What is roaming?
Roaming is a service that allows a customer (consumer or business) of a mobile operator in one EU/EEA country, to have access to mobile services (voice, SMS or data) from a different mobile network operator, when travelling in another EU/EEA country.
Since 2017 Europeans travelling within the EU countries have not been paying roaming charges thanks to EU rules. Europeans can ‘roam like at home’ and pay domestic prices for roaming calls, SMS and data in the EU.
Where does the roaming regulation apply?
In all 27 countries of the EU: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden; and in the countries of the European Economic Area: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway.
History and Future
After 10 years of regulation, roaming charges ended on 15 June 2017.
Europeans travelling within the EU countries can ‘roam like at home’ and pay domestic prices for roaming calls, SMS and data in the EU.
Roaming rules will expire on 30 June 2022. The Commission proposed to prolong them.
The Roaming Regulation timeline from 2006 to 2022:
- 2006: Roaming 1 – proposal by the European Commission
- 2007: In force- roaming prices for calls are capped across the EU
- 2008: Roaming 2 – proposal by the European Commission
- 2010: In force – roaming prices for calls are lowered, roaming prices for SMS are capped across the EU
- 2011: Roaming 3 – proposal by the European Commission
- 2012: In force- roaming prices for calls and SMS are lowered; roaming prices for data are capped across the EU
- 2013: End of roaming charges on a voluntary basis
- 2015: End of roaming charges agreed as mandatory
- 2016: Wholesale roaming proposal by the European Commission
- 2017: Wholesale roaming price caps agreed
- 2017: End of roaming charges in force as of 15 June 2017
- 2019: Review of the functioning of the roaming market
- 2020: Pubic consultation on new roaming rules
- 2021 – Proposal by the European Commission to review and prolong roaming rules
- December 2021 – Political agreement reached by the European Parliament and EU Member States on the new Commission's proposal
- 30 June 2022 – Expiry of existing roaming rules
- 1 July 2022 – Planned entry into force of new roaming rules
‘Roam like at home’ is intended for people who occasionally travel outside the country where they live or have stable links (i.e. they work or study there). It is not meant to be used for permanent roaming. Permanent roaming is not considered a ‘fair use of roaming services’.
Operators can detect possible abuses based on the balance of roaming and domestic activity over a four-month period: if a person spends a majority of time abroad and consumes more data abroad than at home over the four months, the operator can ask to clarify the situation within 14 days. After that, if the situation does not change, the operator may start applying a small surcharge to your roaming consumption.
Such surcharge beyond fair use is capped at:
- 3.2 cents per minute of voice call made
- 1 cent per SMS
For data, the maximum surcharge is:
- €3 per GB (as of 1 January 2021)
- €2.5 per GB (as of 1 January 2022)
There is also a safeguard limit on the volumes of data you can consume abroad in the EU at domestic prices.
For the most competitive contracts offering unlimited data or data allowances at very low domestic unit prices (below the wholesale cap of €3/GB in 2021 and €2,5/GB in 2022): when you go abroad, you will continue to enjoy your full allowance of calls and texts.
For data, the limit is at least twice the amount of data obtained by dividing the price of your mobile bundle (excluding VAT) with the wholesale cap (€3/GB in 2021 and €2,5/GB in 2022). The wholesale cap is the price your operator has to pay to get you 1 GB of data when you are abroad. In this way you get twice as much data as your operator can get with the price of your mobile bundle. Your operator should clearly inform you about the volume of data you can use abroad. If you use more data, the operator may apply a small surcharge (no more than the wholesale data cap + VAT, i.e. €3/GB + VAT in 2021 and €2.5/GB + VAT in 2022).
For pre-paid metered contracts without automatic monthly payments, and for which proof of residence has not been requested by the operator: when you go abroad, you can roam like at home up to the amount of credit remaining for that month, at the same prices you would pay at home. If you pay less per unit of data than the wholesale data price cap (€3/GB in 2021 and €2,5/GB in 2022), you can use a roaming data volume equivalent to the value of your remaining monthly credit at the wholesale roaming data price cap. You can top up your credit while roaming if necessary.
Roaming usage has exploded thanks to "Roam like at home"
In summer 2019, the use of roaming data in the EU and European Economic Area countries was seventeen times higher than in the last summer before ‘roam like at home’ (2016).
Intra-EU calls: calling another EU country from home
As of 15 May 2019 the calls and SMS to another EU country from home are capped.
- Phone calls - a maximum of EUR 0.19 (+ VAT) per minute to call another EU country
- SMS - a maximum of EUR 0.06 (+ VAT) per SMS sent to another EU country.
The EU roaming rules do not apply in Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, nor on-board vessels and planes.
When you go to a country not covered by the EU roaming rules, you will receive an SMS telling you the roaming prices you will pay in that country.
The current Roaming Regulation expires on 30 June 2022. Without a prolongation of the rules, enabling travellers to use their phone when they travel just like they do at home, high phone bills might reappear. “Roam like at home” benefits may be lost for consumers and businesses, and additional barriers could limit the seamless use of mobile services and innovative applications while travelling in the Single Market of the EU/EEA.
The Commission published a Review on the functioning of roaming markets in November 2019.
To ensure the continuation of Roam like at home, the Commission adopted a legislative proposal on the prolongation and review of the Roaming Regulation in February 2021. In December 2021, the co-legislators (European Parliament and Council) reached a political agreement on the Roaming Regulation, which would extend the new rules to 2032. The Regulation is set to enter into force on 1 July 2022.
The Commission should also evaluate the measures on intra-EU communications (calls and SMS from the home country to another Member State) and verify whether and to what extent there is an ongoing need to reduce caps to protect consumers.