Will I be able to use my mobile broadband account abroad?

by Chris Marling

Using a mobile device abroad is often called 'roaming' – which becomes 'data roaming' (or broadband roaming) when using a mobile broadband service outside of the UK.

While you should be able to use your mobile broadband dongle abroad, it's could set you back a pretty penny - the data will not usually count towards your normal monthly allowance and can be charged at a much higher rate.

Horror stories of Brits abroad running up bills 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.

Compare costs quickly: Mobile Broadband Roaming Map

Broadband Genie has created a unique tool to help guide you when selecting a network for use abroad. 

Our Mobile Broadband Roaming Tool allows you to quickly see list of prices for the four main networks, alongside specialist services when applicable. 

If you just want to know which networks are available in a particular country and get an idea of how much it can cost this is a really quick and convenient to compare prices.

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 dropped once again to a maximum of 0.70 per MB, and were then reduced to 0.20/MB in July 2014.

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.

Contract mobile broadband roaming

Price differences can be significant - you can pay anything from about 20p up to £10 per MB for roaming! Here are the rough prices by provider - for accurate price details for each country, see our mobile data roaming tool linked above.

Just switch on roaming and away you go - prices range from super cheap (the price of your standard UK allowance) where Three has close relationships with local mobile companies, up to £6 per MB in more exotic locations. Find out more.
In order to use EE abroad you must purchase an add-on. For Europe these start at £1 for 20MB. Prices outside Europe vary depending on the area. If you exceed the add-on credit you simply have to purchase another. Find out more
O2 mobile broadband has O2 Travel in the EU - pay £1.99 each day you use data for up to 50MB. Prices can rise fast outside the EU, up to £6 per MB, but bolt-ons are available that offer better value for heavy users. Find out more.
Virgin Media offers EU data bundles (called Travel Passes) ranging from 10-250MB (£1.50-£20). Outside the EU its a flat/MB charge, which can be expensive - do check individual country prices carefully before considering this option. Find out more.
Vodafone mobile broadband is broken down into four zones - two for Europe and two more for the rest of the world. Most of Europe is charged at less than 20p per MB - or you can opt for a daily pass at £8 for 100MB, going up to £25 per 100MB in the 'rest of the world' zone. Find out more.

We strongly advise you check the latest tariffs before travelling.

Pay as you go mobile broadband abroad

Three Mobile Broadband has options in several countries where your data allowance will come out of your normal bundle. Alternatively, prepay customers will simply be charged per MB depending in destination.

EE lets its prepay customers buy roaming ad-ons for data; simply allow roaming and, once abroad, open your browser for options.

Unfortunately O2 doesn't cater for pay as you go mobile broadband roaming. If you're a Vodafone PAYG customer you'll also find it barred as standard, but you may be able to talk to them to add Vodafone World to your deal for your trip.   

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 - it's 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 - of £4,000 or more. Yes, you read that right, £4,000 - that would be 500MB at £8 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.

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.