The Best Voice And Data Plans For International Travel

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We’ve all been there, touching down after a magical experience of travel and exploration and settling back into daily life, only to be confronted with a massive phone bill full of excess data roaming and text message charges.

It's still one of the biggest pain points to international travel. Most countries we travel to have comparable 3G/4G networks with reasonable access fee’s on a local SIM, yet travelers using a U.S.-based carriers' roaming plan can still be whacked with fees in excess of $50/GB (when Google Fi charges $10/GB).

Best international phone and data plans

So, What Are the Options?

The options range from buying a cheap pre-paid SIM in your destination country, signing up for a Universal SIM, adding a data pack to your current domestic plan, or racking up massive excess data bills and dealing with it when you get home.

With players like Google in the field with Google Fi, the big U.S.-based carriers are in catch-up mode. And, although overseas data-roaming plans from domestic carriers are getting better, if you want high-speed data, you are still better off looking into carriers at your destination country as the minimal cost of data and voice/text overseas can be much more cost-effective than a U.S.-based data-roaming plan.

Moreover, as our lives become more digitized, and we rely more heavily on our mobile devices for travel, everything from ordering a driver (Uber or Lyft) to boarding a plane (with electronic boarding passes) requires internet connectivity.

Other things to consider are:

  • Do you need to tether other devices for work?
  • Will you be making video calls home?
  • Will you need GPS?
  • Will you be posting pictures online?

With all that in mind, below you'll find the current offerings from the major U.S.-based carriers and how they stack up. If we missed anything, or you have an experience you’d like to add, let us know in the comments. We'll do our best to update this list as new products come to market.

T-Mobile Simple Global

T-Mobile-Simple-Global

Offering one of the better international plans from U.S. wireless providers, T-Mobile customers on eligible Simple Global plans receive unlimited text and 2G data in 210+ countries as part of qualifying plans (T-Mobile ONE, Simple Choice, New Classic and Select Choice – see a full list in the linked FAQ below). Voice calls over Wi-Fi are $0.25/min (no charge for Wi-Fi calls to US, Mexico, and Canada).

If 2G is not fast enough for your needs, you can purchase daily high-speed data packs for a flat-rate of $5 per day which covers up to 512MB of data at 4G LTE speeds, and unlimited calling overseas.

  • Voice – Calls over Wi-Fi $.25/min (no charge for Wi-Fi calls to U.S., Canada, and Mexico)
  • Text – Unlimited free texting
  • Data – Unlimited 2G data; speeds throttled to approx 128 Kbps

Customers should also note, traveling to a country outside of 210+ countries and destinations will incur text charges at $0.50 per text and will have the option to use Wi-Fi only for data purposes. Voice and data charges vary by country.

Summary:

  • Pros – Unlimited international text and data included with T-Mobile Simple Global plans, no data caps means no roaming charges for covered countries
  • Cons – No tethering, throttled data is slow

See the Simple Global roaming FAQs for more details.

Verizon TravelPass℠

Verizone-TravelPass

TravelPass℠ from Verizon is based on a daily charge for every day that you use your phone with the option of signing up for a monthly package while you are overseas. The daily $10 charge applies to 130+ countries and allows you to take your domestic voice, text, and data allowances with you overseas allowing for 4G/LTE coverage when available.

If you are only surfing the web briefly or receiving a few texts, $10 per day can be expensive and add up quickly. But having a set cost for every day you use your device gives you definition and allows you to budget costs. Having access to 4G/LTE overseas is also fantastic if you need data for work purposes.

The monthly plans are one-off purchases that offer two levels of access for 150+ countries. You can see a full list of tiered, monthly, and PAYG pricing on the Verizon website.

  • Domestic allowance included with TravelPass℠
  • $70/mo gives you 100 mins, 100 sent texts/unlimited received, and 0.5GB of Data
  • $130/mo gives you 250 mins, 250 sent texts/unlimited received, and 2GB of Data

Summary:

  • Pros – Access to your domestic allowance over 3G/4G networks means you can work, stream media, and communicate at high speed and with a defined budget
  • Cons – $10 per day can add up fast if you only use your device once or twice a day, PAYG rates are prohibitively expensive if not signed up to TravelPass℠

Sprint Global Roaming

Sprint-Global-Roaming

Sprint Global Roaming offers great rates in 165 destinations worldwide at no added expense to your monthly bill, however, speeds are capped at 2G unless you splash out on a daily or weekly high-speed data pass. On the basic plan, you’ll receive $0.20/min voice calls, unlimited text, and free basic data. The High-Speed Data Roaming Pass is valid for either a single day or a week, and prices vary depending on the destination.

  • Canada & Mexico: $2/day OR $10/week
  • Most destination:s $5/day OR $25/week
  • Other destinations: $10/day OR $50/week

Sprint will also text you when you touch down in a new country, notifying you what the rates will be in advance. This is a surprisingly handy feature that can be a real timesaver.

  • Voice – $0.20/min voice in 165 countries
  • Text – Unlimited texts in 165 countries
  • Data – Free uncapped 2G with the option to purchase daily or weekly High-Speed Data Roaming Passes

Summary:

  • Pros – It’s free! Reasonable rates and an easy to understand plan/website, receiving a text to opt-in including rates is a handy feature
  • Cons – Slow data

AT&T International Roaming

AT&T-International-Day-Pass

AT&T offers four international roaming plans, with the best value coming from the $10 per day International Day Pass. For the base North America plan, customers receive unlimited talk and text within North America, plus access to the same data plan you run at home with no roaming charges added. The $10 International Day Pass lets you take your talk, text, and data plan to over 100 countries for a flat daily fee, and the premium AT&T Passport provides 1GB of data, $0.35 per minute calls, and unlimited text ($120 plan gets you 3GB). With access to networks in over 200 countries, AT&T Passport℠ offers a substantial global footprint, but, unfortunately, it's prohibitively expensive.

Outside of the Day Pass, AT&T’s rates are high compared to Sprint and T-Mobile, and I can’t see where they would provide value except in very specific countries where other services are not available.

  • Voice – Unlimited talk in North America and within the countries listed for the $10 Daily Pass, Passport $0.35/min
  • Text – Unlimited across all plans
  • Data – Take your plan with you in North America and on the $10 Daily Pass, Passport 1-3GB – Overage: $50/GB

Summary:

  • Pros – The $10 Daily Pass and North America plans allow you to take your plan with you
  • Cons – High costs, very little flexibility

Project Fi from Google

Project-Fi-Google

While only officially available on a select range of Android handsets, Google Fi is an excellent all-round package when it comes to using data overseas. By far the least expensive, Google Fi has a single plan with a $20 base fee and $10/GB of data (capped at $60/month). The phone will work in 170+ countries, has no annual contract, cheap voice calls when traveling in a foreign country, and you can add up to 5 additional people to your account to share data for just $15/month per person.

The only downside to Google Fi is it will only officially work on select Android handsets. How to get Google Fi to unofficially work on other handsets.

  • Voice – Call rates depend on the country you are in, but most sit around the $0.20/min rate over cell coverage
  • Text – Unlimited
  • Data – $10/GB capped at $60/month whether you are in the US or any one of the 170+ countries supported by Google Fi

Summary

  • Pros – The cheapest way to access data while traveling overseas, flat $20/mo fee and $10/GB for data is fantastic, can be used as a personal hotspot for tethering laptops, etc.
  • Cons – having to purchase a phone if you don’t already own a compatible handset is a significant entry barrier.

Unlocked Phone + Local SIM

Buying an unlocked phone on Amazon and purchasing a local SIM at the airport. If you are only traveling to one country or plan on spending anything over a week in a country, this is our go-to strategy. On average, we would spend $15/week each for voice/text/data using this method, even with very data intensive professions.

Final Thoughts

While T-Mobile is often touted as the best of the big four U.S. telco’s for traveling internationally, we think Sprint Global Roaming offers great rates and convenience. Neither comes close to Google Fi’s rates for long-term use, and it is by far the easiest plan to understand with its flat rates. The entry cost of a Google handset, however, is prohibitive for a lot of travelers.

If you don't mind the entry costs of a new handset, then Google Fi is a winner all-round.

What are your go-to strategies for phone and data when overseas? Let us know in the comments.

The Best Voice And Data Plans For International Travel
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Comments

  • I have been looking for this since forever. Thanks!

  • This is really helpful!

  • It will be a cold day in Hell before I willingly turn over all my phone calls, contacts, metadata, locations, movements, and web browsing to the Google surveillance-machine.

  • I’ve been happy with the ATT International Day Pass but have needed limited service. If I required more, I can see where their other plan gets quite costly. Thanks for clarifying this info.

  • I use the T-mobile plan. Thanks!

  • The information is very much appreciated.

  • Useful, thanks…

  • We generally try to stick to wifi and using an international wifi hotspot but may by a local sim on the next trip. $10 a day on art wasn’t worth it.

  • so far I’ve found Tmobile to be the best… using it internationally has been seemless

    • Same here; absolutely seamless experience. And I have to say that although my iPhone indicates I’ve often been on 2G or 3G, the data speed has generally been sufficient for my needs.

  • great summary

  • This is incredibly helpful! Thanks! I have this page bookmarked for reference.

  • Great, useful reference guide to mobile plans.

  • Good to see various options available these days.

  • Thanks. I will give Sprint a go in Nepal when I’m there in December.

  • very helpful! thanks

  • I have T-Mobile and find that its functionality to be what I need for all of my international travels. But unlike the article says, I have not “Been there”. I have always been cognizant of what using my mobile phone overseas might cost and chosen not to make calls or texts if they cost me money and I would limit myself to Wifi and Skype etc. I love the ease that a mobile phone brings to travel but I’m able to go without it if the cost outweighs the benefit.

  • I have been very happy using T Mobile for my international travels.

  • This is huge. Thanks. I want to give Google Project FI a shot. I just need to come up with that upfront phone cost.

  • Thank you for this. I have been using the AT&T $10 per day for international travel, but now l think I may have a peek at T-Mobile. I am currently not under contract so this may be a good time.
    Mimi

  • This highlights how important it is to get the right cellphone package when traveling abroad.

  • I try to stick to WIFI too.

  • I have t mobile but maybe Google might be a good idea when I travel overseas. I know my cell can become a hotspot in the US. I didn’t see anything saying that I couldn’t do this in another country. Wonder if this would be a good idea if a person has t mobile?

    It’s mainly just using my husbands cell when we travel, so it keeps costs down. But it would be nice to text between ourselves and play around on my iPad when I’m bored at the hotel.

  • T-mobile has always been good, but I usually keep my ears open for anything better.

  • Have used the ATT day pass when needed for a day or two on a trip when not going to be near WiFi for extended periods. Works well and can make the choice to keep the phone on airplane and only switch the cell signal on during the days I need it.

  • Before getting my grubby little hands on a Moto 4 phone for $40, unlock code $2 and 1cent SIM, I was getting the AT&T PASSPORT for $80. Before they had that I would add the Int’l rate plan to my account and cancel when I returned home and would only be billed for the days used at a prorated rate. I know spend approx. $20 and get a SIM card in country and it’s been the best. I then use it as a personal hotspot for my personal phone. I have a US # on the Moto 4 which was free from Google voice and I forward my personal cell to that # and google translate (very well) the messages received and I can read them on email. The only thing I don’t have access too is my text message but I set up an outgoing message that tells them to text my moto 4 phone. Best $42.01 EVER!!!

  • INCREDIBLE LIST!!

    Thanks for taking the time to do this

    Much appreciated!!

  • I actually like the Verizon travel pass in combination with my apple phone. I keep the phone on airplane mode and use facetime audio most often. If I need to use the actual phone (which isn’t very often) I have the option of paying the daily rate (which is pretty reasonable). When I think I’ll need the phone I usually turn it on midday so I get two “days” of use to get the biggest bang for my buck.

  • With so many phones being dual-SIM these days, it is often easy to buy a cheap SIM card at the destination and use that for data.

  • Always best to plan ahead, of course, and this article is a great place to start. Could certainly have used it recently. Had a terrible experience with turning to Bell Canada for what should have been a easy solution. But, they sold me a local SIM that did not work on my phone and then refused to issue a refund. 🙁

  • Very good reference post. It can be hard to decide between the carriers for international data.

  • Great summation! I’ve used various methods including my carriers’ international plan, local SIMs and even FlexiRoam when I’m country hopping.

    One interesting use case is that certain airports want to send you a one use token to enable WiFi access and having an active SIM from a carrier that does not charge for incoming text messages even if you have no airtime is very handy.

  • Thank you for the info, however, I think the best option is to get a sim card for a cheap price.

  • Thanks for the options, although, using Freedompop for free minimal service here limits my overseas options.

  • I have Google’s Project Fi. Picked up my phone and used it to call Quito, Ecuador from my hotel room in Rome, Italy. Easy. peasy and cheap. Love it.

  • Just keep in mind that if you go on a long trip and use TMobile. They will take away the international roaming after 90 days of continuous use. I am not sure how long the ban lasts.

  • May be I am not understanding the data presented, but how do you conclude that T-Mobile is better than Sprint when both seem to offer free unlimited texts and slow-speed data? Is it because of number of countries supported?

  • Someone else already said this, but the best way to have mobile service when traveling internationally is to purchase a local SIM card with data. It’s usually super cheap, especially in Asia. Then simply instruct stateside friends to reach you via iMessage, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, or your other favorite platform.

  • Jonathan Goldman says:

    Great summary–thanks.

    Questions:

    1. I will be in Italy for close to a year, and traveling throughout Europe and Africa/Mideast during this time. If I purchase an Unlocked Phone + Local SIM where would I get the phone’s actual phone number from?

    2. Have you ever reviewed Mobal.com?

    3. Do you have any advice on Universal SIM?

    Again, thanks.

  • As far as the best voice and data plans are concerned for international travel, Knowroaming is the best company can be used is more than 200 countries.

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