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Telecom firms tighten rules on UK mobiles and EU roaming

Maintaining a UK-based phone service while living in France can cause issues. However, there are potential solutions

Telecom firms say that roaming should not be used by people living permanently abroad Pic: PH888 / Shutterstock

Historically, many Britons moving to France have maintained UK mobile phone numbers, at least until they get settled in the country, without major issues.

These days, things are a little trickier. All the major UK mobile companies we spoke to said their services, for both pay-as-you-go and monthly payment contracts, are intended solely for people living in the UK who only visit other countries occasionally.

It is not acceptable to swap a contract to a French address.

Post-Brexit, some UK mobile companies are also starting to bring back roaming charges in the EU – though so far this is only for new or upgrading customers. 

Many also have ‘fair use’ requirements which stipulate that roaming abroad for an excessive amount of time might incur extra charges or, in some cases, result in having roaming cut off.

Telecom firm O2 told The Connexion that customers can use its services only for periodic travel, such as holidays or short breaks. If customers are not “genuinely” doing this, then extra charges can be incurred.

The firm considers using its services in the EU for more than 63 days in a four-month period is ‘unfair use’. If that occurs, you will be notified by text and, if you continue, surcharges will be applied.

Read more: Mobile network SFR confirms major outage in large French cities

A spokesman for another firm, EE, said: “As part of our fair use policy, EE customers must be a permanent resident in, or have a stable link to, the UK.” 

A “stable link” is considered to include spending two months in the UK out of any four-month period, or using the phone services mostly in the UK rather than when roaming.

Vodafone, meanwhile, said its plans are “primarily” for use in the UK, and use abroad is intended for temporary, periodic travel, such as holidays and short breaks. 

A spokesman said customers roaming for 62 days or more in a four-month period, and in that period using the service more in the EU than the UK, might incur extra charges, after first being contacted.

Three said roaming should not be used by people living permanently abroad. If the customer is found to be using their phone exclusively abroad for a full two months out of any rolling 12-month period, they will have their roaming suspended.

All the firms confirmed that the same policies apply to monthly contracts and to pay-as-you-go customers.

Some Britons report they have not had issues using less well-known services that operate using the major companies’ networks in a ‘mobile virtual network’ model – for example, Tesco Mobile, 1p Mobile or Lebara.

However, an advisor at 1p Mobile explained that while they are aware they have customers who use their phones while living in France, this was not the original intention. Their SIM can be used for roaming but sometimes phones can cut out due to the unpredictability of the roaming networks, she said.

Read more: €100 bill for not switching off mobile roaming on France-UK ferry

There may also be increased charges linked to ‘fair use’ if you spend more time abroad than in the UK over a rolling four-month period.

In addition, the firm’s website says it is possible that local networks could block your service if they see your phone is connected for extended periods beyond 60 consecutive days.

Other Britons abroad report success using UK numbers via an app – such as Devyce or Swytch – rather than a UK phone SIM. The firms levy a monthly fee. Nick Brown, co-founder of London-based Devyce, which charges £8.99/month for a phone and text service without data, said it has been fielding a high number of queries from Britons in the EU in recent months.

The Devyce app needs to be on a phone with data – for example, your French mobile, if you have one. 

Alternatively, the firm suggests obtaining a data-only SIM to use with the app. 

Calls to the UK number are received directly, whether or not the app is open, and calls out from the UK number need to be made from the app.

Read more: Leasing deals take some of sting out of smartphone costs in France

Mr Brown said the service was originally aimed at UK business customers.

“However, at the start of 2021 we were getting a couple of calls a day, and now about 50, from people around the world saying ‘I am in France or Spain or Thailand and Three or Vodafone have texted and said they do not want me roaming any more and are going to cut me off’. So we set up a version of our service called Xpatfone.

“If you are in France and threatened with being cut off, you can ‘port’ your number to us in two working days and have your UK number on your French phone.

“Most people will use their French mobile anyway for everyday purposes, but they have the peace of mind that their UK number is not going to be lost.”

He said some new customers report they have lived abroad for over 20 years using their UK number, but have been contacted by phone companies since Brexit.

If the main reason for keeping a UK number is for purchase verification texts or phone calls from your UK bank, it is worth checking if they will accept a French mobile. Several UK high street banks permit this. It might also be possible for verifications to be sent by email instead.

Related stories:

Visitors to France to be affected by UK’s Three roaming charge return

Orange launches commitment-free French mobile contracts

Will French mobile companies reintroduce UK roaming fees post-Brexit?

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