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Free roaming in Europe: limits, conditions and additional costs

Gone are the times when, when we were traveling abroad in a country of the European Union, we had to sign up for a very expensive subscription with our Italian operator to have a few minutes of conversation and even less MB (yes not GB, just MegaByte) of navigation. Internet included.
Thanks to the European Union, music has profoundly changed: an Italian who goes to a foreign country that belongs to the European community will be able to call, send SMS and, above all, surf the internet without paying additional costs, with the same conditions and rates as in the city.

In this guide we will try to summarize all the benefits, limits and additional costs of free roaming in Europe, so to be able to undertake a trip abroad in an EU country without too many thoughts.

How free roaming works in Europe

From 15 June 2017Therefore, you can go to a country in the European Union and call or text without worrying about spending too much, thanks to the Roam like at home agreement. Although, in theory, there would be no rip-offs in this law and even if no national operator can automatically and autonomously apply different rates for calls abroad (always in EU countries), there are still some limitations and conditions with additional costs to national roaming of which few speak.
We remind you that it is not possible call a European mobile phone with the national tariff, for which the international rate is always applied; when we are abroad we can therefore only call the Italian numbers.

Countries where free roaming is active

The countries of the European Union in which you can surf in roaming at no additional cost are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom. From now on, when going to these countries, remember to activate the data connection even in Roaming in the smartphone settings.

Note that Switzerland and the United Kingdom are not present, the latter expects confirmation of Brexit at the end of 2020 and will most likely no longer adhere to the roam like home policies.

Limits on the length of stay in the foreign country

The legislation Roam Like Home was born with the aim of preventing consumers who travel from being surprised with huge bills due to short data connections or phone calls, but it is not valid for those who reside or move abroad. Here comes the first point to be clarified immediately: the only real condition for free roaming is that the mobile phone is used, for most of the year, in the country where the contract was signed. For example, if we use a Vodafone city SIM, I can call, text and connect to the internet at the same Italian rates even in France, just that we do not reside permanently in that country.

In fact, if we stay in that country for more than 4 months, the operator might impose a surcharge as compensation for the roaming excess applied. If we move to a new country in the European Union and plan to stay more than 4 months, it is better to get a SIM from a local operator immediately, so as not to incur additional costs.

Limits on the data connection

On all types of SIMs and on all types of subscription we will also have a limit for data connections. Basically, while for phone calls and SMS there are no problems with additional prices, who has a unlimited internet connection plan (almost), however, it will have a limitation on Giga traffic available abroad. While it is not said that all operators can put this limitation, if there is it will be clearly indicated in an SMS that you receive as soon as you disembark in another country.

The calculation of free GigaBytes of internet traffic in a European country (which in any case, if this limit were applied, would always be communicated in the SMS that you receive when changing country) must be done by following the complicated instructions described on the Europa.eu website. To play the trick, we have to consider the cost of the VAT excluded rate that is paid in the city to connect to the internet divided by the number of gigabytes.

If this cost is less than 3,85 Euros, then the traffic that we will have available abroad in Europe is 2 * (Tariff Cost / 7,7) = Free GB number in Roaming. 7,7 Euros is the maximum cost of 1 GB of traffic (this price will drop over the years to become 2,5 Euros in 2022). For example, if we pay 3 GB of traffic for 5 Euros, the cost per GB becomes: 5 - 22% of 5 (ie 1,1) is equal to 3,9 Euros; 3,9 divided by 3 is 1,3 Euro which is the cost of the rate per GB excluding VAT. Doing other quick calculations:

1,3 is less than 3,85 Euro, therefore, if the operator wants to impose the limit, this will be: 1,3 must be divided by 7,7 and the result must be multiplied by 2 with the final result of 0,33. 0,33 GB (or 330 MB) is the amount of data provided free of charge included in the operator's rate plan. The surplus can, if necessary, be paid with a surcharge.

By 2020, the cost per GB has dropped to € 3,5, so let's see a good example of the data threshold for roaming in the EU: if we pay in the city a tariff plan of 10 euros (excluding VAT) for a package with unlimited calls, SMS and data, roaming would be free and unlimited for phone calls and SMS (as long as we do not exceed 4 months of stay), while the data connection can be used for a traffic of 5,71 GB (i.e. 2 x (10 / 3,5 euros) = 5,71 GB).

Surcharge for abuse

As stated above, if the telephone operator were to detect a abuse to the Policy of correct use, which refer to too much time spent abroad or excessive consumption of Giga internet, then they can be additional charges applied to phone calls, SMS and Internet, upon notice by SMS. These additional costs should not exceed these rates:
  • Calls: 3,2 cents per minute (+ VAT)
  • SMS: 1 cent for each SMS (+ VAT)
  • Internet: € 3,5 for 1GB (+ VAT), as of 2020
Over the years, the price per GB of Internet connections has dropped, starting from € 7,7 as soon as free roaming was activated to reach € 3,5 by 2020, which makes really convenient to travel abroad with a basic data plan of at least 40GB (in fact we will always have at least 4-5 GB available abroad).

Conclusions

The Italian operators TIM, Vodafone, Wind Tre have already adapted to the new legislation and apply it to the letter; the same should do all lesser known virtual operators (but always better check). Traveling in the European Union is now worthwhile, but it is better to inquire first about the GB available and, in the case of unlimited calls and SMS, check if all the advantages of the offer are also active in the EU (it is not obvious, especially with minor operators).

If we also travel frequently outside the European Union, we recommend that you also read our guides Foreign tariffs from Wind, TIM, Tre, Vodafone mobile phones e How to surf the internet abroad for free (or almost).

Free roaming in Europe: limits, conditions and additional costs



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