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.
The other option is an unlimited-data plan, but these aren’t truly unlimited: All four carriers have carved out restrictions on things like hotspot use and streaming video, while adding premium tiers or for-fee add-ons that lift some of those limits. As a result, shopping for wireless service can look a lot like buying a plane ticket: You can’t jump on the cheapest price you see, lest you wind up in Basic Economy.
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.
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.
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.
AT&T's size, reputation, and brand recognizability also means they don't have to beat other carriers on price to stay competitive. AT&T's plans are among the most expensive on the market, though a recent overhaul of their unlimited offerings have made them a bit more reasonable. The main things you're paying for with AT&T are coverage, features (like hotspot allotments) and international options.
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).
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.
Disclaimer: NerdWallet strives to keep its information accurate and up to date. This information may be different than what you see when you visit a financial institution, service provider or specific product’s site. All financial products, shopping products and services are presented without warranty. When evaluating offers, please review the financial institution’s Terms and Conditions. Pre-qualified offers are not binding. If you find discrepancies with your credit score or information from your credit report, please contact TransUnion® directly.
Metro and Boost charge the same $30 to add extra lines to one of their data plans. That means a family of four would pay the same $140 a month for unlimited data on every line. We give the nod to Metro, because the network of its parent company T-Mobile performs better on our test than that of Boost parent Sprint. We also like its included Google One storage, though Boost offers more hotspot data with its plan.
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.
Reviews.com has an advertising relationship with some of the offers included on this page. However, the rankings and listings of our reviews, tools and all other content are based on objective analysis. For more information, please check out our full Advertiser Disclosure. Reviews.com strives to keep its information accurate and up to date. The information in our reviews could be different from what you find when visiting a financial institution, service provider or a specific product’s website. All products are presented without warranty.
If you have eyes only for your budget, we’d suggest avoiding the Big Four entirely and instead choosing a cheaper MVNO provider like Cricket or Republic Wireless. MVNOs do not operate their own networks and instead offer access to one or several of the major carriers’ networks at a reduced cost. Choosing the right MVNO requires knowing which network it uses and whether that network works well where you live.
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.
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.
To be sure your cell phone is always ready to go when you are, you may want to select one of the different types of phone chargers. For instance, charger cases have proven popular because they provide some device protection while also keeping your phone charged. Other security options that will help maintain a like-new appearance include a screen protector that fights off scratches and fingerprints, and phone cases, which not only allow you to add your personal style, but can also protect your investment against water, weather and impact.
Buy a disposable phone — If you’re in a country for a while and all you need are calls, texts, and maybe some light web browsing, just buy the cheapest prepaid phone you can find at the local mobile store. Sure, it’ll probably be complete rubbish, but you can often pick these phones up with a bit of credit for next to nothing and they’ll do the job for a while. The upside? You really won’t care if you drop it in the hostel toilet. If it does survive the length of your trip, just pass it onto to somebody else when you leave.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Verizon: Verizon Wireless is offering BOGO and rebate deals on a ton of Apple and Android phones right now. With a qualifying trade-in, you can take $300 off a Pixel 2XL, Samsung Galaxy S9, Galaxy S9 Plus, Galaxy Note 9, LG G7 ThinQ, LG V40 ThinQ, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS, or iPhone XS Max when you purchase one of these devices and add a new line. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and Galaxy S8 are also on sale for $100 off with no trade-in necessary.
Finally, you’ll need to buy and install a local SIM (subscriber identification module) memory chip that will work in the country you’re visiting. This little circuit stores information like your identity, local cell phone number, address book information, and other bits of data. When you put a local SIM chip in your phone, it’s like getting a brand new phone that will work on the local mobile carrier’s network. The chip does need to be activated so you can either go to a mobile store in the country you’re visiting and have everything taken care of on the spot, or try to order one in advance and activate it online.
We’re not fond of Verizon’s unlimited plans, none of which (as I’ve observed elsewhere) are truly limitless. For example, in addition to banning HD-video streaming and knee-capping mobile-hotspot speeds, the $75 Go Unlimited plan may throttle your speeds “in times of congestion,” even at the start of a billing cycle before you’ve burned up any data yourself—the others spot you 22 or 75 GB of usage before subjecting you to that risk. And as with the 5 GB plan, the $75 price requires enabling automatic payments from a checking account or debit card; otherwise it’s $5 more. Unlike Verizon’s capped plans, which give you full-speed data when roaming, the unlimited plan offers only 2G domestic data roaming, which one reader complained about while noting his experience roaming in Alaska and Puerto Rico. And the unlimited plans exclude all of Verizon’s discounts except for those for active military and veterans.
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.
With an eligible trade-in and activation on a Sprint Flex 18-month lease, Sprint offers the Apple iPhone XS 64GB 4G LTE Smartphone for Sprint for $0 per month for 18 months with free shipping. Excluding the trade-in value, that's $750 less than what you'd pay at Best Buy ($41.67/mo.) and tied with last month's mention as the best iPhone XS deal we've listed yet. (It costs $999.99 to buy without a contract.)
Oral CareChildren's Oral Care,Dental Floss & Gum...1211 Personal CareBody Treatments,Deodorants & Antiperspir...3766 Sexual WellnessAdult Books,Anal Toys,Arousal & Massage...4332 Shaving & GroomingHair Removal,Men's Shave,Shave Accessori...1406 Skin CareCellulite & Stretch Marks,Cleanse,Exfoli...8426 Vitamins & SupplementsDetox & Superfoods,Protein,Sports Nutrit...3832
Buy a budget smartphone — While there’s a lot of junk at the bottom of the smartphone range, there are a few decent phones for travelers under $200. My current favorite is the Motorola Moto G — you’ll want to buy a microSD card for some extra storage, but other than that it’s a reasonably speedy smartphone, with a battery that lasts all day and a 5” screen you actually want to use. Tip: grab the “Global” version for maximum compatibility overseas. You’ll still need to buy local SIM cards to put in it.