If you'd prefer to use a different Android phone or an iPhone, T-Mobile remains a strong alternative, letting T-Mobile One subscribers use data in more than 210 countries, though at 2G speeds. You can talk and text for free in Canada and Mexico, though T-Mobile limits you to 5GB of LTE data in those countries. (Be aware that the carrier's new T-Mobile Essentials unlimited plan doesn't include these international perks.)
Why we love it: Sprint's new Unlimited Plus plan improves upon the carrier's now-scrapped Unlimited Freedom plan with a 15GB hotspot, texting to 185 countries, 10GB of data in Mexico and Canada, and a Tidal subscription. This in addition to the perks of the previous plan, which include a Hulu subscription and unlimited HD streaming. When you bring your existing phone or buy one at full retail price from Sprint, you can all of this for an incredible $60—which is pretty great.
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
Right out of the gate there are some restrictions including limited streaming for gaming at 8Mbps and music streaming is limited to 1.5Mbps, but if you can handle those limitations, the Sprint plan is hard to beat on a nationwide network. The good news is that while you might have some data restrictions, you’ll also find unlimited calling, text, and data in Mexico and Canada as well as the United States.
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.
All you need to do is figure out how much data your family needs and what you’re using it for the most. It’s important to note that some carriers are now making you pay extra if you want high-definition-quality video streaming or high-speed mobile hot spot service. Some also make you buy a more expensive plan if you want overseas service included. Check our buying guide for cell phones and service for tips for choosing a plan.
As of this writing, Sprint still offers a particularly attractive incentive to leave your current carrier behind: It will give you free unlimited data for the next year, though you're still on the hook for taxes and fees. After November 30, 2019, your bill reverts to Sprint's standard rate for unlimited data, which is listed as $60 for a single line. The big caveat: You need to bring over an eligible phone to qualify for free data. (Since the deal is geared toward AT&T and Verizon customers, there's a better chance your phone is eligible if it came from those carriers.) The offer is listed as a limited-time deal, but Sprint has kept it around since the summer of 2017.
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.
Sprint Unlimited 55+ Plan: Reqs. new account activation. Acct holder must be 55 or older. 2 line max. Includes unlimited domestic calling, texting & data with 3G Mobile Hotspot VPN & P2P data. Discounted phones subject to add'l $25/mo./line. Third-party content/downloads are add’l charge. Plan not avail. for tablets/MBB devices. Select Int’l svcs are included see sprint.com/globalroaming.
If you’re in search of a budget option but don’t want to give up the reliability of Big Four service, Sprint has a range of plans that hit their target. It has the cheapest unlimited data plan, starting at $60 per month. Sprint also tends to run numerous half-off promotions that can provide an extra nudge. Its current promotion offers the fourth and fifth line free if you switch from another provider.
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.
Assuming you make fewer calls than average, and you don’t need Verizon’s better network, Ting offers flexible billing and a choice of Sprint and T-Mobile coverage. Ting consistently ranks high in Consumer Reports reader surveys and placed well in past PCMag surveys (although it faded in that site’s latest round of reader assessments). And with Ting’s recent addition of third-party device financing, you can even have some of the same low up-front phone costs as with the big four.
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.
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Your phone company may also offer international phone plans that offer discounts on calls, international roaming fees, and data charges. For example, AT&T Passport can be purchased for 30 days for $30 and provides coverage in more than 190 countries. You get unlimited texting, calls for $1 per minute, and 120MB of cellular data for email, web browsing, and social media posts.
Most cellular customers in the United States subscribe to plans that are set up as post-pay, which means they are billed monthly and obtain service if they have good credit. A growing number of subscribers are also choosing prepay services (Pay-as-you-go) which provide both advantages and disadvantages in comparison to prepay, but for some it is the only way they can have a phone.
These companies usually configure their SIMs with two phone numbers: one for use in North America and one that will work everywhere else. Dual-number SIMS can be a problem if you want to receive text messages while outside North America via your U.S. number. These systems only allow subscribers to log in with their alternate phone number (usually assigned in the UK) when overseas. This means that unless text messages are directed to that number, they cannot be received.
Keyboard and interface refers to the style of the screen and keyboard of the phone. On some phones, you use the number keys to type text messages. On some phones, you get a flip keyboard that looks like a standard keyboard. Some phones have touch screens with a display of a keyboard that you use right on the screen. A 4 inch or bigger display refers to the size of the screen. Most phones with 4 inch or bigger display screens are usually touch screen phones.
A local SIM usually replaces your domestic phone number with a local one, so apps like Whatsapp or WeChat remain the simplest way to talk with friends back home without the whole "new number, who dis?" routine. You will, however, be able to call the local pizza place for a delivery or add your new international friends on Facebook without spending the extra coin on calls, texts, and data usage.
Although OnePlus is still relatively new in the market and even unknown to some, their devices are typically high-spec and come at a low cost which makes them ideal for traveling. Unlike previous OnePlus handsets, the 3T is actually pretty easy to hold. You can now purchase it directly from the company without having to jump through hoops as you did with the older handsets.
Verizon has shuffled up its unlimited plans, and that has an impact on people who like to use their data plan while traveling. Go Unlimited and Beyond Unlimited subscribers both enjoy unlimited talk, text and data for no additional charge in Mexico and Canada. However, while calls and messages are truly unlimited, data will be throttled from LTE to 2G speeds after 512MB.
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.
Why we love it: In addition to HD streaming, a 20GB mobile hotspot allowance, 500GB of Verizon Cloud, and a massive 75GB data de-prioritization threshold, Verizon's Above Unlimited includes unlimited talk/text/data in Mexico and Canada and 5 TravelPasses/month for use in more than 130 countries (each TravelPass entitles you to 24 hours of your regular unlimited benefits while abroad). All backed, of course, by Verizon's awesome network. It may be expensive, Above Unlimited delivers the goods.
Also a phone with a large battery pack and fast charging is AN ESSENTIAL during international travel. Nobody wants to be lost in a strange street with their phone dead. A phone with a large battery power and fast charging means you can pop up the Google Map and find your way wherever you are. Here the S7 Edge is again a great option as it comes with 3600 mAh battery power and fast charging capability.
Among the basic-economy, entry-level versions of unlimited data, Sprint deserves some credit for requiring the fewest compromises beyond the streaming-video 480p resolution enforced by all four: Sprint’s Unlimited Basic, $60 for one line, still includes 500 MB of LTE hotspot use (more than I use in most months) and overseas roaming (though at slower speeds). T-Mobile Essentials, at $60, offers only free texting overseas—international voice and data are extra—and limits hotspot use to 3G speeds (although OpenSignal rated its 3G downloads highest among all four). Verizon’s $75 Go Unlimited caps hotspot use at a punitive 600 Kbps, while AT&T’s $75 Unlimited & More bans hotspot use outright.
Opting for Google’s Project Fi seems like a really great idea for a variety of reasons. First, the nuts and bolts: You can get calls and texts for $20 per month, and data for $10 per GB of use (and you can add extra people for $15 each). But what exactly makes the plan unlimited? You're only charged $10 for the GBs you use up until 6 GBs, then beyond that, it’s unlimited.
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Each call is priced at a per minute rate for international toll, plus airtime and applicable charges and taxes. Rates vary, based on country called. Per minute rates only available from a customer's local U.S. Cellular home calling area. U.S. Cellular per-minute rates are subject to change. Taxes, long distance, toll, and other charges may apply. Other restrictions and limitations may apply.
With two sets of rate plans, Verizon’s higher costs make it less of a budget-friendly option though they do offer “go unlimited” as the lower tier that caps streaming video at 480p and cuts back mobile hotspot speeds. Their “beyond unlimited" plan adds 720p streaming video on phones and 1080p on tablets alongside 15GB of mobile hotspot use every month.
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.
For years, cell phone carriers in the United States relied on technologies that were incompatible with those used in Europe, Asia and much of the rest of the world. Recently, two major U.S. cellular carriers -- AT&T and T-Mobile -- built nationwide networks based on Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) technology, the international standard for cell phone networks.
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 thought this would be a relatively simple matter until I started analyzing the technical issues involved. The solution was further complicated because most of the customer agents I spoke with for the different carriers really did not understand their own service offerings and many said that prepay phones could not be used for roaming in foreign countries.
Rent or purchase a cell phone or mobile hotspot for your trip and do everything you typically do with a cell phone such as make calls, check your emails, browse the web and use apps such as Google Maps, WhatsApp and others - but without the high international roaming rates most carriers charge. You can also use your own devices with our service by either using one of our SIM cards or renting an international MiFi hotspot.
Activ. Fee: Up to $30/line. Reqs. credit approval and eBill. Included features/content may change or be discontinued at any time. AutoPay: $5/mo. discount may not reflect on 1st bill. Quality of Svc. (QoS): Customers who use more than 50GB of data during a billing cycle will be deprioritized during times & places where the Sprint network is constrained. See sprint.com/networkmanagement for details. Usage Limitations: To improve data experience for the majority of users, throughput may be limited, varied or reduced on the network. Sprint may terminate svc. if off-network roaming usage in a mo. exceeds: (1) 800 min. or a majority of min.; or (2) 100MB or a majority of KB. Prohibited network use rules apply—see sprint.com/termsandconditions.