If you have a pay monthly contract or SIM-only deal with Three, EE, Vodafone or O2, you can breathe a sigh of relief. All four of these major providers have now confirmed there are “no plans” to change how roaming charges work in the European Union for British customers, despite the dramatic change in the relationship between the UK and its European neighbours from January 1, 2021.
As it stands, European Union citizens benefit from free mobile data as they move between all member states. So, refreshing your email app on 4G in Belgium, or making a FaceTime call over 5G in Spain would count towards the same allowance that you purchased in the UK. As such, those with unlimited data would be able to continue to use their smartphones, tablets, or cellular-enabled Apple Watch or laptop abroad without changing their habits. And those who pay for these services with a pay-as-you-go contract will be charged at the same rate as when sent from within the UK.
Ahead of the Brexit deal, some feared that mobile networks would use the opportunity to reverse the policy and start charging customers for expensive data add-ons as soon as they landed in another European country. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case …at least for now.
While it’s true that all four of the biggest UK mobile carriers have confirmed there are no plans to make these changes, in reality, there is nothing within the deal presented by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Christmas Eve that stops carriers from charging UK customers for the text messages, calls, or mobile data used when abroad. However, it does contain “measures to encourage cooperation on the promotion of fair and transparent rates for international mobile roaming. It also covers obligations on net neutrality, which fulfils the UK’s dual aims of securing commitments towards an open internet and protecting the safety of users online,” the Government summary of the 1,500-page document reads.
Of course, for some networks, it might not make sense to reintroduce roaming charges for British travellers visiting the EU. In reality, a number of the biggest providers in the UK are colossal pan-European players, like Vodafone, which makes existing roaming agreements much easier to maintain.
For those providers that don’t already operate in other EU member states, there is always the possibility to strike bilateral deals between different operators to maintain free roaming for customers. If one mobile carrier does decide to reverse its course, it makes switching to a rival firm an easy decision for customers.
For now, those who need to be in Europe for business won’t see any material difference to their monthly phone bill, which is welcome news. For the rest of us, whenever we’re next able to board a flight for a holiday abroad – we’ll still be able to gloat on social media, video call friends, and use Google Translate on our 4G or 5G connection without coughing up any extra.