Which Mobile Network is best for the travelling nomad?!

This post comes to you sponsored by me!  Why?

Well, I am currently in the process of moving from EE to Vodafone.  And the reason?  Mobile roaming costs.

Who is in the mix?

I’m only going to concentrate on core UK networks here – MVNOs (mobile virtual networks, such as iD and GiffGaff who piggyback the big 4) excluded.

We have –

  • EE
  • Three
  • Vodafone
  • O2

What’s the comparison?

Free included coverage, and how much it costs when you leave the “free” areas.  And a little side note about speed and service in general.  I have used all 4 extensively.

EE

I switched to EE from Three a few years ago down to bandwidth throttling (more on that later).

So what do you get on EE?

EE currently has 2 options currently.

Most of their plans just include the standard EU countries.  If you want to add the USA, Canada, NZ, Mexico and Australia it will cost you an extra £10 a month.  If you have an existing “MAX” plan you will benefit from this being included – also included in their new 5G contracts.

Frankly EE is behind the curve now.  Selling 5G plans with more roaming but limiting data to 60GB on the biggest sim only deal?  A 5G connection could blitz that in minutes!

Oh, and the costs outside of included coverage?

I transit through Doha a lot…. and when I land and my phone gets a connection, it can easily chew a few 100mb in seconds!

EE are very good at hiding the actual costs but here’s a breakdown –

 

Bot hold on – what happens once I have used my 150mb?

Well, there is little information online, but I can tell you from doing it – 900mb valid for 1 month?  £50!!  I use my phone as I would at home so it adds up quickly – I have seen bills of several hundred pounds more than once – hence my drive to get off them!

I’m not going to lie, customer services are very good.  The best I have experienced on any UK network.  And their 4G network is stupidly fast.  I have seen 200mb/sec+ in central London.

But with lack of transparency EE gets a 6/10 from me.

Three

Ah, Three.  Everyone’s first love.  The creators of all you can eat data and roaming for free even before the EU regulations.

So how does Three stack up now?

“Go Roam” now includes 71 countries and comes in two flavours.

  • Go Roam lets you use your plan or add-on allowances in up to 71 destinations around the world. Go Roam is made up of Go Roam in Europe, which is available automatically on all plans.
  • Go Roam Around the World, which is available on all plans except Essential Plans.

The full list –

  • Aland Islands.
    Australia.
    Austria.
    Azores.
    Balearic Islands.
    Belgium.
    Brazil.
    Bulgaria.
    Canary Islands.
    Chile
    Colombia
    Costa Rica
    Croatia.
    Cyprus.
    Czech Republic.
    Denmark.
    El Salvador
    Estonia.
    Finland.
    France (Inc. Corsica, Mayotte & Reunion ).
    French Guiana.
    Germany.
    Gibraltar.
    Greece (Inc. Crete & Rhodes).
    Guadeloupe.
    Guatemala.
    Guernsey.
    Hong Kong.
    Hungary.
    Iceland.
    Indonesia.
    Ireland.
    Isle of Man.
    Israel
    Italy (Inc. Sardinia & Sicily).
    Jersey
    Latvia.
    Liechtenstein.
    Lithuania.
    Luxembourg.
    Macau.
    Maderia.
    Malta.
    Marie-Galante
    Martinique.
    Mayotte.
    Netherlands.
    New Zealand.
    Nicaragua.
    Norway.
    Panama.
    Peru.
    Poland.
    Portugal.
    Puerto Rico.
    Republic of Ireland.
    Reunion.
    Romania.
    Saint Barthélemy.
    Saint Martin.
    San Marino.
    Singapore
    Slovakia.
    Slovenia.
    Spain.
    Sri Lanka.
    Sweden.
    Switzerland.
    United States (Inc. Florida Keys).
    Uruguay.
    US Virgin Islands.
    Vatican City.
    Vietnam.

Sounds great yes?

Hold fire…

Firstly the FUP (fair usage policy).

To quote Three

In our Go Roam in Europe destinations, you can use up to 19GB of your data allowance (15.1GB if on Pay As You Go) at no extra cost. Use over this fair use limit, is subject to a surcharge. There are no fair use limits for calls made or texts sent within our Go Roam in Europe destinations.

If you’re in a Go Roam Around the World destination:

• If you have a data allowance greater than 12GB, you can use up to this amount of data a month at no extra cost. Data use above this will not be allowed.
• If you have unlimited texts you can send up to 5000 texts back to the UK (landline and mobile numbers) per month.
• If you have 3000 or more minutes included in your allowance you can use up to 3000 minutes on calls back to the UK.

Let’s talk about “TrafficSense”, better known as bandwidth throttling –

Go Roam Around the World

In relation to overseas traffic in Go Roam destinations we provide a choice of plans, some of which include traffic management. We do this to provide customers with choice as to the type of service they may wish to enjoy and to protect our network.

In Go Roam Around the World destinations we provide streaming at standard definition, reduce the speed of P2P and VPN services to ensure we can provide time critical services to all our customers, use of Personal Hotspot is not included. The above measures apply to all plans.

Contract handset and SIM Only contract customers wishing to use unlimited data on our network, without any of the above restrictions in Go Roam Around the World destinations can purchase a Data Passport Add-on.

So what does this mean?  Put simply a Three mobile will be noticeably slower abroad compared to the other networks – almost like a 3G experience or worse.

You can get around this by paying for a “Data Passport” –

The Data Passport gives you the freedom to use the mobile internet as you like for £5 a day. You can search, tweet, upload, browse, email and stream audio and video as much as you like until midnight (UK time), and our standard TrafficSense™ policies won’t apply.

 

The Data Passport also adds a few more countries –

  • Azerbaijan
    Canada
    French Guiana
    Malaysia
    Mexico
    Moldova
    Montenegro
    Myanmar
    Pakistan
    Russian Federation
    Saudi Arabia
    Serbia
    South Korea
    Taiwan
    Thailand
    Tunisia
    Turkey
    Ukraine
    United Arab Emirates

But what about countries not included? Sharp intake of breath…..

£6 per MB!!

Overall a good proposition for the light casual user.  I can’t comment on the data passport as I have never tried it.

(Note from Michele – I have used the data passport in a couple of countries. You get a text when you first log onto the network in the new country with a link allowing you to do it for £5 for up to 24 hours). The speed was fast but the big drawback is that the time of 24 hours for the passport ends at midnight UK time. This can mean you pay for a full 24 hours but only get a few hours for your money with time differences etc)

You can find more information about Three’s products here.

I’d give Three a 4/10.

Vodafone

So onto the next one.  Vodafone.  Vodafone has had the “Data Passport” for a while and its current iteration is very good.

It’s simple.  All plans apart from Basic ones come with “Global Roaming”.  This is actually just the EU, but we will let that one slip!  Go outside the EU in another 104 countries (all the ones you can roam too) and it’s a flat £6/day.  Unlimited to the caps of your UK plan.

Then “Red Entertainment” plans benefit from another 28 countries taking the total to a competition beating 77 –

Albania, Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, Australia, Barbados, Bermuda, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Canada, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Ghana, Grenada, Jamaica, Kenya, Lesotho, Mexico, Montserrat, Mozambique, Netherland Antilles, New Zealand, South Africa, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent, St Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks and Caicos, UK Virgin Islands, USA.

Again, stray from this and it’s a flat £6 a day with “Roam Further”.  WINNING.

Oh, and from 10 July 2019 Vodafone will offer unlimited data plans including the above.

All this adds up to a 10/10 score from me.

 

O2

Last but is it least?  I moved from O2 to Three a long time ago due to silly data caps.  But what’s the story now?

It’s bleak.  They cover the EU as standard but offer nothing included above this without paying daily.

Edit – the below is included in selected tariffs but not all. Over and above it’s still £4.99 a day.

£4.99 a day gets you 120 mins, 120 texts and data included in the following locations –

Argentina Honduras
Australia Madagascar
Botswana Mexico
Canada Myanmar
Chile New Zealand
Colombia Nicaragua
Costa Rica Panama
Ecuador Paraguay
El Salvador Peru
Greenland Rwanda
Guatamala United States
Guinea Uruguay
Guyana Venezuela
Yemen

Let’s take Qatar as an example for out of bolt-on usage…. ready?  Sit tight…

£7.20 per MB.

Wow. Just wow.

Want 200mb included?  Sure!  just chuck £120 at O2!!

O2…. you get 2/10.  Shocking.

 

Are there any other options?

Well, there is SkyRoam

£7/day “globally”.  Worth it?  Not if you have a Vodafone contract. You can read Michele’s review of the Skyroam here. She uses hers regularly as it is often faster than hotel wi-fi. There is also an option to pay $9 a month for 1GB of data if you will not be a heavy user. You can then buy further data at $9 per 1GB. You can see further details and pricing for the SkyRoam here.

35 Comments on "Which Mobile Network is best for the travelling nomad?!"

  1. roy barnett | 6 July 2019 at 6:11 am | Reply

    I used to be on Vodafone but found their customer service really bad, including when you went into the shops

    • Lady London | 18 July 2019 at 2:02 pm | Reply

      I have worked with Vodafone both personally and professionally as major global business accounts subscriber over many many years.

      IME as a corporate customer especially a global corporate or a large UK corporate, Vodafone can’t do enough for you. Special call lines, often unasked-for freebies (that we always had to return), problems actually solved really fast and even anticipated and solved.

      As a personal customer, from time to time, around every 5 years or so, Vodafone has decided to court personal customers. It’s a complete disaster. Vodafone problem solving is the pits. They caused me a very very serious problem after porting to them, denied it over 18 months of calling desperately, never fixed it, totally incompetent series of staff and being passed from pillar to post. In the end I proved it and solved it myself. But no compensation for all the calls and the pain and the phone not functioning, even when I had proved it and told them what to check and all was revealed.

      A few months after that the ongoing consistent problems caused by Vodafone incompletely porting (so outgoing calls possible but incoming not being received despite all checks by Vodaone saying they were) the Daily Mail exposed it. It seemed somehting like 200,000 users were affected. In my opinion Vodafone had lied, and lied, and lied, and at the very minimum they could not be a$$ed to put competent teams to deal with consumer problems at any level (I got to levels 1, 2 and 3 in my attempts to solve the problems Vodaone left me with, denied, refused to fix, and then when they were outed did not compensate me for.

      So as a major corporate customer, where I alway received Rolls Royce service in a number of global accounts for them, I heartily recommend Vodafone. There is really no better network for corporates.

      As a personal customer beware and avoid them. Perhaps an “influencer” (social media professional) might be treated like a corporate. But as a personal customer nothing in the world could ever make me signup with Vodafone again. No matter what their offer. This leopard won’t change its spots.

  2. I cannot understand why anyone has a contract these days. The PAYG options are so much cheaper for UK / EU use (until 31st Oct) and international access can be customised by the picking up of a local SIM or a UK based SIM for one month’s worth of data / calls and slotted into your second SIM slot on your phone.
    Annoying global omissions for coverage or roaming deals are Bahrain and Cambodia.

    • Lady London | 18 July 2019 at 2:10 pm | Reply

      Contracts are needed if you are a big data user.

      I always had PAYG as you are recommending. But now everything we want to do, including some government-required functions, requires a data connection. And even if don’t stream, some apps can be out of control with the amount of data they use. So if you use data at all you need a contract.

      The only exception would be if I plan to roam in a country like the US, where use of a simple program like a satnav can use huuuge amounts of data due to inefficiency, very quickly without your being able to control it. In that case I don’t use my contract. I buy a separate PAYG SIM and put a chunk of data on it then use that.

      Using a PAYG SIM for data in this way means that if I am in an expensive country for data and the data I have paid for upfront is exhausted, the SIM stops working. This avoids huge unexpected data charges for roaming being added to my contract – which the networks will insist on collecting Regardless of it not being your fault as you have no control of it it was just the way the app, the phone or the local network worked, your UK network will still collect that money. You will pay more for PAYG data this way mostly, but it’s really worth it to cap the amount you can lose when travelling in an expensive roaming country (just make sure the PAYG SIM and its data are sold as being able to be used in the country you need it).

  3. David Williams | 6 July 2019 at 6:39 am | Reply

    Totally agree with the review having also experienced all four first hand. 3 is a joke, more like going back to GPRS/Edge than 3G a lot of the time- barely enough to use Google Maps and we’re talking in countries like Spain not the Arctic! awful, avoid, avoid. EE and O2 better but in many instances capped with hard to find (because they are rediculously expensive) overages.

    Vodafone is head and shoulders above the rest. Not just unlimited (well up to your normal plan) but more often than not at full speed 4G and with tethering to another device not an issue. Has changed my roaming life!

    • Lady London | 18 July 2019 at 2:14 pm | Reply

      Networks are not legally allowed to throttle you in the EU anymore.
      The way to fix this is to ask the network for a replacement SIM mentioning that yours is currently working this way and you would like it corrected.

  4. Or use a dual sim phone and have the second sim as a data sim payg in the country visiting. Even some iPhones have dual sim. The xr when purchased in HK has two actual sims not virtual.

  5. My wife’s on BT. Annoyingly, when in Rhodes recently, the phone kept connecting to Turkey, just over the water. I kept ticking the local Greek provider, which happened to be Vodafone , but it was continually over ridden. I called BT back home to complain and they have refunded her cap of £40…fair enough. I’m on Talkmobile, which is Vodafone and had no problems. Depending where we are, we usually opt for a local Sim, far better value, and in some places you have little choice, Nepal comes to mind.

  6. I have used both Vodafone and o2 abroad recently and for me o2 was the better option. I was in Australia and could use my full data allowance achieving excellent 4G speeds at no extra cost. The article appears to be inaccurate as my understanding is all contracted o2 customers (rolling and fixed) can add the o2 travel bolt which is free of charge.

    • From the O2 website….

      Going outside of Europe? Good news. With our O2 Travel Inclusive Zone Bolt On, available on selected O2 Refresh and sim only tariffs

  7. Mark Jones | 6 July 2019 at 8:25 am | Reply

    Little bit of anti 3 bias here. While I accept roaming is a bit slower than at home, I’ve had no problems using google maps whatsapp etc and never got near the data cap. If you want “full fat” then £5 per day is still cheaper than vodafone’s £6 per day, and I pay £20 for unlimited Uk calls and data which Vodafone want £30 for. As others suggest, look at dual sim phones and get a local sim for data (I do this in Thailand) which also works well and allows local calling – the best of both worlds. Also very useful to have your UK number live for texts for credit card authorisations when buying online.

    • Threes £5 a day is only valid is certain countries. Vodafone is global for £6 a day though 🙂

    • As a retired 3 regular I agree with your comments Mark Jones.
      Had an issue this week as was texted saying could use 3 in Vietnam….after £40 realised not!…. but 3 immediately refunded…Yahoo.
      Question …who do you use as SIM provider in Thsiland as wife and I spend 1 month x 3 times a year here but not sure best sim that will stay active when not here ie when back in UK

  8. Richard de Fleury | 6 July 2019 at 9:15 am | Reply

    I spend 3-4 months a year outside the UK and find 3 pretty good. The big downside (unless I’m very much mistaken) is that while you can phone and text back to the UK, you can’t to local numbers so it’s still essential to have a local sim or phone. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    • David Clinker | 6 July 2019 at 10:32 am | Reply

      You’re right. I wasn’t concentrating and while in Spain had a long discussion by text (thought I was on Whatsapp) on my English phone with an Irish friend, also in Spain, on his Irish phone. Cost me about £20.

      • Either that must have been a while ago, or your provider is breaking the rules (assuming you are on a contract and hadn’t run out of inclusive texts).

        EU roaming rules quite clearly state that when roaming in the EU calls and texts to all EU states must be taken from your inclusive allowances or charged at your normal domestic rate.

        That often makes calls and texts to other EU countries cheaper when roaming in the EU than they are at home.

        It doesn’t apply of course when roaming outside the EU where calls and texts to local numbers are often considerably more.

  9. A really useful review, thank you Paul. I use O2 but am on an incredibly cost efficient business contract. I appreciate not everyone will have access to this but I use my phone overseas (mostly in Europe) as I would in the UK and have no problems with data running out, even when tethering for my Wi-fi only iPad. Of course, things can change so I can’t always rely on having this contract which is why I think the review is so useful and for me in particular. Thanks again.

  10. Vodafone have a great network, awful customer service. Just a slight heads up that if you’re on a Corporate or SME plan the roaming options are different. It’s a much smaller group of countries for the £5/day plan. They’ll charge you £25 for 5MB of data in the likes of Kuwait. Yes, you read that correctly, £5 per MB in blocks of 5MB.

  11. David Clinker | 6 July 2019 at 10:28 am | Reply

    I’m intending now to buy a local SIM every time we travel outside the EU. It’s mainly to avoid some huge accidental charge from my UK service.

    We’ve just been to Kenya; last year we had no mobile signal for two weeks (bliss, but then we’re retired). This year we had signal pretty much everywhere even out in the bush and I became paranoid that my phone would connect at O2’s £7.20 per MB rate and perhaps update a huge app.

    A dual SIM phone is not easy to buy in UK except online so they are imported from some obscure country. My info leaflet was in Serbo-Croat. (Take care. I researched a dual SIM phone, carefully ordered it from Tesco and it arrived in the single SIM version. Tesco (and Carphone Warehouse) don’t sell dual SIM phones.)

    We divide our time between UK and Spain and a Spanish SIM is always in my phone.

    But twice now my Spanish PAYG (non-data) credit has been wiped out when outside the EU – without the SIM being used and with roaming turned off. They must have detected it and imposed some fee or contact cost. So the moral is to remove any local SIM except when you need it.

    • :Lady London | 18 July 2019 at 2:23 pm | Reply

      When I am using a separate SIM due to these issues I always keep it in a separate phone as well. Can’t rely on software in phones not to spark up and connect even ifyou’re not using it. Leading to possible flat rate charges for roaming even if you’ve not used it. Arguing “it’s the phone and I didn’t use it” won’t get you very far. iphone users got hit by this a while back.

      I have 2 dual SIM phones and I would never dream of relying on the second slot not to be used by the phone or the network without me explicitly causing that.

      Samsung dual SIMs are available in the UK but only directly from Samsung. That means at full Samsung price. when the street price is usually considerably below full Samsung price. For dual SIMs you mostly have to look online so far as the UK is concerned, so far as I can tell right now.

  12. Has anyone done a similar analysis but for small business plans from the different UK networks? Are there any better deals there for roaming?

    • Lady London | 18 July 2019 at 2:25 pm | Reply

      Small business plans I’ve seen in the UK look better but when you look closely they really seem to be about getting the VAT back and making it clear for expensing purposes that this is a phone purchased by a business to which the costs are booked.

      As with airline route deals, the deals available from the phone networks to large corporates are much, much better that this.

  13. Wow! A really useful article that seems to have flushed out the (male) techies.

    I got hammered once in Doha airport before I managed to log on to the free Wi-fi. Ever since I’ve switched off roaming unless I’m in the EU or one of the Go-roam countries in my Three package.

    I find Three ok for my needs. Never use more than 5GB of data a month (don’t stream anything) and just need the phone for a few calls, texts but mainly for emails and WhatsApp and Hangouts.

    We’ve got a couple of long holidays (1-2 months) coming up in China and New Zealand and I’m thinking local sims may be best although a daily data passport may do the job on days we can’t use free Wi-fi.

    Anyone got any thoughts on using a mobile in China?

    • Yes, we bought a China Unicom SIM from eBay prior to travelling there six years ago. That was fine for 3G coverage at the time and worked out great value.

      Not sure what the options are now if you want 4G. As always it’s a case of checking the network requirements against the phone capabilities to ensure it will work.

    • Lady London | 18 July 2019 at 2:26 pm | Reply

      Voda is strong in NZ. Some networks’ roaming agreements include NZ too I think. China probably different story.

  14. I also think this is a bit of 3 bashing. I travel frequently and overall it works pretty well world-wide.

    To Richard & David:

    “With Go Roam you can use your allowances to use data, call and text the UK and other Go Roam destinations, and it won’t cost you a penny more. You can enjoy Go Roam whether you’re on Pay Monthly Advanced plans or Pay As You Go, using a tablet, phone, mobile Wi-Fi or dongle. If you don’t have an allowance you’ll still benefit from lower roaming rates in our Go Roam destinations, letting you roam at no extra cost.
    Note: On an Essential plan? No problem. Calls and texts back to the UK and between our Go Roam in Europe destinations are included in your allowance with all our plans, including Essential plans.”

    I am on an Advanced Plan and outside the UK but within Europe I can call/text all my contacts in various EU countries as well as those in the UK for free, also local numbers. I have never been charged and if you have then I suggest you go back to Three and find out what’s going on. It is different outside Europe when only call/texts back to the UK are free.

  15. I’m in the camp that considers this a bit harsh on Three.

    I’m a light user on Three PAYG. I have a dual SIM phone, with the second SIM slot normally holding a Three data SIM that offers 200MB free per month. I don’t normally exceed that, though it is often close when travelling.

    Most of my data needs are catered for by WiFi, either at home or in hotels etc.

    So for me Three is great, especially considering I pay nothing at all for that 200MB/month. It may not be the fastest when roaming, but that doesn’t bother me.

    When not in a roam like at home country I’ve tried various other options including Gigsky and local Sims. Invariably though those work out more expensive for what I need.

    BTW dual SIM phones are fairly common these days. I have a OnePlus, all of which are dual SIM. It does limit choice somewhat, but I wouldn”t go back to a single SIM phone now.

  16. Thanks Mark re China Unicom. I reckon we’ll get a local SIM as we are doing a lot of travelling and put it in my wife’s phone and keep the Three SIM in mine.

  17. ClaytonTheCruton | 11 July 2019 at 3:37 am | Reply

    I’ve used Three for years and CS aside they’re great. We travel regularly and at least one ( contract) phone or the ( SIM only) ipad is streaming YT or Netflix while we’re away and the only places i’ve ever had issues is in countries where the cell infrastructure is poor generally no matter who you use.

    I’ve honestly never had any of the ramp back issues / poor connection issues mentioned above & am on 4g more often than not. Where they clearly fall down is when you have to contact Three where i’ve had to explain to agents how to do their job on numerous occasions as they tend to be clueless and get lost quick if you go off their scripts ( based on personal experience)

  18. A Vodafone user and would never look back,

    To answer some of the previous points made by previous posters:

    Local Sim:
    There is no denying that if you are in an obscure country and have to pay £6 a day and you are there for a considerable time then this is a no brainer. HOWEVER, arriving at 9pm at night with no local currency the last thing I want to be doing is pissing about getting a SIM Card at the airport getting it activated etc especially if you are only there for a few days you can just literally turn the data on and use the phone as normal

    ALSO take into consideration not all countries will give tourists SIM Cards take Zimbabwe / Zambia / Bolivia for an example you have to go to a local Phone office during 9 to 5 with your passport to buy a sim and get connected is another hour or so , Far too much faff just to save a few quid but again if you are going for a considerable amount of time this is valid

    Three:

    Three simply dont cover enough countries for me, I have been to a fair few in the last year that having another device on 3 was simply like carrying a brick around as there was no roaming agreement, Doha, Malaysia, Argentina, Ecuador, Oman are just a few where I could use Vodafone and not 3. I also find their customer service useless.

    Not to mention the awful traffic shaping that you end up with dial up speeds on your device which is useless when trying to get work done

    Hope this answers some questions and provides some balance

  19. Cathy Garner | 18 July 2019 at 10:35 am | Reply

    Two comments to add:

    If you have to travel to the Channel Islands, be careful. Only Three and EE treat them as the UK. All the rest count them as non-EU, and so of course it can get horribly expensive.
    Dual SIM phones are not that hard to find in the UK. My Honor 9 Lite is dual SIM, and I bought it from John Lewis about 6 months ago.

  20. Jason Hindle | 20 July 2019 at 5:36 pm | Reply

    It’s worth noting that some of the MVNOs work well for specific travel requirements. China Mobile’s CMLink (uses EE) gives you roam like home 4G in mainland China and Hong Kong. I should be testing it out late September.

    A lot of the more obscure African airports have SIM card sales either before or just after customs. In Lomé, a few weeks back, I was able to buy a Togocell SIM* with US dollars while waiting for my bag to turn up. At Harare, the major networks are represented just after customs.

    “Un SIM carte avec deux gigabytes S’il vous plaît,” in my best Franglais.

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