Holidaymakers using their mobile phones in the European Union no longer need to fear sky-high bills on their return, thanks to a new cap on roaming charges which comes into force tomorrow. However, in other popular holiday destinations browsing just five web pages could cost as much as £8.
From 1 July 2013, British travellers in the EU will pay a maximum of €0.24 (20p) a minute to make a call, or €0.07 (6p) a minute to receive one, while sending a text message will cost €0.08 (7p). The cost of downloading one megabyte of data will be capped at €0.45 (38p), and no user can be charged more than €50 (£43) in one billing period for data usage.
Roaming charges have been falling for travellers within the EU since 2009, and are set to fall again in July 2014, with the European Commission working on scrapping these completely.
The new price cap is good news for those planning on taking their phone to Croatia, which joins the EU on 1 July.However, it won’t apply to popular holiday destinations outside the EU such as Turkey, Northern Cyprus and Egypt. Charges vary for Switzerland, although, says Kate Murphy at Moneysupermarket.com, most of the networks will apply the same charges for Switzerland as other countries in the EU.
If you are travelling beyond the EU charges can be hefty, as Katy Rose, 29, a marketing director from Mulwell Hill, north London, discovered.
She arrived home to a £240 bill for a four-day stay in Israel. “On landing I received a text from Vodafone saying that as I was signed up to its euro passport I was entitled to make unlimited calls and send unlimited texts for £3 per day – but the text said ‘Welcome to Greece’.
“Obviously, I was pleased as I thought I could use the deal. I briefly questioned whether Israel was included – but was genuinely unsure.”
On receiving the bill she called Vodafone to explain the confusion. “It said I should have disregarded the text, and offered me £40 off my bill,” she says.
However, after The Observer intervened Vodafone had a change of heart. A spokesperson said: “We can’t understand why a ‘Welcome to Greece’ message would have been sent to Katy unless the phone wasn’t on flight mode as the plane flew over Greece. As a gesture of goodwill we will reduce her call charges to the £3 a day she expected.”
For travellers outside the EU it’s important to check the charges for your destination before you get there. Orange charges £8 per MB of data outside the EU – the equivalent of browsing five web pages or sending around 40 emails without attachments – compared to just 42p for countries within. All networks, except EE and T-Mobile, enforce an automatic cap on data usage worldwide of between £40 and £49, according to comparison site uSwitch.com.
However, users can opt out. “With data charges so high outside the EU, users may hit the cap very quickly and opt out, leaving them vulnerable to huge bills,” says Ernest Doku at uSwitch.
EE and T-Mobile customers must buy a “booster” to access the internet abroad. Phone users should receive a warning text wherever they are in the world from providers when they are nearing €50 (£43) of spend.
Data roaming charges vary widely. For example, O2 charges £6 per MB outside the EU, while Vodafone charges £3 per MB, and 3 splits charges into bands depending on which country you’re visiting – for example, it costs £6 per MB in Canada compared with £3 per MB in the US. But simply downloading a couple of web pages and updating your Facebook status will cost you almost £5, regardless of which network you are on, says Murphy.
Dominic Baliszewski, telecoms expert at broadbandchoices.co.uk, says: “How quickly you use data will depend on how you’re surfing, and mobile sites tend to be less data demanding than full desktop sites. The most data-hungry websites will be image heavy – such as social media sites and photo blogs like tumblr. However, video sites are the worst offenders – streaming a three-minute funny cat video whilst on holiday in Brazil could easily cost a not-so-funny £49.”
Turning to call charges, Murphy warns that these can also differ dramatically, as they depend on your network and the country you’re in. For example, with Orange, a call from Turkey to the UK would cost £1.30 per minute compared to £1.75 per minute if calling from Egypt. Meanwhile, a call to the UK from the Bahamas with T-Mobile will cost a hefty £2.50 per min.
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