YESTERDAY (Thursday) saw roaming charges finally dropped between EU and some EEA nations, meaning expats in Spain taking a trip home to the UK or Ireland, or holidaymakers travelling to Spain, are among those whose mobile bills will be no different when they cross the borders.
This does not apply to calls made from, for example, Spain to the UK on a mobile, which will still be charged as an international exchange, but will prevent travellers getting an unpleasant shock when they receive their bills upon their return home.
Even for general internet surfing and no calls, price hikes of up to 25% have applied, but for Brits downloading films and music or streaming whilst on holiday abroad, some have been hit with bills of between €500 and €1,000 for the month.
The 'Roam like at Home' plan will also make life easier for workers who travel abroad every day for their jobs – in many central European nations such as the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary, employees do not have to emigrate to work, they simply commute, aided by the Schengen agreement which means they merely drive across the border without having to queue to show their passports.
The same applies to workers who live in Spain's far west and commute to Portugal for their jobs, or vice versa.
Ending roaming charges is something the European Commission has been pushing for over a very long time, since it considered this vital to creating a digital single market – but mobile phone operators have long fought against the EC, claiming it would lose money and would have to put its tariffs up at home to compensate.
All the EU-28 are now roaming-free for visitors from each other, and some European Economic Area (EEA) nations are included – Switzerland, and the Channel Islands which is part of the UK but 'on the edge' of the EU are among them, and the end of roaming charges may also apply in Iceland and Norway.
Where download or data limits apply to customers' tariffs at home, these will also continue elsewhere in the EU, since mobile use is charged on exactly the same basis.
Some limitations are expected to apply to prevent abuse – it may be cheaper to buy a mobile phone via a package with a British operator and use it as a permanent year-round resident in Spain, but a cap will be place on length of stay to prevent providers in more expensive countries from going out of business.
The EC has always referred to roaming charges throughout the free-movement zone as a 'market failure' and says ending them is 'one of the greatest and most tangible successes of the EU'.
For those travelling to and from the UK, however, it appears 'Roaming like at Home' will only be a two-year respite from high bills, given Britain's plans to leave the EU by the end of March 2019.
But with no real plan of action post-Brexit on the table and even politicians unaware of what path the future will take, roaming charges being reapplied between the UK and the EU is not a certainty and may form part of any eventual deal on trade.
Customers are urged by consumer organisations to keep an eye on their home tariffs, however, and to take action if they notice unilateral price hikes with no real benefits in exchange.