Mobile roaming tips: how to reduce your phone bill


Gavin Randall

If you've ever faced an expensive data bill in the past you could be considering switching your mobile phone provider. The truth is however that the onus for these charges may not fall on your phone provider and an alternative one may still offer you a similar priced contract or service package.

Travelling outside of your service area could have a quick and severe impact on your phone bill, causing you to exceed your data allowance or subjecting you to any number of fees simply for using the mobile data service in another country. To clarify, these mobile data charges can rack up from a variety of services - from web browsing, to SMS text messaging and even applications that are running on your phone in the background.

Punitive roaming charges and data charges are a fairly common occurrence for the average consumer, but there are some ways that you can protect yourself against these with some knowledge of your mobile data plan to reduce the chances that you face a costly data bill while you are travelling abroad.

In this article we will go through some of the ways that data on your phone could affect you and the bill that you may receive monthly. We will aim to provide you with some useful strategies that you can use to reduce your data bill and some top tips on how you can save yourself from taking out a payday loan to cover these massive charges.

snapshot of cinque terre

EU standard

As a UK resident travelling throughout the EU it was standard practice for the cost of calls, texts and data to be charged at the same rate as your home plan. Because EU carriers were all in the same territory of the EU, there was no need for a changeover and thus no need for extra roaming fees.

However, some new changes in EU policy could leave many people that travel across the UK and other parts of Europe stuck with a much larger bill than they had ever intended, so please do check with your provider before your journey. In most cases, if you happen to use your mobile phone for calls, browse the Internet or many other of your phone’s features that involve data usage, it's likely that you would pay the exact same amount as you would anywhere else in the UK. This is not the case in many other countries throughout the world however.

The average UK mobile user could be expected to pay anywhere between £1 to £5 per minute in countries like Jamaica and across the Caribbean. Data rates are even higher in areas like North America, with estimated costs of up to £6 for every megabyte used!

Even though UK citizens will be able to experience the same rate while they are in UK territories, if they don't remember to turn off their phones when they land in a new country or they inadvertently access the web without turning off data, they could get hit with a massive bill and very quickly.

The clauses on smart phone roaming

The clauses that have been introduced by mobile providers are often noted in very fine text and a good number of mobile phone users will neglect to read these particular details in their contract. Taking a short flight outside of EU territory and using your phone to look up a bus schedule or even download a film to watch in the evening could end up pushing you beyond your data allowance, which could end up costing you an extensive amount of money.

A very likely scenario that you could face could be a quick day trip to Monaco after you have been spending time in the South of France, the latter being covered by EU phone charging standards and the former not. As such, you could find yourself facing some additional charges by mistake for using your smartphone in the same way you typically would have in a different part of the world albeit their close proximity.

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Why are roaming costs so high?

The cost of roaming continues to be extremely expensive throughout most of the world. Many people in the UK are receiving the benefits of being able to continue to use their phones across multiple territories. Even something as simple as using your phone to make a call, send out a text message or quickly surf the Internet to check your e-mails could lead to some additional costs that you may not have accounted for.

Data roaming essentially means that your device has to access a foreign network that's different from your own mobile network. Because you have to access this other network, your phone provider will have to pay the foreign operator for its use and these extra costs are thereby passed down to you as the consumer.

In the EU, many operators were finding that these extra costs were getting out of hand for consumers, especially over short-day trips - it would not be uncommon in this scenario for people to return with over £100 in roaming charges on their bill.

girl talking on mobile phone

Cases of data roaming charges

Most data roaming charges don't come with any type of hard cap for the top end of phone usage. Many people throughout the EU have faced charges that have totalled £20,000+ just for a simple vacation!

If you have your bill set up to be drawn directly from your account, it could also leave you in a difficult financial situation as it’s quite likely you will not have anticipated the charges. We learnt that in one case a 25-year-old that took a two-week trip to Thailand in 2014 had roughly £1000 taken out of her account by her mobile phone provider without a warning text or any type of billing update before the withdrawal. Upon checking her bill she discovered what the charges were for which as you can imagine came as quite a shock.

One of the worst examples in the UK was a 19-year-old who racked up a £22,000 bill from their phone provider in 2015 as she used social media heavily and made video calls during her time in Turkey. These, of course, are worst-case scenario examples that you could face if you don't know your plan and aren't able to take measures in advance to avoid using up extra data.

In Turkey for example, you could be forced to pay as much as £1.50 per minute for any type of phone call. Because the country is a bridge between Asia and Europe, it's likely that you'll be accessing many different foreign networks and this often leads to data charges coming from multiple sources, which can of course be incredibly costly.

Understanding roaming fees

One of the most expensive roaming charges involves data usage, which as we’ve previously explained in some countries can be as much as £6 per MB. If loading the average webpage takes around 3 MB, visiting just two or three websites or perhaps watching a quick video could easily bring you beyond £40.

One of the best ways that you can plan ahead is to seek travel packages from your mobile phone provider. Several companies offer a travel package that is affordable, for as little as £3.99 per day. For this small charge you may get an offer of access to 120 call minutes, 120 texts and unlimited data while roaming within a specific territory. Other phone providers may offer caps whereby mobile data is automatically turned off and you need to purchase data plans, further helping you to manage your overall data usage and budget as you travel. Prepaying for some of these roaming charges in a package is far more effective and far cheaper than taking the risk and just using your phone.

Another option worth considering to really minimise your overall charges whilst travelling is purchasing a prepaid sim card, particularly if you’re planning on an extended trip. A new or local sim card will likely cost you approximately £10 or under, which you are then able to insert into your phone in order to gain access to a local smart phone or prepaid minutes package for use during your stay. When weighed up against the potential size of roaming charges, this option can be far more cost-effective and help to protect you against unknown or unanticipated charges.

Other tips to keep in mind:

A smart phone has become an everyday necessity and EU mobile operators are working to offer better roaming packages. As mentioned previously, if you're going to be travelling within the EU, you should be able to use your handset in the same way that you could during your time at home. Due to some of the most extreme cases of high data roaming bills that some consumers have suffered, local and foreign network providers are reviewing their roaming charges to try and offer better rates.

Even though mobile companies are opening up the use of smart phones across the EU, they are still placing some data limits on devices. Most companies are delivering a range of around 12 GB of data at domestic rates. After you go over your allowance, it's possible that you could be liable to pay full roaming charges again. Be sure to limit your overall use of your mobile phone abroad and stick to using data across local Wi-Fi networks when possible.

If you are confused as to where you can use your phone without incurring extra fees, watch for alerts when you have landed or are in close proximity to a border. It's mandated by the EU that service providers must send an alert out while your network is using Internet connectivity and you start roaming. If you see one of these alerts you can just switch the roaming feature off on your phone and you won't incur charges until you turn roaming on again and start using it.


If you're planning to travel it is very important that you understand the roaming charges that you could be subjected to whilst you’re away. We hope this has been a helpful guide and urge you to bear some of these ideas in mind if you are working towards reducing your mobile data bills and the need to take out online loans.