Sunday, April 10, 2022

Brave New Post-Brexit World

So, last week I had my first (business) trip to the UK since the Kingdom in its infinite stupidity decided to leave the EU.

It's been a while - Jan 2019 to be precise. Not because of Brexit, but of course because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that kept everyone from travelling.

There were two major changes and experiences that sort-of relate to tech in a larger sense, so I want to report on them here.

Mobile Phone/Data and Payments


Let me start with the latter: Even when the UK was still part of the EU using any payment card (credit card like VISA, or debit card like the then maestro card that meanwhile has been turned into Mastercard) was more costly than in mainland Europe. No, I should be fair, this got nothing to do with them Brits living on an island of their own, but with them having their own currency. EU regulations didn't allow to charge for payments or withdrawals within the Eurozone[1], but they still could charge you for the currency conversion. So even before Brexit paying for a 1£ could potentially end up like 2-3€ on my account[2].

Back then, I already pondered getting a UK debit card, that I'd only need to charge once every blue moon, and thus limit the charges & fees.

This time I did. Some research amongst friends and colleagues led me to try Revolut. There are many similar other fintech startups with comparable offerings. I chose Revolut because people around me used it (and hence I hoped to piggyback on their experience) and it appears all have had the same startup issues in the last couple of years. Revolut it was.

I opened my account on a commuter train ride in & around Vienna[3], got an EU IBAN, and transferred some money from my regular (Austrian) checking account, created a "GBP" sub-account - or whatever you want to call it - and a virtual credit card. Thought I try my first trip without a physical one - and also I had only 1 week left, so chances it wouldn't arrive in time were high. Why bother at all, then.

Ah, yes, and I linked this card into Google Pay, to facilitate contactless payments from then phone.

And guess what? It worked like a charm. No need to run a tab at the pub, hence no need to receive this credit-checking looks from behind the bar. Just tap the phone, and that's it.

Since I started with only 10€ for a start, of course I immediately had to top up  the account from my checking account again, but that only took half a minute, without any charges...  - in the pub with the pint half empty alredy Life's good.

Mobile Phone/Data

Well what can I say. I'm an idiot, I guess. I knew that with Brexit the UK also got out of the EU roaming agreement. Previously, I used to ignore roaming in the UK. Since I only was there for a couple of days at a time, there wasn't even the slightest risk of me violating the fair use limitations, since most of my data volume was always used in Austria. And I knew that this was no longer in place. I knew that roaming charges (on data) again applied.

But I forgot how insufferably high they are. Just switching on my phone after landing at LHR, I immediately got 2 texts from my operator: the first informing me that I just used 40€ worth of roaming, and the other letting me know that they cut me off, because I reached the 50€ limit. And I hadn't even opened my seat-belt yet[4]. 

So I jumped on the public Wifi in the terminal, whatsapp'd the colleague who handles our phone contracts and packages and he was nice enough to immediately sign me up for the roaming package.

Crisis averted - for now. The 100MB packages costs 40€ a month...Seriously? The 250MB still 80€... not really a volume discount there... Still was ridiculous. While still happy that I had a solution for the time being - without needing to hop on any next available free wifi, I needed something else.

And it wouldn't be a burner phone, like a co-worker suggested. One better, I have a dual SIM Oneplus 9.

So, again with the help of some local recommendations, I decided to get a Three SIM, and top up as I needed. I was on the train from wonderful totally-non-boring Staines-upon-Thames into London already[5]. Arrived in Waterloo, strolled casually into the next WHSmith, only passed the SIM shelfs like 5 times, before a friendly assistant pointed to it, got a Three SIM for 0.99£ [6] , went to our wonderful London Office in London's Old Street - the area is affectionally called Silicon Roundabout, and I now know why - plugged the SIM into my phone and nothing.

For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.
The good old Hitchhiker

I checked the three homepage, where they confirmed, that once the SIM is plugged in and the phone switched on, I should receive a text after a while with my new phone number. Nothing.

Not even for half an hour. Tried several tricks, like switching off my Austrian A1 SIM. No. Switching off Wifi...No.
Well, let's leave that, I got work to do.. So I did. 

Then we popped out of the office for a quick bite and PLING... text from three arrived. Turned out there was no reception in the middle/core of the building where I sat... So while enjoying my sandwich I even more enjoyed to create an account, top up my Three SIM with 8GB for the month for 10£... Probably not the cheapest option in the world, could have had a cheaper per-GB plan, but do I even need 8GB a month, when I'm there at best 3-4 days a month? No I don't. So good for now.
Did you guess by now, how I paid the 10£? Right.

(And then texted my colleague in Vienna, to switch of the roaming package, no need to waste money next months as well)
So 8GB for 10£~~12€ vs  100kB for 1.49€  or 40EUR for 100MB... Again, not the cheapest option, but a bargain compared to roaming charges these days.

Tarifinfo UK: Lieber A1 Kunde, Sie nutzen jetzt Datenroaming. Wir verrechnen wie folgt: Daten 1,490/100 KB; MMS 0,990. Infos zu Ihrem Datenvolumen finden Sie auf und Mein A1 App. Preise in Euro inkl. USt., g├╝ltig nach Verbrauch etwaiger Freieinheiten, Roaminginfo +43664664666, Notruf 112. Ihr A1 Team      Tariff information UK: Dear A1 customer, you are now using data roaming. We charge as follows: Data 1,490/100 KB; mms 0.990. You can find information about your data volume on and My A1 App. Prices in euros including VAT, valid after any free units have been used, roaming info +43664664666, emergency call 112. Your A1 team


Why did I write that up?

  1. if as a EU citizen you plan to travel the UK, I wanted to give you some recommendations.
  2. I tried all of the above... Setup was really easy, and is for your if you consider yourself a non-tech-averse person.
  3. Everything worked, no fraudulent or fishy things or hidden charges found so far.
  4. I'm still annoyed by Brexit. Full stop.
  5. A point of ale appears to taste better when paid from a local account ;)


[1] or was it actually SEPA?

[2] honestly, I don't want to fact check this, but it felt like it ;)

[3] oh the enquiring "what-is-he-doing-now" look on my wife's face, when I first took a selfie on the platform and then two minutes later put my id card on the seat next to me to take pictures for identification ;)

[4] don't judge me.

[5] the 1 hour delay is a different story, but hey SWR trains at least come with Wifi.

[6] That's why I got the revolut account ;)   smart, right? Right?

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