Project Fi, Google’s wireless service, resells the networks of Sprint, T-Mobile, and the regional carrier U.S. Cellular. It’s not bad for frequent international travelers—we liked its rates and LTE roaming better than T-Mobile’s—but it supports only Google’s Pixel series of phones as well as some LG and Motorola models. If your passport has dozens of stamps and your current or desired phone is on its list, though, Fi is worth a look.
Consumer Cellular’s prices aren’t quite as low as those of other resellers, but the company offers major savings in lower data-usage situations—the service is $15 to $30 cheaper if you expect to use 3 GB or less a month. Infrequent callers can get further savings by choosing one of Consumer Cellular’s lower voice allotments. And as the website reminds visitors, the company offers a 5 percent AARP discount. It blocks tethering by default but will enable that feature if you ask. And Consumer Cellular offers installment-plan purchase options with roughly the same terms as the majors do.
Better Choice Plan: No discounts apply to access charges & early upgrade add-on charge. Incl. unlimited domestic calling & texting. Data allowance as specified. Non-discounted phones req. you to sign up for leasing, pay full MSRP or bring your own capable phone. Third-party content/downloads are add’l. charge. Max. of 10 phone/tablet/MBB lines. Incl. sel. allotment of on-network shared data usage & 100MB off-network data usage. Add’l. on-network high-speed data allowance may be purch. at $15/GB. Add’l. off-network data can be added by opt in only for 25¢/MB for tablets/MBBs. Mobile Hotspot Usage pulls from your shared data & off-network allowances. High speed data is access to 3G/4G.Discounted Phones Access ($45): Inv. will show a term access charge of $45/mo./line charge until the customer enters into a new device transaction that does not have an annual term svc. agmt.
AT&T: AT&T has a bundle of nice BOGO and rebate deals on name-brand Android and Apple flagships for DirecTV customers: Buy two iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS, XS Max, Samsung Galaxy S9, Galaxy S9 Plus, Galaxy Note 9, or LG V35 ThinQ smartphones on AT&T Next and enjoy between $700 and $900 back in bill credits toward the value of the second phone (the rebate amount varies by model). If you don’t want to buy two and/or you’re not a DirecTV customer, then you can still get up to $600 back on a Galaxy S9, S9 Plus, or Note 9 with an eligible trade-in.
Some carriers throttle prepaid service to a lower speed by default, as AT&T does with Cricket. Others prioritize their own customers over third-party prepaid traffic, as happens with the Metro by T-Mobile subsidiary. A T-Mobile spokesperson confirmed that policy, saying that although postpaid and prepaid T-Mobile service have the same priority, Metro by T-Mobile and other resellers “may notice slower speeds in times of network congestion.” However, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon told us that they didn’t impose any such prioritization, and one reseller of Sprint and T-Mobile told us that even T-Mobile’s policy had yet to show any effects. “We have done our own testing,” Ting marketing vice president Michael Goldstein wrote in an email. “We have never detected any difference.”
You can also purchase an international SIM card that can be used in many different countries. This is a good bet for multi-country trips or for travelers who travel regularly to many different regions around the world. However, the option of replacing the SIM card is only available on unlocked phones. Ask your phone company if your phone’s SIM card can be unlocked.
If you're looking to really save money on your monthly bill, nearly a dozen low-cost carriers are competing for your business by letting you mix-and-match your talk, text and data limits. Republic Wireless offers the best mix while keeping your plan under $30. Every plan features unlimited talk and text for $15 a month; just tack on $5 for each gigabyte of LTE data you use, meaning you can get 2GB along with talk and text for a grand total of $25 every month.
Luckily, almost all smartphones will work plugged into outlets between 100 volts and 240 volts, so you probably don't need a voltage converter to charge your phone. (If you’re not sure, you can find the voltage printed on the bottom of the phone.) All you need is a simple plug adapter to power up just like you would back home. Just make sure you have enough battery for all those travel foodstagrams.
Verizon offers the best coverage in the most places in the US, so you’re more likely than with other carriers to have a signal wherever you are—the most important thing for a smartphone to do. And though Verizon isn’t the least expensive carrier for unlimited-data plans, the company’s under-promoted single-line 5 GB plan (just $55 after an auto-pay discount) includes more data than most people need while saving you money compared with an unlimited plan. But if you truly need unlimited data, or frequently travel internationally, you should consider T-Mobile’s One Plus.
Vienne Brown, Founder of VienneMilano, is an entrepreneur and independent professional. Throughout her career, her passion has been to see products come to life, from concept to market. She’s served a variety of clients, from international corporations, to startups, to nonprofit organizations, focusing on marketing and product management. Her personal interests include fashion and automobiles. Originally from Hong Kong, she lives in Boston.
Cellular Abroad, Inc., based in Los Angeles, CA, provides affordable and reliable international cellular and mobile data services to travelers. All of our solutions are pay as you go - no contracts to sign and you stay in complete control of your costs. International roaming plans from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile are expensive, difficult to understand, often offer poor service and limited options. In addition, most smaller carriers don't even offer international roaming plans.
If you can't wait until your deal is up with your current carrier, the major carriers are all willing to pick up some of the cost to get you to switch. Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile all offer up to $650 for each phone you switch over to pay off your phone purchases and early termination fees; AT&T offers a $100 bill credit for switching over plus $200 for trading in an eligible smartphone. Note that this money will come in the form of prepaid gift cards and that every carrier requires you to trade in your existing phone.
Rent or buy a portable hotspot — Portable hotspots are small gadgets that create a wireless network and share a cellular data connection over it — you can typically connect 5 or 10 devices to the network you create. You can rent one for short trips at an inflated daily or weekly rate, or you can buy an unlocked hotspot and stick a local SIM card in it, just as if it were a phone. Your smartphone will treat this like any other Wi-Fi network.