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Dan White: How can I sail around these high mobile phone roaming charges on ferries to France?

Dan answers your financial questions

I AM travelling by ferry to France next week. I need to be contactable so I will be bringing my mobile phone with me. Now I have read that the ferries have imposed very high roaming charges. How can they do this? Haven't the EU capped mobile phone roaming charges? Is this true and if so what can I do to avoid these ferry roaming charges?

CARL

USING your mobile phone on a ferry is expensive, seriously expensive.

If you are a Vodafone customer you will be charged €2.19 per minute (including VAT) for either making or receiving a mobile phone call while on a ferry.

Sending a text will set you back 29 cent.

O2 customers do slightly better, being charged "only" €1.61 per minute to make a call and €2 per minute to receive a call. Sending a text from a ferry with O2 will set you back a hefty 39 cent.

Only Meteor bill pay customers escape the worst of the ferry mobile phone racket being charged 47 cent per minute to make a call and 18 cent a minute to receive a call.

However, Meteor prepaid customers will be hit for €1.77 per minute to make a call while on a ferry and 60 cent per minute to receive them.

Meanwhile customers of the other Irish mobile phone network, 3, can't either make or receive calls while travelling on ferries.

Hang on a minute. Didn't the EU cap mobile phone roaming charges at the start of July? According to our masters in Brussels, mobile phone users should be charged no more than 47 cent per minute when making calls from other EU countries and 18 cent per minute to receive calls.

These are the rates being applied by Meteor to its bill pay customers using their mobile phones on ferry. Why can't the other mobile phone companies do the same?

Apparently the ferries have found a loophole which allows them to drive a coach and horses through the EU's mobile phone price cap.

Most of the ferry companies, including Irish Ferries and Stena, which between them have most of the routes in and out of Ireland sewn up, have teamed up with a Norwegian company called Maritime Communications Partners to provide mobile phone services to their passengers. MCP uses satellite links to connect passenger calls and it claims that its higher charges reflect the higher costs of using satellite technology.

Of course it's a complete coincidence that the EU's price cap on mobile phone roaming charges don't apply to calls made using satellite links.

Quite clearly, where there's a will there's a loophole.

So what can mobile phone customers do to avoid the ferry rip-off?

All of the mobile phone companies now text their customers when they board a ferry warning them of the charges. However, if I were travelling by ferry I'd go one step further.

Switch off your phone. You're on holiday after all.

I HAVE always had travel insurance. Some of my friends have advised me that I should also get a European Health Insurance card.

They have told me that if I don't have an EHIC card and I make a health claim on my travel insurance policy my cover could be affected. What should I do?

LIAM

AN EHIC card allows you access to public health care in other EU countries. While strictly speaking you don't need it to make a health claim under your travel insurance policy, in practice insurance companies may object to paying the full cost of health claims that could have been at least partially met by an EHIC card.

As well as his travel insurance, Liam should also get an EHIC card as soon as possible. He can apply for it on-line at www.ehic.ie.


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