Data Roaming in the UK for Tourists 2024: Rates & How to Avoid it

Traveling to the United Kingdom is an incredible experience full of dramatic landscapes, rich history, and exquisite cuisine and you will need a smooth Internet connection to share the best moments with your family and friends. Roaming in The UK is one of the ways but it may cost you a lot. Fortunately, there are still many other alternatives to help you access the Internet in the UK. Now let us explore all about data roaming in the UK and the best alternative. 

I. Phone Roaming in the UK – Quick Facts for Tourists

It is essential to know these key points about roaming in the UK before your trip:

  • Roaming rates in the UK are quite pricey and depend on your carrier and the specific plan.
  • Since Brexit, tourists from the EU to the UK could get roaming fees added to their bills, depending on which network they are with. Some operators may continue to provide free roaming services for a certain period, while others may apply roaming fees or have special service packages for mobile phone use when traveling.
  • Speeds and connectivity should be consistent when roaming on major UK networks like EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone. Coverage is excellent nationwide.
  • To use your existing plan simply switch on roaming in your phone settings before traveling. Your device will automatically connect to local UK networks.
  • Watch out for data usage – you may consume more roaming abroad. Consider lowering the resolution on streaming apps to avoid going over your monthly limits.
  • For short trips, roaming is convenient to use your regular number and plan. Long stays may be cheaper by buying a local SIM for better value plans and WiFi calling.
  • Free WiFi is readily available in cafes, restaurants, malls, and other hotspots in UK cities for light internet use.

II. Understand Roaming in the UK – How It Works

You can use your phone to make calls, send texts, and use data when traveling in the UK
Understand roaming in the UK

Roaming means that you use your cell phone and plan in another country by connecting to local networks there. In the UK, your phone will automatically connect to major carrier networks such as EE, Three, O2, and Vodafone when roaming is turned on. Your home operator will charge you when you roam in the UK.

Foreign carriers must pay high wholesale prices to get access to UK telecom networks. These carriers then pass on the more costly costs to their users through pricey foreign roaming packages.

III. Is the Roaming Rate in the UK Expensive?

In short, Yes! The roaming rates imposed by your home network carrier for using UK networks are typically more pricey than local rates. Here is a table showing estimated roaming fees for the major UK networks in US dollars.

NetworkCalls (per minute)Texts (per message)Data (per MB)
EE$1.50$0.50$0.05
O2$1.50$0.50$0.05
Three$1.50$0.50$0.05
Vodafone$1.50$0.50$0.05

Note: Please keep in mind that the rates above are for reference purposes only and may change over time. Check with your specific carrier for the most up-to-date details on roaming rates. Calls/ texts to foreign numbers are usually higher than UK numbers.

➤ Our recommendation: Roaming rates for calls, texts, and data are significantly higher than costs for domestic UK plans. We would recommend buying a local SIM card for cost savings and convenience. You will have a UK mobile number which is more convenient for apps and services that do not always work well with foreign numbers.

IV. How to Activate Roaming Service for the UK in Your Cell Phone?

Steps to activate roaming service for your cell phone in the UK
Activate roaming service for the UK in your mobile phone

Here are the 4 steps to activate roaming service for your cell phone in the UK:

Step 1: Select your service provider

You can use your home package from your home carrier or go for a local network carrier in the UK. If you use your home plan, check with your home carrier if they have roaming agreements with UK networks like EE, Vodafone, O2, and Three.

Step 2: Switch on the roaming function

Contact your home carrier and make sure your mobile plan includes international roaming. You may need to pay a small activation fee.

Step 3: Get a mobile plan with UK roaming 

Confirm your plan covers calling, messaging, and data usage in the UK. Check for extra charges above monthly limits.

Step 4: Enable the roaming setting

For iPhones, go to Settings > Cellular > Data Roaming. 

For Android, touch Settings > Network & internet > Mobile network > Roaming.

Pro Tip:

  • Make sure roaming is on before you travel so your phone can automatically connect to local UK networks for seamless usage during your trip.
  • Check all charges with your provider to avoid bill shock later.
  • Switch the roaming off when not in use to avoid phone bill shock later.

V. How to Avoid Roaming Charges When Traveling to the UK

Following these 05 handy tips will help you avoid expensive roaming charges in the UK:

  • Use WiFi as much as possible. Most cafes, hotels and public spaces offer free WiFi. This prevents data usage from eating into your plan.
  • Consider getting a prepaid SIM card from a local UK provider. You will get cheaper rates than roaming and have a local number. 
  • Consider an eSIM for the UK for the best value, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness.
  • Turn off data roaming on your device when not in use. Even an accidental download can result in hundreds in roaming fees. 
  • For calls, use messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger over WiFi. Overseas call rates are no joke.
  • Check with your home provider if they offer any UK roaming discounts or data packages. You might save a bit versus standard roaming rates.

Important Note:

  • Make sure your mobile phone is unlocked if you choose to get a local SIM for the UK.
  • Ensure that your mobile phone is compatible with eSIM if you want to get an eSIM plan for the UK. Check out the list of eSIM-supported mobile devices.

VI. UK eSIM – Alternative to Data Roaming in the UK to Get Online

eSIM is an excellent alternative to data roaming in the UK to stay online. This is why:

  • eSIM may be purchased and activated online within just several minutes. 
  • No physical SIM card needed, no store visit
  • UK eSIM packages are much more budget-friendly than data roaming in the UK
  • With an eSIM, you may have various profiles without SIM card swaps.
Gigago provides a range of budget-friendly eSIM plans for the UK
Gigago’s eSIM plans for the UK

Choosing GIGAGO as your eSIM provider for the UK is a great choice for many reasons:

  • No identity check
  • Simple download and setup process
  • 24/7 multilingual customer service (available in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese, etc.)
  • Multiple UK eSIM plans for travelers to select: Gigago’s eSIM plans for the UK start at 1GB for 3 days for only $3.50 and ranging between $3.50$125.98 . Regardless of how much data you use and how long your UK trip is, Gigago always has the best solution for you.

VII. How to Switch Off Data Roaming When Traveling in the UK

To toggle off data roaming on your devices while exploring the United Kingdom, you just need to follow these steps:

1. Turn off international roaming on Android devices

  • Go to the “Settings” menu on your home screen
  • Choose “Connections” or “Network & Internet”
  • Press on “Data roaming” slider to switch it off

2. Turn off international roaming on iPhones

  • Touch the “Settings” menu on your iPhone
  • Opt for “Cellular” or “Mobile Data”
  • Press on “Data roaming” slider to toggle it off

By taking the steps above, you can avoid any unwanted roaming fees on yourbill while enjoying budget-friendly local Internet services in the United Kingdom.

Pro Tip:

  • Connect to free Wifi networks as much as possible to prevent expensive roaming rates
  • You may use the simple steps above to turn data roaming back on if necessary.

VIII. FAQs about Data Roaming in the UK

What are typical data roaming rates in the UK?

Rates from $5-10/GB are common but can be avoided with a temporary UK SIM.

How do I avoid roaming charges in the UK?

Buy a prepaid SIM with data packages when you arrive, or use hotel/cafe WiFi as much as possible.

Are there free WiFi hotspots around the UK?

Many cafes, museums and towns offer free public WiFi. Apps like WiFi Map can help you locate hotspots.

Can I text internationally using my home number while in the UK?

Yes. However, you should text internationally using your home number only over WiFi. Texting via cellular data incurs high international roaming charges.

IX. Conclusion

To sum up, while data roaming in the UK allows travelers to stay online using their home cellular plan, rates are extremely pricey in the UK. If you want to access the Internet in the UK effectively and affordably, consider getting a local SIM card or purchasing an eSIM plan from trusted eSIM providers like Gigago. Remember to select the data plan that suits your priorities, preferences, and budget.