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5 tips to cut the cost of using your mobile abroad

01 July 2015

Worried about racking up a huge mobile phone bill while on holiday? Follow our five top tips to keep costs down.

Woman using mobile phone by the pool
Using your mobile phone overseas costs more than it does in the UK, so use it wisely

1. Know the cost of calls and texts

Using your mobile phone overseas costs more than it does in the UK, so use it wisely. Do you really need to contact your family every day? Or check the weather online? Making calls while abroad incurs expensive ‘roaming’ charges and you have to pay to receive calls too.

Fortunately, though, the cost of using your mobile within the European Union is regulated. Any calls you make should not cost more than 14p per minute (excluding VAT). Receiving calls cost about 4p per minute. The tariffs apply to most European countries, but not Switzerland or Turkey. 

To find out about roaming costs, see the European Commission website.

Outside of the EU, the price of calls can soar, so consider using your mobile only in emergencies. Or if you’re in the US, buy a cheap basic pay-as-you-go handset with call credit included.

Sending texts may be a better option – around 5p in Europe. Just don’t keep sending them back and forth. You won’t be charged to receive texts.

2. Turn off data roaming

Surfing the internet or ‘data roaming’ is expensive too. And as smartphones update apps automatically, you could be downloading data, and paying a hefty price for it, without realising.  

Data roaming charges are also capped in the EU – it costs around 15p per MB of data (excluding VAT). But that still means you could pay over £20 just to listen to the radio for an hour. Costs outside Europe are significantly higher, anything up to £8 per MB. 

The best way to avoid a shock bill back home is to switch off data roaming before you set off. It’s easy to do via your phone’s settings. Watch Ofcom’s step-by-step videos.

3. Contact your network provider

Speak to your network provider to make sure your phone will work in the destination you’re off to (in North and South America you’ll need a tri-band phone), and also to check costs. 

They may be able to offer a deal or data roaming bundle that will be cheaper than using your standard tariff, though an extra upfront fee is sometimes added.

Ask what happens once you have used up all your allowance – you don’t want any additional data charged at the highest rate. And cap your bill, so you’ll know the maximum you’ll pay. 

Your provider will alert you when you’re about to reach the agreed data roaming limit, and if you want to add more then, you can.

4. Download before you go

Do you want to use apps, read books, watch films and listen to music while you’re away? Then simply download them using your home wi-fi before you set off.  

It’s also worth downloading WhatsApp, available on Android, iPhone and Blackberry 10. Not only does the app let you send texts, photos and video free of charge to other WhatsApp users, you can now make free international calls.

Related: How to download and listen to audiobooks on an iPad

5. Use free Wi-Fi

Make the most of free Wi-Fi in your hotel, or in a café or bar. You can browse travel guides on the web, check out social media, and download email attachments without paying to use your phone’s internet connection. 

But stay secure and avoid making purchases or checking your bank statements if using public networks. If you’re connected to Wi-Fi, and also have Skype on your mobile, that’s another way to make free calls.

Related: How to use Wi-Fi


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.