T-Mobile’s coverage has improved considerably over the past three years, and over the past two years, Sprint’s has progressed as well; we expect further improvements as the carriers upgrade their networks. Those two carriers should also be deploying more lower-frequency spectrum, either purchased or “refarmed” from older services, which ought to improve their problematic indoor reach.
Another option besides making a traditional cell phone call is using a Voice Over IP (VoIP) service such as Skype, which connects calls via an Internet connection. Skype can be used on a laptop, tablet or smartphone. Skype users can talk to each other for free, and can make calls to landlines and cell phones at affordable rates. However, remember that even if you’re not making international calls over your phone’s cellular network, you’ll still need to have an international plan in place to avoid exorbitant data charges (or find a free Wi-Fi connection so you don’t have to use your data).
Between traditional subscription plans on the big four carriers, prepaid services, and companies reselling those four networks, you have hundreds of options for family plans, but the two-line rates of Metro by T-Mobile and the four-line deals of Verizon’s prepaid service come out on top. These plans each use one of the top two networks, let you bring your own devices (the best way to save money while still getting a quality phone), and offer conveniences like the capability to use your phone as a mobile hotspot and roam overseas without paying painful-to-extortionate extra fees.
Rent or purchase a cell phone or mobile hotspot for your trip and do everything you typically do with a cell phone such as make calls, check your emails, browse the web and use apps such as Google Maps, WhatsApp and others - but without the high international roaming rates most carriers charge. You can also use your own devices with our service by either using one of our SIM cards or renting an international MiFi hotspot.
In evaluating plans, we looked at the four major U.S. carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — and what they offer. We also evaluated five discount carriers: Boost Mobile, Cricket, MetroPCS, Straight Talk and Virgin, and to help you stretch your dollar even further, we looked at plans from several smaller discount carriers. In addition to price, we considered network coverage and performance, including results from our own 4G network testing in half-a-dozen cities. In some cases, total savings on one carrier’s plan outweighed the performance edge another carrier might enjoy; other times, network performance was a deciding factor in our choice.
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Sign up for Google's Project Fi, and you need never worry about running out of data when you're overseas. The service costs $20 a month for talk and text, plus $10 for each gigabyte of data you use, with Google now capping monthly bills at $80 even if you need to use more data. Project Fi lets you draw from your regular high-speed data in more than 135 countries with no roaming charges. You just pay the same $10-per-gigabyte rate as before. (You're also credited on your next bill for any data you didn't use.) Unlimited international texting comes with every plan and calls cost just 20 cents a minute. The number of Project Fi-compatible phones is expanding: in addition to Google's Pixel devices, you can now use the Moto X4 and G6 in addition to LG's G7 ThinQ and V35 ThinQ.
If you need quality voice and text coverage but use little or no data, and you’re willing to stick to a small, if growing, subset of Android phones, Republic Wireless is the best bet. At just $15 a month, it’s the cheapest way to get unlimited voice and texts, and adding 1 GB of data (with hotspot support) on the Sprint and T-Mobile networks tacks on another $5.
If you’re interested in faster data speeds, Sprint lets you buy a High-Speed Data Roaming Pass, either for 24 hours or a full week. Rates vary based on where you travel. In Canada and Mexico, you can buy a day pass for $2 and a weekly pass for $10. In China, day passes cost $10, and it's $50 for a week of high-speed data roaming. Most other destinations charge $5 a day and $25 a week.
If your phone doesn’t work abroad or you don’t want the hassle of adding and removing a pricey international plan, you may want to look into renting a cell phone through a service such as Cellular Abroad, TravelCell or Triptel. The company mails you a phone, and your rental includes a return shipping label so you can return the phone after your trip.
However, switching to prepaid, where you pay for service before you use it, can be an easy way to save $10 to $20 a month or more. Many prepaid services are provided by smaller companies that simply resell service from one of the big carriers, so they offer similar coverage as those carriers at a lower price. But for these resellers to undersell the major carriers while using those carrier networks, the resellers make some trade-offs; similarly, the major carriers’ own prepaid plans tend to involve restrictions their postpaid plans lack. We don’t recommend switching to prepaid unless you meet most of these criteria:
Hulu: Req. registration from Sprint phone at hulu.com/sprint. Incl. access to one Hulu Limited Commercials plan per each eligible Sprint acct. (excl. other Hulu plans & add-ons) while eligible Sprint plan is active in good standing. Valid for new or returning Hulu subscribers or certain existing Limited Commercials subscribers. Select Hulu content streams in HD on supported devices subj. to connectivity. Tablets may stream Hulu content via incl. Sprint Hot Spot or may subscribe to separate unlimited data plan for tablets. Not redeemable or refundable for cash or gift subscriptions. Hulu may place acct. on inactivity hold based on Hulu usage. Cancel Hulu anytime. See full offer terms at sprint.com/hulu.
We have reviewed a selection of carriers including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Straight Talk, U.S. Cellular, TracFone, Tello, and more. Some phones are only available with certain carriers because the carriers produce some phone models themselves. But most carriers will serve a variety of manufacturers so in most cases you’ll have a wealth of choices with any given model.
The other option is an unlimited-data plan, but these aren’t truly unlimited: All four carriers have carved out restrictions on things like hotspot use and streaming video, while adding premium tiers or for-fee add-ons that lift some of those limits. As a result, shopping for wireless service can look a lot like buying a plane ticket: You can’t jump on the cheapest price you see, lest you wind up in Basic Economy.
Activ. Fee: Up to $30/line. Reqs. credit approval and eBill. Included features/content may change or be discontinued at any time. AutoPay: $5/mo. discount may not reflect on 1st bill. Quality of Svc. (QoS): Customers who use more than 50GB of data during a billing cycle will be deprioritized during times & places where the Sprint network is constrained. See sprint.com/networkmanagement for details. Usage Limitations: To improve data experience for the majority of users, throughput may be limited, varied or reduced on the network. Sprint may terminate svc. if off-network roaming usage in a mo. exceeds: (1) 800 min. or a majority of min.; or (2) 100MB or a majority of KB. Prohibited network use rules apply—see sprint.com/termsandconditions.