11. What can I do to lower the costs of using the international roaming service?

When visiting a country outside the European Economic Area (EEA)1, mobile communications can be very expensive because of the international roaming service. There are some things you can do to reduce the cost of your communications. Before you travel, contact your mobile operator to find out which operator in the country you plan to visit has the most affordable rates for the type of communications services you plan to use (voice calls, SMS, MMS, Internet access, etc.). And check whether your operator has international roaming agreements with any of the operators in the country.

For roaming communications within EEA countries, from 15 June 2017, operators have been required to apply Roam Like At Home (RLAH)2.

Under Roam Like At Home, the tariffs you pay for communications between EEA countries may not exceed the tariffs you pay for your national communications (in the case of calls, SMS, MMS and outgoing video calls, the price may not exceed the price paid for communications to other national networks). If you are subscribed to a national tariff whose monthly charge includes a certain volume of free national calls and SMS/MMS messages, the same volume must be discounted and provided free of charge in roaming until the corresponding limit is reached.

However, even with this rule, operators are permitted to implement a Fair Use Policy (FUP) for the roaming service. If you exceed the limits or rules of this Fair Use Policy, the price of your communications in roaming may be increased by specified surcharges set by the European Commission.

See more information in answer to the question "What are the conditions for the implementation of Fair Use Policy (FUP) in roaming between countries of the European Economic Area (EEA)?".

Wherever you are travelling, check your available balance regularly, to better manage your consumption. You should also pay attention to how you use your voicemail and its costs.

In the specific case of Internet access, if you choose to use the mobile service while roaming, find out from your operator about measures implemented to prevent or control large bills (e.g. "consumption limits").

As of 1 July 2010, in the case of data communications in roaming in the EEA, your operator is required to automatically provide you with a free application which you can use to obtain information on accumulated data consumption in roaming, so that the service can be stopped once a pre-set spending limit is reached. Check with your operator before you travel.

Outside the EEA, this "consumption limit" will not apply if the operator of the country you are visiting does not allow your home operator to monitor customer Internet consumption in real time. In this case, the customer must be notified by SMS when entering that country (immediately and free of charge) that information about accumulated consumption will not be available and that the feature which prevents consumption over a specified financial limit will not work.

If you travel frequently and want to make voice calls, send SMS or transfer data (MMS, Internet access), you may be better off purchasing a SIM card in the country you are visiting. However, in that case, anyone who contacts you from your home country will have to pay the price of international communications (e.g. voice call, SMS and MMS). If you want to be able to use the SIM card of a foreign operator in your mobile device, check with your operator in Portugal before travelling to find out whether you need to unlock your phone first (this may take a few days).

To make voice calls, you can use payphones or buy pre-paid calling cards in the country you are visiting.

In the case of the Internet access service, you can always use Wi-Fi hotspots or fixed Internet access, or find out about any specific deals to access data services offered by local operators to users of roaming services.

Roam-like-at-home only applies to roaming communications between EEA countries, i.e. communications made from another EEA country (e.g. roaming calls made to a mobile number in Italy by a Portuguese customer traveling in Spain). It does not therefore apply to international calls made from Portugal to EEA countries or to SMS or MMS messages sent from Portugal to other EEA countries. On the other hand, for roaming communications from any EEA country to another EEA country (see above example), the operator should charge, as a maximum, the price charged for calls made from Portugal to other national networks. For example, in the case of a roaming call made to a mobile number in Italy by a Portuguese customer travelling in Spain, the price will not exceed the value of a call made in Portugal to other national networks - this price may be less than the value of an international call made from Portugal to Italy.

However, despite this rule, operators are allowed to apply a Fair Use Policy (FUP) to the roaming service. Accordingly, if a customer exceeds the limits or rules of this Fair Use Policy, the price of their roaming communications may be increased by certain maximum surcharges (these surcharges are set by the European Commission).


1 European Union countries plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.
2 Applicable rules as defined in European Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2016/2286 of 15 December 2016. The only cases where RLAH may, as an exception, not apply, is where the operators demonstrate to the regulator that they are unable to recover the costs incurred in the provision of roaming.