There was a time when simply checking your email over mobile data or making a call back home in another country would run the risk of emptying your bank account, and while things have got better you can still get stung with expensive charges or simply have to sit on a sluggish 3G connection despite paying for 4G. But not all networks are equal in these regards and some are a lot better for roaming than others.
The highlight of Three’s roaming experience is its Feel At Home service. This is available on both pay monthly and pay as you go and allows you to use your data at no extra charge as well as being able to call and text the UK using your existing allowances.
It’s currently available in 42 destinations, including Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Macau, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.
There are some limitations though. You can’t tether while abroad and if you have unlimited allowances they cap out at 12GB, 5000 texts and 3000 minutes. You also can't make use of Feel At Home on Three's Essential Plans.
When not in one of those locations prices vary but they’re typically quite expensive, for example in China data will cost you £6 per megabyte, while calling a UK or Chinese number will cost £2 per minute and texting a UK or Chinese number will set you back 35p per text. Another downside of Three’s roaming service is that it’s currently limited to 3G data.
Still, they’re small complaints given that it’s a totally free service available in an ever growing number of locations. No other UK mobile network operator lets you roam for free outside Europe, so if you can live without 4G abroad Three is a brilliant choice.
With EE you can’t use data abroad unless you buy an add-on. This means that you can’t accidentally run up charges if you forget to turn your mobile data off and you’ll never end up spending more than the add-on gives you.
In much of Europe a Euro Pass is available to use for 24 hours, offering you 500MB of data, along with unlimited calls and texts for £4 per day for standard EE customers. Or if you're an EE Extra customer you can get a Euro Data Pass for £3 per day, as you automatically get use of minutes and texts abroad. In both cases 4G is supported where available.
In other parts of the world data gets a lot more expensive. For example in the USA and many other locations you’ll pay £4 for 40MB valid for 24 hours, £7 for 100MB valid for 24 hours, £20 for 250MB valid for 7 days or £40 for 750MB valid for 7 days.
4G isn’t available everywhere on EE either, right now you can get it in Belgium, Denmark, France, Canada, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and the US. Data charges are no different for 3G or 4G, just if you’re not in one of those places you’ll be limited to 3G data.
Unlimited calls and texts are available as an add-on for £2 per day in Europe.
However, if you’re an EE Extra customer you won’t have to pay any extra when in Austria, Azores, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, French Guyana, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guadeloupe, Guernsey, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madeira, Malta, Martinique, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Reunion, Romania, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland or the Vatican.
Texts and calls elsewhere in the world are quite expensive, with for example 100 texts costing £6, or 120 minutes valid for one month anywhere in the world costing £20.
On O2 you’ll pay just £1.99 for a day of unlimited data use in Europe if you’re on a pay monthly plan and opt in to O2 Travel or for the same price you can get 100MB on pay as you go. Either way that makes it cheaper than EE, but obviously more expensive than Three’s Feel At Home service.
However outside of Europe things get a lot more expensive. For example in America, Australia, China, Russia and amost all other locations outside Europe your data will be capped at 50MB if you don’t buy a bolt-on and using 50MB will cost you £40. With a bolt-on you can pay £120 per month for 200MB, which is just ludicrously expensive. O2 also only currently offers 3G roaming services.
Texting and calling is fairly cheap within Europe, at 1.2p per message and a 3.6p per minute for calls. Or you can pay £1.99 for the O2 Travel add-on, which not just gives you a day of data but also 120 minutes and 120 texts. Like data, calls and texts are expensive outside Europe, with calls coming in at between 80p and £1.50 per minute and each text costing 40p.
Vodafone offers 4G roaming at no extra cost in 30 European destinations for all new and upgraded Pay Monthly plans taken out since the 5th of May 2016. Data use is capped at 4GB, but you also get unlimited calls and texts. On top of 30 4G destinations there are an additional 10 where 3G speeds are supported. If you have an older plan you can pay £3 per day to use your allowances in Europe.
Whatever plan you're on roaming further afield isn't free, but you can purchase a WorldTraveller add-on when outside Europe for £5 per day. This then lets you use your allowances in Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, Australia, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Island, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, India, Jamaica, New Zealand, Panama, Qatar, South Africa, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands and the USA
In both cases they allow you to use your allowances within the country you’re in and to contact the UK. In some countries you’ll be limited to 3G data, but 4G is currently available in Albania, Antigua & Barbuda, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Cayman Islands, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Indonesia, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand and USA.
By virtue of costing nothing extra at all even in key non-European locations like the United States we’d have to say that Three is the best roaming service overall. Its list of Feel At Home destinations has grown over time too, so expect to see more added soon.
The fact that it doesn’t offer 4G roaming is a slight limitation but we’d take free data roaming over faster, expensive data roaming any day.
If you want 4G as well then Vodafone is the best choice and is the second best overall, with free data use in much of Europe, affordable pricing wherever you are in the world and 4G data in a number of countries. However data use is capped at 4GB.
EE comes out in third. It’s not particularly cheap, even in Europe, but it does at least offer 4G roaming in some places and texts and calls don’t cost any extra in Europe if you’re on EE Extra.
O2 is dead last as it only offers 3G roaming and while its data prices in Europe are slightly cheaper than EE, outside Europe it’s prohibitively expensive.
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