Jul 07

Cheaper call costs when you’re abroad

Reading Time: 7 mins

Going abroad this summer? Chances are you’ll be taking your phone with you. However, using it could be costing you much more than it needs to. Although the EU has this month imposed a single tariff covering all EU member states (ensuring that calling home within the EU has dropped from an average of 68p per minute to 37p per minute) the costs of calling while abroad can still be steep. Find out why using your phone on holiday is so expensive, and exactly what you can do to reduce your costs.

Before you set off…

First things first – make sure your phone will actually work abroad! If you’re travelling within Europe, almost all UK phones should work with no problems at all. If you’re heading somewhere like North or South America though, you will likely need a tri-band phone. Some countries may even require quad-band coverage.

If you have no idea about the technical specifications of your phone – or simply want to check whether it will work in the country you’re travelling to – don’t panic. Just jot down the make and model of your phone (check your manual) and call your network’s customer service line – they should be able to tell you.

Call costs explained

So exactly why does it cost so much to use your phone abroad? Up until fairly recently there’s been no real restrictions on call charges, and no way to get around the complicated process of using a British network provider in foreign countries. Effectively you’re paying twice because you are using two networks: your normal home network and the network you are connected to abroad. Obviously, this is far from cheap.

In May 2007, the European Parliament voted to significantly reduce the cost of roaming charges for EU citizens by imposing cuts to the charges and encouraging network providers to be up front with consumers over their prices. This roaming tariff was finally put in place this month. It means that within the EU, making a call will now cost no more than 37p a minute,  sending a text will cost no more than 10p, and receiving calls will cost a maximum of 17p a minute.

As of July 2011, downloading data (using your smartphone to access the internet etc) has also had a cap put on it, so that by 2012 users will pay no more than 81p per megabyte of data and by 2014 users will be paying no more than 40p per mb (currently users can be paying up to £1.80).

A summary of specific charges is available from the European Commission.

But watch out if you are travelling outside the EU! A report published by Informa Telecoms and Media revealed last summer that in order for network providers to compensate for having to reduce EU charges they have collectively increased their roaming charges outside the EU by 115%. So now, calling home outside the EU has risen from an average of £1.65 per minute to £1.81 per minute.

You might think your network provider offers a great international deal, but check first. Exact charges are often unclear, and rates are still considerable. Things to look out for are:

  • Reasonable prices per minute but you have to pay a connection charge.
  • Offers that give you the option to use your contract minutes and texts when you’re abroad sound great – but they sometimes charge a text message you send abroad as more than one message from your allowance. So if you use your phone to call or text a reasonable amount whilst away, you’ll use up your allowance faster and end up paying a premium rate on texts and calls for the rest of the month back home.

So how can you avoid being ripped-off when using your phone abroad? Happily, there are a number of options available…

International SIM Cards

These great little things have been around for about five years now, and could save you a fortune if you plan to use your phone abroad. They allow you to make and receive calls for much less, simply because they work by running off a global (rather than national) mobile network provider.

All you do is buy a SIM card from one of a number of providers, and replace your UK SIM card with it when you travel abroad to access a cheap global service.

One thing to remember is that you might need to get your phone unlocked in order to be able to use the international SIM. However this is easy to do. There is a small charge, but doing it online is cheaper than going through your network provider. Get your phone unlocked with Unique Phones here.

There’s not a huge amount of difference between the various international SIM providers. They all provide a service which is infinitely better than anything your network provider can offer you – it’s free to receive calls and texts in most countries, and call rates are a fraction of the cost of those regular network providers charge.

Main providers include GeoSim and GoSim who offer their SIM cards pretty much exclusively online, and the highly recommended Sim4Travel, who are approved by some very reputable organisations such as and Expedia. Sim4Travel cards are available at Carphone Warehouse, as well as on easyJet and British Airways flights. They are also the longest running and most experienced company of the bunch.

Obviously you need to assess exactly what service you need depending on where you’re travelling to, how long you’ll be there and how likely you are to use your phone. It might be the case that what your current network provider offers you is sufficient, but often an international SIM will be better.

Comparison of network providers – calling costs from South Africa to the UK:

Calling home (per minute) Texting home Receiving a call (per minute) Receiving a text
Sim4Travel 49p 39p Free Free
GoSim 38p 34p Free Free
GeoSim 37p 27p Free Free
O2 170p 40p 111p Free
Vodaphone 90p 25p 50p Free
Orange 100p 35p 60p Free
T-Mobile 140p 40p 100p Free
3 180p 25p 80p Free


Obviously these costs vary depending on where you’re calling from. Also bear in mind that in some instances network prices may vary from the above, depending on the type of contract a customer has.

Choosing the right mobile option

The best deal for you will depend on your individual circumstances.

Vodaphone have abolished roaming charges this summer in over 35 countries across Europe (plus Australia and New Zealand). So until 31 August, Vodaphone customers can call, text or send picture messages from those countries for the same price they pay at home – without being charged the normal 75p connection charge to make or receive calls abroad. To take advantage of this, Vodaphone customers must opt in to the Vodaphone Passport scheme.

However, international SIM cards are often a better bet than regular network providers – especially if you’re travelling outside Europe.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the choice, check out this tool at from the Bill Monitor website. All you need to do is enter the details of where you’re going in the ‘Going Abroad’ section, and how much you’re likely to use your phone while you’re away. It then compares current international phone deals for you, ensuring you get the cheapest package.

At present Bill Monitor only compares contract deals (though a Pay-As-You-Go comparison tool is coming soon). However you can search for international contract deals that last for as little as a month – making them suitable for a two week holiday.

If you want to search for travel SIM cards too you can try this nifty roaming comparison tool from Unique Phones. It compares international SIM cards with the likes of O2 and Orange. You just enter how much you want to use your phone and where you want to go and it will calculate the best options available to you. This can help you solve the dilemma of whether to stick with your current network or get your hands on an alternative SIM for your holiday.

Alternatives to using your mobile

Of course, if you can’t face the complications of taking your mobile abroad, there are other ways to keep in contact with people at home.

1. Phone cards

There are plenty of phone cards in the UK that provide super cheap rates for calling abroad. So it’s only normal that there would be similar cards abroad. You will have to pay to phone an access number (often these are freephone) and then you will get a certain amount of minutes for your money. This is a super cheap option but it does mean you have to track down a local payphone – using them on your mobile means you’ll still pay a huge amount for the call to the access number.

If you’re travelling to the US, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji or Vanuatu, there’s a fantastic company called Global Gossip that you should know about. They provide you with a card that you can use online to make international calls. You just top it up as and when you want on their website. You can make the calls from any phone, and call the UK for less than a penny a minute.

There is a connection charge, which is usually 50p from landlines but considerably more from mobiles, so stick to landlines if you can. All you do is call the number on the back of your card then follow the instructions, then call the number you want and start chatting!

2. VoIP

VoIP or Voice over Internet Protocol is basically calling and speaking over the internet rather than the phone. If you speak simply from one computer to another wherever they are in the world, it’s completely free. Obviously, if you’re abroad and in an internet cafe, you’ll just have to pay for the time you’re connected to the internet.

Skype is probably the best known VoIP service and all the software you need to download in order to use it is free, and should you have a webcam it’s also free to make video calls.

You can also get a skype mobile phone, which lets you call your Skype contacts online or on their own Skype mobiles, completely free. The best thing about it is that you can call another Skype phone wherever in the world they are. They just have to be on the mobile network 3’s sister network in the specific country. To find out the sister networks click here.

For this service you have to top up at least £10 a month and the more you top up, the more inclusive calls you get. See all the packages here. The only problem is that all Skype pay-as-you go outgoing calls (with a handset) are subject to a connection fee of 3.3p. Check out our article on Phone Calls for Free for more information on VoIP and Skype.

Don’t forget…

  • Turn off your voicemail! Even if your phone is off and your voicemail is called you can still be charged.
  • In keeping in with the idea of a holiday, you could always leave your phone at home and enjoy the novelty of a bit of peace and quiet!
  • Click here for other ways to save money on your holiday.
  • Make sure you get the best mobile deal for your everyday life – whether you’re after the best phone contract, SIM-only bargains or Pay-As-You-Go deals.

Got any other handy hints for saving money on your calls abroad? Tell everyone about them on our Facebook page:

MoneyMagpie UKpower
Make money My Survey


Leave a Reply

Notify of

Nice article, I appreciated. When you travel abroad, it’s very important to pay atention this. I went to Brazil next summer and, after a lot of searches, I rented a SIM card. It was great and cheap.

Paul Derly
Paul Derly


I think that you should have talked about the best roaming alternative, which is compliant with any local SIM :

Works on all Android phones and very soon on iPhones.

Best regards,

Related Articles


Make Money and Save Money

ideas for everyone

Send this to a friend