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Best International Cell Phone Plans

Sept. 12, 2018
Cell Phones, Utilities
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We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

You come home from vacation. You’re relaxed. You’re refreshed.

Then you check your cell phone bill and find that you owe $800.

International roaming rates are nothing to mess around with, so it’s important to know what you’re on the hook for before you travel abroad. We’ve surveyed the mobile landscape and picked out the carriers and plans that are most friendly to frequent out-of-country travelers.

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Best postpaid international roaming plans

 

  • T-Mobile One
  • Price: $75; $70 with autopay discount
  • At a glance: Unlimited talk, text and 5GB of high-speed data in Canada and Mexico. Unlimited texting and 2G data in more than 210 other countries.
  • Why we like it: Easy text and data access while overseas, no add-ons necessary, with the option to upgrade to One Plus for faster data speeds and free in-flight Wi-Fi.
  • Sprint Unlimited Basic with Global Roaming
  • Price: Unlimited Basic is $65; $60 with autopay discount. Global Roaming is a free to add to any Sprint plan.
  • At a glance: Unlimited talk, text and 5GB of high-speed data in Canada and Mexico. Unlimited texting and 2G data in more than 185 countries. International calling starts at 20 cent per minute.
  • Why we like it: Talk, text and high-speed data in North America. Add Global Roaming for free to extend text and data access beyond Canada and Mexico.

 

Things to Know

  • T-Mobile: T-Mobile One’s price includes taxes and fees, but add-ons such as insurance or device payments are still assessed. You can upgrade to One Plus for $15 per month, per line to get extra features, including HD video streaming, 20GB of mobile hot spot data, faster international data speeds and free in-flight Wi-Fi via Gogo.
  • Sprint: Unlimited Basic includes talk, text and high-speed data in Canada and Mexico. You can add Sprint’s Global Roaming service to any Sprint plan at no additional charge. With Global Roaming, you get free texting and 2G data. Calls made abroad start at 20-cents-per-minute. You can purchase high-speed data passes to get LTE data download speeds abroad

How They Compare to other carriers

With Verizon’s TravelPass you can use your plan in Mexico and Canada for $5 per day. The charge jumps to $10 per day for use in other countries. Usage in Canada and Mexico are included in Verizon’s Go Unlimited, Beyond Unlimited and Above Unlimited plans at no additional charge. Verizon’s Above Unlimited plan includes five TravelPasses each month, good in more than 130 countries. The carrier also offers monthly and pay-as-you-go international roaming prices.
AT&T customers can add an International Day Pass for $10 per day, per device, to use their talk, text and data in more than 100 countries.

 

Best prepaid international roaming plans

 

  • Project Fi
  • Price: $20 per month, plus $10 per GB
  • At a glance: Unlimited talk and text in the U.S. Unlimited texting while abroad. High-speed data is a flat $10 per gigabyte, even when roaming internationally.
  • Why we like it: Use your service (texts and data) in more than 170 countries for the same price you pay at home. Calls from overseas are an additional cost.
  • MetroPCS Global Voice
  • Price: Add to any $30 or higher plan for $10 per month
  • At a glance: 200 minutes and 200 texts to use in select countries
  • Why we like it: One of the few prepaid carriers to offer international roaming outside of North America

 

Things to Know

  • Project Fi: You only pay for the data you use with Project Fi, and your usage is free after you hit a certain threshold — 6GB for one line, 10GB for two lines, 12GB for three lines. Project Fi is owned by Google and runs primarily on Wi-Fi, using cellular networks from Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular as backups.
  • MetroPCS: Global Voice does not include data access abroad. MetroPCS customers on a qualifying plan can add talk, text and 5GB of high-speed data service in Canada or Mexico for $5 per month.

Alternative options

Buying a cheap prepaid phone when you get off the plane can often be much more cost-effective than using your usual plan abroad. Or, you can call your carrier and ask whether your phone is compatible with international SIM cards. If so, you can buy a prepaid SIM in your destination country and simply pop it into your phone for access to the local network.

Methodology

We evaluated all the major international roaming cell phone plans on the market, including those offered by AT&T, Google’s Project Fi, MetroPCS, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless.

To determine the best plans, we looked at the price of the international roaming option before taxes and fees, the price per gigabyte of data, and the price of international calls and texts.

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