International phone plan comparisons for travelers on-the-go

Women on phone in hotel_international phone plans room_Tranquility Beach Anguilla

How much do you know about your international phone plan options? If you live in the United States and travel frequently for work or pleasure, it’s highly likely you might have already racked up unusually high charges for calls or data usage while you were overseas. That’s why it’s important to learn all you can about the costs and inclusions of the international phone plans that are available from various US carriers to better protect your pocket.

T-Mobile

Based on feedback in online forums and groups among travelers, T-Mobile is, by far, the most US popular carrier for staying connected while abroad. According to the company’s website, their “Magenta®, Simple Choice™, New Classic, and Select Choice plans provide unlimited 2 gigabyte (GB) data, unlimited texting and calling at $0.25 per minute in 210+ countries and destinations.”  No international data-roaming charges show up on your bill, and there is no setup fee. All you need to do is land and turn on your phone. They also advertise an Essentials plan that includes unlimited text and calling at the same rate – $0.25 per minute (excluding data) – in the same number of countries. Basic costs start at $35 dollars per line for Magenta, and $43 per line for Magenta plus.

Google Fi

Never heard of Google Fi? Don’t worry. Until I started doing research for this article, I hadn’t either. It’s a relatively new phone service for Android users which Google introduced in 2015. For Google Fi to work, you need a special SIM card and specific software on your phone (if you don’t have a Pixel). With it, you get voice, SMS and mobile broadband services across Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular networks, and Google Fi intelligently switches between the three or to W-FI to make calls (whenever it’s available).  

The beauty of this service lies in simple billing. If you sign up, your out-of-pocket expense is $20 per month for unlimited talk and texts and $10 for every 1 GB of data used. If you require a lot of data for social media and operate in the 6 GB realm on a regular basis, that catapults you to Bill Protection status, where your charges are capped at $60 per month.

Verizon

Verizon’s turn-key international plan, which is usable in over 185 countries, is called TravelPass. For $10 a day, per line, you can call, send or use data. To activate this international phone plan, all you need to do is text the word TRAVEL to 4004 or on My Verizon, and you’ll get a welcome message when you get to your destination. The fee begins when you use the phone. One important thing to note is that minutes, texts and data usage overseas also impacts your regular plan allowance, so if you exceed your limit, you will get pinged with overage charges. If you are going to be away for more than seven days, it makes sense to switch over to Verizon’s $70 monthly plan to save money.

Verizon customers traveling to Canada and Mexico need only pay $5 per line if those two countries aren’t already covered in their domestic plan. What’s more, the company also has pay-as-you-go rates that charge by the minute for message and data use. This option is available in Cuba and on more than 400 cruise ships.

AT&T

AT&T’s phone plan is called International Day Pass and it costs $10 per day to get talk, text and data coverage in 100+ destinations in Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and the Caribbean. For that daily fee, you get unlimited calls in the countries covered in the plan and unlimited texts to others at no additional charge. However, one thing to note is that you accrue data charges for apps that run in the background, so they advise you to “turn off your messaging apps, disable automatic updates and background refreshes to make your data go further.”

If you need lots of data, you can look at the AT&T Passport 2 GB plan for $70 per month or their AT&T Passport 6GB plan for $140 per month. Both are available for use in more than 200 countries. For persons not keen on buying a package, the company also has a pay-per-use rate of $2.05 per megabyte of data.

Sprint

The international phone plan from Sprint is called Sprint Global Roaming, and all Sprint users with LTE/GSM capable smartphones have access to it within their regular plans. Customers get text and data included (up to 2G speeds) and calls for $0.25 cents per minute in more than 200 destinations worldwide.   

Other options

if none of these plans seem like a good fit, you can always buy an unlocked phone and get a local SIM card with a prepaid plan in the country you’re visiting. Alternatively, you can do what I do and just put your phone in airplane mode then hop onto Wi-Fi and call through the internet using WhatsApp. Facetime audio and Skype work well with as free as possible strategy too.  

Do you know of any other plans that help you stay connected abroad? If so, please drop the details below.

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