland IslandsGuernseyPoland
AustraliaIcelandPortugal
AustriaIndonesiaPuerto Rico
AzoresIrelandRepublic of Ireland
Balearic IslandsIsle of ManReunion
BelgiumIsraelRomania
BrazilItaly (Inc. Sardinia & Sicily)Saint Barthélemy
BulgariaJerseySaint Martin
Canary IslandsLatviaSan Marino
ChileLiechtensteinSingapore
ColombiaLithuaniaSlovakia
Costa RicaLuxembourgSlovenia
CroatiaMacauSpain
CyprusMadeiraSri Lanka
Czech RepublicMaltaSweden
DenmarkMarie-GalanteSwitzerland
El SalvadorMartiniqueUnited States (Inc. Florida Keys)
EstoniaMayotteUruguay
FinlandNetherlandsUS Virgin Islands
France (Inc. Corsica, Mayotte, & Reunion)New ZealandVatican City
French GuianaNicaraguaVietnam
GermanyNorwayGuadeloupe
GibraltarPanamaGuatemala
Greece (Inc. Crete & Rhodes)Peru 

 

Vodaphone

Global Roaming

Vodaphone splits the world into 4 zones for Pay Monthly customers (A, B, C, D) and 3 Zones for Pay-As-You-Go customers (A, B, and Around the World).

There is also the Rest of the World Zone for both types of customers. Each zone carries different rules and charges.

For Pay Monthly customers:

Zone A is included in all plans at no extra cost

Zone B (Europe Zone) is included with two specific plans (Unlimited data Xtra Airtime Plans with 4 Xtra benefits and our Limited data Xtra Airtime Plans with 4 Xtra benefits). Outside of these plans, it costs £2/day to roam or £1/day with an additional purchase of a European Roaming Pass (which costs £8/8 days or £15/15 days).

Zone C is only included in the Unlimited data Xtra Airtime Plan with 4 Xtra benefits plans. Without this plan, it costs £6/day to roam.

Zone D always costs £6/day.

For Pay-As-You-Go Customers

Pay-As-You-Go customers can use their bundles in Zone A for free.

If they visit Zone B (Europe Zone), they must purchase one of the 8-day or 15-day European Roaming Passes mentioned above.

In the Around The World Zone, Pay-As-You-Go customers can buy an Extra for the allowance of calls, texts, and data in 73 countries.

 

Countries Included

Zone A

Republic of Ireland
Isle of Man

 

Zone B

Aland IslandsLatvia
AustriaLiechtenstein
AzoresLithuania
Balearic IslandsLuxembourg
BelgiumMadeira
BulgariaMalta
Canary IslandsMartinique
CroatiaMayotte
Cyprus (except Northern Cyprus)Monaco
Czech RepublicNetherlands
DenmarkNorway
EstoniaPoland
Faroe IslandsPortugal
FinlandReunion
France (incl. Corsica)Romania
French GuianaSan Marino
GermanySlovakia
GibraltarSlovenia
GreeceSpain
GuadeloupeSt. Barthelemy
GuernseySt. Martin
HungarySweden
IcelandSwitzerland
ItalyVatican City
Jersey 

Zone C / Around the World (1)

AlbaniaLesotho
AnguillaMexico
Antigua and BarbudaMontserrat
ArubaMozambique
AustraliaNew Zealand
BarbadosSaba
BermudaSint Eustatius
Bosnia and HerzegovinaSint Maarten
British Virgin IslandsSouth Africa
CanadaSt. Kitts and Nevis
Cayman IslandsSt. Lucia
DominicaSt. Vincent
GhanaTrinidad and Tobago
GrenadaTurkey and North Cyprus
JamaicaUnited States
KenyaTurks and Caicos
  

Zone D / Around the World (2)

AfghanistanMalaysia
AndorraMoldova
ArgentinaMongolia
ArmeniaMontenegro
BahrainMorocco
BangladeshMyanmar
BonaireNicaragua
BrazilOman
CambodiaPakistan
ChilePanama
ChinaPapua New Guinea
ColombiaParaguay
Congo, Democratic Republic ofPeru
Costa RicaPhilippines
CuracaoPuerto Rico
Dominican RepublicQatar
EcuadorRussia
EgyptSamoa
El SalvadorSaudi Arabia
FijiSerbia
GeorgiaSingapore
GuatemalaSouth Korea
GuyanaSouth Sudan
HaitiSri Lanka
HondurasSuriname
Hong KongSwaziland
IndiaTaiwan
IndonesiaTanzania
IsraelThailand
JapanTonga
JordanUkraine
KazakhstanUnited Arab Emirates
KuwaitUruguay
LaosUS Virgin Islands
MacauUzbekistan
MacedoniaVanuatu
 Vietnam

 

Conclusion

Choosing the right package or add-ons is imperative to travel, whether for a holiday or for your job. Make sure you compare your destination, needs, and travel time to the plans available to find the perfect data roaming plan for you! I would choose Giff Gaff for my new phone contract. You can roam at no extra cost, so you won’t be facing an added bill for your phone when you travel out of the UK.

11 Comments on "How Frequent Travellers Can Choose the Best Mobile Phone Contracts"

  1. Next time I’m travelling to a remote destination I’m going to try an e-sim (such as https://www.airalo.com/ )for data & use WhatsApp for calls.

  2. A very useful and comprehensive analysis. Many thanks, Sylvie. India is an oddball in terms of roaming charges. Lebara (which doesn’t feature here) seems to be the only provider that allows India roaming at UK prices.

  3. The other thing to be aware of is throttling – eg O2 throttles your data heavily in the USA and you will be restricted to ~50-100kb/s which is almost unusable.

  4. Rip-off Britain in action again! Very interesting, thanks.

    Would be interesting to see an article on some worked examples of buying local SIM or eSIM packages in some of the major tourist hotspots (Spain, Greece, France, USA)…

  5. It’s also worth taking a look at E-Sims when travelling abroad. I’ve used Airalo which works well and is fairly reasonable – eg $18 for 10GB of data in Turkey or $26 for 10GB of data In the US.

  6. For USA I use the £10 per month bolt on from EE. Allows full use of your contract allowances, however you are charged for calling US numbers. Just make sure EE has set-up the roaming correctly !

  7. Very informative article. My ‘favourites” when it comes to roaming would be:
    Post pay/sim only : O2. Once you have signed up, you can upgrade or downgrade as much as you like, when you like. All include EU/EEA/CH roaming but you can also change tariff to add all the other destinations (the Americas, AUS/NZ effectively) and then revert back to cheaper tariff when no longer required.
    Pre-pay: Three is the way to go. Their PAYG offering still includes their 70 odd countries and decent tariffs.
    Giff Gaff is good but their tariffs are expensive (Vs Three/Smarty) and the 5GB roaming limit would probably only last most people 3-4 days.

  8. What happened to EE & Plusnet?

  9. I use IDMobile – £8 per month roaming incl. then Airlo as above when anywhere else that isn’t covered.

  10. You don’t mention EE but if you have not changed your contract (and I just have a sim one) it still includes roaming. So not bad for £10 a month.

  11. When we go to Thailand its normally for several weeks at a time and we just buy a SIM at the airport. £10 will get you unlimited usage and they’ll put it in your phone and set it up for you. Best of all with dual SIM phones I then just set my main ( UK SIM) to only use WiFi so i can check things when in the resorts, bars or restaurants and forward the calls to the Thai SIM for any emergency calls from friends and family who I add to a list. All others just go straight to VM.

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