EU roaming charges scrapped: What you need to know

You might still end up with a hefty bill unless you're careful.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

It has taken years of negotiation and planning but the day is finally here where EU residents can use their mobile devices abroad without paying through the nose for their data, calls, and text messages.

However, this doesn't mean you won't get charged if you are not careful, and so here is everything you need to know about the new rules.

What has changed, and where?

From today, 15 June, travelers and holidaymakers will not face roaming charges when traveling from one European country to another.

The 28 countries of the EU; Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom are all part of the new scheme.

Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway will also join the "Roam like at home" project later this year.

How have roaming plans changed?

Every current roaming plan, some of which would charge you a fortune per minute for calls and even more for using mobile data networks, will now switch to a "Roam like at home" plan.

For example, if at home you have unlimited calls and SMS, you will get unlimited calls and SMS when roaming in the EU without additional fees.

However, there is a caveat to this open-hand approach. Carriers have the option to implement a "fair use" limit to prevent subscribers from using high amounts of mobile bandwidth -- such as downloading films and television show streams while traveling -- but they must issue a warning in advance if such a limit is in place.

What will I be charged if I go beyond these limits?

If subscribers go beyond the fair use barrier, they can be expected to pay a maximum of €7.70 per GB of mobile data + VAT. The EU says this will "decline gradually" to reach €2.50 per GB as of 2022.

If you go beyond fair use in voice calls, your carrier may impose a charge of 3.2 cents per minute +VAT, or 1 cent per SMS +VAT.

But I have unlimited data at home...

Carriers are not obligated to give you an unlimited data tariff while roaming. However, they "must provide you with a large volume of data depending on the price of your mobile bundle."

What about unlimited calls and texts, then?

Here is some good news: if you have unlimited calls and texts at home, you will also have the same abroad. The EU has stipulated that volume restrictions on voice calls and SMS are no longer allowed while roaming.

What about cruises?

As someone who was hit with a massive bill after using my mobile data on a cruise ship between Spain and France several years ago, the question of mobile use on water is an important one.

The new changes stipulate that as long as you are directly connected to a terrestrial mobile network -- such as on rivers, lakes, or by the coast -- you can expect to pay no additional fees.

However, if mobile connectivity is provided by radio networks, planes, or satellite systems via ships, there are no limits or price caps imposed.

Is calling friends and family abroad now cheaper, then?

Sadly, no. There are no price changes relating to calling from your home country to places abroad.

Will I need to pay in the EU to receive calls?

No, in the same manner you don't pay to accept the majority of calls in your home EU country.

Are international calls affected?

The price caps only affect countries in the EU, and so international calls will remain at the price your carrier has set.

How long can I "Roam like at home"?

Carriers will be keeping an eye on your usage, and if it looks like you're abusing the system by spending more time abroad than at home, they are likely to get in contact to see why.

It is likely that this will remain a hot area for quite some time as telecommunications firms won't want to lose revenue, and so if you use your mobile phone more at home than abroad, you can roam at domestic prices when travelling wherever in the EU -- something the union calls "a fair use of roaming services."

Do I have to change my current roaming plan to the new setup?

No. If you are on a good tariff with your carrier that you want to keep then you will -- or should have already -- been contacted. If not, give them a quick call.

I'm British. Will Brexit affect my charges?

It's possible. With the UK government in upheaval and no definitive plan to leave the EU set in stone, it is possible that the UK will have to leave the new roaming scheme, too.

However, for now, UK citizens can use their mobile device based on these new, cheaper charges until we hear anything more on the topic. If deals are brokered before the exit process is complete, the UK may be able to remain part of the project.

Someone has to pay. Will other charges go up?

It's a balancing act. Designed to help all carriers compete over the EU, smaller providers may suffer -- and roaming outside of the EU may become even more expensive.

"As announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond in March this year, roaming charges for countries outside of the EU will incur 20 percent VAT on top of normal network rates from 1 August 2017," noted Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch. "Providers looking to stand out would do well to embrace a strategic push into non-EU destinations."

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