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Three becomes latest mobile firm to bring back roaming charges

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<span>Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA</span>
Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Three is to reintroduce charges for using their phones when travelling abroad, ending almost five years of free mobile phone roaming across Europe for their customers.

Three is the latest of Britain’s biggest mobile companies to bring back charges, which will apply in almost 50 European territories as well as two dozen other international destinations, despite previously saying roaming costs would not return after Brexit.

The company said that a £2 daily charge would apply when customers who have taken out a new contract or upgrade from 1 October use their phones in European countries. The charges do not come into effect until 23 May next year.

The company, which follows BT-owned EE and Vodafone in reintroducing the charges, is also establishing a £5 a day charge for customers who use their phones in two dozen countries including New Zealand, Australia and the US, as it also scraps its international free roaming plans.

Related: Roaming charges return: how will the dreaded charge affect UK travellers?

“The new charge ensures that customers are clear on what they will pay when using their phone in another country and only those who roam will pay for the service,” said a spokesman for Three UK. “It will also ensure that we can continue investing in our UK network.”

Three said that customers who do incur roaming charges, which can largely be avoided by using wifi services when abroad, will be protected from “bill shock” as they will receive warning text messages and there is a £45 data cap usage.

The Republic of Ireland and Isle of Man are exempt from the new charges.

“It’s really disappointing that Three is reintroducing roaming charges and that new and upgrading customers will be burdened with extra charges abroad for using mobile data, calls and texts that they have already paid for,” said Sue Davies, head of consumer protection policy at Which?

“The UK and EU should urgently strike a deal on roaming charges to stop companies chipping away at the roaming benefits customers have become used to and prevent the return of excessive charges.”

Three’s move leaves O2, the mobile operation of the newly merged Virgin Media O2 business, as the only major UK operator to not yet introduce roaming charges. However, O2 has said it will impose an extra “fair use” charge if customers use more than 25GB of data in a month.

Since 2017, mobile networks in EU countries have been banned from charging customers extra to use their phones in other member countries.

Nevertheless, the Brexit trade deal between the UK and EU signed last December did not include continued protection against roaming charges. In January, the UK’s biggest operators – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – all said they has no plans to reintroduce roaming charges even though they could do so.

The trade deal states that both sides will encourage mobile operators to have “transparent and reasonable rates” when it comes to roaming.

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