A new dawn for roaming abroad? Not quite

Rules governing using data on your phone while away come into effect on Thursday

Thursday is the day. After years of wrangling between EU regulators and mobile phone operators, roaming charges have disappeared.

Sort of.

From Thursday making telephone calls and sending text messages will cost exactly the same no matter where in the European Union you are making them and you will be able to use the phone and text allowances you have at home abroad without any penalty.

According to the European Commission website, "your communications (phone calls, SMS, data) made from another EU country will be covered in your national bundle . . . Contrary to the past, you will not have to pay anything extra. No bill shock anymore."


While that sounds great it is not entirely accurate.

The commission website goes on to add that “if at home you have unlimited mobile data or very cheap mobile data, your operator may apply a safeguard (fair use) limit on data use while roaming. If this is the case, the operator will have to inform you in advance about such a limit and have to alert you in case you reach it.”


The commission says that the safeguard limit “will be high enough to cover most, if not all, of your roaming needs. Beyond this threshold, you can continue data roaming, subject to a small charge (maximum €7.70/GB + VAT; this will decline gradually to reach €2.50/GB as of 2022)”.

The commission site also offers a formula to work out how much data you should get while roaming.

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. So if you have a mobile bundle including unlimited calls, SMS and data for €42 (€35 excluding 20% VAT), when travelling in the EU, you get roaming like at home for unlimited calls and SMS, and at least 9.1GB of data, which is double the result of dividing 35 by 7.7.

But all the talk of gigabytes and the like is of little use to consumers with no idea how much data they consume using various apps. So how much data do you use and should you worry about the caps?

A person who posts three updates on Facebook per day, tweets 25 times a day, uploads four Instagram pics, posts 30 messages on WhatsApp and streams radio for 30 minutes daily will use 1.3GB in an average month. Such a phone user will be grand and won't come close to breaching any data cap.

A person who streams the radio for two hours each day and listens to another hour of music on Spotify and watches 10 minutes of YouTube videos as well as posting two Facebook updates and five tweets will rack up 4.35GB of data in a month, which takes them close to the cap.

The person who watches 30 minutes of Netflix per day and the same amount of YouTube clips as well as five Facebook updates, 30 minutes of radio streaming and five tweets will eat 7.25GB of data each month.

How much data do you use?

At the lowest quality setting, 1GB is used in four hours of Netflix viewing. At the medium setting you get two hours per gigabyte and at the highest setting 1GB will be consumed in just one hour.

FaceTime is not too heavy on data and an hour’s worth of calls will use about 85MB of data.

The amount of data used while simply surfing the web depends on which sites you visit and how graphic-heavy they are but an hour’s browsing of pretty standard websites is likely to require about 60MB of data.

If you are just scrolling through your newsfeed you will probably not use more than 80MB over the course of an hour.

Sending or getting a solitary Snap will use about 1MB of data and if you spend an hour on the social network, you will use 160MB. Spend an hour on Snapchat every day over the course of a two-week break and you will use about 2GB.

Instagram eats a lot of data. If you spend an hour on the service uploading pics, looking at the pics others upload and maybe posting the odd Instagram story, you will use in excess of 500MB of data in an hour.

Using Spotify for an hour a day will probably cost you in the region of 450MB of data over the course of a fortnight abroad.

Google Maps is not as data heavy as you might think and there are ways you can download the maps while you are in a wifi zone which will make the data usage when you are on the road absolutely negligible. If you are using it at full power, it will eat just under 1MB for every three kilometres you travel so you will be able to cover 300km for about 100MB.

TuneIn radio: if you can't do without your Morning Ireland fix while you are on a campsite in Spain, you will probably find yourself accessing this rather splendid streaming service. The bad news is that if you listen to the entire programme, it will cost you about 400MB in data.

WhatsApp is be pretty light on data and if you spend an hour a day sending and getting messages – once they are predominantly text based, you might get away with 5-10MB per day.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast