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French holiday-maker racks up €16,000 phone bill on two-week trip

He had left his data roaming while in Senegal and did not realise he was being charged despite being contacted by his provider

A French man has hired a lawyer to challenge a €16,000 phone bill after leaving data roaming on for two weeks while on holiday Pic: fizkes / Shutterstock

A French holiday-maker has expressed shock after returning from a two-week trip to Senegal to discover that he had racked up a €16,000 phone bill after leaving his data roaming on. 

The 76-year-old from Brittany, who recently stepped down from a company he headed up, went on holiday in March and said that he only tended to use his mobile phone for making calls. 

After a couple of days away, his telephone operator Bouygues contacted his former company to say that he had exceeded his data limit. 

“They called me right away,” the man, who wished not to be named, told French news site Actu.

“But for me, who only uses my phone to make calls, it didn’t bother me too much. I let it go without paying attention to it,” he said. 

Bouygues has said that it had sent the man nine text messages informing him that he had surpassed his data limit and was being charged for roaming. 

The man said that he never paid attention to text messages. 

He discovered on his return to France that he had received a phone bill of €16,000, which had automatically been taken from his account, as often happens with phone contracts in France.  

Read more: French banks criticised for excessive fees for bounced payments

He contacted Bouygues to complain and said that they offered him 50% off his bill (so €8,000 remaining) and that they would get back to him. He says he is still waiting. 

He has contacted a lawyer to challenge the bill. 

‘Such an amount is unthinkable’

French consumer group UFC-Que Choisir has said that the many from Brittany’s case is unusual and that the €16,000 bill is “unthinkable”. 

“We often see cases like this where there is a bill of €200 or €300, but this is absurd,” it stated. 

“How can you let a bill reach €16,000? After a day, or even two, when you get a bill of €1,000 to €2,000, the operator must realise that there is a problem, especially when it sees that the customer is abroad.”

It said that this case should serve as jurisprudence for future legal rulings on roaming charges. 

Data roaming charges

Mobile companies can charge customers more money if they use their phones to call, text or use the internet when they are abroad. 

Within the countries of the European Economic Area, you can use your phone in the same conditions as in your home country. For example, if you have a phone with a French company, you can use your phone in any EU or EEA country without facing higher charges. 

If phone users want to use the internet abroad, they have to turn on data roaming - this is sometimes already set to be on, which is not a problem as long as you do not go outside your country (or the EEA). 

Most French phone companies, including Bouygues, still class the UK in the same way as EU countries, meaning no extra costs. Several British phone companies have, on the other hand, reintroduced roaming fees (for new customers) for travel within the EU since Brexit came into force. 

Read more: Can I use my French mobile in the UK without roaming fees?

Read more: Vodafone’s new £2 a day roaming fees to hit customers visiting France

The man from Brittany had left his “roaming” on during the whole trip, meaning that even if he did not actively use the internet, he was still being charged every day for having it on. The fees for this can be extremely high as they are not subject to the same limitations as in the EU. 

Some phone contracts offer free or reduced rates on roaming to certain countries. To find out, you should check with your provider before travelling. 

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Telecom firms tighten rules on UK mobiles and EU roaming

Snail-pace data, good deal: Which French mobile operator do you use?

What dual-SIM phones work best in France?

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