UK holidaymakers risk mobile phone bills of hundreds of pounds during a week’s vacation in some popular destinations. Roaming fees for EU countries usually come to less than ?14 for a week’s holiday and are free for O2 and Virgin Media customers – yet charges can quickly rise for destinations further afield, such as Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The study by comparison and switching service Uswitch.com, shows some providers like Vodafone let customers use their domestic monthly allowance of calls, texts and data while on holiday outside the EU for ?6 a day, meaning a week’s break will cost no more than ?42 in the 156 destinations it covers
But some places are excluded from overseas data, call or text bundles. For example, consumers travelling to Egypt face charges of up to ?7.20 a MB for data, calls costing ?5 a minute, and texts billed at 60p each. This means that a holidaymaker using 1GB of data, making 20 minutes of calls and sending 10 texts a day could end up with a ?787 bill.
After leaving the EU, the UK government introduced a worldwide roaming data cap of ?45 a month to help travellers avoid huge bills. Once they hit the cap, customers will be unable to use any more data. An O2 mobile user visiting Morocco would hit the ?45 limit after browsing just three web pages.
The UK government’s data cap does not cover calls and texts, which can be particularly expensive outside the EU. A Virgin Mobile customer visiting Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, UAE or Saudi Arabia will be charged ?5 per minute for making a call or checking their voicemail, and 60p for sending a text.
Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at Uswitch.com, said: “There’s a huge difference in costs between countries, so it’s worth checking with your provider how much you will pay to make calls, send texts and use data in your destination, and if there are any passes or add-ons that could help you use your data abroad for a minimal cost.
“With a quarter of mobile users unaware of what roaming costs they face, providers must do more to guide customers through these changes and offer cheaper options, particularly on popular non-EU destinations not covered in their travel bundles. If you regularly travel abroad, it may be worth considering switching to a provider without EU roaming fees, or looking at a 30-day SIM-only deal to reduce your charges while you’re away.”
How to avoid heavy holiday phone bills
Download at home, not away: Download any maps, shows, films and music before travelling to avoid data costs abroad. If using your mobile on holiday, focus on low-data activities and apps. An hour of Google Maps will only eat up 5MB, while streaming an HD movie for the same time will use about 2GB – 400 times as much.
Check the cap fits: Even if you are paying for a bundle to roam abroad, you may not have the same data allowances as do in the UK. Check your provider’s fair usage policy, which will govern how much data you can use before you incur extra charges. You can also set up a spend cap with your provider to avoid any surprise bills when you return.
Switch off voicemail: When overseas, you can expect to pay the same per-minute rate for checking your messages as you do for making calls. Yet sometimes even receiving a voicemail on holiday can cost you. If your provider includes this charge, call them before you travel and get it switched off.
Wi-Fi wins: To save your data allowance, use hotel and cafe Wi-Fi connections whenever possible. You can also enable Wi-Fi calling or use services such as Whatsapp to make audio calls without using your minutes. Make sure access points are safe and secure before logging on and avoid activities like online banking on public networks.
If in doubt, engage flight mode: Flight mode is not just for when you’re up in the air – although it will stop any chance of connecting to other networks while flying across the countries. Activating it on holiday, particularly in destinations with high fees on calls, texts and data, can remind you to watch your usage and save you from unexpected costs.
Play it again SIM: If you’re with a provider that has roaming charges it’s worth considering buying a one-month SIM-only deal that will cover you for your time away. Lebara, which runs off the Vodafone network, offers a 5GB monthly SIM-only contract for ?5.95, which comes with free roaming in the EU and India.
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