French holidaymaker racks up €16,000 phone bill on two-week trip

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A French holidaymaker has expressed shock after returning from a two-week trip to Senegal to find he had racked up a €16,000 phone bill after leaving his data roaming.

The 76-year-old Breton, who recently quit a business he ran, went on vacation in March and said he tended to only use his mobile phone to make calls.

After a few days away, his phone operator Bouygues contacted his old company to say he had exceeded his data limit.

“They called me right away,” the man, who wished not to be named, told French news site Actu.

“But for me, who only uses my phone to make calls, it didn’t bother me too much. I let it go without paying attention to it,” he said.

Bouygues said he sent the man nine text messages telling him he had exceeded his data limit and was being charged for roaming.

The man said he never paid attention to text messages.

He discovers on his return to France that he has received a telephone bill of €16,000, automatically debited from his account, as is often the case with telephone contracts in France.

Read more: French banks criticized for excessive fees for NSF payments

He contacted Bouygues to complain and told him they were offering him 50% off his bill (i.e. €8,000 remaining) and would contact him again. He says he is still waiting.

He contacted a lawyer to challenge the bill.

“Such a sum is unthinkable”

French consumer group UFC-Que Choisir said the case for many Bretons was unusual and the €16,000 bill was “unthinkable”.

“You often see cases like this where there’s a €200 or €300 bill, but that’s nonsense,” he said.

“How can you let an invoice reach €16,000? After a day, or even two, when we receive an invoice for 1,000 to 2,000 €, the operator must realize that there is a problem, especially when he sees that the customer is abroad .

He said this case should serve as case law for future court rulings on roaming charges.

Data roaming charges

Mobile phone companies can charge customers more money if they use their phone to call, text, or use the Internet while abroad.

Inside the countries of the European Economic Area, you can use your telephone under the same conditions as in your country of origin. For example, if you have a phone with a French company, you can use your phone in any EU or EEA country without facing higher charges.

If phone users want to use the internet abroad, they must activate data roaming – sometimes this is already activated, which is not a problem until you leave your country (or the EEA).

Most French phone companies, including Bouygues, still classify the UK the same as EU countries, which means there are no additional charges. Several British telephone companies have, on the other hand, reintroduced roaming charges (for new customers) for travel within the EU since the entry into force of Brexit.

Read more: Can I use my French mobile in the UK without roaming charges?

Read more: Vodafone’s new £2 a day roaming charges will hit customers visiting France

The man from Brittany had left his ‘roaming’ on for the entire trip, meaning that even though he was not actively using the internet, he was still charged every day for having it turned on. The fees for this can be extremely high as they are not subject to the same limitations as in the EU.

Some phone plans offer free or reduced rates on roaming to certain countries. To find out, you should check with your provider before you travel.

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