EU Roaming Fees Are Abolished From Today - But Will Brexit Bring Them Back?

By James O Malley on at

Today's the day! After years of negotiations and planning, today is the day that going on holiday to Europe just got a little bit cheaper, as mobile roaming fees have officially been abolished inside the European Union.

This means that as a British mobile user, you can go to any of 27 EU countries and use your phone exactly as you would at home - in terms of calls, SMS messages, and most importantly: Data.

So brilliant news - no more nasty roaming fees. There's just one problem with the new rules: We might not have them for very long because of Brexit.

How EU Roaming Works Now

Abolishing roaming fees is just the latest addition to the long list titled "What has the European Union ever done for us?". It's right there underneath "maintain peace and security for seven decades".

This is how happy EU membership should make mobile users.

It was made possible by the EU's drive towards what it calls the "Digital Single Market" - the aim being to make digital goods and services from any EU country available to any other. And it's all made possible by having an enormous continent-wide bureaucracy that can coordinate between 28 countries, and that is powerful enough to stand up to mobile phone companies.

The new rules - though they abolish roaming in the main - don't quite remove all barriers. If you want to call someone internationally, that'll still cost you international fees, and unfortunately you can't simply buy a data SIM card from the cheapest place in Europe and continue to live in Britain - instead, you still have to get a phone contract in your home country.

There's also a caveat on data allowance: Mobile network can still cap your data roaming, but how much data you get depends on your contract. Here's the convoluted way that it is calculated according to the EU website:

"If you want to check the operator’s calculation, here is how: the roaming data volume must be at least twice the volume obtained by dividing the price of your mobile bundle (excluding VAT) by €7.7. For your information, €7.7 is the maximum price that your operator has to pay the foreign operator for 1 GB of data when you are abroad in the EU during 2017. This means that you may get more roam like at home data than the volume your operator can purchase with your monthly subscription from the foreign operator whose network you are using abroad.

Example: At home, you have a mobile bundle including unlimited calls, SMS and data for €42 (€35 excluding 20% VAT). When travelling in the EU, you get roam like at home for unlimited calls and SMS, and at least 9.1 GB of data (2*(35 / 7.7) =9.1)."

In other words, you might not get unlimited data abroad, but you'll still get a shedload more data than you would have done yesterday. Finally, you can shitpost from the Costa Del Sol.

Brexit Uncertainty

Now the bad news: This might not last forever because of the referendum. Yep, the vote last year didn't just mean that we'll be significantly poorer over the long term, or that political discourse has been poisoned by hateful anti-immigration rhetoric - it also means that these new roaming rights are in doubt too.

At the moment we can't say for sure what the impact of Brexit will be on the new rules because the government is indecisive, and negotiations with the EU haven't yet started. What seems likely though, given that Theresa May seems set on quitting the Single Market and the Customs Union, is that we will be taking the hardest of hard Brexits.

This means that we'll no longer be bound by EU law - so mobile networks will be under no obligation to not charge us whacking great big roaming fees. There could also be new tariffs and other regulatory barriers, which make it more expensive for British phone networks to operate abroad. Which could make roaming data way more expensive all over again.

The networks could conceivably, voluntarily, stick with charging us nothing and just absorb any new costs - but we'll believe it when we see it.

Still, at least Brexiteers will get to enjoy that illusory "sovereignty" one expensive data bolt-on at a time.