Brexit to bring back roaming fees from 2021 unless networks say otherwise

Fortunately most UK networks plan to continue providing free roaming across Europe to customers.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read

Will roaming remain free after Brexit?

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The UK government released a travel advisory on Thursday telling British citizens how travel to and within the EU will change after the country leaves the bloc. On the list of things to prepare for is the potential return of roaming fees, which are currently banned under EU law.

Since June 2017 UK citizens have benefitted from an EU-wide law stipulating that mobile customers must be allowed to use mobile internet throughout the Union as if they were at home. The UK is due to leave the EU on Friday, but changes will not apply until the beginning of next year.

"From Jan. 1 2021, the guarantee of free mobile phone roaming throughout the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway will end," said the advisory. "Check with your phone operator to find out about any roaming charges you might get from Jan. 1 2021."


Source: gov.uk

Screenshot/Katie Collins

The government also intends to put in place a new law that will prevent people using data in Europe from unexpectedly getting a bill of more than £45. Once you reach £45, networks will be required to inform you that you've hit the cap and will ask if you want to opt in to spend more.

But regardless of what the government has said, the decision of whether to reintroduce roaming charges will lie with individual networks. Fortunately for most UK mobile customers, it seems that most carriers -- including the big four -- are keen to avoid this happening. 

"We currently have no plans to reintroduce roaming charges for Vodafone UK customers visiting the EU," said a spokesman for Vodafone. "We hope any potential Brexit outcome will avoid the need to change this position."

For the entire time Brexit negotiations have been ongoing, Three, which also provides generous roaming outside of the EU, has been adamant it won't bring back roaming fees. "We're committed to eradicating excessive roaming charges and will retain this great customer benefit regardless of Brexit negotiations allowing our customers to continue using their usual allowances when they travel within the EU," said a spokesman for the company.

EE and O2 didn't immediately respond to request for comment, but they have also previously shown little inclination to reintroduce the charges.

It's unlikely that one of the big four networks would bring back roaming fees alone, and risk a mass exodus of customers. Keeping roaming charges at bay may mean networks need to strike new, possibly reciprocal deals with counterparts in other European countries to ensure that UK citizens could enjoy roaming with no extra fees in Europe, with EU citizens being given the same privilege when they're visiting the UK.