On Thursday 15 June, a new EU Regulation relating to roaming charges for mobile phone users within the European Union (EU) and the wider European Economic Area (EEA) came into effect which largely abolishes roaming charges. This follows a number of previous EU Regulations aimed at reducing roaming charges. The new ‘roam like at home’ rules mean that EU residents will be able to use their mobile phone while travelling outside their home country in any other EU or EEA country without having to pay roaming charges. There are some conditions which relate to the amount the phone is used abroad – outlined in the Regulation’s “fair use policy” – and to the use of mobile data.
The term ‘roaming charges’ refers to the additional costs applied for making and receiving calls, sending and receiving text messages and using mobile data while abroad. Roaming charges for consumers have been gradually reduced in the EU since 2007, when a Regulation (No 717/2007) introduced a cap on roaming charges for making and receiving calls. Roaming charges were further reduced in 2008 and 2009, when the Regulation was amended to include a cap on roaming charges for sending and receiving text messages. In 2012, another Regulation (No 531/2012) extended the cap on roaming charges to mobile data. It also provided for further phased reduction of roaming charges. According to the European Commission, between 2007 and 2017, roaming charges were reduced by 92% for calls and text messages and by 96% for mobile data.
In 2013, the European Commission proposed that citizens and businesses should be able to use their mobile phones “without cross-border restrictions or unjustified additional costs”, including measures to end roaming charges. In 2015, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU agreed to work to introduce this legislation by 15 June 2017.
The new ‘Roam Like at Home’ rules
The new rules provide that mobile phone users with EU and EEA mobile operators will not have to pay anything more than they would at home to make or receive calls while travelling within the EU or EEA. The same applies to text messages. In other words, if your mobile plan gives you 100 free call minutes and 5,000 text messages, you can use them for no extra charge in any other EU or EEA country and what you use will be subtracted from your allowance as if you were at home.
Fair use policy
According to the European Commission, the new ‘roam like at home’ rules are intended for those who travel around Europe occasionally and are not meant for “permanent roaming”. Mobile operators may apply a “fair use policy” to avoid abuse of the new rules, such as systematic resale of low-price SIM cards for permanent use in other countries.
To be eligible to ‘roam like at home’, customers must use their mobile phone more at home than abroad. There are exceptions to this rule for those who can prove to their mobile operator that they have “stable links” to the country in which they have their mobile contract; for example, cross-border commuters, posted workers and Erasmus+ programme students. If a customer breaks this condition, their mobile operator may charge for roaming, capped at 3.2c per minute for calls, 1c for each text message and €7.70 plus VAT per GB of mobile data. These charges for data roaming are set to be gradually reduced to €2.50 per GB by 2022.
While there are no restrictions for calls and text messages under the new rules, there may be limits on mobile data usage depending on the type of contract EU residents have with their mobile operator at home. If customers have a pre-pay contract, they can use their data allowance in other EU countries provided they pay less than €7.70 per GB of data used at home. If customers receive a bill for mobile use at the end of each month, the mobile operator can apply a ‘roam like at home’ data limit. This means that if the contract offers unlimited data or if the customer pays less than €3.85 per GB of data used, they can benefit while travelling in the EU from the full amount of data they have at home. Otherwise, the mobile operator may apply roaming charges at the rates which are also applied if the fair use policy is broken.
In a joint statement, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker; the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani; and the Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, on behalf of the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU said: “The end of roaming charges is a true European success story.”
Reacting to the new Regulation on roaming, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) said: “The end of roaming fees is excellent news for European consumers”. Consumer watchdog Which? has warned consumers to “take a close look at what is or isn’t included in your current mobile deal” in order to avoid “surprise charges” on their bill.