Roaming Charges Compared: Do Vodafone, Three, O2, EE or Others Offer the Best Holiday Deals?

By Aatif Sulleyman on at

It may not feel like it right now, especially if you're reading this while sat behind a desk, having just polished off your rain-soaked Sainsbury's baguette, but holiday season (the ‘hotdogs or legs?’ kind, not the jelly-belly one) is upon us. As such, those of you with any cash left over after you’ve done the big shop and repaired your boiler and paid your little ones their damned pocket money are gearing up for a blissful week somewhere that isn’t the UK. Literally anywhere.

But before you start dreaming of beach volleyball, cheap food and booze and your own sand-dusted privates, it’s worth taking a few moments to figure out the roaming charges you’re likely to be hit with while you’re out exploring the world and building up your collection of stories that'll make you seem like an interesting old person one day.

What’s included with your contract? What do rival networks have going on? Is it worth temporarily switching to a PAYG SIM from one of those networks because you know you’ll be too embarrassed/linguistically unable to ask about local SIMs while you’re out in the world? What sort of add-ons are available?

We’ve trawled through the numbers from the UK’s main mobile operators to give you a helping hand. Bear in mind, however, that this isn’t a black-and-white process, as the various networks use slightly different parameters to explain their charges. We’ll keep updating the tables below as fresh figures roll out.

Though we’ve broken charges down by continent where possible, there are a few exceptions (Tunisia being a constant thorn in the side) where costs may be higher or lower, so it’s always worth double-checking before you travel. We've included some handy links to help you.

EE Roaming Charges

Unsurprisingly, things look a lot friendlier in Europe than they do elsewhere with EE (much of the same follows below), with roaming figures in Africa, Asia and South America particularly high. That said, EE offers innumerous talk-and- text and data add-ons tailored to individual countries around the world, which make holidaying a little easier on the wallet.

For instance, in Argentina you could get your hands on 10MB of data (valid for 24 hours) for a fiver or 40MB (valid for a week) for £20. You can browse add-ons for individual destinations here.

Three Roaming Charges

‘Why the asterisks?’ I hear you ask. Feel At Home is why. Three’s fantastic holiday service means you won’t be charged any freakishly high fees in any of the following places: Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Lanzarote, Macau, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, US. Instead, in those territories your local at-home plan carries with you abroad. Stick to your plan and you won’t be affected in the slightest.

We’ve left Africa out of the table above purely because there doesn’t appear to be any sort of dominant pattern to follow, with the charges in various countries bouncing up and down more often than Steve Ballmer on a bouncy castle. It makes more sense for us to point you towards Three’s online tool.

O2 Roaming Charges

Like the mobile network equivalent of Glen Coco, O2 gets more than one table, but that doesn’t make it extra special. It’s all to do with neatness. The European table above shows the network’s standard rates, though pay monthly customers can opt in to O2 Travel, which gives you up to 120 minutes, 120 texts and all the data you need for £1.99 a day.

The PAYG equivalent is unfortunately not quite as generous, providing 100MB of data for £1.99 a day.

Oh, and by the way, ‘Asia Pacific’ includes Australia, Christmas Island, Cocos Islands, Hong Kong, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Tokelau.

Vodafone Roaming Charges

Big sigh of relief, back to a single table we go. This one’s a bit wordier than the others though, which is why five of the cells in the Data column are numberless. They should all read: Daily charge of £3 a MB for the first 5MB, then £15 for each 5MB. Touch difficult to squeeze into a table, that.

Like Three, Vodafone's introduced its own inclusive roaming service, which sees customers on new (or newly-upgraded) Pay Monthly 12- and 24-month Red and Red Value bundles given unlimited calls, texts and picture messages, as well as a monthly data allowance of up to 4GB in the following destinations: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Channel Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark (including Faroe Islands), Estonia, Finland, France, French Territories, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Isle of Man, Italy (including Vatican City), Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Romania, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.

Those of you that don't qualify will be pleased to hear that the network has a couple of extra sweeteners on offer too. EuroTraveller lets you access your UK minutes, texts and data with you for a charge of £3 a day, though it’s only available on pay monthly bundles bought before May 5th.

WorldTraveller, meanwhile, does the same job for non-European destinations, at a rate of £5 per day. Once again, it’s only only available on pay monthly bundles bought before May 5th.

Giffgaff Roaming Charges

Nice and simple from Giffgaff, which means it only took me half a day to build the table above. Bless you, Giffgaff. It makes for pretty pleasant reading, too, especially if your a customer packing your bags for Europe. Data costs in particular are lovely and low, but there aren't any juicy promotions to tear your chompers into.

Tesco Mobile Roaming Charges

It’s a damn good time to be a Tesco mobile customer, thanks to Home From Home. Well, at least if you plan on visiting any of the following destinations before September 3rd: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain (including the Canary Islands), Sweden and Switzerland. Now breathe.

With Home From Home, both PAYG and pay monthly customers will be charged their standard call, SMS and data rates, in a similar manner to Feel At Home from Three. Though it applies to a huge number of destinations, there are several European countries missing from the list, as well as, you know, the rest of the world.

So... What's Best?

Have you not bothered reading any of the above? Crikey. Three appears to be your best bet overall, with Feel At Home covering a great deal of popular holiday destinations. However, it's worth bearing in mind that many customers experience heavily-throttled speeds when using Three abroad, so you might not get the slickest of experiences.

As mentioned above, it's well worth double-checking costs and discussing deals with your network operator. The extra effort could save you a tidy sum of money.