This site shows the new roaming rules in the EU effective 15th June 2017. It has replaced 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.
While the new rules are clear and laid out on this site below, their exact implementation by the different providers still raises many questions. This page will be regularily updated as soon as more details emerge in the course of 2017.
EUROPEAN UNION - Rules and Implications Edit
The good news: (most) roaming surcharges within the European Union (EU) and the wider European Economic Area (EEA) have come to an end after 15th June 2017;
and the bad news: it will not be for everyone, some exclusions like restrictions on data use will still apply and there are many strings attached.
As the situation remains confusing for visitors and residents alike, this is your guidepost through this new era that has started in June 2017.
Looking back Edit
Travellers to or within Europe 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 exactly why we started this Wiki some years ago. But there is really good news: since 15th June 2017 most roaming surcharges have been scrapped over most of Europe.
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.
EU principles Edit
Roam like (at) home Edit
"Roam like (at) home" is the guiding principle for roaming now in all of the EU and EEA:
Net Neutrality Edit
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. This applies to roaming too, as any roaming traffic must not be depriorised. However providers are allowed a reasonable day-to-day traffic management according to justified technical requirements.
EU Roaming Rates Edit
New rates since 15th June 2017 Edit
The EU finally agreed on bringing roaming fees to an end with a few exceptions, so that prices for roaming are the same as domestic:
|since 15th 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 15th June 2017, most roaming charges have been 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 and EEA for calls and texts and most data.
Most users of EU issued SIM cards have been 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.
New wholesale caps Edit
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.
Validity Area Edit
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). 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 specified 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.
Shortcomings and restrictions Edit
There are some principal restrictions and strings attached to these rules you should be aware of:
Geographical limitations Edit
EU rules only apply to all SIM cards issued in the EU and EEA shown on the map above 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 shock bills can still occur when you connect to the "wrong" networks outside.
Maritime or aircraft networks Edit
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 Edit
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 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 doesn't have a mandate for this.
This anomaly makes 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 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.
Restrictions for data use Edit
There are restrictions for data use on some networks. Open (or unlimited) data packages will be capped for roaming. On some large packages only a part of the included data volume may be given out at the domestic rate for roaming. This is subject to different limitations specified further below.
Further exclusions Edit
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.
Roaming rates for calls and texts are always at the domestic rate in the home country of the plan. This rate is usually lower than calling the same country from home, but can be higher too in a few cases when special promotions are applied in the home country to certain destinations which are below domestic rates.
Any calls and texts to premium and special services numbers are not included.
Alternative options Edit
All EU providers are required to offer an option to make the 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 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.
Nor for permanent roaming Edit
The EU 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 prevails domestic use within 4 months, a surcharge may be added. The definition of this limitation varies considerably between providers:
- some providers don't mention it at all. Then, they are not allowed to apply this restriction.
- some providers simply describe this policy in general terms of a domestic use that needs to exceed any roaming use. Here, the rules may be applied or not, depending on their financial impact.
- some providers go into detail about "excessive" roaming and specify the documents needed to prove any "stable links" to the country to avoid surcharges for continuous roamers. With them, it's very likely, that they will be quite strictly applied.
After this new policy has just started, there is no experience yet, by whom and how it will be implemented.
As it looks like now, Roam like at Home principle will apply to most voice, text and data use in the EU for most prepaid offers. A few providers have been exempt and will keep on charging more especially for data. So better check the national articles for specifics.
Implications for voice (call) and text (SMS) users EditFor voice and text users all roaming surcharges are scrapped from now on without limitations.
Incoming or passive roaming (that's when you are called or texted abroad by someone else) is free.
Outgoing calls and texts 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 or text to all lines in your home EU/EEA country (not only an on-net flatrate), the roaming call/SMS will be "free" on this flatrate.
- If you have a certain allowance of ## minutes airtime or SMS to all domestic lines in your home EU/EEA country (not only on-net), the roaming call or SMS will be debited from this domestic allowance.
- If you call on a standard (default, pay-as-you-go) rate of ## cents per minute/SMS domestic, the roaming call/SMS will be charged at the same domestic per-minute/SMS rate.
Again, all calls and texts from your home country (ar rather home country of the SIM) calling IDD abroad are not considered roaming calls, but international calls. They can be charged much higher as they are not regulated under the EU rules.
Implications for data / mobile internet users Edit
- If you have a domestic "unlimited" data flatrate in your home EU country, data use will be "free" on this flatrate up to a certain cap that must be clearly indicated by the provider.
- If you have a certain package 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 cheap data bundles with prices below €4.50 per GB (or any ratio of this) some restrictions may be applied that only a defined max. of data needs to be given out at the domestic rate. This only applies to SIM cards given out in certain EU countries and must be stated by the provider before.
- 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.
All these allowances can be affected by the different Fair Use Policies (FUPs) mentioned below. For SIM cards issued in some EU countries there can still be surcharges on all roaming data consumptions.
How will the providers react? Edit
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 measures how operators try to bypass increased roaming expenses from the start which have been employed in some countries:
- they simply raise domestic prices and say it's because of roaming charges
- 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 domestic only.
- 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.
- they employ a FUP or apply for a derogation from the rules specified below. Thus in e.g. in Poland only 10% of the domestic allowance must be given out for roaming to be called still "roam like at home".
Why is it so hard to bring the European providers together? Edit
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
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 require to show "stable links" to the home country of the SIM. If a customer can't prove them, he/she may get small surcharges applied (at a max.of €9.40 per GB). 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.
- 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
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.
A few weeks into the new policy it looks as there remain differences according to where the SIM card has been issued and bought, because this fact defines the domestic and hence the roaming rates:
- 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.
- in some countries with unlimited rates like France, Italy, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Czech Rep., Bulgaria, Slovenia, Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Iceland, Hungary and Poland there are limitations in place mostly on large data packages, that are only given out up to a specified volume at the domestic rate and on some plans roaming may be blocked completely or for a surcharge.
- in a few countries like Denmark, Finland 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 internatl. 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-ons or per-MB surcharges.
As a reminder, these are not the countries where you roam, but the countries where the SIM card has been issued and bought. Some single operators may vary from the country list and much of this information is still country- or provider-specific. 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 it out.
We are monitoring the implementation closely this summer 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.
More information Edit
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.
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 has been taken off as they don't make any sense anymore. If you still want to get some information from this section, you can 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.
As we don't want to jump to conclusions and need your feedback, post us what you have learnt using European SIM cards under the new rules for roaming or in your home country. Then we can get a better picture and other users can benefit from your experience.