Heard the one about the man who used his smartphone while in Australia and ended up with an £11,000 bill? Or the woman who was charged over £2,600 for downloading a Neil Diamond album while on holiday in South Africa?
These tales of mobile roaming woe – often dubbed ‘bill shock’ – are becoming common enough to make you petrified to even switch on your phone abroad. After recently receiving a hefty bill filled with overseas charges from O2, I can certainly sympathise.
However, if you know your rights, and your options, big roaming bills can be avoided. Read on to find out how to avoid your own bill shock horror story.
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Using your phone within the EU
The European Union imposes strict limits on how much you can be charged for using your mobile in another EU country.
Currently, the maximum that providers can bill you is 24.5p per minute for a voice call, 8.1p for a text and 46p per MB of data used.
If you get an unusually high bill after travelling in the EU, make sure you’ve not been charged more than this by your provider for what you’ve actually used.
EU roaming charges are set to fall even further in July 2014 when new cuts come into place, but it’s not a perfect system. If you’re a pay monthly customer, for example, you can’t in most cases take your allowances with you.
The high cost of non-EU roaming
Outside the EU the situation gets considerably worse. There’s virtually no protection in place against heavy voice, text and data charges. Billing is essentially down to what agreements your provider has in place with other worldwide networks – or how generous it’s feeling – as to maximum charges and cut-off points.
O2 will charge it customers (including me) £6 for each MB of data that we use in a country outside of the EU. And, as the Neil Diamond-loving Orange customer in our above example found, Orange will charge you even more, at £8 per MB.
If you travel regularly it might be worth buying a data bundle, such as O2 Travel or Vodafone Euro Traveller. These should help you manage the cost of using data, but bear in mind that you need to activate them before they’ll spring into action.
There’s no place like ‘home’
Last year, Three announced a new ‘Feel at Home’ service for pay-monthly customers, enabling them to use their minutes, texts and data allowances in selected countries where it has sister networks.
This includes the Republic of Ireland, Sri Lanka, Australia, Italy, Indonesia, Austria, Macau, Hong Kong, Sweden, Denmark and, possibly most crucially, the United States.
It’s not a complete solution, however, and we’ll soon be taking a closer look at all travel deals offered by mobile providers to see who really gives the best value to consumers.
An end to roaming charges in the EU?
The European Parliament has voted to fast-track plans to end roaming charges. Consumers will be able to use their domestic call, text and data allowance while travelling in the EU, subject to fair usage policies. With the right wind behind them, the new regulations could come into force as soon as the latter half of 2015.
A Which? policy expert said: “We want the UK government to support EU regulation to scrap roaming charges within the EU altogether by 2015.”
Have you been hit by excessive roaming charges, or do you have a story of bill shock that you want to share? Please tell us in the comments section below.
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