Unlimited Tablet Plan: Incl. unlimited texting on capable tablets & data with mobile optimized video streams at up to 480+ resolution, music at up to 500kbps, streaming gaming at up to 2 Mbps. Add Unlimited premium resolution streaming for add'l. $20/mo./line & get video streams at up to 1080+, music at up to 1.5 Mbps, gaming at up to 8 Mbps. Data deprioritization applies during times of congestion. After the 10GB, MHS, VPN & P2P usage will be limited to 2G speeds. Third-party content/downloads are add'l. charge. Int'l. svc. are not incl.


Flexing that unlimited vacation policy and staying abroad for more than a week or two? Consider replacing your SIM card and using a local service provider. First, make sure your phone is unlocked. You can do this by swapping your SIM card for another one and confirming that your phone still works, or simply calling your service provider. The FCC requires that providers unlock all devices so you can use them on any network, so simply ask your provider for an unlock code. One caveat, though: That rule doesn't apply if you're locked into a contract or you haven't paid for your phone in full.
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.
More good news, at least for heavy data users, is the rise of unlimited data plans. These plans, which carriers started to pull a few years ago when smartphones such as the iPhone started using substantial amounts of data, can be a respite for a new wave of consumers hooked on streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify. All the major carriers now offer unlimited plans, but they come with catches. More on that below.
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).
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.

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.
First things first: The only phones you’ll be able to use when you travel internationally are those considered “world phones,” meaning those that can be used as easily abroad as they are domestically. That means the phone must be capable of running on a GSM network, as that’s the predominant networking standard around the world. But if you’re on a CDMA network (Sprint or Verizon) here in the states, don’t despair: Many top smartphones these days can support both bands, thus simplifying travel.
As pricey as Verizon's Above Unlimited plan may be, it could be worth it if business takes you overseas on a monthly basis, thanks to the addition of some complimentary TravelPasses. For infrequent travelers taking short trips, programs like Verizon’s TravelPass or AT&T’s International Day Pass will likely be good enough. But again, T-Mobile offers the most appealing international coverage, especially once it launches its $5 On Demand Pass in August.
Verizon’s best plan for most people is also its least obvious offering: the 5 GB for $55 deal. It’s difficult to find this plan on Verizon’s homepage, but you should see this option if you select a phone, add it to your cart, and scroll past Verizon’s flagship “unlimited” offerings when selecting a plan. (Verizon’s website quotes a $60 rate for this plan, but signing up for auto-pay using a checking account or debit card gets you $5 off—though this precludes running up points on a travel-rewards credit card).
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.
Selecting a network is the trickiest part of picking a plan. Coverage can vary from block to block or even building to building, so carrier coverage maps can be a good starting point only if you can zoom in to the street level—and even then they say nothing about how the network fares in areas with many devices using it. OpenSignal, PCMag, and RootMetrics all publish independently sourced network-performance metrics, but those studies take different approaches and are thus good for different purposes. (When using these metrics, and a carrier’s own coverage maps, don’t forget to check a network’s coverage in frequent business or vacation destinations.)
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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.
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.
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.
First things first: The only phones you’ll be able to use when you travel internationally are those considered “world phones,” meaning those that can be used as easily abroad as they are domestically. That means the phone must be capable of running on a GSM network, as that’s the predominant networking standard around the world. But if you’re on a CDMA network (Sprint or Verizon) here in the states, don’t despair: Many top smartphones these days can support both bands, thus simplifying travel.

If you need quality voice and text coverage but use little or no data, and you’re willing to stick to a small, if growing, subset of Android phones, Republic Wireless is the best bet. At just $15 a month, it’s the cheapest way to get unlimited voice and texts, and adding 1 GB of data (with hotspot support) on the Sprint and T-Mobile networks tacks on another $5.
It’s also worth noting that although you’ll get unlimited data when traveling with T-Mobile One, you’re capped at an exceedingly slow 128 kbps. Most 4G connections can deliver average speeds of 3Mbps to 6Mbps. If you need to boost your speeds, you can choose T-Mobile’s 256-kbps option for an extra $25 a month as part of its T-Mobile One Plus International plan. (That plan includes other perks, such as unlimited calling to landlines and mobile numbers in select countries, unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi if you’re on a plane that uses Gogo, and HD video streaming.) In Mexico and Canada, T-Mobile used to allow unlimited 4G LTE coverage with its One plan, but you're now capped at 5GB with speeds slowed to 2G after that.
For longer trips, AT&T has retooled its AT&T Passport, which provides 30 days of service when you travel. Users thought the previous iteration of AT&T Passport offered too little data (since data was limited to 200MB, you can see their point), so AT&T increased the amount of data in its travel plan. The $60 Passport gives you 1GB of data and unlimited texting; you'll be charged 35 cents per minute for calls to any country. A $120 AT&T Passport boosts your data to 3GB. Don't go over that allotment, as AT&T charges $50 for each GB you go over.
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The memory on your mobile phone determines how much data you can store on it. Some phones have a predetermined memory capability that is built into the phone. You cannot change the memory amount on these phones, so be careful when you pick a phone that it has the memory amount you want. Internal memory starts at 1GB. A phone with expandable memory, on the other hand, uses a chip for memory. This means that you can replace the memory chip on your phone with a chip that his more memory later.


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.
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