Wednesday 14 November 2018

Feel free to roam - but do not lose yourself in the hidden fees

Whether you are roaming in the EU or further afield, make sure to double-check the charges and allowances before you go

If you’re using your phone in America check in advance how much the charges and allowances are with your network — an Irishman recently spoke of his disbelief when he received a bill for €26,000 following a family trip to the US Stock image
If you’re using your phone in America check in advance how much the charges and allowances are with your network — an Irishman recently spoke of his disbelief when he received a bill for €26,000 following a family trip to the US Stock image

John Cradden

If you're about to jet off to sunnier climes over the next few weeks, you should take a few minutes to check what the situation is regarding your mobile operator's roaming charges that might apply at your holiday destination.

If you don't, you could be stung for hundreds, if not thousands, of euro when your next mobile bill comes in.

Let's say that during a two-week holiday in the USA you spend about an hour a day using roaming to check out your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds, watching a couple of YouTube videos, browsing a handful of websites, and using Google Maps or Translate. You could easily be using up to 50MB a day.

If you're a customer of Eir Mobile, for instance, that would mean a bill of up to €7,000 for data alone used during the entire holiday period. The other operators - Vodafone, Virgin, Three and Tesco Mobile - charge between €2.40 and €7 per MB compared to Eir's €10 per MB. Eir's roaming rates for calling home are charged at €1.60 to €1.70 a minute, or texts at 39c each, which are generally on a par with other operators with the exception of Lycamobile, which charges just over €3 a minute for calls, and 75c for texts.

Few of us bother to check exactly what the charges will be. New research by price comparison site Switcher.ie shows that only 14pc of us will check charges with our phone provider and adjust our usage accordingly while travelling.

The study also showed that four in 10 of us will leave roaming on all the time when we're abroad, while around a quarter will turn it off completely and only use wifi.

However, the good news is that, since mid-2017, you are less likely to be stung by your next mobile bill if you holiday in another European country, thanks to new EU rules outlawing extra charges for roaming - but not all of them.

Indeed, depending on your operator, you could still rack up charges unnecessarily if you're not careful.

Roaming in the EU

Last year saw the introduction of the so-called and much-publicised 'roam like at home' (RLAH) EU law, which banned operators from charging roaming fees across all mobile phone plans for calls and texts.

So if you make a call or text in another EU country, you will not be charged anything more than you would pay while calling or texting at home.

The new rules have certainly made an impact. According to the latest figures from telecoms regulator ComReg, we're using our mobiles to make and take calls 50pc more than a year ago, while our use of data services like Facebook abroad is up a staggering 256pc.

While you can no longer be charged extra for roaming for calls and texts, the picture is less clear when it comes to data roaming. In a nutshell, the amount of data that is subject to the RLAH rules depends on the type of contract you have.

Generally, your operator is allowed to apply what is usually termed a 'fair usage' policy to limit data use when roaming.

So you can be hit for penalties if you use too much data while in other EU countries, although they will be capped under EU law.

Last year, for instance, the most you would have been charged for exceeding your operator's roaming limit was €7.70 per GB of data, but this cap has already fallen to €6 per GB since the beginning of this year, and will continue to decrease steadily every year until 2022, when it will be set at €2.5 per GB.

Operators must clearly inform you about any limits in advance and alert you if you have reached your limits.

But it's worth learning how to calculate your RLAH data-roaming limit.

If you have a plan with unlimited data or very cheap data, you divide the amount you pay every month (excluding the Vat) by six (the current penalty rate for exceeding your RLAH limit) and multiply the answer by two.

For example, if you have a mobile bundle with unlimited calls, SMS and data for €42 (€35 minus the 20pc Vat), you will get a RLAH data allowance of at least 11.6GB (2 x (€35 divided by 6)).

If your plan does not include unlimited data, calculating your data limit is a bit more complicated. Under a 'fair usage' policy, your operator is entitled to apply a lower RLAH data limit if you pay less than €3 per GB of data under your mobile plan.

For example, if you have a mobile bundle that includes unlimited calls, SMS and 3GB of data for €30 (€25 excluding the 20pc Vat), this means you are paying €8.3 per GB (€25 divided by 3GB), so you can use your full data allowance while abroad.

But if you have the same bundle with 10GB of data, you would be paying €2.5 per GB of data (€25 divided by 10GB), so a lower data limit will apply.

So in this case, your RLAH data allowance will be 8.3GB (2 x (€25 divided by six)). If you use more than that, the above penalties will apply.

If you are with Vodafone, the good news is that you don't have to worry about calculating a RLAH data allowance, because it is the only one of the Irish operators that provides its customers with the use of their full data allowance within their plans while roaming in Europe at no extra cost.

Outside the EU

It's still all too common to hear of mobile users receiving eye-watering bills following trips taken in non-EU countries.

A Dublin man recently spoke of his disbelief when he received a bill for €26,000 from mobile network Three, following a family trip to the US last December. He claims that there was a daily data cap of €50-worth applied to his plan and he wasn't informed by Three when he went over it.

Roaming fees to non-EU countries currently vary widely. In destinations like Asia, the US and Australia, charges for calls home can be more than €3 per minute, while sending a single text costs up to 75c, according to Switcher.ie.

If you use mobile broadband, you could be looking at charges of between €5 and €10 per MB, which can quickly add up given that 1MB is only enough data to browse a single website.

As always, contact your network or visit its website to clarify how much the charges and allowances will be in the country you're travelling to. You'll also receive a text from your network when you arrive at your destination, which gives you information on the charges, and it'll contact you to alert you of your roaming spend, too. It's worth noting that Vodafone also offers a default roaming tariff, called Red Roaming. Depending on where you are travelling to, this has a daily fee of €2.99 or €4.99 for unlimited calls, SMS and 200MB of data per day.

The golden rules to follow to help you avoid roaming charges include: turning off roaming and sticking to wifi; using apps like WhatsApp or Skype to make calls over wifi; downloading any content you need, like books, music or movies, before you go rather than streaming; and turning off any automatic updates for apps.

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