As the world is getting smaller and more and more people are wishing to use their phones while abroad many network operators are keen to offer services to reflect this. As well as having roaming agreements in place with many foreign network operators, most networks will try to offer services to help cut costs while using your phone abroad – particularly in Europe.
Almost all network providers divide the world into different zones with different tariffs applicable to each zone. While the principle is the same from network to network, each network employs slightly different zones and pricings, but with European zones typically being the cheapest.
The contract you choose should have little bearing on roaming charges as these are typically calculated per zone of destination rather than which contract you have. One exception is that PAYG customers will often pay higher rates than Pay Monthly customers. Most of the main UK network operators offer schemes and packages that can reduce call costs abroad and can be used by anyone on that network.
Vodafone offer a service called Vodafone Passport which allows subscribers cheaper call rates when travelling to Europe, Australia or New Zealand. This will provide you with the same tariff rates you are used to at home – although there is an additional 75p connection charge for each call made. Vodafone Passport is available to anyone who owns a phone on the Vodafone network, either contract or Pay As You Go (PAYG). Receiving a phone call with Vodafone Passport is free for the first 60 minutes but costs 20p per minute thereafter. SMS messages are charged at 11p per message.
For Vodafone customers not signed up to the Vodafone Passport scheme international phone usage will fall under the Vodafone World pricing plan. This divides the globe into four zones with different pricing plans for each zone. The four zones are Europe, Asia Pacific, North America and Rest of the World (Africa, South America, the Middle East and China). Calls and messages are cheapest in the Europe Zone, followed by Asia Pacific, North America and Rest of World respectively. As these tariffs can be noticeably more expensive it is advisable to opt for the Vodafone Passport scheme if you intend to use your phone a lot while travelling abroad.
The Vodafone World prices apply to all Vodafone customers travelling abroad unless they have opted to be part of the Vodafone Passport scheme. Because of this there is no one specific Vodafone contract that is better than others for being used abroad.
Roaming charges for O2 customers depend on the place you are travelling to and the type of O2 phone you have. Different charges apply to Pay Monthly, Pay & Go and Business users. Calls and messages are typically a lot cheaper in Europe and Asia and Business users will enjoy much better rates than people on a standard contract or Pay & Go tariff.
O2 also offer an International Traveller Service (ITS) which provides savings of up to 80% when travelling abroad. ITS provides cheaper calls back to the UK from abroad, cheaper calls within your host country or countries within the same World Zone. While this zoning system is the same principle as the one employed by Vodafone the zones themselves are different.
The zones employed by O2´s ITS are Ireland & Channel Islands, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, USA & Canada, Asia & Pacific and Rest of World. The tariffs for these zones vary but are typically cheaper for Ireland and Western Europe.
ITS is provided free of charge if your tariff includes 600 or more free minutes, or is available for £2.99 per month otherwise. ITS is already included as part of O2´s Business plan but is not currently available for Pay & Go customers.
As well as ITS O2 offer special concessions for travelling to Ireland or Spain, or if you make frequent trips to continental Europe. These services may incur additional charges but will provide much cheaper call rates when travelling to these specific destinations.
Orange also divide the world into travel zones. Orange´s zones include Ireland & Channel Islands, Europe, Asia Pacific & South Africa, USA & Canada, Middle East and Rest of World. Pricing is fairly consistent from zone to zone although is slightly more expensive in the Middle East and Rest of World.
Orange also offer some additional schemes to help save money abroad. One scheme is Europe Traveller which provides reduced call rates within Europe. This is for a monthly fee of £7, or £4 per month when purchased for a 12 month period.
For travelling outside of Europe Orange offer their Business World Traveller package. This offers reduced rates of up to 60% for all zones throughout the world for a monthly fee of £10 (or £5 per month on a 12 month basis).
The Orange website provides an international coverage checker which provides you with information regarding services available in individual countries. While in most countries you will be able to make use of all your phones features, the roaming agreements Orange have in place may restrict usage in some less travelled-to countries.
T-Mobile offer the same roaming charges for all of their customers, so PAYG customers will not end up paying more while travelling abroad. T-Mobile´s roaming tariffs offer savings of up to 54% and do not have a peak time – there is just one flat rate regardless of when you are making your call.
For £2.50 per month you can opt for the International Option which can cut the costs of receiving calls from the UK while you are abroad. T-Mobile customers on Pay Monthly plans can also opt to make use of the World Class tariff, which is provided free, and offers much reduced call rates in 18 selected countries.
With T-Mobile´s Flexible Booster scheme you can opt for more talk time for making calls in Europe, the USA & Canada or Australasia. These Flexible Boosters can offer great savings and have the added benefit that they can be changed from month to month to suit your current requirements.
Virgin Mobile divide the world into nine zones. These are Asia & Pacific, Australia & New Zealand, Channel Islands & Isle of Man, European Union, Iceland Norway & Lichtenstein, Latin America & Caribbean, Middle East & Africa, Rest of Europe, USA & Canada. Virgin´s global tariffs are typically cheaper within Europe (including non-EU countries) but more expensive in Africa or Latin America. These roaming tariffs are also cheaper for Pay Monthly customers than they are for PAYG customers.
Virgin Mobile do not currently offer any special packages for travelling abroad or for travelling to particular destinations. Because of this the cost of making a call abroad is determined almost solely by your choice of destination.
3 Mobile only divides the world into three zones, which is less than the other network operators. These zones are EU & Selected European Countries, a second zone which includes many popular destinations such as Australia and the United States, and a third zone which includes all other countries. These are the standard tariff rates when travelling abroad although 3 do offer some travel packages for particular destinations.
While rates are lower in the EU 3 Mobile offer a flat rate of 10p per minute when making phone calls within the Republic of Ireland. 3 also offer an International Saver scheme which, for £15 per month, allows you to make cheaper phone calls to many locations including the USA, Hong Kong, Japan and Australia.
For all of these networks international roaming charges are determined more by your place of travel than the contract you have in place. Pay Monthly customers will more often than not enjoy cheaper rates than PAYG phone users, although there are still schemes and packages that can be employed by both to help make savings while abroad. Each network has different deals available for selected destinations, so if you are a frequent visitor to a certain country then this may be a factor to consider when choosing a new phone and deciding which network to go for.
Out of the six main UK network operators Vodafone, O2 and Orange offer the best services in regards to using your phone abroad. In all cases you should check whether your phone is capable of being used abroad, whether it will work on the local networks of your chosen place of travel and whether your own network operator has roaming agreements in place for your particular destination.
For people who travel a lot and intend to use a phone a great deal it may be a wise idea to opt for schemes that provide long term savings, such as O2´s Business plan. Alternatively there are companies that provide international roaming SIM cards that can be used in virtually any country and can often provide a much cheaper call rate than your network´s standard roaming charges.
Before setting off on your travels check whether your phone will work in your chosen destination as differing network technologies may make some phones unusable in certain parts of the world. As the GSM technology employed in the UK is the standard for nearly 80% of the planet this should not be much of a problem although it may make your handset difficult to use in North and South America (excluding Brazil) or certain Far East countries such as Japan and Korea.
If you intend to purchase a new phone that you want to use abroad then the contract you opt for is not as important as choosing the network which offers you the best rates for your travel destination and finding a phone that will work under a variety of different network infrastructures.