Roaming: How to stay reachable abroad

With or without extra charges? Roaming: How to stay in touch abroad
Home tariff? Does not apply here. Egypt is one of the many countries where additional roaming charges apply.
Anyone who travels often knows this question: Can you make mobile phone calls abroad without extra costs or do charges apply? And how do you find the best SIM card for non-European destinations?

Being reachable on your mobile phone abroad is important for most travellers. On business trips anyway, but also on holiday calls and messages should arrive and photos should make those at home jealous.

It is true that EU roaming applies in large parts of Europe, according to which telephony, mobile data and text messages cost the same in the country of travel as they do at home. But Switzerland, for example, is not part of the EU – other, much more expensive tariffs apply here.

Things get even more complicated in far-away countries. While in some countries it is worth buying a prepaid SIM card locally, in others it can make sense to get one in Germany. Here are the most important questions and answers about mobile accessibility when travelling.

Which European countries are not included in EU roaming?
Roaming applies to all 27 EU Member States plus Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland. The French overseas territories are also included. Monaco and Turkey, for example, are not covered by EU roaming.

“Switzerland and Great Britain are special cases,” says Thomas Grund from Stiftung Warentest. Switzerland is not considered an EU country by most providers.

Telekom, however, makes an exception for customers with a fixed-term contract – for them, everything is the same as at home when using a smartphone in Switzerland, says Telekom spokesman Dirk Wende.

Practical: Telekom, Vodafone and O2 Telefónica will continue to treat Great Britain as if the EU Roaming Regulation also applied there.

Does EU roaming also apply to prepaid tariffs?
“Roaming applies to every German SIM card, regardless of whether it is a fixed-term or prepaid tariff and regardless of the provider,” says Felix Flosbach, a lawyer at the consumer advice centre in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Moreover, it must be automatically preset. However, there may be restrictions on use abroad. It is important to have enough credit loaded or to get appropriate cards beforehand to top up while on holiday.

Good to know: Inexpensive tariffs with very high or even unlimited data volumes may be capped abroad under certain circumstances, according to the EU’s fair use policy. It is possible that additional gigabytes of used data volume may be charged above a certain limit.

By the way: If travellers actively opt for a special international or roaming package from their provider, different charges than those at home may apply.

Do you absolutely need phone and data – or is a data-only tariff enough for most holidaymakers?
That is an individual decision. Some travellers absolutely want to be able to make reservations by phone or call home in the traditional way. Others mainly want to send messages and pictures via data-based messenger services, or the phone and video phone functions of their messenger are enough for them.

Tip: Wherever possible, for example in a hotel, you should use WLAN networks, especially on holiday, to save mobile data volume.

How do I find a mobile phone tariff for my holiday destination?
If the EU Roaming Regulation does not apply in the destination country, you can ask your mobile phone provider about available roaming or international options.

If you are going abroad for a longer period of time or are travelling frequently to the same country, you should also find out about offers from local mobile phone providers. Often, their SIM cards are available in supermarkets or kiosks. These offers can often be significantly cheaper than the international offers of your own provider. Depending on the destination, many tips on the subject can be found on travel portals and in travel forums.

And what about the E-SIM?
Another possible alternative is the E-SIM, which can be used to book mobile phone offers from all over the world – purely digitally, independent of location and independent of physical SIM cards.

This is because E-SIMs are chips permanently integrated in the smartphone that can simply be written with the contract data (profiles) of the respective mobile phone provider. Control and payment usually take place via an app. However, an E-SIM profile can also be transferred to a smartphone simply by scanning a QR code. The only prerequisite: the smartphone must be E-SIM-capable.

A helpful table with E-SIM roaming offers for non-EU countries from Egypt to the United Arab Emirates has been published by the trade magazine “c’t”.

How do you use the dual SIM function in your phone?
Many smartphones today have a dual SIM function. This means that you can use two tariffs at the same time. Either via two physical SIM cards that you insert into the phone.

Or, in the case of E-SIM-capable phones, via a physical SIM card and an E-SIM profile. Or – depending on the model – also via two E-SIM profiles.

The preferred card for the stay can be defined in the settings. The domestic card can be deactivated and an international one activated.

What are the biggest cost traps abroad?
Border areas to non-EU countries are dangerous. If automatic network dialling is activated in the smartphone, it can happen that the smartphone connects to the network of a foreign provider and incurs high roaming costs for data or phone calls. Automatic network selection can be deactivated in the smartphone settings and switched to manual network selection.

Making calls or surfing on ferries, cruise ships and planes can also be expensive if you are not careful. It is not covered by the EU roaming regulation even if you are travelling in Europe. If in doubt, activate flight mode and then switch the WLAN back on individually if necessary.

And beware: special numbers are always charged extra, which can cause extreme costs abroad. The mailbox can also be a cost trap outside the EU. It is best to switch it off before you travel.

How can I be sure not to incur exorbitant costs?
If you deactivate “mobile data” in the smartphone settings when you are not in the EU and you do not want to use it – even if apps are running in the background – you are already on the safe side. Even more comprehensive is the protection described above by activating flight mode.

However, the latter is not an option, at least for anyone who wants or needs to remain reachable by phone. It is good to know that the EU has also established a worldwide cost airbag for mobile internet for EU providers.

If the consumer of mobile data reaches 59.50 euros or another predefined cost limit, the data connection is to be automatically disconnected.

Since July 2022, this cost airbag has also applied to mobile networks connected by satellite, such as those regularly operated by shipping companies on ships and airlines in aircraft, explain the consumer centres. Mobile phone providers are also obliged to notify their customers – for example by SMS – when they switch to one of these so-called non-terrestrial networks.

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