Will I be able to use my mobile broadband account abroad?
Using a mobile device abroad is often called 'roaming' – which becomes 'data roaming' (or broadband roaming) when using a laptop online outside of the UK.
While you should be able to use your mobile broadband dongle abroad, it's likely to set you back a pretty penny - the data you use will not usually count towards your normal monthly allowance and will be charged at a much higher rate.
Horror stories of Brits abroad running up bills weighing in at tens of thousands of pounds (no, we're not exaggerating) have become sadly commonplace over the past few years, so make sure you're not the next victim.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you are 100 per cent sure of all the charges you may incur while abroad - we can't stress this enough. And make sure everyone is aware of them too - you may know what not to do, but do the kids? It really is up to you to make sure you're not the next horror headline in the tabloids.
Charges and caps: The EU vs The Rest of the World
Generally you will find using international broadband is cheaper in the EU than elsewhere. The European Commission introduced a law capping the wholesale cost of broadband roaming to one euro per MB on July 1, 2009, and a year later on July 1, 2010 it introduced measures to ensure 'bill shock' would be a thing of the past within the EU.
In July 2012 prices were dropped once again to a maximum of 0.70 per MB, and will gradually be reduced to 0.20/MB by July 2014.
What this means is that all mobile broadband providers must cap your monthly roaming bills at 50 Euros (equivalent to around £45) - essentially, when you hit this mark, you will be cut off. However, you can arrange with your supplier in advance to have a higher limit, or no cap at all. You should also receive a warning from your mobile broadband provider when you hit 80 per cent of your limit.
Some networks have now started implementing caps on costs outside the EU, and again you can choose to have these increased if you know in advance you'll be exceeding the limit.
Be very careful to check which country you're going to before you decide, as not every European country may be in the Europe 'zone' for all providers, or covered by EU law. Also, some providers will have better deals for countries where they have special partnerships with a local provider.
Price differences can be significant too - you can pay anything from 60p to £10 per MB for roaming outside the EU, for example. Here are the current prices (April 2013) per provider.
|If you want to use a 3 mobile broadband contract deal abroad you'll have to get in contact with them first, so they can be sure you're aware of the costs - a good policy, but one that doesn't apply to pay as you go customers as PAYG works abroad by default. Its 69.9p per MB for EU and other selected countries, £3 per MB in places such as Australia, India and the USA: in further reaching countries be prepared to pay as much as £10 per MB. For a full list of countries, click through to the 3 website. Find out more.|
|In order to use EE abroad you must purchase an add-on. For Europe these are £1 (3MB), £2.50 (10MB), £10 (50MB) or £35 (200MB). Prices outside Europe vary depending on the area. If you exceed the add-on credit you cannot use the internet until another is purchased. Find out more.|
|Like 3, you'll have to unlock your BT mobile broadband dongle for it to work outside of the UK. Prices are either 70p per MB within the EU or a fairly reasonable £1 per MB everywhere else in the world. Find out more.|
|Orange has a variety of roaming data bundles. In the EU you can choose from £3 for 30MB (lasting 1 day) to 500MB for £150 (1 month). Out of bundle charges are 58p per MB. In the US and Canada it goes from £6/30MB to £175 for 500MB. Check the Orange site for details of other countries as bundle costs vary wildly. Out of bundle charges anywhere outside Europe are £5.50 per MB. Find out more.|
|You can only currently use O2 mobile broadband abroad if you have a contract (and you need to fill in a form in advance via the O2 website) - pay as you go mobile broadband dongles can't be used. EU charges are 69p per MB with no bundle options. Elsewhere it's £6/MB. Find out more.|
|To use data abroad you must have one of T-Mo's Travel Booster packs, which cost either £1 (3MB), £5 (20MB), £10 (50MB) or £35 (200MB). For the rest of the world you'll need to check T-Mobile's country listings as it has a huge variety of prices for different locations, some as high as £280. Find out more.|
|Virgin Media offers EU data bundles (including Switzerland, Channel Isles and Isle of Man) for one day (£10 for 10MB), three days (£15/15MB), one week (£30 for 30MB) or 60MB for £60 which lasts a month. Outside the EU you're looking at £5 per MB. Find out more.|
|Vodafone mobile broadband customers can pay 69.9p per MB or opt in for the Euro Traveller pack to get 100MB per day for £8 within the EU. Elsewhere in the world it costs £25 for 100MB - outside this bundle you'll pay £3/MB up to 5MB then £15 for every 5MB. PAYG is not supported for data roaming. Find out more.|
NOTE: All prices checked April 2013, but we strongly advise you check the latest tariffs before travelling.
Pay as you go mobile broadband
Unfortunately, O2 and Vodafone don't cater for pay as you go mobile broadband roaming. If you're looking for pay as you go broadband roaming, you're left with T-Mobile's Travel Boosters (sorry, there's currently no payg on T-Mobile outside Europe), Virgin's bundles, Orange Broadband's 30-day contract offers or both the pay as you go and one month contract offerings from 3 Mobile Broadband.
Why is it so expensive?
While the ISPs will quote you all sorts of complicated reasons why the prices for mobile broadband roaming are so high, the simple answer is lack of regulation and competition - its currently quite a small market, so there have been no price wars yet.
Mobile service providers have been involved in some pretty vicious price battles over recent years as the 'land grab' for customers has rolled on, so they are always looking for places to pull in bigger profits as cash flow from voice and text falters.
What to avoid
Just checking your web-based email, looking up the football results on the Sky Sports website or looking for a weather forecast aren't going to break the bank too badly, but some things you may not even think before doing at home - where monthly limits are counted in gigabytes - can be your downfall.
While you may love Eastenders, or Match Of The Day, streaming a TV show while on your hols is going to be a costly mistake: downloading a 30-minute programme, for example, can equate to a roaming bill - in theory - in excess of £5,000. Yes, you read that right, £5,000 - around 500MB at £10 per MB.
While using a dongle you already own is the most convenient way to get online abroad, it's certainly not the only one. Here are some alternatives you might want to consider:
International mobile broadband deals: Recognising the need for an affordable provider to fill the niche, there are now several companies offering mobile broadband specifically geared toward international use. Ignoring the additional costs of buying their equipment, the data packages can be very competitive. We currently list Globalgig in our mobile broadband section.
Hotel Wi-Fi: Many hotels charge very high rates for Wi-Fi, and it can often be very slow, but this doesn't apply to everyone. Some hotels and apartments offer free internet access which may well be enough to get your web fix for the duration of your stay.
Internet cafés: These are commonplace in all cities and most towns now, and can also provide a cost effective solution to your roaming broadband needs while on holiday. Quality can vary hugely from dingy dives to posh cafés, and they're not to everyone's taste, but if you're on a budget they can be a life saver. Make sure to check your resort has one before you rely on this option though.
Buying a dongle abroad: If you're planning on a long stay - perhaps a month or more - or you know you will be making multiple trips to the same country over a period of time, it is worth considering buying a dongle from the country you'll be staying in for your international internet use. If it's a business trip, why not ask your contact in the country to give you the low down on dongle and package prices where they are, so you can compare costs?
* While we do our best to stay on top of price changes regarding roaming, they are rarely advertised or flagged up to us by the companies themselves: please use this as a guide and be sure to check before you commit. Please contact us if you notice any errors or omissions.