There’s still a long way to go before the UK has comprehensive 5G coverage, but already some networks let you roam abroad with 5G.
However, not many do at the time of writing, and the availability of 5G roaming is limited, though that’s sure to change over time.
To help you get up to speed we’ve created this guide, covering exactly what 5G roaming is, which networks offer it, where it’s available, and everything else you need to know about it.
What is 5G roaming?
5G roaming means using 5G when outside the UK. It’s the same idea as the 4G or 3G data you’ll often have been able to get when touching down in another country, just faster, because other countries are also upgrading their infrastructure to support 5G, and that means – with the right roaming agreements in place – you’ll be able to tap into that infrastructure when travelling.
Which networks offer 5G roaming?
At the time of writing only Vodafone, VOXI, Asda Mobile and Talkmobile definitely offer 5G roaming. VOXI is owned by Vodafone, so it’s no surprise that it offers this (and in the same places as Vodafone), but it is notable, because it’s a small name and is offering a premium feature before most of the major players.
Talkmobile is also owned by Vodafone, so again the fact that it offers 5G roaming isn’t overly surprising. We have to caveat this network though as 5G roaming doesn’t appear to be mentioned on its site – but a customer service agent assured us it was offered.
Asda Mobile isn’t owned by Vodafone but does use Vodafone’s infrastructure, so its 5G coverage when roaming is the same too.
Then there’s EE, which doesn’t advertise 5G roaming but some users of the network have reported getting 5G when abroad. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re getting full 5G speeds, so we’d take that with a pinch of salt until it’s confirmed by EE – there’s also no clear list of where 5G is available when abroad on EE.
We expect the likes of Three and O2 (along probably with the MVNOs which use their and EE’s infrastructure) will start offering 5G roaming at some point, just as most currently offer 4G roaming in some places, but when and where remains to be seen.
Where can I roam on 5G?
Vodafone, VOXI, Asda Mobile and Talkmobile let you roam over 5G in at least 240 EU locations at the time of writing. These are towns and cities in Germany, Spain, Italy and Ireland, a full up to date list for which can be found here.
However, major locations with 5G roaming include Berlin, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart, Barcelona, Benidorm, Madrid, Malaga, Seville, Bologna, Milan, Naples, Rome, Turin, Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Waterford, and others.
Note however that as with 5G in the UK, coverage in most of these places won’t initially be comprehensive.
EE – if it truly offers 5G roaming at all – hasn’t publicised a list of locations, but users claim to have got 5G in the likes of the US, Spain, Ireland, Greece, Finland and Sweden.
What speeds will I get when roaming on 5G?
Vodafone hasn’t confirmed exactly how fast 5G will be when roaming, but it will depend largely on the infrastructure in the country, and will therefore likely vary a little from country to country.
That said, it should be very fast wherever you are. In the UK, Vodafone promises average 5G speeds of around 150-200Mbps, and it’s likely that speeds will be similar when roaming.
Top speeds could be a lot higher too. Vodafone says to expect peak download speeds of around 1Gbps in the UK, while in a real-world test the company recorded a top speed of 700Mbps in Madrid.
If and when other UK networks start offering 5G roaming, you can expect their speeds to be broadly similar.
When does 4G roaming come into play?
4G roaming (and 3G roaming) is what you’ll use when you’re on a network or in a location that doesn’t offer 5G roaming.
Your phone should automatically connect to the best network type available to you in any given location, so it’s not something you need to think about too much. But suffice it to say if your phone’s status bar says ‘4G’ while you’re roaming then you won’t be getting as high speeds as with 5G, and if it says ‘3G’ then they’ll be slower still.
Does 5G roaming cost extra?
On VOXI, Asda Mobile and Talkmobile, 5G roaming comes as standard, while on Vodafone you will have to pay to roam on most plans – but you won’t pay any extra for doing so at 5G speeds.
Vodafone is charging £2 per day to roam in its European roaming zone – or £1 per day if you pay for eight or fifteen days upfront.
However, plans taken out before August 11th, 2021, won’t be subject to this charge, and nor will plans that come with ‘4 Xtra benefits’. Vodafone Basics plans meanwhile don’t support roaming at all.
EE charges £2 per day to roam in Europe, unless you have a Roam Abroad pass, which comes with some plans or can be added for £10 per month. This also lets you roam in the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand.
Vodafone lets you use your full standard text and minute allowances when roaming, and up to 25GB of data. On VOXI, data is capped at 20GB when roaming, Asda Mobile has just a 5GB limit, and Talkmobile limits you to 15GB. Finally, EE caps you at 50GB.
For reference, Three’s fair usage limit is 12GB and O2’s is 25GB, but of course these two networks don’t appear to offer 5G roaming at the time of writing.
Right now, if you want to use 5G abroad, then your main options (other than signing up with a temporary local network in the country you’re in) are Vodafone, VOXI, Asda Mobile, or Talkmobile, all of which have the same roaming locations, but Vodafone is the weak link here as it doesn’t offer free roaming as standard.
EE may also offer 5G roaming, but that’s unconfirmed, and also doesn’t come free as standard.
The availability of 5G roaming will change over time, but if 5G speeds when in Germany, Italy, Spain, or Ireland (as they’re the only places confirmed to be included at the time of writing) are a big deal to you, then that could be reason enough to sign up with Vodafone or one of its MVNOs.
Can I get unlimited data when roaming?
None of the major networks allow you to use unlimited data when roaming, as they all have fair usage policies, the least restrictive of which is EE at 50GB. However, Tesco Mobile doesn’t advertise specific caps at the time of writing, so they may support this, but you should check with the network directly to be sure.
Can I roam when travelling by ship or plane?
Yes, however there are a few things to be aware of. First of all you may not always be able to get a signal, as the vehicle you’re in could often be out of range. Secondly, if you’re passing through multiple countries then you need to be careful not to get stung with data charges for countries where you’re not offered free roaming.
Also, there may be a local network on board the plane or boat which your phone might connect to if you allow roaming. This won’t be covered under free roaming and could be expensive – so check the terms and pricing of the network on board before connecting.
Are there differences when roaming inside and outside the EU?
At the time of writing only a subset of EU locations offer 5G roaming on any UK networks – outside the EU you’ll likely be limited to 4G or slower whatever network you’re on.
Beyond that, EU roaming is free on some UK networks (though most have their own fair use limits), whereas outside the EU it’s variable. But in most non-EU countries on most networks, you won’t get free roaming. It’s always worth checking the roaming terms for your destination before you travel.