Roaming in the EU
The EU "roam like at home" rules mean that when you use your mobile phone while travelling outside your home country in any EU country you don't have to pay any additional roaming charges. You benefit from these rules when calling (to mobile and fixed phones), sending text messages (SMS) and using data services while abroad. These rules also apply when receiving calls or texts while roaming even if the person you are calling is using a different service provider.
You pay exactly the same price for using these services when travelling in the EU as you would if you were at home. In practice, your operator simply charges or takes your roaming consumption from the volumes in your domestic mobile tariff plan / bundle.
No extra charge for making or receiving calls while roaming
Michael lives in Ireland and has a contract with a mobile service provider which includes roaming. Thanks to the EU "roam like at home" rules Michael does not have to worry about paying a surcharge for any calls to EU numbers he makes or receives during a business trip to Spain. Callers from Ireland will be charged the domestic rate for calling Michael. If he calls a local Spanish number, his family in Ireland, or another EU country, he will pay Irish internal domestic prices for these calls.
"Roam like at home" is intended for people who occasionally travel outside the country where they live or have stable links i.e. they work or study there. It's not meant to be used for permanent roaming. As long as you spend more time at home than abroad, or you use your mobile phone more at home than abroad, you can roam freely at domestic prices when travelling anywhere in the EU. This is considered a "fair use of roaming services".
If you use your mobile phone abroad permanently, your mobile operator may charge you for your roaming use. These charges are capped however (see fair use policy below).
When you cross a border within the EU, you will receive a text message from your mobile operator informing you that you are roaming and reminding you of its fair use policy.
Fair use policy
Mobile operators may apply what is known as a "fair use policy" to ensure that all roaming customers have access to and benefit from the "roam like at home" rules (i.e. regulated roaming services at domestic price) when travelling in the EU. Mobile operators may apply fair, reasonable and proportionate control mechanisms to avoid abusive use of these rules.
Fair use policy and data limits
When you roam like at home there are no volume restrictions for voice calls and SMS, but there are rules and limits for data usage at domestic price which are determined by the type of contract you have.
In some specific cases (see below), beyond a reasonably high volume of roaming data at domestic price, you may have to pay a data roaming surcharge which will be equal to the wholesale (EU-wide) data cap (€4.50 / GB of data in 2019 plus VAT). This wholesale roaming price is the maximum your domestic operator has to pay a foreign operator when you use data roaming services.
Data limits - pre-paid cards
If you have a pre-paid card (meaning that you pay in advance for using your mobile phone) you can roam like at home. However, your mobile operator may apply a roam like at home limit for data if you pay per unit and your domestic unit price for data is less than €4.50 per GB.
If your mobile operator applies a roam like at home volume limit for data, that limit should be at least the volume obtained by dividing the remaining credit on your pre-paid card by €4.50 as soon you start using data roaming services. You will get the same volume of roaming data that you have paid for in advance. You can of course top up your credit while roaming.
Roaming with a pre-paid card: data limits
Jana lives in Slovakia and has a pre-paid card with €20 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 2.6 GB of roaming data (€12/€4.50 = 2.6).
Data limits - national bundles with limited data
If you have a data allowance in your domestic bundle, this allowance is fully available when you "roam like at home", with no extra charge. This means that your domestic allowance is your limit when roaming.
However, if you have a very cheap mobile data unit price (less than €2.25 / GB in 2019), your operator may apply a "fair use" limit for data that is lower than your domestic allowance when you are roaming. The limit is calculated on the basis of the retail price of your domestic mobile bundle as in the case of unlimited data (below). Your operator must inform you in advance about this limit and will have to alert you when you reach it. Be aware that you can continue data roaming but your operator will apply a surcharge. This surcharge will be the wholesale data cap = €4.50 / GB plus VAT in 2019. The data cap will decrease further after 2019.
Data limits - national bundles with unlimited data
If you have a contract where you pay a fixed monthly fee and it includes bundled services with unlimited data, your mobile operator must provide you with a large volume of "roam like at home" data. The exact amount will depend on the price you pay for your mobile bundle. The roaming data volume must be at least twice the volume obtained by dividing the price of your mobile bundle (excluding VAT) by the wholesale data roaming cap (€4.50 in 2019).
For example: you pay €40 (excluding VAT) for your mobile bundle with unlimited calls, SMS and data. When you roam like at home in the EU, you get unlimited calls and SMS and at least 17.7 GB of data (2x(€40/€4.50) =17.7).
Your operator must inform you of your roam like at home data allowance. If you go beyond this allowance while roaming the surcharge will be the wholesale data cap = €4.50 / GB plus VAT in 2019. The data cap will decrease further after 2019.
Operators may also offer contracts without roaming services or specifically designed alternative roaming contracts with tariffs which fall outside the scope of the roam like at home rules (for example if you roam outside the EU) but these types of options must be specially chosen by the customer. As mobile operators are free to offer cheaper rates, you should shop around to find the best value and offer to fit your specific needs.
Fair use policy - monitoring
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 usage exceeds your domestic usage, 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 applying a surcharge to your roaming consumption. The surcharges (excluding VAT) are capped as follows:
- 3.2 cents per minute of voice call made
- 1 cent per SMS
- €4.50 per GB of data (cap in 2019)
The cap for data will progressively decrease on 1 January each year as follows: €3.50, €3 to €2.50 in 2022. The cap after 2019 may be revised following a review of the wholesale roaming markets in 2019.
Fair use policy - 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 like at home with a SIM from the country where you live or from the country where you work. The roam like at home fair use policy applies: as long as you log on 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 the same day).
Calling another EU country from home
EU rules also limit the amount you can be charged when you call or send an SMS to another EU country from home. You can only be charged a maximum of €0.19 (+ VAT) a minute for calls to another EU country, and a maximum of €0.06 (+ VAT) per SMS sent to another EU country.
Remember, when you call another EU country while roaming in the EU you'll pay your home country's internal domestic rate for these calls.
Roaming outside the EU
The cost of roaming (particularly data roaming) outside the EU can be expensive, so to avoid running up steep roaming bills check the cost for roaming outside the EU with your provider before travelling.
Roaming while travelling by ship or plane
When travelling by ship or plane in the EU you can roam like at home as long as you are connected to a terrestrial (land-based) mobile network. If mobile services are provided via satellite systems, roam like at home no longer applies and you will be charged for non-regulated roaming services (no price caps).
Protection of personal data
Your operator is required to comply with the relevant personal data protection rules and may only use your data (which they already have for billing purposes) to check and compare your roaming usage with your domestic consumption.
If things go wrong - your consumer rights
If you think your service provider has not respected your roam like at home rights and you have been charged for roaming services while travelling within the EU, contact your operator and use the complaint procedure in place to contest these extra charges.
If you are not satisfied with the response you can contact the relevant national regulatory authorities in your country, usually your national telecoms regulator who will resolve your case.