This article is split now into two different parts. On this site you'll find the rules and regulations and their implications.They 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. For roaming SIM card offers for the EU go to the new article.
EUROPEAN UNION - Rules and Implications
The good news first: most roaming surcharges within the European Union (EU) and the wider European Economic Area (EEA) will come to an end by mid-2017; the bad news: during a transition period in 2016/17 some roaming rates are going down, while others don't, and the situation remains very confusing for visitors and residents alike.
Travellers to or within Europe have found an annoying situation up to now: every country has still its own national phone system and mobile networks. This makes mobile phone use in Europe cheap only if you are using a SIM card issued in the specific country you are 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 when abroad.
That’s why we started this wiki. From now on you have more choice and from 15th June 2017 most roaming surcharges will be gone within the EU and wider EEA. Here is your guidepost through this transition period.
The European Commission combats roaming charges through Regulation (EU) No 531/2012, subsequently amended by Regulation (EU) 2015/2120, which applies throughout the EEA. The EEA comprises the European Union (EU), Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Most information about EU roaming regulations refers to them covering only the EU, whereas in fact the whole of the wider EEA is covered.
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.
At the same time the EU commits to net neutrality: no blocking or throttling of online content, applications and services. Providers have been blocking Skype, Facetime or similar apps or sometimes have asked extra money for allowing these services: this will be unlawful. 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.
All EU roaming regulations are valid in EU member states, including their EU territories outside Europe, and in the countries of the wider European Economic Area (EEA). These countries are shown in green on the map and are listed on the column on the right.
Remember, if the United Kingdom decides to leave the EEA in future, its status and that of its only EU overseas territory Gibraltar may then change too, but this hasn't been decided yet.
As this zoning creates many borders, remember when staying close to an red area, you should always:
- when roaming: make a manual network selection
- using your home network: disable data roaming
There are 4 essential restrictions to the rules you should be very much aware of:
- geographical: the EU rules only apply to all SIM cards issued in the EEA by an EEA provider, not to any provider or any SIM card issued outside. And they only apply to calls, texts from one EEA country to another and data use. Not to calling/texting in from outside or calling/texting out from inside the EEA. And there are still the gaps shown in red on the map above.
- options: all EEA providers are required to offer you at least one tariff, plan or roaming add-on compliant to the new regulated EU rules. They can also offer different packages, that can be cheaper or more expensive depending on your consumption. These further offers don't need to obey the EU rules. But you must agree to opt out of EU rules before by choosing a different plan.
- foreign calls and texts: There is a weird destinction between calling abroad and calling when roaming. The EU regulation is only about roaming. So all IDD calls and texts from the home country of the SIM card even to another EU country are not covered by the legislation. The EU doesn't have a mandate for this. This absurd situation makes some foreign calls more expensive than using the same SIM abroad on roaming for vice versa calls. This gap only concerns calls or texts to anywhere abroad from the home country where the SIM was issued. Luckily, this doesn't concern data use: for internet you are either at home or roaming as soon as you log onto the foreign mobile network.
- maritime or aircraft networks: This regulation doesn't apply to networks offered on cruise ships or in aircraft using satellite links, even when these vehicles are located within the EEA. These networks are usually charged very high typically around €16-€25 per MB data or incoming calls at €2-€7 per min and should be avoided at all costs.
EU Roaming Rates
effective 30/APR/2016 - 15/JUN/2017
The EU finally agreed on bringing roaming fees to an end in 2017 with a few exceptions, so that prices for roaming will be the same as domestic by mid-2017: The period of 2016/7 marks a transition along the way. It now combines price caps (= maximum charges) established back in 2014 with new maximum surcharges for roaming on domestic rates.
Here is a guide of the net regulated rates (also called 'Eurotariff') in 2016/7 before taxes:
|max. Surcharge on
dom. Rates (2016-)
|incoming||1.114c per min (from 2016)||free|
|outgoing||19c per min||5c per min||domestic rate|
|outgoing||6c per SMS||2c per SMS||domestic rate|
|data||20c per MB||5c per MB||domestic rate|
All prices of the table above are excluding taxes. Each country's VAT or sales tax needs to be added (except for UK SIM cards when roaming outside the EU VAT area). As in Europe - unlike America - final prices are quoted with taxes included, below is the same table again with a tax rate added of 20%. This is close to the average tax rate of EU countries and assumed for the rest of this article. The exact VAT rate of a certain EU country ranges from 17% to 27% in 2016 and can be checked here. In some countries they differ by region or province too.
Here is the same survey of the regulated rates in 2016/7 assuming a tax rate of 20%:
|max. Surcharge on
dom. Rates (2016-)
|incoming||1.3368c per min (from 2016)||max. 1.3368c/min|
|outgoing||22.8c per min||6c per min||6c ... 22.8c per min|
|outgoing||7.2c per SMS||2.4c per SMS||2.4c ... 7.2c per SMS|
|data||24c per MB||6c per MB||6c ... 24c per MB|
Outlook: Changes effective June 15th 2017
The end of (most) roaming charges within the EEA is in sight for mid-2017. Effective June 15th 2017 roaming charges will be banned on all EU providers for the entire union. From then on, every EEA provider needs to charge the same rate domestic and abroad when roaming within the EEA for data, calls and texts.
However, a Fair Use Policy (FUP) will be enforced then to prevent what is called "permanent roaming". This FUP will have a still unknown time and/or volume quota, which is considered to be "fair" to occasional travellers. But users who try to use a SIM card from another EEA country continuously in their home country on roaming will keep on paying some surcharges.
This is because of the huge differences in domestic prices between some EU countries. The providers fear that users might take a cheap plan from certain countries and use it permanently roaming in an high-priced country. This would undermine the pricing there. So they will build some mechanisms to limit this usage. But for occasional travellers roaming will be a thing of the past in the EEA from mid-2017.
What to do in the meantime?
Implications for voice users
All voice calls from the EEA within now cost between 6c and 23c per minute (see table) on the regulated rate. Most providers will be at the lower end of the scale as domestic default rates for voice have come down considerably in the last years. EEA voice rates resemble domestic call rates of about a decade ago. Receiving calls when roaming becomes negligible too, because the new cap will be slightly above 1c per minute and is scrapped by some providers. As long as you don't talk for many hours and your rate is at the lower end, you will be OK to stay roaming for voice, but remember the loophole for foreign calls from the home country of the SIM abroad that is still (mis)used by some providers.
Implications for text (SMS) users
SMS is still the cheapest form of short communication within the EEA. It's now between 2.4c and 7.2c and sometimes even below domestic SMS rates. Like for voice, there is no need to switch a SIM card for SMS, but separate charges for foreign texts sent from the home country abroad remain valid too and are often much higher. For most voice and text users within the EEA, it will not be economical anymore to buy a local SIM card. As long as you have chosen a plan on the lower end of the given price range, you will be fine using this plan for roaming too. Of course, if you are planning to stay for long like all winter in Spain or visit this country frequently, a local SIM might still be an good option as you get a local number.
Implications for data / mobile internet users
Any EEA provider is not allowed to charge more than around 6c (tax incl.) per MB (or €60 per GB) on top of its domestic default rate for data roaming in another EEA country. This will further limit the excess and brings down the cost of 1GB data on roaming from around €240 to €60 on some plans. Light data users will be fine with the new roaming cap, but heavy data users will still face high roaming fees.
Rates for Prepaid Roaming Data in the EU & EEA (2016/7):
In fact, in this transition period until mid-2017 there are going to remain steep differences how EEA data roaming is charged between the providers. Anything from the price of a domestic package up to the already existing 24c/MB (tax incl.) cap, that stays still valid, is billed:
- Very few operators have anticipated the abolition of roaming charges due in July 2017 by scrapping all roaming surcharges already. This is mostly done on high-value postpaid contracts so far and very rarely on prepaid.
- Some operators will go down to 6c per MB, some single offers even slightly lower like 4-5c/MB on the regulated rate. This needs to be done when the default rate of the tariff is a package. In most countries you can find a prepaid offer at this price now.
- Many operators still stay on an excessive default rate of up to 24c/MB for roaming. These rates remain unchanged by the new rules as they are based on an high domestic default rate for data.
Of course, every operator can still offer daily or monthly packages that disobey the EU regulation for you to opt in. These can be better deals based on your consumption. All our recommendations are based on such deals and slowly new packages are offered.
On most EU roaming prepaid SIM cards you are on a roaming rate between 6-24 Eurocents (tax incl.) per MB now. Even at the lower end of 6c/MB, you will be charged €60 per GB or 6 times as much as the domestic average (at around €10 for 1GB in packages), at the upper end even the usual excessive 24 times. So bill shock is not entirely over for data users yet (and this wiki is still needed), but most SIMs will shut off your data having reached a certain limit to avoid this.
Your choices as data user
As a data user roaming in the EEA you have essentially three options now:
To stay on your home SIM card issued in the EEA and roam with it. This is by far the most convenient way. You can keep your number and don't have to care about other plans, start-up procedures, or any local offers or particularities.
To buy a local SIM card instead. This has been our general advice as (1) used to be so expensive. But it involves some efforts and knowledge of language and local particularites. It's the only valid advice to give for destinations outside of the EU because international offers are still so overpriced.To buy some special 'roaming SIM cards' from EU countries with low rates that are featured here in this wiki as a mixture of (1) and (2). They may have cheaper rates than your home SIM (1) on roaming, but are often more expensive than buying a local SIM (2). They are meant as an option especially for users travelling several EU countries.
For a visitor to a certain EEA country it's basically the choice between:
- staying on your home EU SIM plan or
- buying a new local SIM.
Or for travellers this translates into the question: Can I just buy a SIM in the first EEA country that I visit and keep on using it in the next country? Or should I better buy another one there? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer now. It all depends on your data consumption (and may be your complacency).
The borders between light and heavy data use are very hard to determine as they shift from country to country. They have always been there, but were so low before, that the general advice of buying a local SIM was given. The new legislation has certainly lifted this limit. Prelimilary analysis of our countries chapters have shown that in most countries of Western Europe you can get a starter pack and around 1 GB of data for about €10 or the local equivalent, in Eastern and some Northern European countries for about half that price.
Whatever your choice is, all three options require special attention. For option (2) advice is given in each country's section, for option (3) in the special article here. If you go for option (1) and decide to stay on roaming, try to limit your data traffic:
- choose a SIM card with a low EEA roaming rate, rather like 6c or less than 24c per MB
- avoid all unnecessary traffic: shut-off all updates and postpone all major downloads
- try to shut-off all synchronizing and apps that you don't really need for the moment
- control your consumption by using a data measure tool or app built in every smartphone
- check which app is drawing the bulk of your data traffic and if that's OK
- if you don't use messengers, shut-off data alltogether and switch it on only when you need it
- refrain from data-consuming activites like streaming, videos, audios, p2p etc. and use data-saving ways instead like compression of large files
If you decide to go for option (3) instead, we have listed special national SIM cards that offer cheap roaming options for the EEA (or parts of it) in a special article now:
For roaming SIM cards click on the banner above or here.