February 4, 2023

How To Use Your Cell Phone When Traveling Internationally

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Last Updated on December 13, 2022 by David

When traveling internationally, your cell phone plan is often overlooked because it has become such a big part of our lives that we just expect it to work all the time. Well, that may not be the case when traveling internationally. Depending on your cell phone plan, it may work or it may not work and may have very hefty fees associated with using it abroad. In some cases, it may be a better option to pick up a local sim card and plan in the country you are visiting, but you need to make sure your cell phone is unlocked. We will try to cover the pros and cons of all the options.

How do International Cell Phone Plans work?

If you are thinking about traveling abroad with your current cell phone provider, you will need to check if your plan includes international options or if your provider offers any international plans. There are usually three types of international plans to choose from:

  • Bolt-on packs – This already includes international data and calling in your existing plan free of charge.
  • Pay-as-you-go – Charged per call/text/MB you use.
  • International Day Passes – Purchased by the day and usually have a limit on calls/texts/data.

Choosing the right plan all depends on your situation and the country you are visiting. Prices per minute/text/data are different in every country you visit so it is best you check what makes the most sense financially.

Cell Phone Providers that offer International Plans

T-Mobile

Pros

  • Unlimited data and text in 215+ countries
  • One hour of free Wi-Fi and unlimited texting on Gogo-enabled flights

Cons

  • Expensive international calling

T-Mobile is great by automatically including unlimited data and text in 215+ countries on select Magenta plans, but all magenta plans include 5GB of high-speed data. Your phone will work the moment you step off the plane. The speeds vary depending on the country but they allow you to purchase fast speeds if needed. International calling may be expensive so be sure to check the cost of that. It may be best to utilize apps that allow calling over wifi like Google Voice, Whatsapp, and Viber as they only use data and would be free. Be sure to visit the T-Mobile website to view the coverage and rates.

Mint Mobile

Pros

  • Cheap per minute rates
  • Available in over 160 countries

Cons

  • Slower data speeds
  • Data is expensive

Internationally roaming is not automatically included in any of the Mint Mobile plans but is rather an addon you need to add to your plan and add credits of $5, $10, or $20. Similar to other plans, the rate is different from country to country. You can visit the Mint Mobile Roaming website to see how much it will cost. 

As mentioned earlier, the cost depends on the country you visit, but overall it seems to be $0.25 per minute, $0.05 per SMS, and $0.20 per MB. Even though Mint Mobile uses T-Mobile towers, they have a completely different pay structure for international usage. The cost of data is on the higher side and can quickly eat up your credit of $5, $10, or $20 if you plan on making a video call, browsing the web, or even getting directions on the Maps app.

AT&T

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Unlimited Talk, Text, and Data
  • Strong Coverage

Cons

  • Charged By Day
  • Speed Unpredictable

Similar to Mint Mobile, AT&T does not automatically include international roaming in your plan and is something that needs to be added. AT&T charges a flat rate daily fee of $10 for unlimited Talk, Text, and Data in over 210 destinations, which is a very good deal. After you add the international addon, your phone will automatically work internationally and you will be charged $10 per day for the first line and $5 per day for each additional line. AT&T will only charge you for the first 10 days per line. Anything you use after the 10 days is included and free. This resets every billing cycle.

Google Fi

Pros

  • Fastest Data Speeds
  • Pre-Paid

Cons

  • Only available on select devices

Google Fi is a unique service in the fact that they do not actually own any towers and use other network towers, similar to Mint Mobile. What makes Google Fi stand out is that it uses towers not from one company, but three. Fi uses T-Mobile, US Cellular and piggybacks off Sprint even though Sprint merged with T-Mobile. Your device will detect the best network available and use that, but the drawback is that Google Fi only supports a handful of devices.

Google Fi has two notable international plans; Unlimited Plus and Flexible. The Unlimited Plus is basically an “unlimited” plan with unlimited data in over 200 countries and free texts, but without unlimited calls outside of Canada and Mexico. The Flexible plan is more of a pay-as-you-go plan similar to the Unlimited Plus, but each GB costs $10.

Verizon

Pros

  • Travel Pass or Pay-As-You-Go options

Cons

  • Expensive Pay-As-You-Go

Verizon is interesting as they offer a variety of international plans to fit your needs. They seem to take a little part from their competitors and provide a daily international TravelPass, a monthly international plan, and a pay-as-you-go option. The international plan is not automatically included in the plan and needs to be added as an add-on.

The TravelPass starts at $10 a day and provides unlimited data, text, and calls for $10 in 210 countries. You can add TravelPass anytime, anywhere by texting Travel to 4004 if you’re already with Verizon.

The International Monthly plan will run you $100 a month and include unlimited data, 250 minutes, and unlimited texts. For the price, it isn’t the worst deal around and might make sense if you plan on traveling for a whole month. Be sure to check which 210 countries are included in the monthly plan to make sure you’re covered. The international plan can be added via the website or the Verizon app.

Free International Calling Alternatives

No matter what plan you pick, making phone calls are always the most expensive which is why using alternative applications to make phone calls makes sense. All these applications use either Wi-Fi or data which is cheaper than using minutes.

  • WhatsApp – Available on both Android and Apple devices. Able to make calls, send messages, and video chat for free with anyone that also has WhatsApp installed.
  • Viber – Similar to WhatApp, more popular in Eastern Europe.
  • Skype – An oldie, but goodie. Similar to Viber and WhatsApp and has been around for a very long time.

Buying a SIM card locally

Another option you may have is to purchase a sim card locally in the country you are visiting. This will require an unlocked GSM cell phone. The cost of cell phone services in other countries is often much cheaper and includes unlimited options. During my trip to Ukraine a few years back, I was able to pick up a sim card from a local provider that included 150GB of data, 3000 local minutes, and unlimited local text for $8. Even though I did not use the minutes or texts, $8 for 150GB of data is an unbeatable price.

There is more leg work required and a lot of times you are expected to know the local language to be able to buy and set up the sim, but if you are traveling somewhere for an extended period of time, it’s worth jumping through those extra hoops.

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David

Just trying to find that balance between work and personal life. See it all and do it all without breaking the bank and sharing everything I learn so people don't have to make the same mistakes.

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