Holidaymakers face exorbitant mobile roaming charges when abroad, Which? reveals

Which? is calling for trade deals to extend free mobile roaming beyond Europe, as new research reveals holidaymakers in some destinations could face fees of around £30 to upload a single photo.

Holidaymakers currently face a bewildering range of rules, restrictions and sky-high charges when using their phone while travelling outside of the EU and could face having their phone suddenly blocked once they hit their monthly cap – preventing them from making or receiving important calls.

Extending “Roam Like at Home” benefits would remove this extra cost and inconvenience for thousands of Britons every year.

It is important that the government ensures trade deals deliver meaningful benefits for consumers and protect their rights. Roaming is one example of how the government can demonstrate that it is promoting consumers’ interests.

The consumer champion analysed the cost of using data in the four non-EU countries that the UK government has prioritised for post-Brexit trade deals – USA, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. It calculated the charges consumers face for simple functions such as uploading a photo and streaming a song, across 13 networks.

The UK has already agreed a trade deal in principle with Japan, although the full details have not yet been revealed. However, Which? analysis found that currently British holidaymakers in Japan face having to pay sky-high charges when roaming there.

While EE, O2 and Vodafone customers benefit from a daily cap on charges when roaming in Japan, costing between £4.99 and £6 a day, those with Plusnet could face an extortionate £30 charge to upload a single 5MB photo.

BT, Tesco and Virgin Mobile customers could also have to pay £25 to upload a single photo while travelling in Japan.

Customers who have adjusted their phone’s settings to automatically back-up photos onto the cloud could be hit unwittingly with these costly charges.

Meanwhile streaming a song such as Harry Styles’ recent hit “Falling” from Spotify would cost Plusnet customers in Japan an eye-watering £17.28.

The UK government is also negotiating trade deals with the USA, Australia and New Zealand as well as with the EU, where Which? is calling for the current free roaming provision to be continued.

While many UK mobile networks have daily caps of between £4.80 and £6 a day for roaming in the USA, Australia and New Zealand, customers on other networks could still be paying sky-high fees.

In the USA, Australia or New Zealand, Plusnet customers would also face a £30 fee to upload a 5MB photo, while Tesco Mobile and Virgin Mobile customers would have to pay a steep £25.

Plusnet customers could be charged £17.28 to stream a four-minute song on Spotify while in the USA, Australia or New Zealand, while Virgin and Tesco Mobile customers would face fees of £14.40.

All mobile network providers have a 50 euro (approx. £45) monthly cap on roaming under current EU rules to prevent customers from racking up expensive bills. However, Which? research suggests customers could quickly hit their limit after uploading just one photo or streaming a few songs.

If customers request that their mobile network provider removes this cap, they could risk shocking bills as exorbitant roaming charges quickly add up.

The UK has the opportunity to strike ambitious new trade deals that benefit consumers as it exits the EU, and Which? is calling for the government to include free mobile roaming in new trade deals it negotiates and as part of its future relationship with the EU.

British holidaymakers have benefited from free roaming costs in the EU since “Roam like at home” rules were introduced in 2017. Unless an agreement is reached between the EU and UK, mobile operators could re-introduce data roaming charges.

A number of operators have said they have no current plans to charge extra, however Which? is urging the government to ensure consumers do not lose this benefit when the transition period ends.

Sue Davies, Which? Head of Consumer Protection, said:

“British holidaymakers can face exorbitant charges and see their phone blocked when roaming with some network providers in countries outside of the EU, with simple functions such as uploading a photo potentially costing £30 and streaming a song nearly £20.

“As trade talks intensify with priority countries, it is important that the government protects and ideally enhances consumer rights. Which? is calling for provisions to be included in these negotiations to put an end to some mobile operators charging excessively high fees when customers are abroad.”

Notes to editor

Which?’s investigation looked at selected locations of interest, analysing the data roaming costs per megabyte (MB) unless specified. Which? then used reliable data estimates of popular holiday activities to work out examples customers can face when roaming.

Mobile provider

Monthly data cap

Asda Mobile


BT Mobile*












Sky Mobile*


Tesco Mobile




Utility Warehouse


Virgin Mobile





*These network providers offer customers a travel pass or daily cap ranging from between £4.80 to £6 a day. Three UK offers inclusive roaming in Australia, New Zealand and USA.

**ID Mobile customers can choose their own monthly data cap and is set at £5 automatically if no cap is selected at the point of sale.

How to avoid roaming charges

In order to avoid roaming charges, there are a few tips you can follow:

  • Turn on Airplane Mode – Airplane Mode turns off all wireless connections, including your mobile data. It may turn off when you turn on a wireless connection (e.g. wifi or Bluetooth)
  • Ensure that data roaming is turned off – some iPhone and Android devices have a specific setting where you can turn off data roaming
  • Turn off ‘auto sync’ – Search the settings menu for a ‘sync’ page, and ensure auto sync is turned off, to prevent apps from updating in the background. Some devices also allow you to turn off background data.
  • Be wary of removing the cap on roaming if you’ve reached the limit as you could risk a shock bill.

Right of reply

A BT Mobile spokesperson said: “When a customer first connects to the roaming network we send them a text to confirm costs. We cap Data Roaming bills at £35 per month but customers can change their Cap to a minimum of £0, so they’re always in control of their data usage. We also text customers when they use 80% of their chosen Data Roaming Cap and again if they reach it. These charges contribute to a customers’ Spend Cap for their overall out-of-plan spend and again we text to let them know when they are at 80% and another when they reach their Spend Cap. We also encourage BT Mobile customers to download the My BT App to check their usage, which is updated on a daily basis. One of the best ways to avoid data roaming charges is to connect to local Wi-Fi wherever possible.”

A Plusnet spokesperson said: “No-one likes surprises when it comes to their bills, so we cap roaming charges at £40 per month and allow customers to reduce this further if they want to. We also send customers a text when they reach 80% of their roaming cap and again when they exceed it, and these charges contribute to their monthly spend cap plan.”

A Tesco Mobile spokesperson said: “Tesco Mobile customers can enjoy their phone just like they do at home, in 48 of our Home from Home destinations. When travelling, customers will receive a welcome text with the relevant rates for their destination. To avoid any unexpected charges, customers can also cap their bill, at any time. In Ofcom’s latest annual service report, Tesco Mobile achieved 97% for customer satisfaction in overall service and we continue to monitor our service to ensure it meets the needs of our customers.”

A Virgin Media spokesperson said, “Virgin Mobile customers can enjoy using their inclusive texts, minutes and data at no additional cost when travelling in 43 European destinations. An automatic data cap is applied when roaming to prevent customers from incurring unexpected high costs. Virgin Mobile customers also have the option to add a spending cap, which applies in the UK and while roaming, to help them keep on top of their out of allowance usage and avoid bill shock. Details of non-EU roaming charges and guidance for using mobile services abroad are clearly outlined on our website and customers are able to connect to a number of WiFi hotspots at no cost when travelling abroad.”

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