So your flights are booked, your swimming trunks are packed and you can’t wait to see the back of your boss and workmates for a week or so as you prepare for your annual summer holiday. But whether it’s Spain, Sweden, Serbia or Slovakia that you’ve got your sights on, do you know what charges to expect when it comes to calling, texting and using the mobile Internet while travelling through Europe this summer?
You may or may not know that legislation passed by our friends at the European Commission (EC) – on which it has been deliberating over the past year – means that charges to send and receive calls and texts while travelling within the EU have been capped, while the cost of using the mobile Internet abroad will also come down, all from July 1st.
From this date, a cap will be put in place on what networks can charge for roaming calls, texts and data. A text message will not cost more than around 10p (down from 25p), while voice calls will be charged at no more than about 38p per minute for an outgoing call (down from 40p), and about 17p per minute for an incoming one (down from 19p).
Calls come tumbling down
But there’s more good news – these prices are set to come down further each year. As of July 1st 2010, the price of an outgoing roaming call will be 34p per minute, and incoming call 13p per minute. And from July 1st 2011, an outgoing roaming call will be priced at 31p per minute, and an incoming call 10p per minute. These prices are excluding VAT and have been calculated on the current euro conversion rate, so the price for UK citizens will potentially be less once the exchange rate picks back up!
Mobile networks will also be required to bill roaming calls by the second after the first 30 seconds of the call, and not in 30 second or one minute blocks as is the current practice – which the EC claims has led to consumers being overcharged by up to 24 per cent. It also claims that European consumers are expected to save up to 60 per cent on their roaming bills as a result of the new laws – we’ll have to wait until the end of the summer to see if this is true.
To cap it off
There’s still more – the networks have until March next year to allow customers to choose a cut-off mechanism once the bill reaches €50 (approx £45), unless the customer opts for a higher limit.
Data downloads will be capped at about 90p per MB, but this is the wholesale rate, or the rate that the networks charge each other to transfer data (for example, if you travel to Italy, your mobile will pick up the first network it finds, and that network needs to charge your UK network for you using it). Therefore, the retail rate is always going to be higher, obviously, so you’ll need to check what your own network is going to charge you.
According to a survey of more than 2,000 people by YouGov, on behalf of The Carphone Warehouse, 40 per cent of people don’t know much about what it costs to use a mobile abroad, and 72 per cent of people want the networks to provide clearer information about roaming costs.
If you’re not in that 40 per cent you might already know what it is we’re telling you, but it seems there is a lot of confusion out there, with half of the survey’s respondents unaware that you’re charged to receive a call if you are not in the UK. Half also thought that you pay to receive a text if you’re abroad, which actually isn’t the case.
With the lack of awareness out there it’s no surprise that 40 per cent of the survey’s respondents had come home to a ‘surprise’ bill (also known as ‘bill shock’) of more than what they’d expected – you may have heard the stories of Britons opening a £30,000 bill for downloading episodes of The Apprentice from their villa in France. After reading this, there’s no excuse to fall into that trap!
You’re likely to be charged a higher rate for accessing voicemail while abroad, so you can choose to deactivate this via your handset (##61# Send, ##62# Send and ##67# Send from your mobile) or by calling your network’s customer services.
To altogether avoid incoming call charges, you can divert calls direct to voicemail (**21*VoicemailNumber# Send) with a message letting callers know when you will return and advising them not leave a message, or send you a text message instead.
Alternatively, check out www.SpinVox.com for a service that will let you receive voice messages as normal and have them translated to text automatically.
Texting instead of calling is cheaper and often more convenient on holiday, but if you have a decent allowance for mobile data that includes roaming, you’ve also got access to email and can even keep your friends and family jealous back home with Facebook or Twitter updates. Of course, we’d recommend you try and enjoy your holiday without feeling obliged to keep the whole world informed of your constant activities!
Before you travel you should also check the individual costs for the country you’ll be visiting, or any you’ll be passing through on your journey, as some offers are limited to specific countries and nearly all require you to keep a check on the network you’re actually on. Always check the phone display to see the network you’re roaming on before dialling!
Specialist travel SIMs
It could be worth investing in a specialist roaming SIM if you are a frequent traveller. SIM4travel and WorldSIM are two examples, but there are more available.
You can purchase a SIM4travel SIM online via www.sim4travel.com. The SIM card costs £2.99 when purchasing £30 of credit, or free with £50 of credit. It can be used in more than 100 countries globally, offering discounted call rates and no incoming roaming charges in 36 countries.
You can call anywhere in the EU for 25p per minute. Other call costs start at 15p per minute, and you can call a UK landline for 10p per minute. However, the SIM4travel SIM doesn’t offer data.
World SIM, available at www.worldsim.com, offers free roaming in 55 countries and works in 150 countries. Call rates start at 25p a minute, depending on where you are. The SIM card costs £35 with £10 of free starter credit, but it’s free if you’re swapping from another travel SIM provider. Texting is typically 30p, but this is much higher than the 11p imposed by the European Commission and could therefore change when the price caps come into effect – but double check with World SIM if you are going to purchase. The SIM will allow you to access data, but for rates you need to email firstname.lastname@example.org first.
A of warning; If you’re going to use another SIM card, you’ll either need to carry two phones with you (so you can receive calls and texts on the existing number people know) or divert calls to the new number – which you’ll have to pay for. Diverting SMS is not possible at all, and you must also make sure your phone is not SIM-locked to your network!
What the networks are charging for roaming...
Until the cost of roaming is standardised, we’ll have to produce guides that reveal just how complicated and convoluted the current system is. Pull up a chair…
3 previously offered a “3 Like Home” service that meant customers roaming on any other 3 network would be able to use their bundled minutes, texts and data at no extra cost, but sadly the service ends on June 30th, when customers will be subject to a new set of roaming rates. At the time of going to press, 3 could not reveal what these new charges would be.
A 3 spokeswoman explains: “3 Like Home offered great value, but by giving away roaming calls on our sister networks we’ve been less able to compete on price in countries where we have no network – often the destinations most popular with UK customers”. Ironically, 3 Like Home will continue on many 3 networks around the world.
She added: “By retiring 3 Like Home we are also reducing the risk of bill shock and simplifying our offer. In the past, although a small percentage of our customers have benefitted considerably from 3LikeHome, we have had some customers report larger than expected bills after roaming by mistake on to a non-3 network in our sister network countries.
“With our new pricing, which we will announce shortly, customers won’t need to worry whether or not they’re roaming on the right network. We’ll be announcing new EU roaming pricing this summer and will continue to push for lower wholesale roaming rates.”
3 customers can opt out of their contracts with no early termination fee, but must do so before the end of June.
Meanwhile, if you’re a Skype user, customers with a valid 3 SIM and a Skype-enabled handset will be able to make free Skype calls and instant messaging without being required to top-up their prepay account. Data roaming will be charged at around £2 per MB.
O2 offers a range of bolt-ons to help customers manage their roaming spend. With ‘My Europe Extra’, prepay and contract customers can pay an extra £10 a month for free incoming calls while in Europe, and make calls within Europe at 25p per minute.
Regular business travellers receive the bolt-on at half price if taken for a year.
Contract customers can use text messages from within their normal text message allowance, but at a rate of four to one, that is, they will use up four normal text messages to send a text message from Europe.
From July, prepay roaming text message rates will fall in line with the capped rate of 11p.
Customers travelling beyond can sign up to O2’s ‘International Traveller Service’. This is free for customers on tariffs with 600 inclusive minutes (except Simplicity SIM-only deals). Other customers will pay £2.99 per month. The bolt-on reduces roaming rates for countries such as the USA and Canada and in the Asia Pacific region among others.
‘Data Abroad’ bolt-ons are available to customers connecting or upgrading to a new O2 contract tariff or any iPhone tariff. For £20, Data Abroad 10 gives you 10MB, while for £50, Data Abroad 50 gives 50MB. Data used outside these monthly allowances is charged at £3 per megabyte.
T-Mobile offers a series of ‘Euro Travel Boosters’. For £5 you can make up to 19 minutes of calls, receive up to 39 minutes of calls or send up to 30 texts (68 texts from July 1st). For £10 you can make up to 38 minutes of calls, receive up to 78 minutes of calls or send up to 60 texts (136 texts from July 1st).
The ‘boosters’ work out to making a call at 26p, receiving a call at 12p and sending texts at 16p (7p from July 1st). Forty-three European countries are covered.
Data is charged at £1.50 per MB.
All Vodafone customers travelling to Europe can make calls and send text and picture messages from over 35 countries without being charged from June 1st until the end of August.
Current Vodafone Passport customers will automatically receive the promotion enabling them to receive UK rates when abroad, while other customers can sign up to the service by texting the word ‘Passport’ to 97888 if on contract, or to 2345 on prepay.
Prepay customers on the Simply tariff will be able to make international calls from 5p per minute to landlines and mobiles. Customers can opt in to the new Vodafone International call plan by calling 36888, or texting the word ‘international’ to 2345.
Data roaming charges are up to £5 for 1MB, but Vodafone will also charge per kilobyte. As a guide, looking at four web pages will cost around 50p – so you can still check the football scores from the beach!
Orange’s ‘Favourite Countries’ offer lets you talk for less if you’re travelling to either France, Spain, Greece, Ireland or Belgium. You can receive either 60 or 100 minutes of inclusive calls, and make up to 60 or 100 minutes of calls at 28.4p per minute. You can choose to add one of these countries for £4.89 a month, or all five for £7.83 a month.
Or you can choose to be a ‘World Traveller’, and for £1.96 a month, receive up to 50 per cent off the standard charges while you’re abroad.
You can also buy text and data bundles to use when in Europe. Travel Text 30 costs £5.87 a month, and means you can send up to 30 texts from within the EU – this works out at 19.6p each. Travel Text 100 costs £15 a month, meaning 100 texts work out at 15p each.
Orange also offers Travel Data bundles. 3 MB costs £4.89, while 10 MB costs £11.74. 3 MB typically allows for 300 page views, 300 emails or 30 pictures.
Please note, the prices were correct at the time of publication (June 11th 2009).