Verizon is the nation's largest carrier, boasting a staggering 149 million subscribers as of 2017. Pretty impressive for a company that's technically only been around since 2000 (after a merger between GTE Wireless and Bell Atlantic). Verizon was the first to launch a wireless high-speed broadband network, and the first to build a large-scale 4G LTE network.
If you can live with limited service during your trip, bring along your phone but be sure to turn off data usage and the “fetch new data” option. Those are two important ways to reduce your cell phone bill during an international trip. Also look for complimentary Wi-Fi “hot spots” in places like coffee shops and malls, and use voice and text messaging apps like Viber and LINE, which are free if both parties have accounts with the service. Skype is also an option (be sure your phone is subscribed to a free Wi-Fi hotspot first) as are Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, and WeChat. You can also buy a pre-paid phone card, which usually costs less per minute than your mobile carrier’s international roaming rates.
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.
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.
Our rates to make and receive phone calls and for mobile data are small fractions of what the major carriers charge and typically with better coverage and faster data speeds and with transparent pricing. With Cellular Abroad, the service is pay as you go so you never need to worry about how much you are spending. International cellular service is what we do and what we know best.
Among the basic-economy, entry-level versions of unlimited data, Sprint deserves some credit for requiring the fewest compromises beyond the streaming-video 480p resolution enforced by all four: Sprint’s Unlimited Basic, $60 for one line, still includes 500 MB of LTE hotspot use (more than I use in most months) and overseas roaming (though at slower speeds). T-Mobile Essentials, at $60, offers only free texting overseas—international voice and data are extra—and limits hotspot use to 3G speeds (although OpenSignal rated its 3G downloads highest among all four). Verizon’s $75 Go Unlimited caps hotspot use at a punitive 600 Kbps, while AT&T’s $75 Unlimited & More bans hotspot use outright.
AT&T also comes with varied international pricing depending on where you want to go. If you’re heading to Mexico or Canada, for instance, AT&T already covers all of your voice, data and text with its Unlimited & More and Unlimited & More Premium plans; you won’t incur additional charges. If you’re still on a tiered data plan with AT&T, you’ll pay $10 per day for unlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada. Data will be governed by your plan’s monthly allowance.
The biggest benefit to simply signing up for your carrier’s international data plan is the fact that it is the easiest option available and keeps you the most connected to loved ones back home. Because your phone isn’t turned off and you are able to use your existing phone number, friends and family can still reach you the same way they would if you were down the street in the US. It is less expensive than not having an international plan at all if you plan to use it for phone calls or Internet access while away.
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Rates for rental phones are typically twofold; renters pay a daily, weekly or monthly fee for the cell phone rental and an additional fee for calling minutes. This means that even if you’re not using your phone, you can still be charged the minimum fee for the rental unit. Some rental phone plans have higher rates for calls outside the country, and some don’t — compare plans to see which is best for you. Incoming calls and texts on rental phones are your cheapest option, as they are often less expensive than outgoing calls (or even free). If you are using your rental phone to call home, have your friends and family call you at a designated time and you will save some cash.
At UNREAL Mobile, get a 14-day trial of Unlimited Talk, Text, and Data + 5GB LTE (a $30 per month value) for free along with a 4G GSM 3-in-1 SIM Kit (a $15 value) for free. Pay only a one-time account setup fee of $0.01. Plus, free shipping applies (a $6.99 value). It works with most unlocked AT&T and T-Mobile GSM Android or iOS smartphones. Why get UNREAL Mobile?
I’ve covered the wireless industry since the late 1990s. (My first guide to cell phone service, written in 1998, devoted much ink to comparing analog and digital cellular.) I’ve tested smartphones and cell phone plans from all four major carriers for Boing Boing, CNN Money, Discovery News, PCMag, VentureBeat, The Washington Post, and others, and I now cover telecom-policy issues for Yahoo Finance (a subsidiary of Verizon’s media division Oath) and answer telecom questions in a USA Today Q&A column.
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).
RootMetrics strives to be as comprehensive as possible in its methodology, which includes testing reliability and speed during file uploads and downloads, while downloading email, and while downloading files similar to typical web pages. Testers also measure how reliably each network places and maintains calls and how reliably and quickly subscribers can send and receive text messages.
It has everything what a traveler may wish for: iPhone SE is the most powerful 4‑inch phone ever, with impressive battery life, and a great camera. It has all the advantages of a smaller phone: easy to carry around, even in my pocket, lightweight, easy to operate with one hand, while it has all the great specs of the iPhone 6s and 6S Plus. SE is as powerful as 6S thanks to the advanced A9 chip, the M9 co-processor and 2GB of RAM, that makes the phone fast and responsive. Great battery life for Internet usage and video playback – the same modern battery as in the iPhone 6s lasts longer with a smaller screen. Smartphone’s display is one of the biggest power drainers, but SE is using a small and lower resolution LCD display, and that significantly increases the battery life. I love its camera. It’s an excellent 12‑megapixel camera (as in iPhone 6S) that makes vivid, sharp photos, iPhone SE allows me to shoot 4K video and edit multiple streams of 4K video in iMovie. Like the iPhone 6s, the SE can shoot super-smooth slow-motion video at 240fps (720p) and regular 120fps slow-motion (1080p). Despite these great technical features, there’s no camera bump on the iPhone SE, and that makes the device more comfortable to use. All these features are great for me as a traveler, filmmaker and mother. I travel a lot, in many different countries – and I’m not worried to carry around an expensive-looking, huge device or camera. At the same time I have a compact and powerful device that allows me to record a high quality 4K footage anytime at any exotic or remote place, edit it on the go, then use and submit even for professional purposes, work effectively, be connected wherever I am even during long hours of trips, and there’s always enough battery to make some photos and videos, run an educational app or online course with my homeschooler.
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.
Lease (Sprint Flex): Mo. amount excl. tax. Terms for all other customers will vary including amount due at signing & taxes/fees. Req. qualifying device & svc. plan. No equipment security deposit req. Upon completion of 18-mo. term, customer can continue to pay mo. lease amount, purch. or return device. Customer is responsible for insurance & repairs. Early termination of lease/svc.: Remaining lease pymt. will be due immed. & req. device return or pymt. of purch. option device price in lease.
Why we love it: If you rely frequently on your phone to provide a WiFi signal to your other devices, Boost Mobile's Unlimited HD plan is worth a close look. In addition to allowing you to skip a credit check and worries about extra taxes and fees (they're baked into Boost's prices), the plan gives you a whopping 20GB of full-strength hotspot data a month. This is a dream if you do frequent tethering.
It’s important to know that unlimited never means truly unlimited. But it does mean that the amount of data you receive is so high, it’s unlikely you’ll run out. Most providers cap their “unlimited” data between 22 GB and 80 GB. The allotment is a far cry above standard 3 GB to 10 GB plans. We compared the price for these plans, too, which can run as low as $30 and as high as $75. Cell phone plans also become significantly cheaper per line as you add to the plan. So no shame the to new grad for staying on their parents' family plan — everyone is getting a better deal. Our favorite providers offered a reasonable price for generous data allotments.
Unlimited Tablet Plan: Incl. unlimited texting on capable tablets & data with mobile optimized video streams at up to 480+ resolution, music at up to 500kbps, streaming gaming at up to 2 Mbps. Add Unlimited premium resolution streaming for add'l. $20/mo./line & get video streams at up to 1080+, music at up to 1.5 Mbps, gaming at up to 8 Mbps. Data deprioritization applies during times of congestion. After the 10GB, MHS, VPN & P2P usage will be limited to 2G speeds. Third-party content/downloads are add'l. charge. Int'l. svc. are not incl.