Do the E.U.’s No-Roaming Rules Apply to Me?

Plus ways to save on international fees.

By Lisa Cheng

On June 15, 2017, the European Union (E.U.) abolished roaming charges so that its residents can call, text, or browse the web for the same price in any E.U. country that they would pay at home. But what does that mean for American travelers? We took a closer look at the updated regulations and the implications for people planning a European vacation.

I’m not an E.U. resident. Do the new roaming laws apply to me?

To benefit from the E.U. roaming rule, you have to be a customer of an applicable European provider (see below). From a traveler’s perspective, a long-term contract with one of these providers isn’t a practical choice, although many of them offer the option of 30-day contracts and pay-as-you-go plans, which could be a good option—especially if you’re planning on traveling to several applicable countries during your visit. Contact your American operator to learn about your data allowance, including any limits to your texts, calls, and data usage while roaming and to see if purchasing a short-term or pay-as-you-go plan while there makes financial sense.

What countries are covered?

The laws currently apply to the 28 countries of the E.U., including the United Kingdom, plus a handful of countries in the European Economic Area (E.E.A.): Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway. Switzerland and Turkey are excluded from the “roam like at home” regulations.

Is there a catch?

If you’re based in the E.U. or the applicable E.E.A. countries yet spend more time using your cell phone outside the country of your contract, your phone company has the right to levy a surcharge for excessive usage. The surcharges are capped at 3.2 euro cents a minute for voices, 1 euro cent per SMS and 7.7 euros per gigabyte of data, exclusive of value-added tax.

What about cruise ships?

If you’re sailing European waters and are connected to a terrestrial mobile network in one of the 28 countries, you won’t be charged roaming fees by your operator; other types of networks, such as those provided by satellite systems aboard cruise ships, aren’t covered. (Whether you’re on a terrestrial or satellite network depends on how close to land you are.)

What other options do I have for saving on international roaming charges?

Besides connecting to Wi-Fi, there are other ways to save: T-Mobile offers several plans that allow unlimited text and data when traveling abroad (although they don’t include phone calls, and higher download speeds are an additional charge). You can also purchase a global SIM card from MTX Connect or Know Roaming, from which you can pick a package that’s tailored to your data use and length of stay. The app Roamer allows you to make and receive calls from your regular number and syncs to local SIM cards for low-cost mobile data.

You can find even more ideas on how to use your smartphone abroad without incurring roaming fees here.

I still have questions.

For more information about the no-roaming rule, visit the websites of the European Union or European Commission.

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: August 2018