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Why we love it: Sprint's new Unlimited Plus plan improves upon the carrier's now-scrapped Unlimited Freedom plan with a 15GB hotspot, texting to 185 countries, 10GB of data in Mexico and Canada, and a Tidal subscription. This in addition to the perks of the previous plan, which include a Hulu subscription and unlimited HD streaming. When you bring your existing phone or buy one at full retail price from Sprint, you can all of this for an incredible $60—which is pretty great. 
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.”
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?
Once we had an understanding of performance, we dug into the phone plans carriers offered and the prices they charged. Unless you’re purchasing a prepaid plan, the days of phone minutes and a nickel for every text are past — prices are based on data now. The best value is typically an unlimited data plan, but we looked into plans with tiered data, too. You’ll want to think about how often you use internet data (when not on Wi-Fi) to find a plan that fits your needs.

Finally, we didn’t factor in taxes and regulatory fees, because they vary by jurisdiction (on my own T-Mobile plan, for example, these fees added up to just under 10 percent of my July 2018 bill). But wherever you live, taxes and fees should hit you equally across all of your options—except for T-Mobile’s T-Mobile One offering, which sweeps them into the advertised cost.


Among services that let you bring your own phone, Verizon Prepaid provides the best deals for four lines, thanks to generous multiple-line discounts on its 3 and 7 GB (per line) plans that drop those four-line costs to $100 and $125, respectively. The only exception is the least appealing data amount: four lines with 1 GB each, where AT&T Prepaid is cheapest at $90 a month. Cricket offers more data in our medium-usage scenario—$110 buys you 5 GB per line—but that comes with an 8 Mbps speed limit and no hotspot support.

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. 
Moto E4: For one of the cheapest brand-name Android phones you can buy, check out the 4th-generation Moto E. You can score the E4 for $80 from Best Buy if you activate it today. If you don’t want to activate right away, then Walmart has this smartphone in stock for a still-affordable $100. This phone is fully unlocked and ready to use with any GSM carrier and select CDMA carriers.
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’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.
For each service, we computed the cost of a few typical bundles of smartphone service, setting minimal use at 1 gigabyte (GB) of data, moderate use at 3 GB, and heavy use at 5 GB. (Research firms’ estimates have shown steady increases in average use since the first version of this guide, but usage estimates per carrier have also diverged as some carriers have switched to selling only unlimited-data subscriptions: In the second quarter of 2018, Strategy Analytics found that Android users who had opted into its survey used on average 5.9 GB on T-Mobile, 5 GB on Sprint, 4.5 GB on Verizon, and 3.9 GB on AT&T. However, usage outside of the big four can be lower, to judge from the much lower monthly average reported by the wireless trade group CTIA for 2017: only 1.3 GB.
T-Mobile has changed the name of its MetroPCS to Metro by T-Mobile, to eliminate the idea that you're making a trade-off when you opt for a prepaid cellphone plan. One of the ways it's fighting that preconception is by doubling the amount of data you get with its $40 a month plan to 10GB. That edges out AT&T's 8GB plan, which costs the same amount after you deduct $10 by enrolling in autopay. Metro's plan also includes taxes and fees in that $40 rate.
If you’ve got a GSM phone already, call your wireless company and ask to have it unlocked. Once your phone is unlocked you’ll be able to access other mobile carrier networks around the world. Not all phone companies will unlock all types of phones and often your account needs to be in good standing and open for more than 90 days, or your phone must be completely paid for and off-contract.
Due to constantly shifting promotions and terms, family-plan pricing is difficult to sort through. Our Verizon single-line pick isn’t competitive here because all of the lines on a Verizon subscription share the same data bucket. Verizon’s largest capped-data option is 8 GB, so if that won’t cover your family’s usage, you have to upgrade to more expensive unlimited data plans: $130 for two lines of not-so-versatile Go Unlimited and its limits on mobile-hotspot and streaming-video use ($160 for Beyond Unlimited), or $160 for four lines of Go Unlimited ($200 for four lines of Beyond Unlimited).
Once you know what you’ll need, and from which providers, it’s time to compare the costs and find the best phone deals for you. You’ll want to factor in any taxes and fees, as well as additional features that increase the overall value of your package. If you have several lines to add, look for promotions that take down the price for family plans. And don’t skip out on auto-pay; it saves you $5 with every carrier.

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.
Some devices may automatically transmit and receive data without any user action or knowledge. This may result in significant unexpected cellular data charges. Applications such as push email, news and weather updates, location services and many downloadable apps (even free ones) may do this. This list is not at all exhaustive; therefore, to avoid unexpected bills, we recommend that you take great care to disable automatic applications on your device.
The difficulties I encountered are instructive as to what a prepay customer should understand bout service limitations when travel outside of the United States is contemplated. My experience also pointed to a glaring security problem for tracing criminals, terrorists, stalkers or others that seek to use their phone to facilitate illegal activities.
I didn't like the deals Verizon offered for service while visiting Europe, so I put this Mobal sim in a cheap unlocked phone and got exactly what I needed - something to use to call ahead to hotels, send quick texts home, simple stuff. Most calls are a dollar a minute, which might be a problem for a heavy user, but for a tourist like me it doesn't add up to much. And it's so easy. They just bill your credit card for a call. Good sound quality, too. All for the price of a movie ticket. I recommend highly.
It’s common for carriers to offer subscriptions to entertainment services as promotions. Sprint goes above and beyond the competition by partnering with four services: You can get free subscriptions to Hulu, TIDAL music, Amazon Prime, and Lookout mobile security. This adds to the value of Sprint’s plans, especially for customers already paying for some of these services.
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.
I LOVE this phone. I previously had an HTC Desire Eye and I loved that one so much that I was hesitant to get a new one, but it finally conked out on me. First, let me address some of the other reviews who say this phone doesn't support 4G/LTE. I'm in the US and I use T-Mobile/Metro PCS service. IT WORKS. The moment they turned on the service on this phone, the service and data worked like a charm. The service and speed are exactly the same as in my previous phone which was 4G/LTE and using the same carrier/service. The only difference is that the data indicator icon on the screen has an "H/H+" icon, but I think it's because the phone itself was programmed to work in Asia/Europe, but that's just my theory. The speed/service itself is still running on 4G/LTE. As for the performance ... full review
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’ll want to start your shopping by checking for the strongest networks in your area. RootMetrics lets you check network coverage in your neighborhood and you can search the site’s map by area code, city, or neighborhood, and zoom in as much as you want — the site analyzes coverage almost to the backyard level. You can apply filters from the drop-down menu to look at specific providers or at specific types of coverage, like voice versus data. We’d recommend comparing two providers with the strongest coverage in areas you frequent, like home, work, or school.
Just make sure to turn off your cellular and data roaming so you don’t accidentally get stuck with charges. To do that on an iPhone, go to “Settings > Cellular” and click the switch next to “Cellular Data.” Also go to Cellular Data options and make sure “Roaming” is turned off. On most Android phones, go to “Settings > Mobile Networks > Data roaming access” and then click on “Deny data roaming access.”
Use a tablet with cell capabilities — If you already own a 3G/4G tablet, there’s a chance it was unlocked when you bought it. If so, you can use this when you travel instead of a phone — just buy a data-only SIM locally, and use Skype and WhatsApp for your phone and SMS requirements. You can also use the tablet as a hotspot, to share the connection among your other devices.
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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.
Straight Talk’s 10GB plan typically expires after 30 days, unless you opt to automatically refill your account. But you can also purchase in three-month, six-month and yearlong increments at a discounted rate. Straight Talk contracts with each of the big four nationwide carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. The network you use will depend on where you live and the phone you activate.
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
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).
Verizon’s 5 GB pricing barely beats that of T-Mobile and Sprint’s unlimited plans, but those two carriers’ options (and even Verizon’s own $75 Go Unlimited plan) limit what you can do with that data in ways that Verizon’s plan does not—most notably, by limiting streaming video to DVD resolution and limiting either the speed or the volume of hotspot use. This 5 GB plan includes full-speed mobile hotspot use and allows HD streaming video, albeit capped at 720p resolution on phones and 1080p on tablets. (That streaming video limit remains undocumented as of August 2018 outside of a brief mention in the second-to-last paragraph of a press release.) So as long as you—like a large chunk of the wireless population—don’t use more than 5 GB in a month, Verizon’s continued network advantage still makes this plan a good deal.

Most cellular customers in the United States subscribe to plans that are set up as post-pay, which means they are billed monthly and obtain service if they have good credit. A growing number of subscribers are also choosing prepay services (Pay-as-you-go) which provide both advantages and disadvantages in comparison to prepay, but for some it is the only way they can have a phone.
If you travel internationally, Verizon’s TravelPass can seem tempting. That option costs a reasonable $5 a day in Canada and Mexico to use voice, text, and data drawn from your domestic allowance, $10 a day in much of the rest of the world (with a few exceptions, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar). But Verizon phones are all sold unlocked, so you can (and should) save money by using a local prepaid SIM when traveling internationally.

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.

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.

Most cellular customers in the United States subscribe to plans that are set up as post-pay, which means they are billed monthly and obtain service if they have good credit. A growing number of subscribers are also choosing prepay services (Pay-as-you-go) which provide both advantages and disadvantages in comparison to prepay, but for some it is the only way they can have a phone.
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.
Aland Islands (Finland), Austria, Azores, Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Cyprus (South), Czech Republic, Denmark, Eire (Republic of Ireland), England, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Guernsey, Hungary, Ireland (Eire), Ireland (Northern), Isle of Man, Italy, Jersey, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Scotland, Sicily, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Vatican City, Wales
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.
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