From 15 June 2017, there are no EU roaming charges for most of those with a mobile phone on an EU contract. The new rules compelling operators to axe the charges, announced in September last year, are now in force. Countries outside the EU, but within the European Economic Area (EEA), including Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland’s neighbour Liechtenstein, are included, but Switzerland isn’t. While technically EEA countries, which include Liechtenstein, Norway, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and Andorra, don’t need to comply until later in the year, some of their operators have already done so.
Those with Swiss plans are stuck paying roaming charges. Equally, EU phone users in Switzerland will still be subject to roaming charges when they are in Switzerland, although some EU operators, for example Vodafone and Orange France, have decided to treat Switzerland as part of the EU for roaming purposes.
Getting a phone on an EU contract while living in Switzerland for use when you’re in the EU is not without risks. The new “roam like at home” rules come with a fair use policy.
The system is intended for EU residents who use it for occasional travel. It’s not meant to be used for permanent roaming.
This means that as long as you spend more time at home than abroad, or you use your mobile phone more at home than abroad, you can roam freely at domestic prices when travelling anywhere in the EU.
Operators can monitor and check your roaming use over a 4 month period. If, during this period, you have spent more time abroad than at home and your roaming exceeds your domestic usage, your operator may contact you and ask you to clarify your situation. You will have 14 days to respond. If you continue to spend more time abroad than you do at home and your roaming consumption continues to exceed your domestic usage your operator may start applying a surcharge. The surcharges, excluding VAT, are capped as follows:
- 3.2 euro cents per minute of voice call made
- 1 euro cent per SMS
- €7.70 per GB of data (cap in 2017)
The cap for data will progressively decrease each year as follows: €6.00 (2018), €4.50 (2019), €3.50 (2020), €3.00 (2021), €2.50 (2022). In addition, some operators have their own roaming data caps, beyond which the charge. For example, Three in the UK, charges after 12 GB of EU roaming data.
The Swiss operator Salt, rather than reducing roaming charges and the envy some Swiss might now be feeling, quietly increased roaming costs earlier this year, according to Swiss broadcaster RTS. Some will find it easy to construct a sentence with these words: “salt” and “wound”. Swisscom also made some upward adjustments, according to the same RTS article.
For those Swiss residents feeling left out, it is not clear how long UK travellers will get to benefit from the new rules. The new rules are contained in a european regulation. The UK government will need to decide whether to include the rules in its domestic law post Brexit.
And, according to the newspaper the Financial Times, dozens of EU operators have already applied for exemptions to avoid a financial hit. Industry sources told the newspaper that Europe’s largest telecoms companies, such as Orange and Vodafone, will comply with the new rules, however, smaller networks, particularly in the Baltic and Nordic regions and countries such as Belgium, have applied for exemptions.
The issue for some EU operators is that the price they charge their customers is less that the sums peer operators abroad charge them when their customers are in their countries. The peer-to-peer fee, the amount home operators are charged by foreign operators, is set at €7.70 per gigabyte of data.
Baltic and nordic operators will be some of the worst affected because they offer such great deals at home. According to the Financial Times, mobile users in Finland get through 17 GB of data a month on average. If they do that abroad their operators could be hit hard. For this reason Finnish operator Elisa applied locally for an exemption, allowing it to continue charging for roaming, albeit at lower rates. From the beginning of June the company offered customers the option of (lower) roaming charges or more expensive plans with no EU roaming charges.
Operators in lower-cost countries with the least generous plans have the most to gain. Those in higher-cost places with the most generous plans, that are unable to secure an exemption, will be faced with shrinking margins.