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Using your UK mobile phone service abroad

Its become a lot simpler and cheaper for us to use our own mobile phone when in the USA over the years thanks to changes made by Ofcom, but its still a bit of a minefield.
Lets take a look at why the situation is what it is and our options

1. History and how it works

In the UK our mobile networks are:

- Vodafone
- O2
- EE (now owned by BT)
- Three

Although some of these are owned by larger conglomerates who operate globally, the networks still need to rent access to mobile networks in other countries in order for us to use our phones abroad. This is referred to as Roaming Agreements

Ofcom and the EU organised flat rates for us in Europe but in the USA its a different matter.

Because UK mobile networks have different roaming agreements with US networks and rent different levels of spectrum, what we pay and the service we get differs.
A high level overview is:

- EE & Vodafone rent a lot of spectrum so they can offer 4G and the ability to use your home allowance. Meaning a premium cost to consumers

- O2 mostly rent spectrums reserved for voice and just a few for data. So they offer capped services across calls, texts and data, but data is only 3G. Meaning a moderate cost to consumers

- Three mostly rent spectrums reserved for voice and few for data. So they can offer calls and texts but 3G only speeds that is throttled. Meaning a cheap cost to consumers

2. Check who you are with

Its straightforward as to who your network provider is if you shopped directly with O2, EE, Vodafone or Three.

If youre not directly contracted with one of the above networks you will be with a Service Provider such as Giff Gaff, Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile etc. In simple terms they provide the billing, tariffs and customer service, but ultimately they are reselling EE, Vodafone, Three or O2. And consequently their Roaming Prices reflect the mobile network they resell

A full breakdown of which networks they are essentially reselling/piggybacking is here: https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/phones/piggybacking/

3. Decide how you want to use your phone in the USA

Deciding how you wish to use your phone will ultimately determine what network is best for you while out there. Take a look at the maximum usage the networks currently provide:

Now decide how you may want to use your phone:

4. Now factor in the cost

Lets apply the main advertised cost to the maximum usage table from above:

NOTE: Three state it is inclusive to call other Three numbers abroad with you as long as they have Feel at Home as well.
Also, Three do offer a 5 Data Passport option with unlimited data and the ability to tether and stream without throttling.

These prices are correct as of June 2018

You must check full details for you tariff yourself and even give your provider a call as many terms and conditions are often hidden

- Vodafone
- O2
- EE Max Plan
- EE Go Further Bolt On
- Three


To call back home from you dial +44 and drop the leading 0 off the UK number

People calling you from the UK will just use your normal number.

People calling you from the US will use 01144 and drop the leading 0 off your mobile number.

To call US numbers while you are out there you need to dial +1 then the number.

Some sim cards to use recommended previously are:



AT&T sim cards

Alternate phones to buy are Net10 & Tracfone
These can be bought from Walmart, Target & Super Target.
Page created by Stu on 23-09-2010 20:43.
+ Last editted by Fatboyslick on 21-06-2018 09:27. View History
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