Guide to mobile data roaming for your next holiday in 2020

  • 12 March 2020

Does the thought of going on holiday without your phone leave you cold? Need to travel but want to stay in touch with colleagues or loved ones? Want to avoid that bill shock the newspaper headlines warned you about? Data roaming is the answer to all of these. This guide from Jamie Kavanagh, a contributor at Broadband Genie explains everything around the topic for your next trip.

What is mobile data roaming? 

Data roaming is the term used to describe using mobile data while abroad. Checking emails, using FaceTime or WhatsApp, surfing the internet, using Google Maps to find your way around and anything you do on your phone that isn’t calling or texting will use mobile data. 

While you’re in the UK, your data use is covered by your contracted allowance. If your contract allows up to 20GB of data use per month, you know you can use that much without paying extra. But what about when you travel? How much does using mobile data abroad cost? Is data roaming included in your monthly contract? 

Data roaming and the EU 

While the UK is in the post-Brexit transition period we are still subject to EU laws. One of those laws mandated that the data allowance included in your mobile contract at home can be used while in travelling the EU. This means whatever your data allowance is at home can be used within the EU at no extra cost.

We don’t know what will happen after the transition period. Three, EE, O2 and Vodafone have committed to not bringing back roaming charges and we are hoping other networks will follow.

Travelling outside the EU is different. Mobile networks can charge extra for data roaming. All networks offer pre-arranged data roaming bolt-ons that are cheaper than paying as you use but there will be an extra charge. You will need to check with your network as each provider handles data roaming a little differently.

Free data roaming

If you are travelling within the EU, all data roaming is currently free on every network at least until the Brexit transition period ends. As long as you stay within your data allowance, you should not be charged anything for roaming within the European Union.

Some networks offer free roaming to countries outside the EU too. As each network has their own way of doing things, it is essential to check with your provider before you leave.

If you’re travelling outside of the EU, roaming bolt-ons are a cost-effective way to use data roaming for much less than it would normally cost.

Vodafone’s Global Roaming plan includes free data roaming to 77 countries.

Three’s Go Roam plan (previously Feel at Home) includes free roaming in 71 destinations.

EE’s 4GEE Max Plans includes free roaming in 53 countries.

O2’s Travel Inclusive Zone Bolt Ons includes free roaming in 27 countries.

Tesco Mobile’s Home From Home plan includes free roaming for pay monthly customers.

Some networks place restrictions on international use which can prevent you from using your phone abroad. This is just a precaution. The restriction can be removed via your provider’s website or by calling customer service.

How to use less data when you travel

There are a few simple tricks you can use to minimise data use while travelling abroad.

Update your phone and all apps before you leave.

Turn off automatic app updates or set them to WiFi only.

Use public WiFi where available as long as you use a VPN on your phone for security.

Download games and movies to your phone to save streaming them.

Turn off autoplay videos or use a browser addon to block them.

Avoid using social media wherever possible.

Use an ad blocker to minimize browser page sizes.

Always keep background apps to a minimum just in case.

Load any maps you might need before you leave or over WiFi so they are cached on your phone.

How much data do popular apps consume?

With all this talk about minimising how much data an app uses, it might be useful to know just how data-hungry different apps are. Here is some estimated data use for our favourite apps.

Web browsing – 50-70MB per hour.
YouTube – Between 300MB (SD) to 750MB (HD) per hour
Facetime – around 195MB per hour for a video call.
Facebook – 80MB per hour for general use or up to 200MB for video.
Snapchat - Up to 175MB per hour.
Instagram – Up to 750MB per hour.
Netflix – Between 250MB (SD) to 3GB (HD) per hour.
Spotify – Around 150MB per hour, 2MB per track on Normal, 3.5MB per track High.
Google Maps – Around 2.2MB per hour.

The general rule of thumb here is if you’re travelling within the EU, data roaming should be included within your normal allowance. If you’re travelling outside the EU, check with your provider. Finally, make sure your phone is set to roam before you leave by checking with your provider!

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