Using your mobile phone abroad
Mobile phones are a convenient way to keep in touch while you are travelling, but international calls can be expensive. Know what questions to ask about international roaming to get the best deal from your service provider and avoid returning to an unexpectedly large bill.
Make sure you can use your phone abroad
International roaming is the network service that lets you use your UK phone abroad. It is usually more expensive to use than a UK-only service and is not included in most standard 'bundle' packages.
Before you take your phone abroad, you need to be sure you will be able to use it. You should ask your network provider:
- whether your phone is enabled for international roaming – this can be set up, but can take three weeks and must happen before leaving the UK
- what it charges (the tariff) for international roaming services in the country or countries you will be visiting – rates can change at short notice
- whether your handset will work in the country you are visiting – not all phones work in all countries, especially outside Europe
Check the small print for hidden charges
Remember to check:
- whether you will be charged for receiving calls on your mobile while you are abroad
- what you will be charged for SMS (texts) and data downloads (called 'data roaming')
Understand the Roaming Regulation for travel within the EU
Since 1 July 2010 UK travellers in the EU have been protected by the new EU Roaming Regulation. This means there will be a limit to the charges you can run up from your phone or computer for data-roaming. The limit is 50 euros, but your service provider may let you set a different limit or opt out if you wish.
The Roaming Regulation also means you can't be charged for listening to a voicemail message while roaming in the EU.
For information on the Roaming Regulation and to compare tariffs in EU member states, follow the links to the European Commission's Information Society website.
- Roaming Regulation in detail (European Commission Information Society)
- Mobile phone tariffs across the EU (European Commission Information Society)
Getting the best deal for you
Most mobile service providers have fixed-fee monthly packages that offer reduced rates for international roaming. If you travel often or for long periods, these deals can work out much cheaper.
If coverage or call quality are very important to you, you may be able to choose a particular network for international roaming. Ask your network provider whether it offers a choice of networks and how you can change between them.
Consider a local SIM card or handset
If you are visiting just one country, it may be worth buying a new SIM card when you arrive. The SIM card will only work on that country's network. You can top it up as you would a 'pay as you go' phone in the UK.
If you are worried about your handset not working at your destination, you could hire a phone when you arrive. You can do this at most international airports.
Keep your phone's credit topped up
If you're using:
- your network provider's pre-paid mobile international roaming service, make sure you know how to top up your calling credit
- vouchers, you should buy some before you go, as they may be harder to find abroad
Mobile phone security
Make a note of:
- your mobile's serial number (also known as the IMEI number)
- your mobile phone number
- the number of your operator's customer services (including UK dialling code)
Keep them with you in a safe place, separate from your mobile. If your phone is stolen, you should contact the network operator in the UK and ask them to block your phone or SIM card. They may ask for extra information, like a password, so make sure you have everything they need before you go.