Mobile phone roaming charges will end in the EU in 2017, although for many who live in Europe it may only make a marginal difference to running costs.
A reduction in the charges of mobile phone calls abroad has been a target of the European Commission for nearly a decade.
As a result, charges within the EU have come down substantially in the last few years.
Calls to other countries within the EU are now capped at 19 centimes/minute and texts at 6 centimes/minute, ex VAT. Taking a call is also capped at 5 centimes. Online downloads are 20 centimes/Mb.
The regulations require that when you cross a border within the EU your mobile operator must send you a text telling you the price for making and receiving calls, texting and going online (data download) in the EU country you've just entered.
To protect users against excessive data roaming bills the volume of downloaded data on mobile devices is capped worldwide at €50 (or the equivalent in another currency), unless the user has agreed to a different limit with their operator. Operators are also obliged to send a warning when you reach 80% of this agreed limit.
From June 2017, mobile telephone users in the EU will pay the same for their calls and text messages to other numbers in Europe as they pay for calls in their home country.
Plans to scrap roaming had been scheduled to come into effect at the end of this year, but were blocked in March by the European Council, whose members are the ministers of national governments.
The move to end existing surcharges will be phased over two years:
- From April 2016 the price of surcharges falls to a maximum of €0.05 cents/min, texts to €0.02 cents/min, and downloads to €0.05 Mb, all ex VAT.
- With effect from 15th June 2017 they will be scrapped altogether.
Telecom operators will still be allowed to charge a small basic fee in case of abuses, where, for instance, a person buys a SIM card in a European country with low prices and permanently roams, rather than paying for costlier services where he or she lives.
In practice, and perhaps in anticipation of the change in the law, most operators in Europe already offer attractive roaming deals.
That is certainly the case in France, where all of the existing operators offer packages that give free or no surcharge calls within Europe, albeit with some limitations on usage.
As has become frequently the case, Free Mobile leads the pack, with their €20 a month 'Pass Destination' contract, which offers unlimited free calls and messages for 35 days a year outside of France. It also comes with 3GB of internet.
There are similar low-cost deals with Orange through their 'Sosh' subsidiary, as well as with Numerical/SFR through their 'Red' brand, and with Bougyues Telecom through their 'Sensation' packages.