How to use your O2 (or Virgin Mobile) monthly allowance for free in Europe and other countries
Before you jump on a plane or a ferry, it pays to know exactly what the score is when you use your O2 (or Virgin Mobile) SIM in a country other than the UK. Do calls, text and data come out of your allowances or will you be slapped with a hefty bill just for checking Facebook?
We’ve got all the answers you need.
Can I roam on my O2 SIM?
Yes. But whether or not you’ll be charged depends upon where you’re going, how you pay and also which tariff you’re on.
O2 Travel is what you need to use your calls, text and data abroad, and you can log into your O2 account to see whether you have it as part of your package. Alternatively, dial 202 on your phone and just ask the customer service team.
To opt into O2 Travel, sign in to My O2 and then add the O2 Travel Bolt On. It doesn’t cost anything to do this: you will only be charged if you trigger the Bolt On by making a call, sending a text or using data in a country that’s outside of the Europe Zone.
Despite having removed them in 2017, following Brexit, three of the big four UK carriers reintroduced roaming charges across the EU. However, on 10 January 2022, Virgin Media O2‘s Chief Commercial Officer for Mobile, Gareth Turpin, confirmed that “we [Virgin Media O2] will not be reintroducing roaming fees in Europe for customers on O2 or Virgin Mobile.”
This means O2 (and Virgin Mobile) customers are in the best position, in terms of European roaming charges are concerned, as they don’t have really worry about them.
Note: Don’t forget to enable data roaming in your phone’s settings, otherwise, your apps and browsers will tell you there’s no internet connection.
Roaming in Europe
If you’re heading to Europe, great news. You don’t need to worry as your phone will work just like it does in the UK. Any calls or texts you make will come out of your normal allowance, and the same goes for data from your bundle.
Just check O2’s Europe Zone to make sure your destination country is included.
If you’re on a pay-as-you-go bundle, check out the included countries here (the list is different to the Pay Monthly list). Note that Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey, Monaco and Switzerland are excluded for PAYG customers. You can get 100MB of data for these destinations for £1.99 per day.
Also, note that using mobile data on a cruise ship isn’t covered, but you should be able to use the ship’s own Wi-Fi. Making and receiving calls on a ship costs £2 a minute, and sending each text costs 50p.
Roaming outside Europe
If you have a tariff that gives you free O2 Travel in the Inclusive Zone, the following countries are included and you won’t be charged for calls, texts or data as long as you don’t go over your usual allowance:
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
- New Zealand
- United States
If you don’t have free O2 Travel on your tariff, then you’ll need to opt into O2 Travel (you can also do this by texting O2TRAVEL to 23336) before you head abroad.
You’ll be charged £4.99 per day, but only on the days that you ‘trigger’ the Bolt On. That means the first call you make, text you send or data you use will start O2 Travel for that day, which runs from midnight to midnight based on the capital city of the country you’re in.
What does O2 Travel include?
For your £4.99 per day, which you’ll be billed if you’re not eligible for the ‘Inclusive Zone’ or Europe, you get 120 minutes, 120 text and unlimited data.
O2 says there’s no cap on data at all, but that “speeds may vary” which, reading between the lines, means you’ll see a slow-down in your connection speed if you’re using more than the amount in O2’s fair use policy.
Is O2 good value for roaming?
Considering EE, Three and Vodafone have all reintroduced roaming charges – even within Europe – since Brexit went into effect, Virgin Media O2’s decision to abstain from reintroducing them is a huge win for customers; especially those who like to travel and are likely to find themselves hopping around Europe.
If you’re off to a destination where you can’t use your allowances, you might be able to get a better deal than the £4.99 per day charge for O2 Travel.
Pop into a phone shop – or pre-book online – and pick up a local pre-pay SIM when you arrive at your destination. This is often a way to use your phone – especially mobile data – for a much-reduced cost. Some operators even sell ‘tourist SIMs’ for exactly this reason. Do your research before you go and you could save a lot.
There are disadvantages of doing this, including the fact that people won’t be able to call you on your normal number while you’re using a different SIM. Of course, if you have a dual-SIM phone, then that’s not an issue, but do watch out if you intend to keep your O2 SIM in a phone, so people can contact you, as you might be charged for receiving calls and texts if you’re outside of the inclusive zones.
If you have SIMs with other operators, check out our other guides: