EU roaming charges rules DON’T apply if you’re at sea

Beware of calling home from a cruise

Holidaymakers taking a ferry ride or cruise in Europe this summer should watch out for high roaming charges. roaming charges at sea

New rules introduced last month mean calling, texting and surfing the internet on your mobile when you’re in the European Union should cost you no more than when you’re at home.

  • Good news: New rules mean using a mobile in the EU roaming should cost no more than at home

  • Bad news: these rules do not apply to ferries and cruises – even in European waters


New EU rules for roaming charges do not apply to ferries and cruises — even in European waters

Instead, you can still be charged expensive international roaming rates because ferries use their own network, operated by satellite.

So if you quickly call your voicemail, text a relative or check your emails while you’re at sea, you could find yourself with a big bill.

Reader Chris Sansom, who lives in Belgium, took a ferry from Dunkirk to Dover last week with his son. They received text messages from their network provider warning them of satellite charges of €16.98 (£14.98) per megabyte (MB) of data. A typical webpage download uses 3MB so a single click could have cost £44.94.

Therefore it’s worth checking if the ferry has free wifi. roaming charges at sea

The new rules introduced last month are designed to revolutionise the way we use our smartphones while on holiday but several clauses mean Britons are at risk of hefty bills while travelling to the Continent.

How to Avoid Roaming Charges on a Cruise Ship roaming charges at sea

The best way to avoid roaming charges on a cruise ship is to switch your phone to airplane mode, use the ship’s Wi-Fi, download apps in advance, and check if your carrier has an international cell phone plan.

There are plenty of horror stories of returning passengers receiving unexpected charges in the thousands of dollars. Going on an entirely “unconnected cruise” is pretty much out of the question in our modern, interconnected world. It’s great that we can go on vacation and never miss an email or phone call from family. With that in mind, we’ve put together some tips to use your smartphone at sea.

Understanding Roaming Charges

Before discussing tips and strategies for avoiding big cell phone bills, we need to discuss why these bills occur.

Mobile phones work by communicating with nearby cell towers set up and operated by your cell phone provider. When you are in your home country, your service plan allows for the regular use of their network within the confines of your plan limits.

When you are outside of your home country, you are outside your cell phone provider’s service area, which is referred to as “roaming.” When you are roaming, you will connect to another service providers twoer and network.

It goes without saying that there are no cell phone towers at sea, and once you leave the embarkation port, you will be roaming.

So how do you use your cell phone while at sea?

You have two options to stay connected while at sea; either connect to the ship’s cellular service or connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi. Both options will cost extra.

Here are some indicative European prepaid eSIM card prices:

Europe (30 countries)
1 GB – no exp. –  €3.70
3 GB – no exp. – €10.77
10 GB – no exp. – €33.30



Europe (39 countries)
1 GB – 7 days – €4.53
3 GB – 30 days – €12.00
10 GB – 30 days – €33.40airalo



Europe (29 countries)
500 MB – 1 day – €2.00
3 GB – 30 days – €8.00
10 GB – 30 days – €19.00



Europe (36 countries)
1 GB – 7 days – €6.50
3 GB – 15 days – €11.00
10 GB – 30 days – €20.50



Stay ahead of the curve in mobile connectivity by following all the latest and most important eSIM news.

Cell Service on Cruise Ships

For traditional cell phone service, similar to what you will find at home, modern cruise ships use providers such as “Wireless Maritime Services” or “Cellular at Sea.” These systems use satellite technology to keep you connected without relying on mobile network towers.

Most cell phone companies will consider the cell phone on cruise ships as international roaming and charge you accordingly. Although the cell phone service on cruise ships is expensive, it is an excellent option if you need to make a quick phone call or text.

If you plan on using your phone on your cruise, check if your cell phone provider offers a cruise package. You may be able to purchase a flat rate package or a “pay-per-use” rate. The price for these packages is high, but they will be considerably cheaper than incurring roaming charges. Keep in mind that many cruise packages won’t include a data plan. If you won’t be needing traditional text and calling services, there is a cheaper way to use your phone on the ship – Wi-Fi.

Is there Wi-Fi on Cruise Ships

If you won’t be needing traditional texting and calling, the ship’s Wi-Fi network is a cheaper way to use your cell phone on a cruise ship. Apps like Signal and WhatsApp make it easy to make phone calls, chat, and video chat via the internet. The best part; all of these services can be used over Wi-Fi.

Modern cruise ships come equipped with Wi-Fi throughout the ship. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, most cruise ships will charge extra for the use of their onboard Wi-Fi, and some will limit the number of devices you can connect.

Once connected to the Wi-Fi, you can use your phone just like you would at home. Just make sure that any calls or texts you make are over Wi-Fi. Otherwise, your service provider will consider them international roaming, even if you use the ship’s cell service.

Cell Service in Ports of Call roaming charges at sea

While most of your time will be spent on the ship, there will be days that you spend in port. When you are in port and off the ship, your phone will work like you took a trip to another country where you will rely on international cell services.

Most cell phone providers offer short-term international plans that are surprisingly affordable. Many international roaming plans allow you to make calls, texts, and data just as you would at home.

Keep in mind that the international roaming plans will only cover services used when you are onshore. When you get back on the boat, you will need to use the ships’ cellular service or Wi-Fi. It will be more cost-effective to use either one or the other rather than paying for both.

How to Avoid Roaming Charges on a Cruise Ship

Now that you understand how roaming charges work, here is a list of tips to help you use your cell phone while on a cruise.

Make Sure You Have an International Plan

Before going on a cruise, you will want to check which regions are included in your mobile plan’s coverage area. You may be surprised to find that some locations you will be visiting are already included in your plan. Your existing cell phone plan may provide enough coverage to get you through the vacation without needing to purchase an additional plan or package.

During our Caribbean cruise, it was unclear on our service provider’s website if San Juan was covered in our wireless plan. We called our cell phone provider and were happy to find out that phone calls, text messaging, and the internet would be covered under our existing cell phone plan.

If you plan to use your cell phone in locations that aren’t within your plan’s coverage area, you want to purchase an international roaming package. Many cell phone providers offer surprising low-cost roaming plans that allow you to use your phone as you would back home. And be careful: If you exceed your allotted roaming package usage, the expenses can add up quickly to hundreds of dollars. Keep in mind that international roaming packages will only cover cell phone use once you are onshore. If you plan to use your cell phone on the ship, you may want to consider a cruise ship package.

Check if Your Wireless Carrier has a Cruise Line Package

Suppose you plan on using your phone while onboard your cruise ship. It’s a good idea to check if your service provider offers a cruise package. Many cell phone providers now offer cruise ship packages that allow you to make calls and texts using the ship’s cellular service. The price for one of these packages is high and doesn’t typically cover data services, but they will be considerably cheaper than incurring roaming charges.

Download Any Apps You Need Before Leaving

Don’t waste precious bandwidth, time, and money downloading apps, games, or software you need for your trip. Plenty of apps help you explore destinations, create beautiful photo galleries, and aid your journey. Before leaving for your vacation, make sure you download every app, game, and software you will need.

Get a Cruise Ship Wi-Fi Plan

Many modern cruise ships offer onboard internet and Wi-Fi packages to keep connected. Package plans vary among cruise lines, but they are far cheaper than international roaming packages. Unless you really need to make traditional phone calls and texts, we recommend skipping the phone plans and opting for an onboard internet package instead. Using the ship’s Wi-Fi, you can use apps like Signal and WhatsApp to make phone calls, chat, and video calls via the internet. It’s essential to keep in mind that the internet speed on cruise ships probably won’t be as fast as you are used to using.

Cruise lines will often discount the price of their Wi-Fi package during the cruise. On our last cruise, we saved 50% on purchasing an internet package by waiting until the middle of the cruise and sharing a family package with our family members.

Check for Wi-Fi Hotspots While at Port

Even if you don’t feel like purchasing any international roaming plans or Wi-Fi packages, you might be able to get internet access while visiting the ports.

While in port, you will often find restaurants, cafes, and shops that offer free Wi-Fi access. Many beach resorts also offer day passes which include Wi-Fi as part of the package price.

You can use the free Wi-Fi to check emails, post your vacation photos on social media, or browse your favorite cruise blog for vacation tips!

Tip: Many of these internet connections are public, and you should be cautious about which sites you visit while connected.

Put Your Phone on Airplane Mode Before You Step Foot on the Cruise

If you don’t have an international roaming package, make sure you put your phone on airplane mode BEFORE you step foot on the cruise.

In the excitement of seeing the ship for the first time, it might not dawn on you until you are on a tour of Cozumel when your phone starts vibrating. It is only then that you realize with the stream of text messages, emails, missed calls, social media updates, and web notifications that you’ve forgotten to turn your phone on airplane mode. Don’t get hit with massive roaming bills, and turn your phone on airplane mode! roaming charges at sea


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