Whether it’s a business trip or a relaxing summer vacation, most people will travel outside of Germany within Europe on a regular basis or at least sometimes.

Often, people are confronted with seemingly routine things while traveling: whether it’s a simple call with their cell phone, a quick text message or even a quick look at the Internet. But many are skeptical about this so-called roaming, and rightly so, because not in all European countries are such seemingly trivial things equivalent in price to those in Germany.

How does roaming work in Europe?

In order to have access to the network abroad, most mobile phone providers offer the function of using the network outside of the home country. However, the network of other countries is used, which is why higher costs may be incurred depending on the country.

In order to give everyone the same access to a good network, the so-called “fair usage policy”, abbreviated as FUP, ensures that people who have a significantly higher consumption than others have to expect that their performance will be limited.

In the case of roaming, the “Roame like at home” rule ensures that people do not have to pay higher costs than at home for using the network. However, this principle is also subject to restrictions. It is not permitted to use significantly more Internet abroad than at home; this is intended to prevent misuse. Those who do not adhere to this regulation must expect to pay surcharges.

Roaming regulations in Europe

Since June 15, 2017, the regulation has been in force in Europe that no roaming charges are incurred in Eu states and in selected countries, i.e. one pays the same rate as in the home country when using the network. In 2019, it was also decided that phone calls made from Germany to other EU countries may cost a maximum of 19 cents per minute, and a text message may only cost a maximum of 6 cents.

The principle of “roaming like at home” is therefore now in place in all 27 EU member states. It also applies in the two Scandinavian countries of Norway and Iceland, as well as in the two dwarf states of Vatican City and Liechtenstein. Together, these countries form the European Economic Area, or EEA for short, which represents an economic and free trade agreement.

In the United Kingdom, roaming charges have been high again since December 31, 2020, but roaming was still transitionally free from February 1, 2020, until the aforementioned date, despite the country’s withdrawal from the EU.

In the two European states of Switzerland and Andorra, roaming is subject to charges, but you should also pay attention when staying in the Balkans in countries such as Serbia, Montenegro or Albania, because these European territories are also not part of the EEA.

Roaming prices vary widely, with charges of up to 12 euros per MB, but it always depends on which mobile operator you are with.

On cruise ships, the regulation is different again, here the price for roaming is not based on the respective country. The Internet connection is made via satellite. This results in special prices. It’s best to find out what the prices are from the respective shipping company before you start your trip. As a rule, tickets are sold with data volume.

It is recommended for roaming abroad not to use mobile data for emails and updates, as this prevents high data consumption and avoids costs. An alarm that informs you when you have used a certain amount of data can also bring control over usage.

If you want to use the Internet abroad and you want to do this via roaming, most mobile providers give you the option of buying data packages that give you a certain volume of data that you can use. As a rule, however, these packages are always relatively expensive. Roaming in Europe is still relatively cheap compared to other countries in the world, but it is by no means a matter where you can get away without having to dig deep into your pockets.

Alternatives to roaming

A SIM card also offers the possibility of having good Internet on the trip, leaving roaming turned off and thus not incurring immense sums of money. Such a SIM card can be easily ordered before the trip from a local provider located in the destination. The shipping is free and you save a lot of time and money. After arriving in the country, you can simply insert the card into your cell phone and you are immediately independent. You don’t have to miss out on good Internet quality, which is usually quite good. However, the disadvantage is that in most cases you lose your standard phone number. In addition, the features of the card differ from country to country, for example, the data volume is not always unlimited or not every SIM card has a phone number. For European countries, an eSIM for Europe is suitable here, which is intended specifically for stays in Europe.

Another option is to connect to the Internet in public places such as stores, restaurants or shopping centers that offer free WLAN. Especially in Europe, you can find many such places where you can use free Internet. However, it should be remembered that these networks are not subject to high security and often the connection is very slow.

Alternatively, you can get a pocket Wi-Fi, also called portable WLAN. This is quite similar to the WLAN router at home, with the difference that a Pocket Wi-Fi is much smaller, so you can take it with you quite comfortably, 8 to 10 devices can be connected to it. However, these devices are not cheap, a high deposit is the rule. With many providers, you also have to pay extra for the rental and the data volume. A Pocket Wi-Fi also needs to be charged regularly.

Roaming is free in most of Europe, but by no means everywhere. Before traveling, you should find out exactly what the regulations are in the destination country. If you want to rule out the risk of incurring unwanted charges, you should turn off the roaming function on your cell phone. To counteract the costly roaming in some European countries, you have the option of obtaining network coverage in alternative ways; an eSIM for Europe is particularly advantageous. But no matter which option you choose, it’s important to plan how you want to access the Internet before you travel.