AT&T’s $80 Unlimited & More Premium plan gets you 15 GB hotspot use and HD video for $5 less than Verizon’s Beyond Unlimited rate, but its network trails T-Mobile’s in OpenSignal’s and PCMag’s studies. And we don’t think anyone should get its $70-per-month, no-hotspot-allowed Unlimited & More option. Like Verizon, it requires automatic payments for you to get its advertised prices but won’t let you make those on a credit card, and it disqualifies all of its discounts except its military/veterans deal from that plan.
Excluding plans that don’t let you bring your own device, Metro by T-Mobile, formerly MetroPCS, has the best rates for two-line scenarios—$70 for 5 GB each on two phones. That pricing easily beats T-Mobile’s own prepaid plans, and Metro by T-Mobile’s data caps exempt streaming video (at the cost of limiting its resolution to DVD-quality 480p resolution, although you can opt out of this Data Maximizer feature if you want).
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.
Why we love it: T-Mobile's ONE family plan gives you 4 lines of unlimited data, Netflix subscriptions and unlimited hotspot usage (at 3G speeds)—all for $140 a month. Plus, it comes backed by T-Mobile's solid network. If you have a family full of data streamers and browsers, this plan is the way to go. Did I mention that all taxes and fees are included in this price? 
Our cost estimates assume 400 voice minutes and 500 texts used per month. Those numbers fall roughly in the middle of usage data we saw from the Federal Communications Commission (PDF) and a 2013 PwC study (PDF), among other resources, but are above the much lower averages that CTIA reported for 2017 (187 voice minutes and 143 texts). Unlike postpaid services, many prepaid and resold services still limit your text messages and phone calls, so the actual cost of a particular carrier may be slightly more or less if you use more or fewer minutes and texts, respectively.

If you're not on an unlimited plan, Verizon offers a daily travel pricing option called TravelPass. It’ll cost you $5 per day per device for each day you’re out of the country if you travel to Mexico or Canada. In more than 100 other countries — including China, France and Germany — Verizon charges $10 per device per day. Talk, text and data on TravelPass are subject to the same allowances you have on your Verizon plan stateside; in other words, the data you use in Europe draws from the tiered data plan you have at home. Note that data speeds are only 4G for the first 512MB each day when you have a TravelPass; after that, you're throttled to 2G speeds.


The phone is perfect except for two weird things. One is that its country setting is rigged for Canada and there's no way of changing it. The other, more serious, is that putting a finger on the side above SD card somehow affects touchscreen functionality, though the problem will likely go away when I buy a protective case. All in all, a great bargain.

Assuming you make fewer calls than average, and you don’t need Verizon’s better network, Ting offers flexible billing and a choice of Sprint and T-Mobile coverage. Ting consistently ranks high in Consumer Reports reader surveys and placed well in past PCMag surveys (although it faded in that site’s latest round of reader assessments). And with Ting’s recent addition of third-party device financing, you can even have some of the same low up-front phone costs as with the big four.

iPhone Xs, Xs Max offer: Phone Offer: iPhone Xs (64GB) MSRP $999.99; iPhone Xs Max (64GB) $1,099.99. Phone Trade-in: Phone must be unlocked, deactivated & all personal data deleted before trade-in and in good working order; device powers on and there are no broken, missing or cracked pieces. Device will not be returned. Current customers must own trade in device. Credits end at 18 months, early payoff or upgrade, whichever occurs first.
After the distraction of two self-inflicted wounds (a doomed purchase of its smaller competitor Nextel, followed by the wrong choice of 4G technology before a belated pivot to LTE), Sprint is finally making substantial progress with its network. If its coverage works for you, its pricing is almost as cheap as that of many prepaid and MVNO services but provides higher data allotments—and Sprint’s incentives to customers who bring numbers from other carriers allow even greater savings. However, as with Verizon, its CDMA technology permits simultaneous voice and data only if you’re on LTE.
You may find that prepaid phones are a good option for your needs if you don’t like the idea of a long-term contract or prefer to stick to a predictable monthly budget. Plus, you can get prepaid phone cards to add minutes or data for times when a little extra is needed. Another option would be an unlocked phone, which gives you the freedom to choose the carrier and plan you want with no long-term contract. This is where you’ll really appreciate browsing the best cell phone deals, since unlocked phones require you to pay for the phone upfront instead of having it subsidized by the carriers.
Even as carriers offer multiple tiers of unlimited data plans, the T-Mobile One plan remains the best choice for families. It gives a family of four unlimited data for $160 a month. We wish T-Mobile still let you stream HD video as part of its T-Mobile One plan, but for most users, 480p video on a smartphone-sized screen will be good enough. (Families can pay an extra $10 per month per line if they really want HD streaming.) T-Mobile's network delivers comparable performance to Verizon, which charges more for its best unlimited family plan, though Verizon also lets you mix and match different unlimited options for each line of your family plan.

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.
We focus on the Big Four because they dominate the market. But consumers looking for a good deal or great customer service should also check out smaller companies. Our ratings of 20 providers are based on the experiences of about 100,000 Consumer Reports members. The Big Four are all near the bottom of the chart, though T-Mobile rates somewhat higher than its competitors. (Ratings are available to members.)
Other Terms: Offer/coverage not available everywhere or for all phones/networks. Accounts that cancel lines within 30 days of activating on promo pricing may void savings. Included features/content may change or be discontinued at any time. May not be combined with other offers. Restrictions apply. See store or sprint.com for details. © 2018 Sprint. All rights reserved. Sprint & the logo are trademarks of Sprint. Other marks are the property of their respective owners.

For traveling abroad in nearly 180 countries around the world, Sprint adds unlimited and 2G data speed with calls costing 20 cents per minute. Beyond international travel, each customer inside the US also receives 10GB of LTE mobile hotspot data and plans like iPhone Forever or Galaxy Forever that offer a new iPhone or Samsung device after 12 equipment installment payments.
You can also look at phones that are ranked as best in class. This includes rankings for phones with the best battery life, thinnest form factor, highest quality display, and other high-end features. However, battery life is frequently dependent on your habits and how you use your phone. For example, if you check your email or text a lot, or you have lots of long conversations, you will burn battery life more quickly than someone else.
T-Mobile has carved a niche for itself in the U.S. with their all-in pricing (i.e. taxes and fees baked into plan costs). The carrier's straightforward lineup of unlimited offerings have proven eminently popular and shepherded in the "unlimited revolution," as other carriers have sought to imitate T-Mobile's success. The carrier's ONE plans are still some of our favorite unlimited plans on the market, packed with tons of features and reasonably priced. 
There are many reasons you might be in dire need of a new phone, though perhaps one of the biggest complaints when it comes to any older cell phone is battery life. With companies like Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, Huawei, and Motorola recently rolling out new flagship devices, now is your chance to take advantage of slashed prices on quality smartphones that will blow your old model out of the water.
Sarah Schlichter is IndependentTraveler’s Senior Editor. She hails from Maryland and now resides in Pennsylvania, where she sings in a local community choir and enjoys experimenting with different international recipes (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires — no humans or animals were harmed). The smell of Sarah’s delicious Moroccan couscous ignites a wave of envy in the office when she brings in leftovers for lunch. Sarah, IndependentTraveler’s resident travel expert, has visited more than 25 U.S. states plus dozens of countries including Belize, Guatemala, Morocco, Canada, Dominica, the U.K., Norway, France, the Netherlands and New Zealand … just to name a few.
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First things first: The only phones you’ll be able to use when you travel internationally are those considered “world phones,” meaning those that can be used as easily abroad as they are domestically. That means the phone must be capable of running on a GSM network, as that’s the predominant networking standard around the world. But if you’re on a CDMA network (Sprint or Verizon) here in the states, don’t despair: Many top smartphones these days can support both bands, thus simplifying travel.
If Verizon doesn’t cover your most frequented locations—or if you simply want a slightly cheaper option to postpaid service but don’t want to sacrifice customer support—Consumer Cellular is a great alternative. This reseller of AT&T and T-Mobile consistently tops customer surveys such as Consumer Reports’s latest, PCMag’s annual survey and J.D. Power’s most recent “wireless purchase experience” study. The service is marketed to seniors, but the things that make it good for seniors make it good for most people as well. Most important, it offers US-based phone support that caters to the non-tech-savvy and maintains an in-store presence in major retailers such as Target. We also like that it allows you to specify an AT&T or T-Mobile SIM, whereas many other prepaid carriers, such as TracFone, will determine that for you unless you buy a SIM card in person.
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.
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Apple iPhone: iPhones are largely used in this era. They have the ability to roam, 3G and 4G access, and are SIM card-enabled, although for locked phone use roaming service. Also, you can use the internet Wi-Fi for alternative communication. Battery charge is usually 12V, which fits any travel adapter. Access to email, cloud service, music, camera, etc. are all possible with this device.

More good news, at least for heavy data users, is the rise of unlimited data plans. These plans, which carriers started to pull a few years ago when smartphones such as the iPhone started using substantial amounts of data, can be a respite for a new wave of consumers hooked on streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify. All the major carriers now offer unlimited plans, but they come with catches. More on that below.

If you’ve tried to unlock your phone in the past but were told by your carrier that you couldn’t, you should try again. The Consumer Code for Wireless Service was implemented in February 2015, providing more freedom and flexibility to consumers when it comes to their cell phones. You can learn more about unlocking a phone or tablet from the Federal Communications Commission.


As for talk and text amounts, all of the postpaid plans from the major carriers provide unlimited calling and messaging, so in theory you don’t even have to compute those numbers. But many prepaid and resold services allow you to save money if you’re willing to stay within certain limits. The best way to figure out how many texts or calls you send or make is to consult your billing statement.

Perhaps most impressive are Verizon’s data speeds. Verizon is on the forefront of new technology; it’s one of the first providers to adopt new 5G technology, which promises speeds in the 200 Mbps to 300 Mbps range. While this figure has yet to be corroborated by long-term experience in the real world, it’s safe to say it will mark a considerable step up from the 4G LTE network’s peak download speeds of 50 Mbps. Verizon claims that this technology works by combining multiple wireless connections together to create what amounts to a bigger, stronger channel piping data straight to your phone.
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Speed and capacity – When you really get down to it, the specs on the OnePLus 3T are mightily impressive. It comes with a Snapdragon 821 processor and 6GB of RAM as standard meaning functionality, and speed is fantastic. The basic (cheapest) model also comes with 64GB of storage, allowing you to take as many travel pics as you want without receiving storage notifications every 2 minutes.
Gem! Phone works great. Needs nano SD card, I had to get an adapter kit but once I put in my ATT sim card, no issues at all! I don't know why anyone would spend $700 on the S7 when you can get this for $220 and its virtually the same phone. I previously had the S6, and I see virtually no performance difference between the two. Buy this if you need a good US or international phone.
One of the key ways Sprint has been able to stay competitive in the U.S. mobile market is by pricing their plans very inexpensively. Take for example Sprint's Unlimited Freedom plan, just $50 for one line, or an incredible $100 for four lines. And this to say nothing of the carrier's $1 for a year of unlimited deal. No U.S. major is cheaper than Sprint. 
Bought this (Samsung j3 2016 international) for international travel using sim cards. Used it in Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. Was able to register and use it in each country, though usually had an issue using the internet directly on it and instead often employed it as a hot spot for my other phone (which is not otherwise compatible for international use). It worked great as a hotspot for internet and by itself for messaging, also worked great directly when there was wifi. Im not sure if the direct internet issues were with the service I bought, or some setting i had wrong, or with this phone itself, so cannot say. But it made connectivity possible and solidly reliable by acting as a mobile hotspot and I was traveling with both phones anyway, so to me that was not much of a problem, other than having to keep them ... full review
You can call over 200 countries and text to over 100 countries. View country list and codes or visit your local U.S. Cellular retail store or call 1-888-944-9400 (611 from your wireless phone). Country availability is subject to change. Messaging is available to certain wireless carriers' customers within a country. Please verify both country and carrier for messaging.
Sarah Schlichter is IndependentTraveler’s Senior Editor. She hails from Maryland and now resides in Pennsylvania, where she sings in a local community choir and enjoys experimenting with different international recipes (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires — no humans or animals were harmed). The smell of Sarah’s delicious Moroccan couscous ignites a wave of envy in the office when she brings in leftovers for lunch. Sarah, IndependentTraveler’s resident travel expert, has visited more than 25 U.S. states plus dozens of countries including Belize, Guatemala, Morocco, Canada, Dominica, the U.K., Norway, France, the Netherlands and New Zealand … just to name a few.
Finding the right phone plan to fit your needs is tricky. Beyond just dollars and cents, you need to consider which phones are supported by which wireless carriers and what coverage and data speeds are like in the area where you’ll use your phone the most. Throw in carriers’ near-continual plan changes — including multiple tiers of unlimited plans — and it’s a recipe for confusion.
More good news, at least for heavy data users, is the rise of unlimited data plans. These plans, which carriers started to pull a few years ago when smartphones such as the iPhone started using substantial amounts of data, can be a respite for a new wave of consumers hooked on streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify. All the major carriers now offer unlimited plans, but they come with catches. More on that below.

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