Heading off on a holiday or business trip and need to stay online while you’re away? Data roaming using a mobile phone or mobile broadband dongle is supported in many countries across the world, but there are some things you should be aware of before you start updating Facebook from the side of a pool.
The cost of mobile internet roaming
Everyone’s heard stories of holidaymakers returning to a shockingly large bill because they left the internet connected or decided to download a video. Where they usually get caught out is the increased cost of accessing the internet when abroad, because in many cases it’s not something that comes out of your regular monthly data allowance and the additional per-MB charges can be unreasonably high. Thankfully, these kinds of situations are now much rarer thanks to some legislation changes.
The EU has mandated a price cap for roaming – presently limited to 20p per MB – which means that so long as you’re within the EU you’ll never pay more than this. There’s an opt-out cap of around £50, too so unless told otherwise your network provider will block further activity when you hit that upper limit.
Outside the EU, the prices are unregulated, and it’s here you need to be extra careful. Roaming can be as expensive as £6 per MB.
Before going abroad you should confirm the prices for mobile data with your network. And if you’re travelling to multiple destinations, check it for each country because outside the EU it can vary from place to place. You can use the Broadband Genie mobile broadband roaming map to help you with this process.
How to get cheap mobile broadband roaming
There are a couple of ways you can reduce the cost of mobile internet roaming. They’re not always available, but if you’re selecting a new network provider it’s definitely worth checking whether such deals are available if you’re likely to need it overseas.
- International data bundles
Some networks offer bundles of data just for international roaming at a lower price than the standard per-MB charge. This doesn’t tend to be ideal for heavy use but it’s an easy way to control spending if you just need it for a small amount of web browsing or email. Note that on some networks it may be necessary to purchase such a bundle to use roaming at all.
- Inclusive data allowance
In some cases your network may either provide additional data allowance for international roaming at no extra cost, or allow you to use the same allowance as you get in the UK. Being free this is obviously a pretty cost effective method of using the internet abroad! Just make sure to confirm it’s supported in your destination.
Alternatives to mobile data roaming
If you can’t or don’t want to use your home network when abroad there are alternative options, some of which are particularly useful for more demanding tasks like video streaming and downloads that could otherwise be very expensive.
- Specialist international providers
Companies like Globalgig and Dataroam specialise in mobile data plans for international use. With these providers you purchase a set amount of data which can then be used in many different countries, and this is usually far cheaper than roaming. As they tend offer larger data allowances it’s best for heavy users who know they’re going to be online frequently. If you’re heading to France, signing up to Oliver’s Travels’ VIP section means you can get a great deal with RiteSim on a new SIM card especially for use there – you can sign up for free here.
- Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi hotspots are plentiful around the world in cafes and bars, and very often provided by hotels for free. If you don’t get some free roaming allowance from your network and you don’t have a specific need for your own connection this is usually the best choice for casual internet access when overseas.
- Local networks
Using a SIM from a local network in your own device to benefit from their pricing can be a simple and cheap way to use the internet without the costs getting out of control. You just need to ensure that your mobile phone or mobile broadband dongle is unlocked and supports the necessary network standards. This is recommended if you’re going abroad for longer periods or regularly visit the same country.
You can find more information on the various charges levied by your provider here. And once you’ve got your roaming charges sorted, you won’t have to worry about uploading all those jealousy-inducing pics of you enjoying yourself on your luxury villa holiday!(Phone and money pic via Erik Hersman, phone and street scene via Mr. TinDC)