Rip-off roaming charges were outlawed in the EU almost 12 months ago, but other complicated rules mean travellers are still tripping up when abroad.
One Telegraph Money reader was charged £44 on top of her monthly bill for checking a map on her phone while on a ferry in Greek waters, close to Turkey – which is not a member of the EU.
‘Roam like at home’ regulations came into force in July last year, allowing people from the EU to use their monthly contracts, including any data, as normal with no extra charges when travelling in other member countries.
The EU has also placed an additional cap on how much can be charged by networks for roaming outside of the bloc. But the charges for accessing the internet outside this area, even unknowingly, can be severe.
Our reader, 26, was travelling between two Greek islands close to Turkey and failed to notice that her phone had connected to a Turkish network. The British network, in this case O2, should notify customers when additional charges could be incurred, but this didn’t happen.
She checked her location on a map app using around 15MB of data, and was shocked when she received her latest bill with an additional sum of £43.17.
After being contacted by Telegraph Money, O2 waived the charges and paid £20 for goodwill. A spokesman for O2 said the case raised “valid questions” over how clearly the network communicates with its customers.
Another spokesman added that outside of O2’s “Europe zone”, data usage is capped at £40 a month (excluding VAT). Customers can buy an additional travel add-on for £4.99 a day which gives a certain allocation of calls, texts and data. If a customer doesn’t buy the add-on then data is charged at £7.20 per megabyte until the cap is reached.
James Daley, of Fairer Finance, the consumer champions, said costs like this are unfair.
“I don’t know what their wholesale costs are in these situations but surely they aren’t as much as they have charged in this case,” he said. “Everyone knows what a tin of beans costs, but how are you supposed to know what a megabyte of data should cost?
“People expect to be charged in proportion to what something costs rather than just being exploited.
“I don’t think it’s acceptable to let your customers roll up the charges, and then say, ‘Oh sorry, you should have read the small print’.”
What are the rules in the EU?
As of July last year, new EU regulations mean you won’t be charged extra (on top of your monthly contract) for using calls, texts or data included in your deal while travelling in one of the 28 member countries.
This was meant to end the disproportionately high charges while travelling.
This applies for those going on holiday within the EU rather than those who live abroad and use a UK phone contract. Generally if you spend two months out of any four away from your home country then the rules don’t apply and you can be charged extra.
Those who have unlimited data, or have cheap contracts, also need to be aware of “fair usage” rules which allow networks to charge after a certain amount of data is used. The limits are typically between 12 and 15GB, but this varies between providers.
Oddly, the rules regarding EU roaming don’t apply on some ferries or boats, even within the union. If your phone uses an on-board satellite system to connect then that provider is not bound by the regulations and there could be charges.
What about the rest of the world?
Confusingly, some networks also extend these protections to other countries outside the EU. For example, Vodafone doesn’t charge any extra for roaming in Turkey, whereas O2 does, as our reader discovered.
Three has also taken the unusual step of scrapping roaming charges in a swathe of South and Central American countries, including Costa Rica, Mexico and Colombia.
Networks that do charge extra for roaming outside of the EU also take various different approaches, further complicating matters.
For example, EE automatically opts customers out of non-EU roaming, instead prompting them to purchase an add-on if they wish to keep using mobile internet. O2 have a monthly cap of £40, which can be replaced by a daily add-on if a customer wishes.
You should check with your network on their exact terms for roaming in a country you intend to visit.
What can I do if I feel ripped off?
If you have been charged for roaming and feel hard done by then you should complain to your network. If you failed to receive a text, or other notification, that you had entered an area where you will be charged extra for roaming then you will have a strong case, according to Mr Daley.
If your network’s response is unsatisfactory then you can complain to one of the two ombudsman services covering the telecommunications industry: The Communications Ombudsman or CISAS.
Mr Daley said companies with very complicated terms and conditions relating to roaming should be wary: “The Consumer Rights Act now talks about onerous being made clear to customers. I think networks will be on pretty thin ice with this kind of thing if it’s taken to the courts or the ombudsman.”