TracFone, Net10, and Straight Talk, all properties of the Mexican carrier América Móvil, consistently rank among the most widely used prepaid services. They offer the advantage of reselling service from all four carriers, at the cost of having to trust the company’s judgment about which network works bests for you, as Prepaid Phone News editor Dennis Bournique explains in a helpful post.
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.
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.
For example, let’s say you’re using a Mint Mobile plan while you’re on a business trip to Dubai. You open up WhatsApp to call your spouse, who then passes the phone to each of your kiddos before you have to end your 30-minute call and go to dinner with a client. That means you’ve used about about 22.5 MB of data,4 so that one call just cost you $4,50. It adds up fast.
To determine the best plans, we looked at the monthly plan price before taxes and fees, the price per gigabyte, and features such as unlimited video streaming or rollover data. We only considered national carriers, which ruled out regional providers like U.S. Cellular. For average users and prepaid users, we looked at plans with 2GB to 5GB. For families, we looked at plans with at least 6GB and calculated pricing for a family of four. Recommendations for heavy data users only factored in plans with at least 10GB of data.
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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The phone you’ll receive will be a local phone, good for making calls in the country in which you are traveling. However, if you are spending more than a week or two in one destination overseas, you may save money by purchasing a local phone and subscribing to a local phone plan, as rates for renting a phone can quickly surpass the cost of a cheap cell phone in a few weeks. Also, domestic calling rates for rental phones may be higher than rates offered by local cell phone service providers.
T-Mobile offers one of the simplest solutions for traveling overseas. If you subscribe to the company’s T-Mobile One unlimited plan or are clinging to one of its Simple Choice plans with tiered data, you automatically get unlimited data and texting in more than 140 countries around the world. As of July 22, that number will grow to 210 places, T-Mobile says. If you want to place or receive calls, you’ll be subject to the local rate depending on where you want to go. You don’t need to notify T-Mobile of your travel.
I ordered a 2-pack of the 6’ Lightning cables in black and was pleased by the overall quality look of these cables. (They are a little stiffer than the original Apple cable.) I charged my iPad with one of the cables and had no issues. The DROK USB Tester I had inline showed the iPad to be charging at a little over 5 volts and 2.32 amps, and the charging indicator showed green with no incompatibility warnings.
Given that a traveler is always on the go, battery life matters the most. Apart from that, a good camera and global compatibility with different cellular networks is a big factor. Looking at these criteria, the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge fits the bill. It’s priced well, supports various global networks including VoLTE, and has a 12MP camera and good battery life with 3600mAh capacity.
The carrier's new Above Unlimited offers that Canada/Mexico benefit, too, and augments it with another goodie aimed at travelers: you get five daily TravelPasses each month to use in more than 130 countries. That lets you use up to 512MB of LTE data per day. Just be aware that you'll have to do a lot of traveling to justify the higher rate for Above Unlimited, as it costs $95 a month for a single line versus $75 and $85 for Go Unlimited and Beyond Unlimited, respectively.
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. 

Although prepaid and MVNO plans are cheaper, data is typically limited to around 3 GB; the highest cap we were able to find was 10GB. In other words, these plans are only going to work if you use very little data. You also won’t have access to lightning-fast load times or recently released smartphones. You’ll need to stick with a major carrier for either of these perks.


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.
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.
OpenSignal’s network tests rely on crowdsourcing: Anyone can download the OpenSignal app and run tests. But that also means anyone can opt not to do so—and the majority of people don’t. As such, OpenSignal’s data skews heavily toward densely populated, urban areas. The upside is that in those regions, it has block-by-block information. If you live in a city, you can use OpenSignal’s data to check all the spots you frequent.
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.
I ordered a 2-pack of the 6’ Lightning cables in black and was pleased by the overall quality look of these cables. (They are a little stiffer than the original Apple cable.) I charged my iPad with one of the cables and had no issues. The DROK USB Tester I had inline showed the iPad to be charging at a little over 5 volts and 2.32 amps, and the charging indicator showed green with no incompatibility warnings.
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? 
A mobile phone manufacturer is the company that designs and produces the physical phone. Some manufacturers have contracts with certain carriers, so in many cases you can only get certain phones with certain carriers. Read through some cell phone reviews on these different manufacturers to get a better idea of the type of phone that each manufacturer produces. Browse Wirefly for exclusive cell phone deals from all manufacturers and carriers.

But all three services ban hotspot use, a tight-fisted restriction that looks increasingly archaic even for prepaid. TracFone also suffers from its own math: Because the data allotments in its data/voice/message bundled plans are so stingy, we could meet our usage scenarios only by stacking these plans on top of each other, and in some cases then buying additional data packs.
Our estimates included only sales and discounts without expiration dates (though we included plans with “for a limited time” vagueness) and that are open to any customer (those that require trading in a phone or porting over a number didn’t qualify). If a plan offers a lower rate for automatic payments, we factored that discount in. We also allowed for regular purchases of an extra data pack or per-megabyte overage fees of $15 a gigabyte or less, but only up to $30 a month.
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.
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.
Why: With a bigger screen, faster processor and longer-lasting battery, the Samsung Galaxy Note9 is designed for ultimate performance. Control your smartphone remotely with the new and upgraded S Pen. Play music from every direction on the first Note device with stereo speakers. Create your own personalized emojis, record videos in stunning 4k UHD, take photos on a dual-aperture camera and more. Get the most out of your Samsung Galaxy Note9 with Verizon, the nation's largest and most reliable 4G LTE network. 
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