Verizon also offers pay-as-you-go pricing for international travel. You’ll pay 99 cents per minute in Canada and Mexico and $2.99 per minute in other countries for voice service. (Talk rates fall to $1.79 per minute in 140 countries with monthly pricing.) Each text message you send will cost you 50 cents, and each received text will set you back 5 cents. Your data will be charged at a rate of $2.05 per megabyte.
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?
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.
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.
If you need a lot of data more than you need the widest coverage, the T-Mobile One unlimited plan, augmented by the $15 One Plus add-on to enable full-speed tethering, is a well-priced plan (even after recent T-Mobile price hikes for One Plus) on a network that still provides pretty good coverage. T-Mobile’s network isn’t quite as good as Verizon’s—you’ll likely encounter more places where you can’t get a signal—but it’s still good, and third-party studies (for example, ones from PCMag and OpenSignal) report that a few years of upgrades have boosted T-Mobile above AT&T and Sprint. T-Mobile also bests Verizon in terms of international-roaming plans, and a wider variety of phones work on T-Mobile’s GSM network than Verizon’s CDMA network (though the best phones are available for both).
Verizon’s plans are consistently more expensive than those of its competitors. For example, the T-Mobile One unlimited plan starts at $70 for one line, with data speed throttled at 50 GB. Verizon’s basic unlimited plan, by comparison, starts at $75, with data speed slowed at unpredictable times based on congestion. The next tier guarantees fast speeds until you hit 22 GB, with a price hike up to $85; the most advanced plan, with throttling at 75 GB, costs $95 for a single line.
AT&T is a name we're all familiar with, a telecommunications behemoth whose history stretches back centuries. The company is a formidable player in the cell phone industry, especially when it comes to coverage: the breadth and reliability of the carrier's network is second only to Verizon's. This great coverage in one of the key benefits of going with AT&T for your next cell phone plan.
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
Sprint Unlimited Military Plan: Includes unlimited domestic calling, texting, 500MB LTE MHS, VPN & P2P & data. MHS reduced to 3G speeds after 500MB/mo. Third-party content/downloads are add’l. charge. Plan not avail. for tablets or MBB devices. Select Int’l svcs are included for phone lines. See sprint.com/globalroaming. Subsidized devices incur an add'l. $25/mo. charge.
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.
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.
But like the Unlimited Choice plan that preceded it, the Unlimited &More plan comes with a few big catches. Video streaming is limited to standard-definition quality, with the speed capped at 1.5 megabits per second. The plan doesn’t provide mobile hot spot capabilities, so no tethering your computer to your phone. (Verizon has similar restrictions.) And people who subscribe to the cheaper unlimited plan no longer get free HBO.
If you make frequent trips overseas, T-Mobile’s plan is a no-brainer, especially now that more countries are covered. The carrier includes unlimited data and texting as part of its standard T-Mobile One unlimited plan (albeit at slower speeds than you’re used to in the states). If your calls include a lot of overseas numbers, it may even be worth upgrading to T-Mobile One Plus International for an extra $25 a month, since it lets you make calls to landlines and mobile numbers in many countries at no additional charge. Sprint offers something similar with its new unlimited plans and their access to the Global Roaming feature. But T-Mobile will cover you in more countries after July 22.
AT&T’s prepaid service and Cricket Wireless offer comparable savings, as do T-Mobile’s in-house prepaid service and its Metro by T-Mobile subsidiary, but those networks aren’t as good as Verizon’s and their prepaid plans aren’t as good for world travelers. Sprint’s Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile USA in-house brands are even worse for limiting the ability to bring your own phone.
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
If you don't want to drop money on a new release, shop for a prior model. Do some research into when your preferred model line is due for a new release, and then a month before the new phone drops, be on the lookout for sales on previous generations. It's during this time that manufacturers mark down previous models to make room for the newest ones, allowing you to score a great cell phone deal. Save even more by opting for an even older model; just make sure the phone's specs meet your needs. Alternately, you can try out a used or refurbished device. You can find both older and preowned devices at eBay and Amazon.