Günther Vogelpoel, Recharge.com

By Günther Vogelpoel, CEO, Recharge.com

Business travel expenses for most companies have been massively down over the course of the pandemic, with lockdown orders forcing a new flexibility around remote options. 

However, there are still occasions where an in-person meeting is necessary, and as business travel slowly starts to resume, companies are evaluating how to budget for the costs being reintroduced. 

During international travel, a mobile phone provided by a company is usually thought of as a helpful bonus instead of a headache. However, new changes to roaming fees will disrupt any business traveller’s peace of mind as extortionate mobile phone bills while abroad are always difficult to explain to any employer.  

Roaming charges have been managed efficiently in the UK since 2014, when the sudden rise of sky-high phone bills from overseas trips provoked over 130,000 consumers to report “bill shock” to Citizens Advice.

This in turn led to demands for more transparency in charging rates. Travellers took international trips without being aware of the higher roaming data charges that would come after using their phones to connect to the internet while overseas. 

These huge, unplanned bills unfortunately caused many consumers to go into debt. As a result, in 2017, mobile networks in EU countries became legally prohibited from charging customers extra to use their phones in other member countries. However, BT-owned mobile operator EE recently announced that it would begin charging UK customers for using their phones in Europe, although previously it stated that there were no plans to reintroduce roaming costs post-Brexit. 

From January, those new to EE or those who upgraded after mid-July would need to pay a daily £2 charge when using their phones in 47 European countries. For anything over 25GB a surcharge of £6 per gigabyte would be added until the renewal of the monthly allowance.

This was the first UK operator to officially reintroduce such roaming charges, but other UK operators are already following suit. This month, British travellers in the EU have been informed that Vodafone will also be reintroducing roaming charges for new and upgrading British customers in January 2022, following the lead set by EE.

O2 has further declared that it will impose an extra “fair use” charge should customers have a monthly usage that exceeds 25GB of data.

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Until 2020, the annual number of business visits by UK residents to EU member states only increased over the decade. There were a total of 6.24 million visits made to the EU by UK business travelers in 2019.

Although the pandemic significantly decreased international travel, as vaccination levels rise, so too does the possibility of more borders reopening.

It has never been more critical for business travelers to have access to a phone when overseas. Whether it’s checking the latest travel restrictions online, calling the UK headquarters before a big meeting, or accessing email, a mobile connection has become an absolute necessity. 

Prepaid phone cards allow the business traveller to have all the comforts of mobile connection without these new potentially exorbitant roaming fees or the commitment of a lengthy contract. With e-sims, people can now easily add a prepaid sim to their usual phone device.

Temporary SIM cards are also increasing in popularity because of how they protect consumer privacy. When travelling in a foreign country, a phone number is often needed to secure hotels, transportation services and restaurant reservations. 

A temporary SIM allows business travelers to access these services with a temporary phone number, protecting their primary number from being compromised. This is especially important as the number of identity theft cases more than doubled from the previous one.

Identity theft aside, some people have faced huge bills caused by thieves, at times over £10,000, after their handset was stolen. Thieves use the handset to run up expensive charges, with the victim left to deal with the consequences and explain the bill to their company. 

Prepaid phone cards reduce such risks and allow more financial control. When overseas, and especially if attending important meetings that require face-to-face discussion, there will usually be a phone call or website that needs to be urgently accessed, allowing hidden charges to be added by the telephone provider. 

A prepaid phone card means a pre-allocated spend, allowing at least one portion of the business travel budget to become easier to control and predict. There is also the freedom to increase this allocation if necessary. 

There can be a trial of services – for example – if the hotel wifi is fast, extra data might not be needed from a prepaid card. If more international phone calls are needed, additional minutes can be bought. 

As COVID-19 restrictions keep travel unpredictable for everyone involved, new demands are emerging on business travellers and the company budgets that pay for their visits. As rules continue to change regularly, it becomes difficult to gauge in advance how much phone usage might be needed.

If travel arrangements suddenly change due to unexpected restrictions, having a prepaid phone card allows travellers to quickly contact those back home and keep them posted on their plans. Easy and affordable access to reliable mobile and internet coverage means that travellers can tune into the latest developments as well, ensuring that they are prepared for whatever comes their way.