For many years the EU has been slowly reducing the cost of using your phone within the EU. In June 2017, it should become no more expensive than using your phone in the UK.

But this isn’t about that, but rather a look at what options you have available when roaming in Europe today. In some cases, I’ve briefly mentioned deals on offer for roaming outside of Europe too.

Your data usage needs could well decide what network is best to be with, so if you’re looking to sign up on a new contract – or considering a change – I hope this guide will be useful.

Rather than just list the costs, I’ve added the pros and cons of each as I see them. If you spot some glaring error or I’ve missed anything out, please let me know in the comments below.

If you appreciate the guide, and want me to do regular updates, please share this guide so I know it’s worthwhile.

  • This is an updated guide based on changes on Vodafone and EE, as well as news on potential changes on Three.

Three

three-logo-blackFeel at Home has earned Three a strong reputation for caring about its customers, and for all my moans over the last year or so, it can’t be denied that for many people it is a fantastic offering that can potentially save a LOT of money.

Feel at Home offers ‘unlimited’ data in many EU countries, and also has the benefit of working beyond Europe in places like the USA and Australia too – although of late, it seems Three has stopped adding new destinations.

It comes at no extra monthly cost, and also includes calls and texts back to the UK, as well as free incoming calls and texts.

In theory it should feel just like being at home, hence the name, but in practice Three has imposed restrictions to stop you from taking full advantage, and with a 12GB limit per month it can’t really claim to offer unlimited data either.

Feel at Home, and roaming in general, is limited to 3G. Despite what speed tests might show, file transfers will usually be slowed down, and video streaming is off the menu completely.

Users travelling to an EU country that isn’t part of Feel at Home must pay £5 for daily access (if not wishing to pay per megabyte) and yet still have to accept the same restrictions, making it somewhat less of a good deal if you’re going to somewhere like Germany.

What’s worse is that when you purchase a £5 Euro Internet Pass, you’re not told about the restrictions until after you’ve paid.

UPDATE: Mobile News (the mobile industry trade newspaper) has recently published a story of an industry event where Three admitted it throttles data (like we didn’t know!) and considers Feel at Home as a holiday service. It is now considering offering unrestricted data in the future, for a fee. No more details are available as yet, but as soon as I hear more I will of course publish here.

  • An alternative to Three is iD Mobile, using the same network, and offering free data roaming (on selected plans) in a few more countries than Three. However, I am leaving it out of my comparison here today simply because I do not know how it works when it comes to 3G/4G roaming and traffic management.

Pros

  • Free for all Three users that have roaming enabled
  • Use your allowance abroad at no extra cost, or on a AYCE (all you can eat) data plan use up to 12GB in a month (it is not yet clear how this works if you’re on a new 30GB data plan)
  • Free calls and texts back to the UK (subject to your allowance) but not within the country you’re in, which are charged as if you called from the UK
  • No cost to receive calls or texts

Cons

  • 3G only
  • Data speeds are managed, which can cause large discrepancies between speed test results and actual speeds achieved transferring files, accessing web pages etc
  • Video streaming is blocked, knocking out services including YouTube and Netflix, so not an option for people who may wish to watch video on the beach/hotel room
  • You are limited to the amount of data on your plan, and possibly capped at 12GB if on the new 30GB data plan
  • 12GB limit calculated over a month means you may get access to less data than on another network
  • Users in a (European) country not part of Feel at Home must pay £5 per day
  • Data cannot be tethered to another device

beach-ladies-unsplash

Video: Using data abroad – a comparison

See how Three blocks streaming, unless you attempt to bypass things with the use of a VPN. If you’re roaming on Three, download the nPerf app and test it out for yourself: nPerf for Android nPerf for iOS

Vodafone

Vodafone logoFor some time, Vodafone has offered EuroTraveller and WorldTraveller add-ons, which charge £3 and £5 a day respectively, giving access to your existing data allowance.

For users on a high plan, like the 20GB plan, that’s a lot of data available. Plus it’s without any speed restrictions or service blocking, meaning it is perhaps more deserving of the ‘feel at home’ name.

For users with a low data allowance, or who may have already consumed a lot of it before travelling and have little left, it may not work out to be quite as good an offering.

Both add-ons can be activated free of charge at any time, and you only get charged when you use data abroad.

UPDATE May 5th 2016: Vodafone is now offering a separate bundle of data for use in Europe, replacing the EuroTraveller scheme (which remains for existing users but will be phased out completely in the future).

Customers on new plans from May 5th onwards will no longer pay £3 a day for access to data, but will also be capped when reaching the bundled limit. WorldTraveller continues to be offered for users outside of Europe. More information here.

Pros (Pre May 5th 2016)

  • Access to 4G in most countries
  • Available in more countries than Three’s Feel at Home service
  • Free calls and texts back to the UK (subject to your allowance)
  • No cost to receive calls or texts
  • Allows access to your entire UK data allowance, with no usage restrictions at all
  • Data can be tethered to other devices

Cons (Pre May 5th 2016)

  • By using your UK allowance, you could exceed your limit and incur hefty run-on costs, so setting your phone to limit data usage is essential
  • The value of the deal depends on how much data you have available when you travel, so users with 10 or 20GB of data will obviously benefit more
  • Unconfirmed: I have been told that when customers go out of contract (i.e. exceed their minimum term), Vodafone intends to remove EuroTraveller as an option. If true, this would be a major disappointment, but one that Vodafone would use to ‘force’ people to move to a fixed EU allowance.

Pros (From May 5th 2016)

  • Access to 4G in most countries
  • Available in more countries than Three’s Feel at Home service
  • Free calls and texts back to the UK (subject to your allowance)
  • No cost to receive calls or texts
  • Allows access to your entire UK data allowance, with no usage restrictions at all outside of Europe
  • Fixed allowance for use in Europe (40 countries at time of writing) with a cap to avoid run-on charges
  • Data can be tethered to other devices

Cons (From May 5th 2016)

  • By using your UK allowance outside Europe, you could exceed your limit and incur hefty run-on costs, so setting your phone to limit data usage is essential
  • Within Europe, you will use a separate allowance that might be too low for your needs, even if free (SIM only currently tops out at 4GB for Europe on the top 20GB UK data plan)
  • The value of the deal depends on how much data you have available when you travel, and where you travel now, so users with 10 or 20GB of data will obviously benefit more for non-European travel, while European travellers will be more limited than the older plans

plane-at-airport-gate-unsplash

EE

EE logoWith the latest 4G Extra plans on offer from EE, EU calling has been added which, like Three, allows calls and texts back to the UK – but also within Europe too.

And for an extra £3 users can purchase a Euro Data Pass, giving 24 hours (midnight to midnight UK time) of data, consisting of 500MB at full-speed (with 4G access in most cases).

Users on older/lower plans without the EU calls/texts can buy a Euro Pass with calls, texts and 500MB data for £4 per day.

When you run out of data you will have data blocked completely, so there’s no way to incur any unexpected charges.

Both add-ons can be activated free of charge at any time, and you only get charged when you use data abroad.

Pros

  • Access to 4G in most countries
  • Available in more countries than Three’s Feel at Home service
  • Free calls and texts back to the UK, plus to Europe
  • No cost to receive calls or texts
  • The data is separate to your UK allowance, so it will not consume your UK data
  • Hard cap will stop unexpected charges beyond the daily rate (£3 or £4)
  • Data can be tethered to other devices

Cons

  • Data limited to 500MB
  • Must pay extra for more data, or buy a fixed add-on (many of which are still very costly)

The following text was written before the recent changes, and applies to Vodafone users on plans before May 5th 2016. From May 5th onwards, Vodafone users in Europe will have a fixed allowance of data included at no extra cost.

Some people may find it more beneficial on EE than being on Vodafone, given the fact that the 500MB of data will not come from your UK data allowance, effectively allowing up to about 15GB a month on top of whatever data you currently have at home.

Although you can’t use, say, 20GB of data in a single day as you theoretically could on Vodafone, you still get access to a lot of data on a short break or holiday, with it being easy to budget for in advance.

EE offers other data add-ons if you need more data, otherwise all data will be blocked until the next day when another pass will automatically be activated, unless you turn off mobile data on your phone or opt out via text message.

books-at-the-beach-unsplash

O2

O2-logoIt seems O2 isn’t quite as interested in data roaming as the other key players. Its offering varies for pay monthly and pay as you go users, which can be a little confusing and is perhaps somewhat unnecessary.

For both types of customer, O2 offers a £1.99 daily add-on but with some big differences.

For pay monthly, there’s no daily limit on data, but O2 says it will slow speeds, without saying exactly when that speed capping will kick in. It also includes 120 minutes of calls and 120 texts (to UK or within Europe).

A clue as to when the throttling might occur may come from the pay as you go offering, where you get just 100MB of data per day – so I’d imagine that’s when O2 will start to restrict pay monthly users, impacting file transfers and video streaming.

If you need more data on pay as you go, you can just pay for another £1.99 bundle – as many times as you want. O2 will at hard cap your data, like EE, so you must actually purchase extra add-ons within a 24 hour period so as not to keep getting charged £1.99 repeatedly.

On pay monthly, you must presumably continue to suffer slower speeds until the next day, when a new charge will be applied automatically if you’re still abroad and have data enabled.

Pay as you go users must also pay for calls to the UK and within Europe at a rate of 16p per minute, and 4p a minute to receive calls.

For instant messaging and a bit of Facebook or Twitter, O2’s deal will probably be fine, but it’s really not going to offer much to anyone looking for more data hungry usage.

Pros

  • Access to 4G in most countries Edit: it has been pointed out to me that O2 doesn’t currently offer 4G roaming
  • Available in more countries than Three’s Feel at Home service
  • A bundle of minutes/texts (120 of each) for UK and Europe on pay monthly accounts, or a reduced rate for pay as you go users
  • No cost to receive calls or texts on pay monthly accounts, or reduced rate for pay as you go users
  • No usage restriction for an undisclosed amount of data, but almost certainly at least 100MB will be at full speed
  • The data is separate to your UK allowance, so it will not consume your UK data
  • Hard cap will stop unexpected charges beyond the daily rate (£1.99)
  • Data can be tethered to other devices

Cons

  • Data limited to 100MB for pay as you go users
  • Data speeds are managed for pay monthly users, which could cause problems when transferring files, accessing web pages and using any streaming services
  • Must pay extra for more data, or buy a fixed add-on (many of which are still very costly)

swimming-pool-unsplash

Tesco Mobile

TescoMobile-logoI’ve added in Tesco Mobile, which is doing a special deal for roamers in Europe for the summer (that’s May 23rd to the end of September 3rd 2016).

In a nutshell, you can use your UK data allowance for free in one of 31 countries in Europe, and like Three’s Feel at Home service, you can also use your phone to make calls and send texts to UK numbers when roaming – again, at no extra cost.

Picture messages and calls/texts within the EU to other EU numbers are charged separately, at a rate of 25p, 4p/min and 1p a text respectively.

I asked Tesco to confirm there was no throttling in operation, and was told the following: “You can use the service as you would in the UK. The speed will depend on the network you’re connected to at the time.”

If anyone has experience of using Tesco Mobile abroad, please let me know in the comments, as I’d like to know for sure.

Further details of the scheme can be found on the Tesco Mobile website.

Pros

  • Free for all Tesco Mobile users that have roaming enabled, including pay monthly and pay as you go
  • Use your allowance in the selected 31 countries at no extra cost, then pay 10p per megabyte thereafter
  • Free calls and texts back to the UK (subject to your allowance) but not within the country you’re in, which are charged at 4p a minute (to EU) and 1p per text (to EU)
  • No cost to receive calls or texts
  • Tesco has stated that there is no throttling in operation
  • Ability to have a cap to avoid expensive run-on charges beyond your ‘safety buffer’

Cons

  • 3G only
  • Data cannot be tethered to another device
  • Limited time offer
  • No scheme to offer cheaper/free roaming outside Europe

More information

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Written by Jonathan Morris

Writing about technology, with a focus on mobile, since the early 1990s! Former editor of What Mobile magazine, writer for The Telegraph, Stuff, Know Your Mobile, Pocket Gamer, Smart TV Radar and more. Regular Tweeter, occasional YouTuber, keen amateur photographer and forum moderator. If you like what I write, please consider deactivating your ad blocker or making a donation via PayPal to help fund this site.

5 comments

  1. I’m planning an upcoming trip to Europe in July, and your site has been a blessing in trying to research my best options. I would love to see a comparison like this, but for Travelers from abroad who just need a sim card for a month. Key features ordered by priority
    1. Data roaming with known reasonable limits. 10GB for the month would likely be plenty, but if the price is right, I’d buy more, just for piece of mind. I’m really not concerned about video streaming, but I do need reliable data access for remote work related stuff. Preferably 4G.
    2. Tethering. Would be great. If not, I’ll work around it. But this would save me some hassle.
    3. Free or cheap calls to the US would be great. Ability to have a US number would be sweet.

    I expect to be in Spain, France, and London. The London part will be the most intense use, while the rest will be less so, probably.

    As long as I can use a VOIP client for Google Voice, or Skype, I can make my calls back to the US over that, if needed. Thus my dependency on good data quality, and enough allowance to not sweat it.

    Like

    1. We could offer you a 4G data only European sim which can be used in any European country – 10GB over a 30 day period would be €95 plus cost of dispatch – there is no speed throttling and you will get 4G where available or if no 4G then 3G speeds .. Peter Rebak Ritesim.Com .. peter.rebak@ritesim.com

      Like

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