- 1 History
- 2 EU principles
- 3 EU Roaming Rates
- 4 Geographic Scope
- 5 Shortcomings and restrictions
- 6 Implementation
- 7 More information
- 8 Update 2018
- 9 Outlook
History[edit | edit source]
Travellers to or within Europe experienced unwelcome roaming surcharges until June 2017. Every country has its own national phone system and mobile networks, which incurred competitive prices only when using a SIM card issued in the visited country. Intra-European roaming prices were excessive, especially for data, and unrelated to cost. "Bill shock" was very common, even for modest levels of usage. This was a particular burden for travellers visiting multiple countries: to get a decent rate for data, one had to buy a new SIM card in every country visited. Many users became so afraid of high costs that they simply disabled mobile data or even completely switched off their phone when abroad. This impacted workers whose jobs required them to travel in multiple EU countries, not least MEPs (Members of the European Parliament), who decided to legislate against unjustified roaming surcharges, eventually eliminating them.
Since 15th June 2017, a European Union regulation (Regulation (EU) 2015/2120) has banned roaming surcharges within the European Economic Area (EEA). Most EU legislation, including this regulation, applies to the wider EEA, which comprises all EU member states and their EU territories as well as the countries of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
EU principles[edit | edit source]
Roam like (at) home [edit | edit source]
"Roam like (at) home" is the guiding principle for roaming now in all of the EU and EEA:
Net Neutrality[edit | edit source]
The EU commits to strict net neutrality: no blocking or throttling of online content, applications and services. All traffic will be treated equally. This means that there can be no paid prioritization of traffic in the internet access service. This applies to roaming too, as any roaming traffic must not be depriorized. However providers are allowed a reasonable day-to-day traffic management according to justified technical requirements.
EU Roaming Rates [edit | edit source]
Pricing[edit | edit source]
The EU agreed on bringing roaming fees to an end so that prices for roaming are the same as domestic (with a few exceptions):
|outgoing||at price of a domestic cross-network call|
|outgoing||at price of a domestic cross-network text|
|data||at domestic price (some limitations may apply)|
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. This creates the following discrepancies between domestic charges and roaming charges:
- Calls and texts to numbers that are free domestically (often prefixed 0800) are chargeable when roaming.
- Calls and texts to numbers in other EU/EEA member states, which are often heavily surcharged domestically, are often cheaper when roaming.
Wholesale Caps[edit | edit source]
At the same time, the EU legislation imposed new wholesale roaming price caps. This is a prerequisite for "roam like at home" retail prices. These caps are the maximum rates that providers in the EEA can charge each other for roaming customers of a different network from outside the country.
|voice calls||€0.032 per minute|
|texts (SMS)||€0.01 per SMS|
|data (per GB)||€7.70||€6.00||€4.50||€3.50||€3.00||€2.50|
These prices are net rates without VAT. Voice and SMS rates are already below domestic retail prices. For data, a gradual reduction scheme has been introduced until 2022.
Geographic Scope[edit | edit source]
European Union roaming regulations are valid in all EU member states, including their EU territories outside Europe, and in the countries of the wider European Economic Area (EEA). The relevant EU and EEA countries are shown in green on the map and specified on the column on the right:
Article SERVIN.5.36(1) of the EU-UK trade agreement states that the EU and UK "shall endeavour to cooperate on promoting transparent and reasonable rates for international mobile roaming services in ways that can help promote the growth of trade among the Parties and enhance consumer welfare".
Therefore since 1st January 2021, roaming charges between the EEA and the UK are no longer regulated by EU law, but the EU and UK should take steps to maintain reasonable rates. It also means that the UK is no longer a regulated destination for roaming calls and SMS from EEA countries. it also removes the ban on geo-blocking of streaming services and affects EU net neutrality laws.
Many operators have pledged to adhere to the common roaming scheme for the time being. It remains to be seen whether this pledge stands the test of time, not least as some operators have already started to surcharge for roaming in the UK. Any provider that starts to impose roaming surcharges may lose customers, and indeed some UK providers already voluntarily charge UK domestic prices for roaming outside the EEA, for example in the United States and Australia, in order to compete against their rivals. All UK providers continue to apply the previous rules so far. Between EEA operators, competition for UK roaming is not as significant because it concerns only one country that has left the EU. With the exception of Ireland where all providers have promised not to make any changes, you will need to closely check price lists before you travel to the UK as to whether the UK has been regrouped in a non-EEA group, which may lead to high surcharges.
Shortcomings and restrictions[edit | edit source]
There are some principal restrictions and strings attached to these basic rules you should be aware of:
Roaming Availability[edit | edit source]
The regulations do not require all providers to offer roaming service for those who travel within the EU/EEA. The roaming regulations are only for those providers and plans who chose to offer roaming. It's thus not uncommon for some to not include roaming to prepaid plans: check the guides of the individual countries to see which providers to avoid, if roaming in another country is required.
Geographical Limitations[edit | edit source]
EU rules only apply to all SIM cards issued in the EU and EEA shown on the map above in green by a terrestrial EU or EEA provider, not to any other provider or any SIM card issued outside this green area. They only apply to calls and texts made from one EU/EEA country to the same or another and data use, not to calling/texting in from outside the EU/EEA or to calling/texting out from inside the EU/EEA.
There are still gaps shown in red on the map above with steep borders where roaming outside may become more than 1000 times more expensive than within. So shock bills can still occur when you connect to the "wrong" networks outside.
Maritime or Aircraft Networks [edit | edit source]
This regulation doesn't apply to networks employed on cruise or ferry ships or in aircraft using satellite links, even when these vehicles are cruising or flying within the EU or EEA. Bear in mind that these networks are usually charged very high, typically around €16 to €25 per MB data or incoming calls at €2 to €7 per min and should be avoided at all costs.
International calls and texts from home country[edit | edit source]
There is an odd distinction between calling from your home country abroad and calling when roaming. This EU regulation is only about roaming. So all IDD (or cross-country) calls and texts from the home country (of the SIM card) even to another EU/EEA country are not covered by the legislation. The EU haven't had a mandate for this back then.
This anomaly has made most international calls more expensive than when roaming with the same SIM card abroad for calls to the home country. This exclusion only concerns calls or texts to anywhere from the home country where the SIM card was issued. In reverse, for roaming calls and SMS this means that such calls and SMS are cheaper when made roaming in the EU/EEA than made from the home country, not least as they will be deducted from your domestic allowance.
Effective 15th May 2019 the EU is now slowly closing this gap by another regulation. All foreign calls and texts from the home country (of the SIM card) in the EU/EEA to a different EU/EEA country are now capped in price. A foreign call must not cost more than 19 cents per minute and a SMS not more than 6 cents. This is added by the local VAT or sales tax. So the maximum price is set at around 21-23c per min and 7-8c per SMS taxes included. These prices are planned to be gradually decreased within the next couple of years to become equal with domestic and roaming rates. For the time being, they still remain considerably higher, but the worst excess is capped at least.
Luckily it doesn't concern data use: for internet you are either at home or roaming as soon as you log on to the foreign mobile network.
Fair Use Policy (FUP)[edit | edit source]
The providers have been allowed to implement a so-called "FUP" (Fair Use Policy) against possible "misuse" or "abuse" of the rules. This can affect your roaming in three different ways:
- time-based FUP: The regulations apply to occasional roaming during holidays or business trips, not to permanent roaming in another country. The provider has the right to monitor your usage and when your roaming usage overtakes domestic use within 4 months, a regulated surcharge may be added.
- volume-based FUP: There are further restrictions for data use on some networks. Open (or unlimited) data packages will be capped for roaming. On some large packages, only part of the included domestic data volume may use for roaming.
- derogation: When a provider is able to prove that the required roaming rates are not economically viable, a derogation from the rules can be requested from the regulator. Thus still surcharges can be applied.
Network restrictions[edit | edit source]
If you have access to newer high speed mobile internet networks (e.g. 5G) in your home country, there is a chance that you may not be able to access the same kinds of networks in the countries you will be roaming in. Check the conditions that came with your plan. The inability to offer such speeds could also be due to the capabilities of the host country.
Further exclusions[edit | edit source]
All roaming calls and texts are considered "off-net" as a different network is employed for transmission. That's why on-net discounts between users of the same network don't apply while roaming.
Any calls and texts to premium and special service numbers are not included. Freephone (or toll-free) numbers called through a roaming network may be charged too.
Implications[edit | edit source]
All incoming calls and texts are free. For voice, SMS and data each you are on a domestic tariff in either one of the three options:
- you may be on the base plan, in which every minute of voice call, sent SMS or MB is charged. Here the same domestic rate is applied in the roaming country.
- you may have a finite package of ## minutes, ## SMS or ## MB/GB data for domestic use. Here the roaming consumption comes out of this domestic package. On cheap data bundles with prices below €2 per GB (or any ratio of this) some limitations may be applied that only a defined maximum of data needs to be given out from this package.
- you may have a "flatrate" or unlimited allowance for voice calls, SMS or data in your home country. All roaming calls and SMS are taken from this plan. What data is concerned, roaming data use will be taken from this flatrate up to a certain FUP cap that must be clearly indicated by the provider.
- this also applies to bonuses for various purposes or zero-rated offers for messengers, social media or streaming.
All remaining surcharges, if applied for overuse, misuse or extended use, are regulated and must not exceed the set ceiling of the capped wholesale prices (plus tax) shown above at around €4.20 (tax incl.) per GB in 2020 debited in MB increments.
Implementation[edit | edit source]
How will the providers react?[edit | edit source]
While voice and text will be given out mostly "unlimited" without surcharges, the operators are much stingy with data. This applies especially to the "cheap" EU countries where they are afraid of losing earnings when they sell roaming data at domestic rates. In the more expensive countries and plans these extra fees can be easily absorbed by the retail price.
There are basically these five measures employed in some countries by operators to bypass increased roaming expenses:
- they terminate or don't offer roaming or data roaming at all on some plans. Then the EU regulation doesn't apply, but the plan or tariff must be clearly marked as for domestic use only.
- they employ a FUP from the rules specified below. Thus in e.g. in Poland on average 10% or in Austria 25% of the domestic allowance needs to be given out for roaming to be still called "roam like at home".
- they apply for a derogation from the rules at the regulator because of financial losses, so that surcharges can be added or the rules can be suspended for a while.
- they use "technical restraints" like depriorisation, long latency, no 4G/LTE roaming, dropped calls, preferred "partner" networks only or other restrictions to make roaming less attractive.
- they may request for more information or documents that only residents of the country they operate in are supposed to possess (e.g. national ID card, tax number, debit/credit card with a local billing address) before enabling roaming. This reduces the risk of visitors to their country simply buying their SIM cards only to then use it more outside these operators' home countries. Sometimes, these requirements become enshrined into relevant national laws.
Why is it so hard to bring the European providers together?[edit | edit source]
The regulation concerns 28+3 national markets with different rules, licences, fees and costs. The gaps within Europe are still wide. For example, consumers in Latvia spent in 2014 on average €3.70 a month and Irish consumers an average of €23.80 per month for using their mobile phones.
Europeans have different travel habits across the countries, and there are also different network costs in visited countries. Consumer retail offers vary widely between states. In 2016 the cheapest monthly deals offering 1GB of data, 600 minutes of calls and 225 SMS ranged from €60 in Hungary to €8 in Estonia (excl. VAT). For prepaid data 1GB is commonly sold in at €10 in Germany, while you can get it for less than the equivalent of €0.40 in Poland.
That's why the danger is quite real, that users may try to take a SIM card from a "cheap country" to be used in a more expensive country and thereby clearly undercut national pricing. Therefore, the EU has put in some "safeguards" (for the providers) against "permanent roaming" what they consider "abusive behaviour".
Abuse and Fair Use Policy (FUP)[edit | edit source]
Here the wording already gets ambiguous. The providers and the EU try to prevent what they claim possible "abuse" or "misuse" of the regulations by some consumers. The users argue that while they might disobey some T&Cs, they act quite in line with a rational economical behaviour by preferring the cheapest offer available in one market and bring it to another.
There are essentially 3 different so-called "safeguards" or "FUPs" in the regulation put in place by the EU to protect providers from losing revenues:
- Stable links: to avoid "permanent roaming" outside a provider's home country, providers may require customers to show evidence of "stable links" to the provider's home country. These are usually documents or ID numbers that only residents of that country can possess (e.g. tax identification number, residence permit, local bank statement with a billing address). If a customer can't provide them, they may get small surcharges applied (at a max.of €9.40 per GB) or have their roaming privileges disabled. The wording of these rules leave a lot of room for interpretation. They will be employed by an operator only after having monitored a SIM card for at least 2 to 4 months and roaming period or consumption exceed domestic use in this period. However, some operators may require certain pieces of evidence of "stable links" from the customer as part of the registration/activation process when the customer purchases a SIM card.
- Limits for data: on so-called "open data packages" the providers may implement some restrictions. This applies only to flatrates with unlimited data sold in few EU countries or data bundles with very cheap data or large amounts at a sales price below €4.60 per GB (or any similiar ratio). For these offers, a provider is allowed to limit the volume of data to be given out at domestic rates for roaming to a certain quota. This limitation must be clearly stated before selling the plan or package by the operator.
- Derogation: when a provider can prove to the national regulator that the EU regulation is not economically viable and will severely affect its business, under certain conditions it may be exempt from the regulation for a period of time. A derogation from the rules applies to most providers in the Baltic States and Finland. Still, they are only allowed to charge as much just to cover their expenses at a max. of €9.40 per GB for roaming.
Assessment and recommendations[edit | edit source]
Given the different strategies of the providers to undermine the roaming regulation and more safeguards in place by the regulation to deny its principle, one may wonder what remains of the "Roam like at Home" promise. This depends on the provider, the country where the SIM is bought, the price tag for data, and how stringent any "abusive behaviour" will be prevented and penalized. In cheap countries or for a cheap plan a much stricter approach can be expected than for pricey plans or expensive countries where "Roam like at Home" will be generally adopted without any restrictions.
A few months into the new policy it looks as there will remain differences according to where the SIM card has been issued and bought, because this fact defines the domestic and hence the roaming rates:
- Complying countries: in major EU countries like the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Cyprus, Malta and Greece there is a general adoption of the principle without any limitations or FUPs on almost all prepaid plans offered.
- Restrictive countries: in some countries with cheap or unlimited rates like France, Italy, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Czech Rep., Bulgaria, Slovenia, Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Iceland and Hungary where there are limitations in place mostly on large data packages, that are only given out up to a specified volume at the domestic rate (called FUP) and on some plans roaming may be blocked completely or offered for a surcharge. In addition, some providers may effectively limit the use of roaming features to customers who have provided evidence of their "stable links" to the countries in which these providers operate in.
- Withdrawing countries: in a few countries with very low rates like Poland, Denmark, Finland, Liechtenstein and the Baltic States (Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia) most operators have been granted derogation. They have opted out of the scheme and many of their plans don't offer international roaming at all. On the rest of their plans they continue to charge extra for roaming, but at lower rates than before, offering usual roaming add-on packs or per-MB surcharges.
As a reminder, these do not refer to the countries where you plan to roam, but the countries where the relevant providers operate in. Moreover, countries are classified above based on the normal practices of most providers operating under their respective jurisdictions. Thus, these lists should not be misconstrued as official national roaming policies. That's why each EU and EEA country is still covered separately and a section about roaming has been added to each of them and to most providers. Check those out as there are some exceptions to the general trends described above which you can use to your advantage.
More information[edit | edit source]
If you have more questions about the EU roaming rules, first check here:
This Wiki does not endorse to break the rules as this regulation is a major step forward in the fight against excessive roaming charges, but it falls short of its promise to simply "roam like at home" for everyone in Europe. We are monitoring the implementation closely to tell whether it's going to be a success story and really the end of roaming charges in most of Europe or a failure with broken promises.
Update 2018[edit | edit source]
One year into the new regulation there are still some operators and even countries not complying to the rules. Nevertheless BEREC (the EU head regulator) has released its first report showing the success of the new rules. In summer 2017 roaming data use quadrupled (4x) throughout the area compared to the previous summer. Both wholesale and retail prices sank considerably and "abuse" doesn't seem such a big issue. Yet, huge differences between countries based on their domestic pricing remain valid. ARPU (Average revenue per user) differs between €2 and €30 while data use per subscriber and month from 500 MB in Greece to 14 GB in Finland.
Outlook[edit | edit source]
On this Wiki, cheaper or better solutions for domestic or roaming data use are continued to be featured, even if their consistent use may be considered "abusive behaviour" in light of this regulation.
A comprehensive "Roam at home" wiki in German language is just being compiled this summer with some verified offers. You can easily read this sister wiki with an translator tool e.g. for Google Chrome. A synopsis of the best offers we have found will eventually be presented on this wiki here in a special article in autumn 2018.