Sure, vacation should be the time to power down, disconnect, and focus on the people in front of you. But that doesn't mean giving up the option of getting directions from Google Maps or documenting your exotic meal on Instagram. Using your phone abroad used to be complicated, expensive, or both, but it's getting easier and easier. Here are a few options for bringing your smartphone abroad.
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.
Anyone who travels wants to be able to take decent photos on the move and the 16MP rear camera on the OnePlus 3T is a solid performer. It’s not the best out there, but if you’re taking photos mainly in daylight, you’ll have no complaints. The colors are accurate, details sharp and because of the 6GB of RAM, it’s easy to take multiple shots with no delays after the button press.

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.
Verizon’s 5GB plan includes carryover data, which is good for 30 days. And you can nix overage charges by turning on Safety Mode, which drops you to 2G speeds when you hit your monthly high-speed limit. You can save $5 per month if you opt for paperless billing and automatic payments, but you can only use a checking account or debit card. This is a single-line plan, so you can’t add additional lines to make it a family plan.
Our cost estimates assume 400 voice minutes and 500 texts used per month. Those numbers fall roughly in the middle of usage data we saw from the Federal Communications Commission (PDF) and a 2013 PwC study (PDF), among other resources, but are above the much lower averages that CTIA reported for 2017 (187 voice minutes and 143 texts). Unlike postpaid services, many prepaid and resold services still limit your text messages and phone calls, so the actual cost of a particular carrier may be slightly more or less if you use more or fewer minutes and texts, respectively.
Tablet Offer: Credits end at end of term, early termination, early payoff or upgrade, whichever occurs first. Taxes and svc charges excluded. No cash back. May not be combinable with other tablet offers. Requires activation at point of sale. Available to new and existing customers who have an active Sprint wireless phone line. Req. qualifying data plan and new activation. Only 1 Tablet Offer per account during this offer. CL accounts req. active smartphone line and is not limited to 1 free tablet.
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.
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Lots of people like to get prepaid plans because they are a way to get phone service without having to sign a contract. This means that you can end your service with a carrier at any time without consequence. If you have a yearly contract with a carrier and you want to cancel service before the end of the contract, you usually have to pay a fee for each of the remaining months in your contract. No contract cell phone plans typically require you to pay the full price of the phone. However, many companies will now let you pay off the phone over 24 months.


We used the iKits charger (white with gray) for a two week long trip in the UK. This charged even our sensitive devices (one phone and three Kindles) well and became our sole electronics charger for tablets and phones after the first day. The adapters snap in snugly and create a single unit that is secure, easy to use, and compact for travel. It is well made and fit securely everywhere we stayed. We never had surge or power issues.
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.
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Why we love it: T-Mobile's ONE plan has proven popular, so much so that it compelled the entire wireless industry in the direction of unlimited. ONE is still arguably the best of the bunch, though, packing in more features than the competition. If you're over 55-years-old and use your phone's data heavily, getting this plan at $50 is a steal and a half.

To use Telestial SIM cards, your device will need to be GSM-compatible (Global System for Mobile Communications). In the United States, some carriers like Verizon and Sprint use CDMA 2G/3G networks, which is a different technology to GSM networks (which is used by just about every other country in the world). CDMA networks too are moving towards GSM technology, especially utilising the high-speed LTE networks.
If you're not on an unlimited plan, Verizon offers a daily travel pricing option called TravelPass. It’ll cost you $5 per day per device for each day you’re out of the country if you travel to Mexico or Canada. In more than 100 other countries — including China, France and Germany — Verizon charges $10 per device per day. Talk, text and data on TravelPass are subject to the same allowances you have on your Verizon plan stateside; in other words, the data you use in Europe draws from the tiered data plan you have at home. Note that data speeds are only 4G for the first 512MB each day when you have a TravelPass; after that, you're throttled to 2G speeds.
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.

We used the iKits charger (white with gray) for a two week long trip in the UK. This charged even our sensitive devices (one phone and three Kindles) well and became our sole electronics charger for tablets and phones after the first day. The adapters snap in snugly and create a single unit that is secure, easy to use, and compact for travel. It is well made and fit securely everywhere we stayed. We never had surge or power issues.

As for talk and text amounts, all of the postpaid plans from the major carriers provide unlimited calling and messaging, so in theory you don’t even have to compute those numbers. But many prepaid and resold services allow you to save money if you’re willing to stay within certain limits. The best way to figure out how many texts or calls you send or make is to consult your billing statement.
If your usage only slightly exceeds the cap on a service’s limited-data plans—say, you use 3.25 GB in a month and your carrier offers a 3 GB plan—you should see if that plan lets you roll over unused data from months when you don’t hit your maximum. Also, see if that service offers unmetered slow 2G service once you exhaust your high-speed data, so your phone will still always get basic (read: slower) Internet access. These features may let you choose a less expensive plan.

Today's teens (and, admittedly, many of us) treat their smartphones like permanent appendages, texting, Facebooking, Instagramming, streaming and playing games like the outside world doesn't exist. If you're the parent of a data-hungry teen, unlimited plans can be the way to go, since they eliminate concerns about overages. Alternatively, you might consider a bare-bones "lifeline" cell phone plans that provides your teen with a means to make a calls, and not much else. 

Verizon is the nation’s largest carrier for good reason: It offers the best coverage in the most places in the US according to third-party tests and surveys (including those of PCMag and RootMetrics), so you’re more likely to have a signal no matter where you are, and its pricing is competitive with that of AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile for the amount of data that most people actually use. It isn’t the best choice for people who frequently travel outside of the US or who want unlimited data, but it is the first carrier everyone else should look at.
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).

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.
We first used it to call the U.S from Ethiopia. And it worked beautifully! Even though Ethiopia was listed as a country with coverage, I just could not believe that it would actually work there. We called our daughter (and families) in Montana and in Wisconsin. I called United Airlines in the U.S. to work out a flight schedule problem. It all worked.
Perhaps most impressive are Verizon’s data speeds. Verizon is on the forefront of new technology; it’s one of the first providers to adopt new 5G technology, which promises speeds in the 200 Mbps to 300 Mbps range. While this figure has yet to be corroborated by long-term experience in the real world, it’s safe to say it will mark a considerable step up from the 4G LTE network’s peak download speeds of 50 Mbps. Verizon claims that this technology works by combining multiple wireless connections together to create what amounts to a bigger, stronger channel piping data straight to your phone.
“The first point to consider is which carrier has the best service where you live and work or spend much of your time,” say Jamie Huff and Tammy Parker, wireless analysts at Current Analysis. The quality of a provider’s network can vary drastically within the same city or metro area. To illustrate this difference, here’s what Verizon looks like next to T-Mobile in terms of nationwide speeds (the blue means faster data speeds detected; the orange indicates slower):
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? 
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.
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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.
Sprint has tried to position itself as the budget brand, with reliability that beats T-Mobile and performs within 1% of Verizon and AT&T. That’s a bit misleading, because reliability only measures “accessibility and retainability of voice calls and data sessions” and doesn’t account for network speed or overall coverage. RootMetrics’ scores and map confirm that Sprint’s network is notably less extensive than Verizon’s, and it ranks dead last in terms of overall data speeds.
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.

If your usage doesn’t fall into our specific categories, you can do your own calculations using WhistleOut’s carrier-comparison tool. It even lets you filter by network, so you can ask it for only, say, prepaid options that resell AT&T service. But this comparison tool requires careful reading: Like Google searches, it shows featured (aka, sponsored) results before organic ones. It also includes far more services than we cover here and shows not just plans with the required amount of data/minutes/texts but also those that exceed your needs, producing a cluttered presentation overall.
Lots of people like to get prepaid plans because they are a way to get phone service without having to sign a contract. This means that you can end your service with a carrier at any time without consequence. If you have a yearly contract with a carrier and you want to cancel service before the end of the contract, you usually have to pay a fee for each of the remaining months in your contract. No contract cell phone plans typically require you to pay the full price of the phone. However, many companies will now let you pay off the phone over 24 months.
If Verizon doesn’t cover your most frequented locations—or if you simply want a slightly cheaper option to postpaid service but don’t want to sacrifice customer support—Consumer Cellular is a great alternative. This reseller of AT&T and T-Mobile consistently tops customer surveys such as Consumer Reports’s latest, PCMag’s annual survey and J.D. Power’s most recent “wireless purchase experience” study. The service is marketed to seniors, but the things that make it good for seniors make it good for most people as well. Most important, it offers US-based phone support that caters to the non-tech-savvy and maintains an in-store presence in major retailers such as Target. We also like that it allows you to specify an AT&T or T-Mobile SIM, whereas many other prepaid carriers, such as TracFone, will determine that for you unless you buy a SIM card in person.
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.
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.
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.
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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