Costs of mobile calls when travelling abroad

It will soon be cheaper to use your mobile when on holiday in Europe, whether you’re phoning home or using the internet.

With the prevalence of smartphones, many of us now use our mobiles when abroad to check maps, information about our location, download music or films for entertainment and upload images to document our travels. However, the cost of roaming using your phone outside your country of residence can lead to hefty bills costing as much as your holiday! One British lady recently hit the press having downloaded a Neil Diamond album on to her smartphone during her holiday in South Africa, only to return to a bill of £2,600 for the music.

A survey in February this year suggested that 94% of people limit their use of the web when travelling in Europe due to the cost of mobile roaming, but the European Parliament is taking action. Its members have recently voted to scrap the roaming fees charged for using a mobile phone within Europe. Although not expected to come into law until December 2015, this is very good news for travellers and is the culmination of seven years of EU regulation that has forced telecom operators to cap their fees. In just the past two years, this legislation has led to a decrease in charges from €0.29 to €0.19 for outgoing voice calls per minute and €0.70 to €0.20 for data download per MB. These prices are the maximum permissible prices so it’s worth digging around for the best deals according to your destination and specific requirements.  

If you are using your phone when travelling, operators are legally obliged to send you a warning once you have reached 80% of your data roaming bill limit. They should also cut off the connection once the limit has been reached, unless you have an alternative arrangement agreed with them.

The caps and limits apply to Europe only but wherever you are in the world, there are things you can do whilst on holiday to protect yourself from being greeted with large mobile phone bills on your return.

Don’t be tempted to use hotel phones in place of your mobile phone, as these calls can cost you a fortune.

Receiving a text is free, wherever you are in the world, but you still have to pay to respond so keep your messages short and sweet. It’s a good idea to ask anyone wanting to contact you to send a text. You can then call them in the most cost effective way possible depending on where you are. It might be worth telling loved ones your room phone number. Money Saving Expert’s International Call Checker provides useful and up to date information on the cheapest way to make an international call.

Some mobile phone providers have special add-ons to use when abroad so speak to your provider before your travel to find out what’s available. These will help keep the costs down but may come with a monthly rental fee so be sure to cancel when you’ve arrived back home.

Beware of voicemail messages. In Europe you cannot be charged for someone leaving a voicemail on your phone but you may well be charged for listening to it. Outside the EU, this is not capped and could cost you a lot more.

If you need to make / receive a lot of calls when abroad, it might be worth considering buying a SIM card for the country that you are heading to, so that you can make phone calls using the local network. To do this your phone needs to be unlocked, which means not tied to one service provider. To find out, try another SIM card in your phone, if it works it’s unlocked.

If you’ve got a smartphone and free internet access in your hotel or villa, it might be worth downloading an internet phone service such as Skype or Viber before you leave. If your friend or family member also has Skype, you may be able to make free calls to each other for as long as you want. Always check with the provider before making calls.