Data charge scare stories… keep calm and carry on browsing

Despite recent hype - sensible travellers have nothing to fear from taking mobile devices on their hols

Despite recent hype – sensible travellers have nothing to fear from taking mobile devices on their hols

Mobile phone bill shock has hit the news again with a headline-grabbing report from Citizens Advice prompting claims that watching an episode of EastEnders on your mobile device could cost up to £1,360 for travellers outside the EU… but is it really time to throw your mobile off the nearest cliff?

Despite the scare stories – and questions why you’d want to interrupt your hols to watch the grim goings-on in Albert Square – the reality is far less worrying for travellers. Find out the reality of international data charges here.

Essential guide to using your phone abroad

Despite scare stories, your phone is now unlikely to burn a hole in your wallet while on holiday

Despite scare stories, your phone is now unlikely to burn a hole in your wallet while on holiday

Here’s the scare-free version of how to avoid mobile phone shock while on your hols. Check out your operator below to see how it handles the use of data and protects you from big bills while travelling abroad, both in the EU and beyond. Please note, this information relates to data charges and not voice calls and sms messaging.

Three: The folks at Three operate a worldwide data roaming cap of £41.29 per month. Once you reach this limit you can contact the operator and discuss ways to increase this limit by clicking here.

EE: There’s no cap for EE because customers can’t use overseas data roaming without buying a special add-on package. The company will tell you when the bolt-on is about to run out and offer you the chance to buy another – protecting you from the risk of building up a huge bill.
Use this tool to find an add-on for the country you’re visiting

O2: Travellers inside the EU will see data capped at £48, while usage in other parts of the world will be reined in at £40 per month. This limit can be increased to £120 per month by texting DATALIMIT200 to 23336. Be careful with your management of data-munching apps – see our guide – or this will soon be used up.

Vodafone: Customers of this operator are automatically opted into a monthly data limit of £41.30 when they travel inside and outside the EU. Users can opt out of this cap by texting UNCAP to 40209, but we’d advise extreme caution when doing this as background apps – and watching episodes of EastEnders – could result in huge bills.Bolt-ons are available, like the World Traveller deal that lets you take your UK allowances with you for an extra £5 a day. You’ll get a text when approaching your limits so pay attention to messages. Get details here.

Virgin media: The company caps data at around £42 (including VAT) in Europe and around £50 on data used outside of the EU. This is for data only and does not include calls or texts. You can buy travel passes for Europe – These are available in 10MB, 50MB and 250MB denominations and are priced £1.50, £6 and £20 respectively – while will users receive text messages when approaching the cap outside of the EU. Virgin will tell you how to keep spending in the messages once you approach the limit – but won’t let you run up bill without you agreeing to opt out of the cap.

How to control data usage

Just because you’re not browsing the web or uploading a photo of your paella to Facebook, it doesn’t mean your phone isn’t happily munching on your data allowance. Apps, email and other functions are constantly checking for updates in the background and can rapidly leave you without any data. Follow these tips to keep your megabytes where you can see them…

Keep control of data usage

Keep control of data usage

Turn off data roaming: This is the most sensible catch-all solution to avoid apps secretly snacking on your data. Here’s how to turn off data roaming:

iOS: Go into Settings > General > Mobile Data, then turn off data roaming option.
Samsung: Go into Settings > More Settings > Mobile Networks, then uncheck data roaming
Blackberry: Go to Manage Connections > Mobile Network Options, then switch Data Services While Roaming to off
Windows phone: Go into Settings > Mobile Network > Data Roaming Options, then select ‘do not roam’

Turn off automatic app updates: Many apps and phone operating systems will routinely look for updates and then download them – without your knowledge.

Here’s how turn-off automatic updates for iOS and Android devices:

iOS: Go to Settings > scroll to iTunes & App Store > scroll down to automatic downloads and set all to off. Crucially, make sure the ‘Use mobile data’ option is set to off.
Android: Go to Settings > Accounts and Sync then uncheck ‘Background Data’. This will stop your phone from syncing and updating. You should also check the settings in each app, because most will have the option to turn off auto updates.

Switch off voicemail: You’ll be charged for listening to it and charged for people leaving messages. Paying for that PPI message at international rates may be a little chafing!Google instructions for your device before you leave.

Use free wi-fi hotspots abroad: This is a great way to stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues, without incurring any charges. Do your homework before you leave and compile a list of free Wi-Fi locations by visiting sites such as JiWire, which list hundreds of thousands of free hotspots around the world.


What if it all goes wrong: If you are unlucky enough to receive a huge bill on your return from overseas, the first thing to do is call your phone operator. If you can’t reach an agreement and feel that you’ve been treated unfairly, then get in contact with Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS) or Ombudsman Services: Communications for more free advice.

Did you know…

If you’re booking a local restaurant or calling a cab, then put away your mobile and use a payphone instead. This will save plenty of cash particularly when venturing beyond the EU. For example, a four-minute call to book a restaurant in New York could cost as much as £6 from your mobile (depending on operator), compared with around 15p from one of the city’s payphones.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *