This site reflects the new roaming rules in the EU effective 15 June 2017. It will ultimately replace the old article with the previous rules.
The rules may be hard to read and comprehend. But it's very much recommended for you to understand the basic rules of EU roaming to make up your mind of which option is best for you when travelling in the Union.
- for the old rules enforced until 14th June 2017 go to this article
- for roaming SIM card offers for the EU until 14th June 2017 go to this article
While the new rules are clear and laid out on this site below, their exact implementation by the different providers remains still uncertain. This page will be regularily updated as soon as more details emerge in the course of 2017.
EUROPEAN UNION - Rules and Implications
The good news: (most) roaming surcharges within the European Union (EU) and the wider European Economic Area (EEA) come to an end by 15th June 2017;
and the bad news: some restrictions will still apply for data use and there are strings attached.
As the situation remains confusing for visitors and residents alike, this is your guidepost through this new era starting in June 2017.
The European Commission combats roaming charges through different regulations, which apply throughout the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA comprises the European Union (EU), Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, but not Switzerland. When we are talking in this article about the EU, we in fact refer to the wider EEA area too.
Travellers to or within Europe have found an annoying situation up to June 2017: every country has still its own national phone system and mobile networks. This made mobile phone use in Europe cheap only if you were using a SIM card issued in the specific country you were visiting. Compared to that, intra-European roaming rates used to be excessively expensive, especially for data. "Bill shock" was not that uncommon. This has been 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 switched off their phone when abroad.
That’s why we started this Wiki some years ago. But there is really good news: from 15 June 2017 almost all roaming surcharges will be scrapped all over the EU and EEA.
The European Commission claims that compared to 10 years ago retail prices across calls, SMS and data are more than 80% lower, data roaming is now up to 91% cheaper and the volume of the data roaming market has grown by 630%. However, this is only one side of the story.
Roam like (at) home
"Roam like (at) home" will be the guiding principle for roaming from June 2017 in all of the EU and EEA:
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 prioritisation of traffic in the internet access service. However providers are allowed a reasonable day-to-day traffic management according to justified technical requirements.
EU 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). In the following article they are referred as EU, but include Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein too, as this term is better known as EEA. The EU and EEA countries are shown in green on the map and named on the column on the right:
Remember, that the United Kingdom intends to leave the EU/EEA, so that its status and that of Gibraltar may then change too. This hasn't been decided yet and it's expected that they will remain in the EU at least until 2019 with the rules applied.
Some providers include certain red countries like Switzerland to their EU zone, but others don't, and as they are not legally required, this can't be generalized. For this you need to check your provider.
There are some principal restrictions and strings attached to these rules you should be aware of:
Home networks do not have to charge the following types of communications at domestic rates when roaming in the EU or EEA:
- All calls are charged as off-net, even if domestically there is a distinction between on-net and off-net. The reason for this exclusion is that on-net calls typically have a zero or near-zero wholesale cost to the home network and are often retail-priced accordingly (e.g. free). It would be unreasonable to force home networks to apply a zero retail price for on-net roaming calls when the wholesale cost is not zero.
- Charges for roaming calls and texts to EU/EEA landline and mobile numbers are capped at the home network's domestic price for calls to national numbers instead of at the home network's domestic price for calls to the relevant destination. In most cases, e.g. with bundled minutes and texts to national numbers, this means that roaming usage will often be cheaper than domestic usage. Nevertheless there are some cases where roaming will cost more than domestically because of domestic pricing that is unrelated to cost. For example, some networks' domestic charges for international calls are lower than for national calls because the network's target market is expatriates or immigrants.
- Calls to non-EEA destinations are excluded. This is because the EU is unable to regulate wholesale prices (termination rates) charged by non-EEA destination networks. All EU-regulated retail prices rely upon wholesale prices being similarly regulated.
- A fixed domestic price for unlimited data doesn't have to give unlimited data when roaming. This is because the wholesale price for unlimited data is not similarly fixed.
EU rules only apply to all SIM cards issued in the EU and EEA by a terrestrial EU or EEA provider, not to any other provider or any SIM card issued outside. And they only apply to calls and texts 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 huge gaps shown in red on the map above. Note, that there are steep borders where roaming outside may become more than 1000 times more expensive than within. So bill shock can still occur when you connect to the "wrong" networks.
Maritime or aircraft networks
This regulation doesn't apply to networks employed on cruise or ferry ships or in aircrafts 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
There is an odd distinction between calling from your home country abroad and calling when roaming. The EU regulation is only about roaming. So all IDD (or foreign) 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 doesn't have a mandate for this.
This anomaly makes some international calls much 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 was issued. 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.
All EU providers are required to offer an option to make your tariff or plan compliant to the new regulated EU rules. They can also offer different plans or bundles, that can be cheaper or more expensive depending on your own consumption. For instance they can offer you special allowances for roaming on top of your domestic bundle instead of being taken from it. These further offers don't need to obey EU rules. But you must agree to opt-out of EU rules before choosing a different plan.
EU Roaming Rates
New rates from 15th June 2017
The EU finally agreed on bringing roaming fees to an end in June 2017 with a few exceptions, so that prices for roaming are the same as domestic:
|from 15 June 2017|
|outgoing||at domestic rate|
|outgoing||at domestic rate|
|data||at domestic rate (some limitations may apply)|
Incoming in this table means being called or texted while staying in a roaming country, also called passive roaming. Outgoing means calling or texting from a roaming country, known as active roaming.
Effective from 15 June 2017, most roaming charges are banned on all EU providers for the entire union. Under the regulated tariff every EU provider needs to charge the same rate domestic and abroad when roaming within the EU for calls and texts and most data.
All users of EU issued SIM cards are automatically adopted to new roaming scheme from June 2017. This applies to prepaid as well as ongoing postpaid contracts, no matter how roaming was priced before. There will be no changes what domestic rates are concerned. You may choose to opt-out and switch to a different plan for roaming too, if your provider offers it to you. Some may be even pushy about this for reasons explained below.
In early 2017 the European Commission finally agreed to new wholesale caps. This has been a prerequisite for "roam like at home" to take effect. These caps are the maximum rates that providers in Europe can charge each other for the roaming customers of a different network from out of 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 that will be checked for consistency after two years. This designation was very disputed because smaller providers are afraid to sell roaming data now below their revenues, while big network alliances can benefit from heavy reductions on wholesale rates of own or partner networks. Critics fear a further consolidation of the telco market in Europe as a consequence.
Implications for voice (call) users
For voice all roaming surcharges are scrapped from now on without limitations.
Incoming or passive roaming (that's when you are called abroad by someone else) is free from now on.
Outgoing calls within the roaming country, to your EU/EEA home country or to another EU or EEA country are charged at the domestic rate only.
- If you have a domestic all-net flatrate for voice to all lines in your home EU/EEA country (not only an on-net flatrate), the roaming call will be "free" on this flatrate.
- If you have a certain allowance of ## minutes airtime to all domestic lines in your home EU/EEA country (not only on-net), the roaming call will be debited from this domestic allowance.
- If you call on a standard (default, pay-as-you-go) rate of ## cents per minute domestic, the roaming call will be charged at the same domestic per-minute rate.
Again, all calls from your home country (ar rather home country of the SIM) calling IDD abroad are not considered roaming calls, but foreign calls. They can be charged much higher as they are not regulated under the EU rules.
Implications for text (SMS) usersFor text / SMS all roaming surcharges are scrapped without limitations from now on.
Incoming or passive roaming (that's when you are texted abroad by someone else) is free for a long time now.
Outgoing SMS within the roaming country, to your EU/EEA home country or to another EU or EEA country are charged at the domestic SMS rate only.
- If you have a domestic all-net flatrate for SMS to all mobiles in your home EU/EEA country (not only on-net flatrate), the roaming SMS will be "free" on this flatrate.
- If you have a certain allowance of ## texts to all mobiles in your home EU/EEA country (not only on-net), the roaming SMS will be debited from this domestic allowance.
- If you text on a standard (default, pay-as-you-go rae) of ## cents per SMS domestically, the roaming SMS will be charged at the same domestic per-SMS rate.
Again, all SMS from your home country (or rather home country of the SIM) texted abroad are not considered roaming SMS, but foreign SMS. They can be charged much higher as they are not regulated under the EU rules.
Implications for data / mobile internet users
Now things become a bit more complicated.....
- If you have a domestic "unlimited" data flatrate in your home EU/EEA country, data use will be "free" on this flatrate up to a certain volume that must be indicated by the provider.
- If you have a certain allowance of ## MB or GB in a bundle for your home EU/EEA country, roaming data consumption will be debited from this domestic allowance. On certain cheap data bundles with prices below €4 per GB (or any ratio of this) some restrictions may apply that only a defined max. of data needs to be given out at the domestic rate. This mostly applies to cheap EU countries and must be stated by the provider.
- If you surf on a standard (default, pay-as-you-go) rate of ## cents per MB in your country, the same rate will be charged for roaming in another EU or EEA country.
How will the providers react?
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 following measures how operators try to bypass increased roaming expenses from the start which have been employed in some countries:
- they raise prices and say it's because of roaming
- they terminate or don't offer roaming or data roaming on a plan. Then the EU regulation doesn't apply, but the plan or tariff must be clearly marked as domestic only.
- they "outsource" some allowances as bonuses or benefits rather than included in the plan, not to be given out without surcharges. But this will be contested by national regulators.
- they use "technical restraints" like depriorisation, long latency, no 4G/LTE roaming, dropped calls, preferred "partner" networks only or other measures to make roaming less attractive.
Why is it so hard to bring the European providers together?
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
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" in another country, a provider can demand from its clients to show "stable links" to the home country of the SIM. If he/she can't prove them, he/she might get roaming discontinued after 4 months, but will be reset after one year. The wording of these rules leave a lot of room for interpretation and they will be applied by any provider only in extreme cases.
- Limits for data: on so-called "open data packages" the providers may implement some restrictions. These plans are either real flatrates with unlimited data sold in very few EU countries or data bundles with very cheap data or large amounts at a price below €4 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 share must be clearly stated before selling the plan or package.
- 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.
Given the different strategies of the providers to undermine the roaming regulation and several 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 penalized. In the 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.
We need to monitor the implementation this summer 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.
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 clearly falls short of its promise to simply "roam like at home".
That's why we keep covering all EU and EEA countries separately and will add a section about roaming to each of them later this summer. 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.
The old article with recommended roaming SIM cards for Europe is going to be taken off as they don't make any sense past 14 June 2017. If you want to get some information from this section, you can still access it through here for a while. Eventually, when the situation becomes more evident in the course of this summer an article with new roaming SIM card suggestions may be added.
This new article is focused more on the rules than on the implementation so far. We simply need to wait for this summer to see what the providers will do to give further advice. We don't want to jump to conclusions and need your feedback. Post us what you have learnt using EU/EEA SIM cards under the new rules for roaming or in your home country. So that we can get a broader picture and other users can benefit from your experience.