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Roaming in Europe is now free: Here's what you need to know

You can now phone home and roam across Europe without a care in the world (but make sure you just double check the rules first).

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Hey guys, you can upload that straight to Instagram now!

Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

After 10 years of steadily declining roaming charges across the EU, the end is finally here. Roaming charges are no more in Europe.

If you've ever wondered what the EU has done for you, the answer is this: scrap those pesky fees that either mean you can't use your phone abroad without connecting to Wi-Fi, or return with a bill as long as your arm.

The EU has been slashing the cost of using of using phones abroad since 2007 and promising to get rid of roaming fees since 2013. Mobile users across the bloc have eagerly anticipated the plan, which the EU is calling "roam like at home," and the date for it to come into effect was set in February.

If you don't already have a holiday arranged, why not book one now to celebrate? We recommend Italy. Think of all the money you'll save as you Instagram your pizza for free, or at least for the same cost you would pay at home.

But before you jet off to Venice or Florence or Rome, do be sure to cast your eye over our handy explainer, which is designed to help you fully understand the new rules. There are still ways to get caught out, and we would hate for anything to detract from your gelato fund.

Is it free to use my phone in Europe now?

It is free to use your phone in European countries as if you were at home. You will still pay your normal monthly or pay as you go bill, but you won't be charged extra for using your minutes, texts and data when you're on holiday.

This means sticking religiously to whatever agreement you have with your provider. If you go over your data, calls or texts limit as dictated by your bundle or tariff, you may still be charged roaming fees, and these differ by network. If you think you might exceed your data limit, most networks still offer add-ons that you can use abroad.

You also need to be careful about who you call -- it's not a free-for-all that will allow you to chat gratis with friends spread across the continent. If you have a UK mobile number, calls to British mobiles are free no matter where you are, but if you dial a French number to book a table at a restaurant in Paris you will still be charged for an international call, no matter where you are when you make it.

Does it apply to all European countries?

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Iceland isn't in the EU, but is included in the rules.

Katie Collins/CNET

Here's where you have to be extra careful. The outlawing of roaming charges affects EU member states, of which there are 28 -- a good moment to brush up on your geography, perhaps -- and three members of the European Free Trade Association: Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Switzerland is not automatically included in the list, so pay heed to where you use your phone while skiing in the Alps this winter -- the Portes du Soleil ski area straddles France and Switzerland both, for example. Other areas you need to be wary of include Monaco, Gibraltar, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

Some providers include additional countries in their no-roaming offerings (including those listed above). If you're a Vodafone customer, for example, you won't have to pay charges in Turkey. By far the most generous network in this respect though is Three, which doesn't charge roaming fees in a wide range of countries outside of Europe, including the US, Australia and Hong Kong.

The best way not to get caught out is, as ever, to check with your network before travelling.

What will Brexit mean for roaming charges?

The impact of Brexit on roaming charges is still not totally clear, even though we are now almost a year on from the EU referendum.

Once EU legislation is no longer applicable in the UK, it may well fall to individual network providers to broker deals with partner networks in other countries. The ability to provide worry-free roaming across Europe could become a new battleground for networks, said analyst Ernest Doku, from comparison site uSwitch.

"Any plans to revert back to a world of roaming at an extra charge would likely be unpalatable for consumers, and so seems an unlikely manoeuvre," he added.

Our best advice for now is to enjoy free roaming while we have it, but to keep your eye out for any changes that might occur as the UK gets closer to leaving the EU. According to a uSwitch survey, 37 percent of Brits already thought roaming was free across Europe, so just trying to stay savvy is probably the best thing you can do to protect yourself from unwanted charges.

What does this mean for travelers in Europe from non-European countries?

Our apologies to our international friends, but the new rules only benefit customers who normally live in or have stable links to a member state, and carry a SIM card tied a local carrier.

This means travelers from outside the EU cannot buy a SIM card in one country and use it to roam freely as they travel across Europe. There is no official registration needed to take advantage of "roam like at home," but networks may ask consumers to show proof of residency, employment or study.

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