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International roaming (= the use of a provider from one country in another) is usually very expensive. Local providers mainly compete for domestic customers and thus foreign and roaming rates get less attention and remain quite high. That’s why in this wiki it's recommended to buy a local SIM card abroad. This suggestion has the notable exception of so-called "free roaming zones" shown in detail in this special article about European Roaming Unions, that breaks away from the usual country articles.

Legal areas where free common roaming zones are enforced in Europe

Unions of states worldwide have addressed this issue by forming own cross-country roaming unions where lower roaming prices are regulated by common legislation. The member states of the European Union (EU) started in 2007 with price caps for roaming calls. These were gradually lowered and since 2017 all roaming fees have been abolished in major parts of Europe. Their roaming model found copies all around the world in communities of allied states. Six states in Western Balkans adopted the EU scheme to form a regional roaming agreement in 2019/21 to join the EU/EEA zone eventually (shown in brown on the map).

There are unions in Africa or South America, but they don't apply to mobile internet use. In Europe, there are other bilateral free roaming zones in place between two allies or neighbours: Ireland and the UK agreed in 2020 to continue EU roaming in spite of the UK having left the EU and Belarus and Russia agreed in 2018 on a mutual arrangement, but this hasn’t been put to work yet. Additionally, in many dependent or attached territories common roaming zones are in place: between KKTC (Northern Cyprus) and Turkey, or Crimea and Russia. The bilateral arrangements are mentioned in the relevant national chapters of this wiki. In this article we present the EU/EEA roaming agreement in detail as it comprises most of Europe and serves as a role model. Both EU and EEA roaming is used in this wiki: it’s an EU legislation comprising all present 27 EU member states and 3 additional EEA countries. The legislation is drafted by the EU implemented on the geographical footprint of the less known EEA shown together in green on the map.

EU/EEA Roaming Regulation[]

EU flag.png

Since June 2017 in all member countries of the EU and EEA (most) roaming fees have been abolished. Roam like (at) home is the guiding principle of the regulation. Basically, a roaming call, roaming SMS or roaming data use is not allowed to cost more than their domestic use. So domestic rates and roaming rates have become essentially the same. You can use your domestic allowance from one member country for roaming in a different member country without additional fees.

Furthermore, the EU committed to the principle of strict net neutrality: no blocking or throttling of online content, applications and services. All data traffic must be treated equally. This also means that zero-rated offers must come to an end. The practice of geo-blocking of paid audio or video streaming has been banned within the union, while it may continue for free services.

In spite of some shortcomings the regulation has proven to be a success and has been extended for 10 more years in 2022-32. The new amendment in 2021 sorted out some problems and set new lower wholesale caps shown below.

Pricing[]

Since June 2017, the EU has banned roaming surcharges within the EU and European Economic Area (EEA) with a few exceptions:

Roaming

Direction Pricing since 2017

(extended to 2032)

voice

calls

incoming free
outgoing at price of a domestic call
texts

(SMS)

incoming free
outgoing at price of a domestic text
data at domestic price (some limitations may apply)

All incoming calls and texts are free within the union. For outgoing calls and texts, the charge when roaming must not exceed the usual charge that the customer pays on the provider's domestic network for a call or text to mobile number on another domestic network. When you are on the base plan, in which every minute of voice call, sent SMS or MB is charged, the same domestic rate is applied in the roaming country. If you have a bought a definite package of ## minutes, ## SMS and/or ## MB/GB data for domestic use, your roaming consumption comes out of this domestic package. If you hold an unlimited allowance for voice, SMS or data on your plan, all roaming calls and SMS are taken from this plan and data up to a certain limit. This also refers to bonuses, free add-ons, zero-rated offers or anything similar.

In 2021 the EU legislation updated their wholesale roaming price caps. This is a prerequisite for roam like at home retail prices. These caps are the maximum rates that providers can charge each other for roaming customers of a different network from outside the country. In practice most providers charge each other much less.

Roaming

2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022/I 2022/II 2023 2024 2025 2026 2027
voice calls €0.032 per minute €0.022 per minute €0.019 per minute
texts (SMS) €0.01 per SMS €0.004 per SMS €0.003 per SMS
data (per GB) €7.70 €6.00 €4.50 €3.50 €3.00 €2.50 €2.00 €1.80 €1.55 €1.30 €1.10 €1.00

These prices on the table above are net rates without local sales taxes (which vary between 17% and 25% according to country and come on top). They are not direct price caps for consumers or have any direct consequences for retail prices. They are wholesale prices between operators and define the Fair Use Policies (see below).

Geographical Scope[]

European Union roaming regulations are valid in all present 27 EU member states marked in green on the map, including their attached EU territories outside Europe: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Rep., Cyprus (South), Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and in 3 more countries of the wider European Economic Area (EEA): Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Off the map are the Canary Islands as a part of Spain, Madeira and the Azores as part of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean, and some French Overseas Departments in the Caribbean, South America and the Indian Ocean, which form part of the EU and where common roaming regulations equally apply.

Shaded in amber, the United Kingdom and Gibraltar have left the EU and EEA in 2020. After a transition period operators are not obliged to enforce EU rules anymore and are beginning to break away. For compliance check each operator in our national chapters. Switzerland is not part of the agreement and represents the biggest gap in Central Europe. That's why a few operators included some of these countries on a voluntary basis, but you can't rely on it without checking them before.

As prices are not regulated and are much more expensive outside the defined zone, it's worth noting the areas in red on the map. In Eastern Europe, Russia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine are outside. In the Western Balkans, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia are outside and have formed an union of their own (see below). And there a small red bullets indicating dwarf states between France and Spain (for Andorra) and within France (for Monaco) where you can be charged much higher too. Finally, the Faroe Islands, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are excluded territories as well as the northern part of Cyprus and all of Turkey.

As this zoning in Europe creates many borders where green meets red or amber with steep price differences, remember when staying in a green area close to a red or amber zone, you should always: when using a roaming network: make a manual network selection for an operator located within the zone and when using your home network: better disable data roaming altogether.

Shortcomings[]

The legislation is not perfect and has created pitfalls for users who are not aware of some shortcomings. The following concern mostly voice calls and SMS:

  • on-net discounts (for calls or texts among the same national provider) are not enforced when roaming abroad
  • free call numbers (0800 or similar) may not be free and can be charged as a regular domestic call
  • premium and special service numbers may be charged much higher as an usual call (as they would too in the local country)
  • all satellite, maritime (on ships) or aerial networks (on airplanes) are not included, even when you are staying in the roaming area. They are charged much higher typically around €16 to €25 per MB data or incoming calls at €2 to €7 per min.
  • the regulation only refers to roaming calls and texts made within the zone outside the country where the SIM card was issued. It doesn't apply to calling or texting out from within the common area or to calling or texting in from outside the area where rates are much higher too.

In addition to that, there is still an odd distinction between "foreign" calls or texts and "roaming" calls or texts. All IDD (or cross-country) calls and texts from the home country (where the SIM card is hosted and issued) to a different EU/EEA country are not covered by this legislation. This anomaly has made most foreign calls more expensive than when roaming with the same SIM card abroad for calls to the home country. In 2019 the EU started to close this gap by limiting the maximum price of a foreign call to €0.19 per minute (plus tax, typically at around €0.23 per min) and a foreign SMS to not more than €0.06 (plus tax, typically around €0.07 per SMS). These prices are to be gradually lowered in the next years by new EU legislation.

In theory, you can take your domestic allowance from one country and use it in another. But some operators have introduced more obstacles to users, that may also affect roaming data use:

  • Some providers simply don't offer any international roaming at all: as long as the plan is labeled as "domestic-only", it wont work abroad as all foreign roaming stays blocked. In these cases the regulation doesn't apply and you phone remains dead outside the home country. Such "domestic" tariffs are now offered in many countries and you are not allowed to simply add roaming services or change tariffs for a surcharge.
  • A few providers have derogated from the rules on economical grounds. If they are able to prove financial loss to their national regulator, they may be allowed to charge regulated extra fees. This has become very rare and only happens to a few smaller MVNOs in the EU that are not able to buy the services for a low price.
  • Some operators have downgraded their roaming service technically e.g. by offering only 2G or 3G abroad on a 4G plan, even if 4G is locally available. These tricks are now officially banned in the amendment of the resolution, but may still occur.

Fair Use Policy - limits to Roam like at home[]

The industry term of "Fair Use Policy" (FUP) euphemises a throttle or any sort of limit to surcharge-free roaming according to the shown Roam like at home rules. A specific FUP of some sort is nowadays applied by most operators in the EU/EEA roaming zone for mobile internet, but not for voice or SMS.

The principle of Roam like at home is intended for temporary travels, not for a permanent residence in a roaming country. That's why some providers monitor your roaming consumption over time. If you have stayed in a four months period more than half of this time abroad or have used more data abroad than domestic within this period, you may get a message to change your roaming behaviour within the next two weeks or will face regulated surcharges instead. This policy is reversed, if you will be able to show "stable links" to the roaming country.

With unlimited data plans, that can be used abroad or very cheap data packages available another FUP was introduced on a data volume base and is now widely enforced. It's mentioned in the national chapters as "EU cap" of each plan. According to its retail price, only a certain portion of your domestic allowance is given out for roaming without surcharges. This threshold is calculated as double amount of data available at the wholesale cap shown above plus taxes as legal minimum. For overuse you will not be shut off, but need to pay regulated surcharges on top. These extra fees are limited to the wholesale cap (plus local taxes) and will be debited in small MB-increments. In practice, this FUP limits unlimited data plans abroad and cuts in very cheap data packages for roaming too by capping them.

No roam like at home?[]

The extra rules mentioned above can seriously affect your roaming allowance. In some EU countries it's still very hard to find any prepaid plans to be used abroad. In Austria most cheap data plans come without roaming. In the Baltic States and Scandinavia most prepaid offers are still domestic only. Because of very low prices in Poland, Italy and other very cheap EU countries the included FUP roaming allowance of most plans is considerably lower than their domestic data volume. Within the last 5 years most operators in the roaming zone have introduced and enforced at least one of the mentioned FUP rules. Their policy differs widely and should be checked in each of our national articles.

Nevertheless, the implementation of Roam like at home in 2017 was a huge step forward. In most EU/EEA countries you can still use all of your domestic voice and text and most of your data allowance abroad. For data in 2022 you can now consume more than 8 GB on a €10 plan (or any fraction or multiple of that GB:€ ratio) before any FUP kicks in. Possible surcharges for overuse are limited to around €2.40 per GB (debited as €0.0024 per MB-increment).

Western Balkans Regional Roaming Agreement[]

The region of Western Balkans is made of 6 countries that aspire to join the EU, but remain locked as candidates for now. That's why they are not yet part of the EU/EEA roaming union. To facilitate accession process they agreed on a Regional Roaming Agreement of their own, formally the "Agreement on the price reduction of the roaming services in public mobile communications networks in the Western Balkans region". The agreement came into effect in July 2019, with reduced tariffs. Since July 2021 all roaming surcharges have been removed, meaning no surcharge to the domestic retail price for calls, SMS & data while roaming in Western Balkans. The EU backed the decision to form this roaming union and is now in negotiations to merge both unions which can take some years to come.

Western balkans.svg

Geographical Scope[]

The agreement concerns all mobile operators of six Western Balkan states shaded in green on the map: Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. Be aware that it only refers to voice, SMS and mobile data use within the common area, not to or from the neighbouring EU/EEA roaming zone. Both roaming zones remain separate for now with steep surcharges between them. In Kosovo some problems with the new policy have been reported, that operators delayed the implementation.

Rules and regulations[]

The regional roaming agreement of Western Balkans states is modeled according to the EU blueprint. It's based on the same Roam like at home principles that have been put in place in the EU/EEA area before under similar FUP conditions. With regards to mobile data usage, here too consumers may not be entitled to use their full data allowance whilst roaming and, as such, regulators and operators across the region have warned users to consult their tariffs, which will specify how much data they may use without surcharges whilst roaming. For roaming using operators from Western Balkans in the EU/EEA zone still high extra fees are charged, that can be lowered by purchasing a roaming add-on offered by most providers in the region.

Since rules are more or less the same in both surcharge-free roaming zones, the same advice can be given to travellers.

What is a traveller to do in these zones?[]

Generally, in this wiki the purchase of a local SIM card is recommended, if you go abroad and want to use mobile internet and other mobile phone services for a while. It's usually much cheaper than using international roaming through your home provider. As a third way international roaming SIM cards or eSIM profiles can do the job as well and are priced mostly between local and home-based options. When it comes to free roaming zones like the EU/EEA and Western Balkans our general recommendation from above needs to be reversed and adjusted.

Here, you don't need to buy an option for every country on its own anymore. Better choose a common option for all countries of the roaming zone instead, if you want to stay in different places. You still need to buy a local offer issued in one of the member states, but you will now be able to use it in all other states of that union without (substantial) surcharges. This saves you time and money for buying new SIM cards, topping them up and all efforts involved. Though you will still need to activate a mobile data plan or package as you will do anyway, because the per-MB base rate is mostly charged very high, no matter if used locally or for roaming.

  • If you live in a country that belongs to a common roaming zone and travel to another country within this same zone, you will be mostly fine staying with your home provider. Just make sure, that international roaming is offered on your plan and your domestic allowance can be used by checking your provider. There is no need to worry about bill shock anymore, but you need to have in mind that data allowances may be lower than your usual domestic volume, even within this free zone.
  • When you travel into the roaming zone from outside, you should look for a single option covering all your mobile data needs in all countries of that region. Make sure that all your destinations are located within and be aware which places are located outside and need a different approach. It's advisable to buy a new SIM card with data at the first port of entry, that is valid for all countries of the roaming union. You might not find a suitable offer in every country that fits your particular needs. Then buy one for the first country only and take a look around in the second country of your trip or check international offers before your trip.
  • Only if you want to stay for longer than about 4 months in a particular country of this zone, or want to use a lot of data like unlimited mobile internet during your stay, or for any travelling outside this zone, you should better go to the local stores and look for a local data option instead.

Have in mind that this special advice is only valid for common surcharge-free roaming zones like those of the EU/EEA or Western Balkans, and only applies within each zone, not between the two of them. There are more zones on other continents, but they only refer to voice calls and SMS, not to mobile internet use. Or they apply to roaming between two states only and are mentioned in our local articles. A few (national) providers offer more countries added to their surcharge-free roaming area. This is done voluntarily for competition and needs to be checked with every provider. It may be a good option, but is still rare and often applies to a few challenging roaming countries only, like the UK, USA, or Switzerland.

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