Discover how much it’ll cost to use your mobile phone abroad and various ways to save money on international roaming.

Every year, millions of us travel abroad and when we do so, we often want to use our mobile phones to stay connected and to find our way around.

In this article, we’ll explain how much it’ll cost to use your smartphone abroad. We’ll discuss the charges both inside and outside Europe and how you can sometimes save money with international roaming offers. We’ll also discuss data roaming and how you can enable it on your phone along with handset compatibility and international coverage.

We’ll also share some useful tips for getting the most out of your phone when abroad: from using wi-fi to save money to downloading maps so they’re available offline.

Roaming Costs

Costs Within & Outside Europe

In Europe, you’ll pay the same to use your phone as you would in the UK. However, outside Europe, you’ll often need to pay a lot more.

The costs of using your mobile phone abroad depend on your mobile network and also the country you’re travelling to.

If you’re travelling inside Europe, you’ll now be able to use your normal UK allowances at no extra charge. If you don’t have any inclusive allowances on your plan (e.g. for customers on traditional Pay As You Go), you’ll just pay your normal UK rates. A fair usage policy may apply for roaming inside Europe – see our guide to European roaming for more information.

If you’re travelling outside of Europe, there will be extra charges for using your mobile phone abroad. Typically, you can expect to pay between 50p and £6 per minute to make a phone call. You’ll also need to pay a similar amount to receive incoming calls. Text messages will range in price from 7p to £2 each and mobile data will range from 10p to £15 per MB.

The following table shows a comparison of how much you can expect it to cost using your mobile phone outside the UK:

Mobile Network Inside Europe Outside Europe
Calls Texts Data Calls (per min) Texts (per SMS) Data (per MB)
ASDA Mobile Use your UK allowances
or pay standard UK rates
87p – £1.49 (make)
87p – £1.49 (receive)
40p (send)
Free (receive)
£7.50
BT Mobile Use your UK allowances
or pay standard UK rates
£1.40 – £5.40 (make)
80p – £2.80 (receive)
40p – 87p (send)
Free (receive)
£5 – £9.20
EE Use your UK allowances
or pay standard UK rates
£1.20 – £3.00 (make)
£1.20 – £3.00 (receive)
60p – £1.20 (send)
Free (receive)
From £5/day
giffgaff Use your UK allowances
or pay standard UK rates
£1.00 (make)
£1.00 (receive)
30p (send)
Free (receive)
20p – £5
iD Mobile Use your UK allowances
or pay standard UK rates
£1.68 – £6.00 (make)
£1.50 – £2.40 (receive)
42p – £1.20 (send)
Free (receive)
30p – £15
O2 Use your UK allowances
or pay standard UK rates
£2.00 (make)
£2.00 (receive)
50p (send)
Free (receive)
£7.20
Plusnet Mobile Use your UK allowances
or pay standard UK rates
£1.30 – £3.00 (make)
70p – £1.00 (receive)
40p – 50p (send)
Free (receive)
£8
Sky Mobile Use your UK allowances
or pay standard UK rates
96p – £7.20 (make)
96p – £2.40 (receive)
42p – £1.20 (send)
Free (receive)
14p – £12
Tesco Mobile Use your UK allowances
or pay standard UK rates
89p – £1.49 (make)
69p – £1.49 (receive)
40p (send)
Free (receive)
£5
Three Use your UK allowances
or pay standard UK rates
£1.40 – £3.00 (make)
99p – £1.25 (receive)
35p – 50p (send)
Free (receive)
£3 – £6
Virgin Mobile Use your UK allowances
or pay standard UK rates
£1.80 – £5 (make)
£1.20 – £5 (receive)
36p – £2 (send)
Free (receive)
From £5/week
Vodafone Use your UK allowances
or pay standard UK rates
50p – £2.00 (make)
30p – £1.50 (receive)
7p – 50p (send)
Free (receive)
10p – £6

Broadly speaking, “European countries” are defined here as countries belonging inside the EU or EEA. The exact definition of European countries will differ slightly depending on which mobile network you’re on – see our guide to European roaming for more information.

There are no additional charges for any friends or family in the UK who call your UK-based number. Whilst you’re travelling abroad, you’ll incur all of the additional roaming charges (hence why there is an additional fee for receiving phone calls when abroad). People calling you will simply pay their normal rate for calling a UK-based mobile number.

If you’re a customer of EE, it’s worth noting you’ll also pay to receive voicemail messages whilst travelling abroad. This will be charged at the standard rate for receiving a phone call in that country (you’ll also need to pay a separate fee when you listen back to the voicemail). On most other mobile networks, you won’t be charged for receiving a voicemail message whilst abroad (however, you should check with your mobile network directly whether they charge for this service).

International Roaming Offers

  • EE
  • O2
  • Sky Mobile
  • Three
  • Vodafone

Some mobile networks have an international roaming offer for usage outside of Europe.

Occasionally, there are some international roaming offers available which can help you to save money when using your smartphone outside of Europe:

  • EE 4GEE Max: On 4GEE Max contracts from EE, you’ll get inclusive roaming in five countries at no extra cost (Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the USA).
  • O2 Travel: On O2 Pay Monthly contracts, it’s possible to use the O2 Travel offer. With O2 Travel, you’ll be able to use your smartphone for £3.99/day in Turkey and £4.99/day in some other selected countries. For the flat daily charge, you’ll get 120 minutes (for both incoming & outgoing calls), 120 texts and “unlimited” data (3G only, and your speeds will be slowed down after 150MB of general data usage or 50MB of video/audio streaming data).
  • Sky Mobile Roaming Passport Plus: For £5/day, you’ll be able to use your normal UK data allowance in 10 other countries (Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Qatar and the USA).
  • Three Feel At Home Around The World: On Advanced Pay Monthly contracts and Pay As You Go plans, you’ll be able to use your smartphone at no extra cost in 12 destinations outside of Europe (Australia, Brazil, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Macau, New Zealand, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the USA).
  • Vodafone Global Roaming: On Pay Monthly contracts from Vodafone, you can pay £5/day to use your phone in 50 “Roam-further” destinations. The £5 daily charge will allow you to bring your normal UK allowances with you.

At the time of writing, there are no international roaming offers available on ASDA Mobile, BT Mobile, giffgaff, iD Mobile, Plusnet Mobile, Tesco Mobile or Virgin Mobile.

Depending on how long you’re staying in the country you’re visiting and also how much you’re planning to use your smartphone over that time, it may sometimes work out better value for you to buy a SIM card upon arrival from one of the local mobile networks. If you do this, you should make sure your smartphone is unlocked before you leave the UK.

Data Roaming Spend Limits

To prevent unexpectedly large phone bills, all UK mobile networks are legally obliged to cut off your data roaming connection when the charges reach around £53 per month (defined as €50 per month plus 20% VAT). If you’d like to continue using mobile internet after reaching this threshold, you’ll need to opt-out of the data roaming spend limit.

Be warned that opting in to some international roaming offers will also opt you out automatically of the data roaming spend limit.

Data Roaming Settings

You’ll need to switch on the data roaming feature if you’d like to use mobile data when abroad.

Because it’s very easy to unexpectedly run up a surprise bill for using data abroad, most smartphones will have data roaming feature disabled by default.

If you’d like to use mobile data whilst travelling abroad, you’ll need to switch on the data roaming feature:

  • iPhone: Go to Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data. Tap on Cellular Data Options and enable the Data Roaming feature.
  • Android: Open the Settings application and go to Network & internet > Mobile network. Enable the Data roaming option. On Android, the exact location of this option may differ by handset.

If you’re travelling inside Europe, you’ll still need to enable this feature in your mobile phone’s settings menu. This is despite the fact you can use mobile data in Europe at no additional cost by roaming on your UK SIM card.

One thing to watch out for once you’ve enabled this feature is you can very easily run up a surprise bill when travelling outside Europe in the future. For this reason, it can be a good idea to disable the data roaming feature upon your return to the UK.

If you’re travelling close to international borders, you should also keep a close eye on which mobile network your handset connects to. For instance, some travellers to Greece have seen a surprisingly large phone bill after their handset connects to a Turkish mobile network.

Handset Compatibility & Coverage

Before going abroad, you should check with your mobile network to make sure your account is enabled for international roaming.

On most mobile networks, international roaming is enabled automatically but some mobile networks may require you to specifically opt-in. A number of mobile networks like SMARTY and Tello don’t currently support international roaming.

Most modern smartphones should now work on mobile networks across the world, providing they support 3G or 4G. Some mobile networks typically won’t work on a UK-purchased smartphone (e.g. Sprint USA, Verizon USA, China Telecom and LG U+ South Korea) but your handset should normally connect to an alternative mobile network that does work.

For information about international coverage, you should refer to your mobile network’s website:

Normally, you can expect to get a 3G service whilst roaming abroad. At the time of writing, 4G roaming is available in selected markets for customers on ASDA Mobile, BT Mobile, EE, Plusnet Mobile and Vodafone.

Travel Tips

Use Wi-Fi Rather Than Mobile Internet

You can use Wi-Fi when travelling abroad to save money, but keep a close eye on your data security.

If you’re travelling to a country where you’ll need to pay a lot for roaming data, the use of free wi-fi networks can be a smart way to save money on your phone bill. You’ll often be able to find free wi-fi internet at hotels, pubs, restaurants, coffee shops, train stations and airports.

When using a public wi-fi network, it’s important to keep an eye on the security of your data. Information that’s transmitted over a public wi-fi network can potentially be intercepted and read by other people. You can minimise the risk of using public wi-fi networks by sticking to encrypted websites with https:// at the start of the web address. You can also use a trusted VPN service (e.g. one that’s been provided by your employer or school or one you’ve set up yourself). Some people recommend using a commercial VPN service but we’d probably recommend against this for a number of reasons.

Saving on Phone Calls With VoIP

The Skype application allows you to call regular phone numbers at a lower cost than roaming through your mobile network.

Depending on where you’re travelling to, it can sometimes be very expensive to make a phone call whilst roaming (typically around £1.50/minute if you’re travelling outside of Europe).

Instead of paying the extortionate fees for a phone call whilst roaming, you can side-step this by making a call over wi-fi instead. There are numerous applications that will allow you to do this but WhatsApp and Skype are probably two of the best known. If you’re calling someone through the application that also uses WhatsApp or Skype, there will be no additional fees charged for the phone call.

For the times where you need to a call a standard phone number, Skype provides a service where you can call out to a regular phone number. You’ll need to top-up your Skype account to pay for the call, but the rates will normally be a lot cheaper than making a phone call through your mobile network. For instance, Skype currently charges 1.8p/minute for calls to a UK landline and 7.6p/minute for calls to a UK mobile (plus a 3.1p connection charge for initiating the call). This compares incredibly favourably to £1.50/minute, and can save you substantial amounts of money compared to making a regular phone call.

If your family has a Microsoft Office 365 subscription, you may already have an inclusive allowance of 60 Skype minutes to use every month.

Instant Messaging Apps

It’s sometimes cheaper to send an instant message rather than sending a SMS text message.

Instant messaging applications like iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat will use your mobile internet connection instead of SMS/text message. Because of this, you’ll require a data connection in order to send or receive messages through the app.

  • If you’re abroad and connected to a wi-fi network, you can use an instant messaging app to send and receive messages for free. This allows to bypass the charge for sending a text message when abroad.
  • If you’re abroad and have mobile internet switched on, it will normally be far cheaper to send an instant message rather than a SMS text message. The amount of data used by an instant message is normally minimal as long as you aren’t sharing photos or videos.
  • If you’re abroad and have mobile internet switched off, you won’t be able to send or receive instant messages through an app (you’ll need to wait until you connect to wi-fi to pick up and send messages). You’ll still be able to send and receive regular SMS text messages.

If you’re switching on the mobile internet feature solely for the use of instant messaging apps, it’s worth noting that other applications may try to access the internet at the same time. Because of this, it may sometimes work out to be more expensive than expected to switch on the mobile data feature to send a message.

Download Maps To Use Offline

Often, you’ll want to use your mobile phone for directions and navigation whilst travelling abroad. This will typically require you to have an active data connection (either wi-fi if you’re in range of a hotspot or mobile internet if you’re not).

To minimise the amount of data you require, it’s possible to download maps so they’re available locally on your device. This will allow you to see a map even if you don’t have an active internet connection. With offline maps, you won’t be able to search for locations and certain pieces of information (e.g. business addresses and opening times) may not be available.

You can download the maps for an area to be available offline by opening the Google Maps application and searching for the place you’re visiting (e.g. “Paris” or “New York”). At the bottom of the screen, tap on the name of the place you’re visiting followed by the ‘Download’ option. We recommend doing this whilst connected to wi-fi (ideally even before you depart from home).

Adapters, Locks & Electronic Devices

It can be worthwhile investing in a portable battery pack to make sure your electronic devices will always have enough charge.

Don’t forget to pack the relevant power adapter so you can charge your electronic devices whilst abroad (including your mobile phone, laptop, hair dryer, shaver and more).

For your luggage, you should make sure this is secured with the right type of lock. If you’re travelling to the United States, we’d strongly recommend buying a TSA-approved luggage lock. If your lock is not TSA-approved, it may be broken with a bolt cutter by the security team at US airports.

Finally, you should make sure your electronic devices have a sufficient amount of charge before boarding your flight. Occasionally, you may be asked to demonstrate the functionality of your devices at the airport (including any smartphones, tablets, laptops, cameras and e-book readers in your hand luggage). Normally, there are only a very limited number of charging ports available at the airport so it may be worthwhile investing in a portable battery pack.

Foreign Travel Advice

Before travelling abroad, it’s also worth exploring the GOV.UK foreign travel advice for that country. It contains a wealth of useful information about safety & security, local laws, entry requirements, health, currency and more. There is also a useful foreign travel checklist published by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

More Information

Please see your mobile network’s website for information about how to enable international roaming and how much you can expect it to cost to use your mobile phone abroad.

You can also read our in-depth guides to using your mobile phone in Europe and using your mobile phone in the USA.

Your Comments 184 so far

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 184 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  • I plan on taking my mobile to Thailand with me but I will only be using available free wifi, not using data or sending texts and making phonecalls, but does just having the mobile turned on in another country charge you? Sorry if this is a stupid question. I am with BT mobile.

    • Hi Ami,
      Thanks for your comment and there’s no such thing as a stupid question! If you’ve got data roaming switched off and refrain from making outgoing phone calls, receiving incoming phone calls and sending text messages, you shouldn’t be charged for having your phone switched on in Thailand. There are no charges from BT Mobile for using the local wi-fi networks in Thailand.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  • Before June 2017 Orange charged 4p a minute to phone U.K. from Spain .Yesterday they charged me 50p a minute on PAYG .3 are still charging 3p a minute .Why are Orange penalising us like this to use our phones abroad in an EU country

    • Hi Ann,
      It’s probably worth double-checking this directly with Orange, but they’re only allowed to charge the same amount that they’d normally charge in the UK. You should therefore check to see how much they’d charge for normal UK usage, and if it exceeds this, you should contact Orange to complain. Three charges 3p/minute for phone calls, which is why they’re charging 3p/minute in Europe as well.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken
      Ken

  • i’m going to be in spain for a year. with the new eu mobile phone roaming rules it is feasible to use my uk contract phone for the year i’m in spain. will using it in spain for a year incur extra costs thanks

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