Roaming: Using a mobile phone in the EU
Affected by Brexit?
When you travel outside your home country to another EU country, you don't have to pay any additional charges to use your mobile phone. This is known as "roaming" or "roam like at home". Your calls (to mobile and fixed phones), text messages (SMS) and data services are charged at domestic rates, i.e. the same price as calls, texts and data within your home country.
The same rule also applies to any calls or text messages your receive while you're abroad - you aren't charged extra to receive calls or texts while roaming, even if the person calling you is using a different service provider.
No extra charge for making or receiving calls while roaming
Michael lives in Ireland and has a contract with an Irish mobile operator where he pays €0.10 a minute for calls and €0.05 for SMS within Ireland. When he goes on a business trip to Spain, Michael doesn't have to worry about paying extra for any calls to EU numbers he makes or receives.
Callers from Ireland will be charged the normal domestic rate when they call Michael. If he calls a local Spanish number, his family in Ireland or any other EU country, he will pay Irish domestic prices - €0.10 a minute - for these calls. His text messages within Spain, to Ireland or to any other EU country will cost €0.05 - just like at home.
What is roaming?
Roaming is when you use your mobile phone while occasionally travelling outside the country where you live or have stable links i.e. you work or study there. So, as long as you spend more time at home than abroad, or you use your mobile phone more at home than abroad, you are considered to be roaming. You will therefore be charged domestic prices for your calls, text and data use in the EU. This is considered a "fair use of roaming services".
Whenever you cross a border within the EU, you should get a text message from your mobile operator informing you that you are roaming, and reminding you of its fair use policy.
If you use your mobile phone abroad permanently, for example if you move abroad and keep using your sim card from your home country, your mobile operator may charge you extra for roaming. However, these charges are capped under the fair use policy.
Fair use policy - Is my data use limited?
Mobile operators may apply a "fair use policy" to ensure that all roaming customers have access to and benefit from the "roam like at home" rules (i.e. roaming services at domestic prices) when travelling in the EU. This means that your mobile operator may apply fair, reasonable and proportionate control mechanisms to avoid customers abusing the rules.
When you're roaming, there are no volume restrictions on your voice calls and text messages (SMS). Any calls or texts not included in your contract will be charged at the same rate you'd pay in your home country. However, there are rules and limits on how much data you can have charged at your domestic price. These limits depend on the type of contract you have.
In some specific cases (see below), you may have to pay a data roaming surcharge which will be equal to the EU-wide wholesale data cap (€3 / GB of data in 2021 + VAT).
I have a pre-paid card
If you have a pre-paid card (meaning that you pay in advance for using your mobile phone) you can use your phone in other EU countries without paying extra. However, if you pay per unit and your domestic unit price for data is less than €3 per GB your mobile operator may apply a data limit while you're roaming.
If your mobile operator applies a data volume limit, it should be at least the volume obtained by dividing the remaining credit on your pre-paid card by €3 as soon you start using data roaming services. You will get the same volume of roaming data that you've paid for in advance. You can of course top up your credit while you're travelling.
Roaming with a pre-paid card: data limits
Jana lives in Slovakia and has a pre-paid card with €15 credit (including VAT) for her mobile phone, which covers calls, SMS and data services. When she goes on holiday to Spain, she has €12 (excluding VAT) credit left on her card. This means that during her holiday in Spain Jana can have a volume of data equal to the value of the remaining credit on her pre-paid card. She will get at least 4 GB of roaming data (€12/€3 = 4).
My contract includes limited data
If you have a mobile phone contract with a limited data allowance, you can use this allowance when you travel in the EU at no extra cost. The data allowance in your contract is your limit when roaming.
However, if you have a very cheap mobile data unit price in your contract (less than €1.50 / GB in 2021), your operator may apply a "fair use" data limit when you're roaming. This limit can be lower than your domestic data allowance.
The limit is based on the price of your domestic mobile contract. Your operator must tell you in advance about this limit and has to let you know when you reach it. You can continue data roaming once you've reached your limit, but your operator will charge you extra. However, this surcharge will be limited to the wholesale data cap (€3 / GB + VAT in 2021).
My contract includes unlimited data
If you have a mobile phone contract where you pay a fixed monthly fee and it includes bundled services with unlimited data, your mobile operator must give you with a large volume of roaming data. The exact amount will depend on how much you pay for your mobile contract. However, the volume of data must be at least twice the amount obtained by dividing the price of your mobile contract (excluding VAT) by the wholesale data roaming cap (€3 in 2021).
Your operator must tell you how much data is in your roaming allowance. If you go over your allowance while roaming, you will be charged extra. However, this surcharge will be limited to the wholesale data cap (€3 / GB + VAT in 2021).
Contract with unlimited data - roaming allowance
Paulina in Luxembourg pays €40 (excluding VAT) for her mobile phone contract, which includes unlimited calls, text messages (SMS) and data. When she uses her mobile phone on holiday in Italy, she gets unlimited calls and SMS and at least 26.6 GB of data (2 x (€40 / €3) = 26.6).
Operators may also offer contracts without roaming services or specifically designed alternative roaming contracts with tariffs which fall outside the scope of EU rules, for example if you roam outside the EU. However, you must specifically choose these types of options yourself.
Monitoring roaming use
As part of their fair use policy, your operator can monitor and check your roaming use over a 4 month period. If, during this period, you have spent more time abroad than at home AND your roaming use exceeds your domestic use, your operator may contact you and ask you to clarify your situation. You will have 14 days to do so.
If you continue to spend more time abroad than you do at home and your roaming consumption continues to exceed your domestic usage your operator may start charging you extra for your roaming use. The surcharges (excluding VAT) are capped at:
- €0.032 per minute of voice calls made
- €0.01 per SMS
- €3 per GB of data (cap in 2021)
Roaming for cross border workers
If you work in one EU country and live in a different one,you can choose a mobile operator in either country and roam using a SIM card either from the country where you live or from the country where you work. The fair use policy applies: as long as you connect at least once a day to your domestic operator's network, it will count as a day of presence in the country where you have your contract (even if you go abroad again the same day).
Can I roam while travelling by ship or plane?
You should also not be charged extra to use your mobile phone when you travel by ship or plane, as long as you are connected to a terrestrial (land-based) mobile network. If mobile services are provided via satellite systems, EU rules no longer apply and you will be charged for non-regulated roaming services (no price caps).
Roaming outside the EU
The cost of roaming (particularly data roaming) outside the EU can be expensive. To avoid running up steep bills, check the cost for roaming outside the EU with your provider before travelling.
If things go wrong - your consumer rights
If you think your service provider has not respected your rights, you should contact your operator and use the complaint procedure in place.
If you are not satisfied with their response you can contact the relevant national regulatory authorities in your country, usually your national telecoms regulator, who will handle your case.