Vodafone UK, BT reinstate European roaming charges

Ahmed Essam, Vodafone’s CEO in the UK. (Vodafone UK)

Everyone hates roaming charges, which feel like a “gotcha” when the monthly mobile bill arrives. Nevertheless, two U.K. wireless providers — BT and Vodafone UK — have decided to reinstate roaming charges for their customers who visit European Union countries.

EU rules prevent roaming fees. But now that Brexit has happened, the U.K. is not part of the EU and doesn't have to follow those rules.

Vodafone said the roaming charges will apply to new and upgrading customers. Existing customers will not see roaming charges while they remain on their current plans. Some premium plans will also include free roaming.

Customers being socked with roaming fees will see a daily charge for using their phone in Vodafone’s European roaming zones. These charges will start in January 2022 for personal and small business customers. Since the Republic of Ireland is part of the European Union, these new roaming charges will not apply to citizens from that country.

Ahmed Essam, Vodafone’s CEO in the U.K., said in a statement, “I want to make it clear that there will be no unexpectedly high bills to pay – you’ll know exactly what you’re paying in advance. You’ll also be able to set a spend limit on your data usage.”

The daily charge sounds similar to the travel pass charges that Americans pay their carriers in order to control the amount of roaming costs when they travel outside the U.S.

Vodafone is offering 8-day and 15-day passes for £1 ($1.38) per day.

Essam said the reason Vodafone U.K. is doing this is to make roaming costs “more fair.” He said roaming costs the carrier money, and it passes this cost on to its customers. But more than half of its customers don’t use roaming. 

However, the fact is, the new roaming charges will increase revenues for Vodafone.

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He also said the company was facing rising costs as a result of the U.K.’s new Telecoms Security Framework. “We totally agree that the U.K. telecoms sector needs a new robust security framework and wholly support this, but it has to be paid for,” said Essam.

BT roaming

Vodafone U.K.’s move comes about six weeks after BT reinstated roaming fees, charging its customers £2 ($2.78) extra per day when roaming in the EU, according to a Bloomberg article in June.

The charges apply to users of BT’s EE network who join or upgrade after July 7. And like Vodafone, EE will begin implementing the roaming charges in January 2022.

“O2 and Three have also changed their fair-usage limits for data usage in Europe, but stressed that they’re not reintroducing charges,” wrote CCS Insight analyst Kester Mann in a blog.

“In my view, bringing back roaming reflects a continued failure by telecom operators to stem a long-term decline in average customer spending,” wrote Mann. He said that according to CCS Insight research, average customer spending among monthly pay customers in the U.K. fell from about £25 ($34.61) in 2016 to just over £15 ($20.77) in 2020.