Despite their various promises, and with a few exceptions, inclusive roaming is now a thing of the past for European travel and beyond. Even Three, who proudly waved the flag for ‘no extra charges’ roaming in many locations outside the EU have dropped this previously distinguishing selling points. Here’s a look at what you can consider for your upcoming trips abroad.
Which UK networks still include some form of ‘free’ roaming?
There’s a reason I’ve put parenthesis around free when it comes to roaming. Clearly, the networks have put some buffer or exclusions into their pricing to ensure that they are not out of pocket for people who roam extensively. Nothing is free but having the ability to switch your phone on and seamlessly browse the internet like home is a huge benefit for frequent travellers to Europe.
The following networks still include ‘Roam Like Home’ benefits (Source: MoneySavingExpert):
- BT Mobile and Plusnet Mobile, but not sister company EE.
- ASDA Mobile
- Giffgaff up to 5GB
- iD Mobile
- Virgin Media O2
- Sainsbury’s Mobile
If your mobile network is not on this list, then it is likely they have ended Roam Like Home privileges. These providers, such as EE, Sky and Vodafone, may either offer a daily/weekly bundle or included Roam Like Home in higher packages. If you have a contract that pre-dates the end of the free-roaming, it may still be included, but you are best checking with the mobile operator. Those such as O2 offer a hard cut off at 25GB inclusive data roaming, and after that, you are charged at the packaged rate after opting in.
What are the alternatives to using your mobile network provider?
The simplest option is utilising a secondary eSIM on your mobile phone. Popularised by Apple since the iPhone XS/XR, all iPhone devices since have featured dual SIM capability via one physical SIM and one virtual eSIM. The dual eSIM functionality can now be found on Android devices including top of the range Samsung Galaxy and Google Pixel devices, amongst others.
The addition of dual SIM by utilising eSIM has made the process of roaming, particularly to long-haul destinations, a bit easier as I found on my recent trip to Asia. Before flying, load up the eSIM onto your phone, then upon boarding deactivate your UK SIM roaming to ensure you use the mobile network connection from the new virtual SIM card. This makes it far easier to connect and get you started before you’ve even arrived.
On my recent travels, I opted to use Airalo which seems to be the most effective of the bunch and with the best prices – but note there are alternatives such as Holafly and eSIM2Go which I have not used. The process is easy involving a quick sign-up process before searching for the destination country before paying and automatically installing the eSIM.
The process for installing is exceptionally quick, and I can confirm that it does work when you land.
Are there any drawbacks to using eSIM providers like Airalo?
The only gripe I have is the lack of ‘real’ mobile operators available. In most countries listed, bar notable examples such as Thailand, users are directed to install eSIMs from virtual operators that have expensive top-up prices. Comparatively, for the Philippines example above, the 3GB eSIM cost $10 while a 30-day SIM with a local network and 30GB cost roughly the same upon arrival in Manila. In many countries, it is not possible to buy a pay-as-you-go eSIM with a national network provider, making companies like Airalo one of the only options for this.
Here’s when I would roam, use an Airalo eSIM or buy a physical SIM on arrival:
- EU short trips: roam with UK provider (unlikely to be more than £10-15 for a weekend trip, if not included in your tariff).
- EU long trips: use an eSIM provider.
- Non-EU short-haul, short trips (e.g. Turkey, North Africa): use an eSIM provider.
- Non-EU short-haul, long trips and non-EU long-haul: buy a local SIM card on arrival.
Your conclusion may differ depending on your travel requirements, or if you can expense roaming costs, but for leisure travellers the use of eSIMs is likely to come in very handy. Something that is only likely to grow as eSIMs become the default option for all SIM cards – such as the most recent release of iPhones in the US.
If you wish to buy an eSIM with Airalo, feel free to use my referral code: CALLUM0050 when purchasing. Both you and I will get $3 credit to use on future purchases.