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If you’re from Britain visiting the beautiful Island of Corfu, it’s easy to get stung by huge mobile data phone bills due to a peculiarity of Greek Island’s proximity to Albania. Here’s how to avoid a nasty surprise.

Here’s the scenario. You’ve arrived on the beautiful island of Corfu, you’re in the taxi enroute to your idyllic seaside Greek fishing village. As you pass stunning coves with white pebble beaches and the most luminously azure water you’ve ever seen, your instinct is to take photos to make your friends in the cold and rain back home envious by immediately posting them onto Instagram. Wait! It may cost you a fortune in mobile data charges – EVEN IF YOUR MOBILE OPERATOR SAYS YOU CAN ROAM FREE OF CHARGE IN THE EU AS PART OF YOUR CURRENT PACKAGE.

Before Brexit was finalised in January 2021, all of the UK’s mobile network companies (such as Three, O2, EE, Tesco Mobile and so on) were signed up to an EU treaty which dictated that they couldn’t charge more than you’d pay to use your mobile phone when visiting another EU country than what you already pay in the UK.  This meant that any mobile data used or SMS messages send and voice calls made would be included in your normal tariff bundle.  Post-Brexit, all of the UK have kept these arrangements in place, or are working on similar deals. 

But wait! If you’re visiting Corfu this might not always be the case, especially if you’re staying in the North-Eastern areas of this beautiful Ionian island. In fact, you may end up with a massive bill when you get home. Here’s why…

Those barren yet strikingly beautiful mountains you can see, just across the clear blue sea, almost close enough to touch, are Albanian mountains. Albania isn’t (not yet) in the EU. Albania is close enough to Corfu, and seems to have a much better mobile network, such that your phone will connect to an Albanian network whenever a Greek network has a weak signal. Once connected you will be charged around £5 or more per Mb for using data on your phone. You’ll get a text message to tell you this, but you may not see it in time. So uploading one photo to Facebook could end up costing you anything from £5-£15! One story tells of a weary traveler who didn’t realise her phone had connected to an Albanian network, until she received a text to inform her she’d hit her £150 credit limit!

How To Avoid Mobile Bill Shock

As soon as you touch down at Corfu airport and it is safe to turn on your phone, you need to take action right away to avoid unwanted data roaming charges. The following instructions are for an iPhone, but you should be able to find and adjust similar settings on an Android phone too.

  • Go to the Settings screen on your phone and find an option called Mobile Data and select this. 
  • Next, from the list of options presented, select Network Selection
  • You’ll now be on a screen with a single button labelled Automatic and in most cases, this will be set to On (green). Turn it off.
  • Your phone will now search for available networks. If you’re already close to the coast opposite Albania, you’ll see a mix of Greek and Albanian networks listed (indicated by GR for Greek and AL for Albania next to or before their name).
  • Pick one of the Greek networks, it doesn’t matter which at this stage though I tend to go for WIND GR which seems to have the best coverage in the North-Eastern area.
  • Now your phone will not try to connect to Albania, even if there’s no Greek signal and you shouldn’t experience any unexpected data charges. Problem solved…
  • The only downside is, if the network you’ve chosen has poor coverage as you move around, you may need to manually repeat the steps above and select a different Greek network. Just don’t pick an Albanian one!
  • Also, when you get back to the UK, remember to go back into your settings and turn Automatic Network Selection back on.

 

It's Not Just Corfu This May Happen

This doesn’t only happen in Corfu. There are several other Greek islands that are in close proximity to other, non-EU countries that may not have roaming agreements with the UK operators in place. It also happened to me on a flight to Dubai with Emirates, where my phone automatically connected to the plane’s mobile phone cell instead of wifi and before I realised my iPhone had synchronised my email and racked up a sizeable mobile data charge.

In reverse you can sometimes take advantage of this quirk of technology. When I was staying in Kas on the Turkish coast, I was able to connect to the phone network on the nearby Greek island of Kastellorizo which, at that time, was much more cost effective.

What To Do If YoU Do Get A Huge Bill

If you do get charged a large amount for accidentally connecting to a different country’s mobile network, don’t despair. When this happened to my son, I contacted his mobile provider (Three) and explained what had happened and they refunded the additional charges.

I do hope this post helps you avoid unwanted phone charges and that potential shock tainting the memories of what would otherwise have been a wonderful holiday.

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