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Best International Cell Phone Plans
Whether you have loved ones living abroad or you’re traveling internationally and know you’ll need your phone, we’ve picked our top choices for international cell phone plans and covered the pros and cons of each.
How do international cell phone plans work?
You usually have three types of international plans you can choose from:
- Bolt-on packs that include international calls built into your current plan.
- Pay-as-you-go options charge you as you make international calls and texts.
- International day passes give you a set amount of data, and you pay by the day.
So, the right international cell phone plan for you depends on your situation. Do you have family in Mexico, like my father-in-law (he’s on T-Mobile), that you enjoying chatting with every month? A bolt-on international plan makes more sense if you know you’ll frequently make international calls.
On the other hand, if you only make international calls sporadically, like when you need to stay in touch during a family vacation, the pay-as-you-go option would work better for you.
Yelp, Google Maps, and Uber all use data, and we need these apps while we’re traveling. With an international day pass, you can use a ton of data during your vacation and not stress about roaming costs.
T-Mobile: Most travel-friendly
- Unlimited data and text in 210+ countries
- Free hour of Wi-Fi and unlimited texting on Gogo-enabled flights
- Charges for international phone calls
What we like
T-Mobile makes texting and data usage easier than any other provider. You can literally hop off the plane almost anywhere and start using your data.
Unlimited data and text in 210+ countries
Imagine this—you’ve just landed in London’s Heathrow airport, and you’re in a hurry to get to a dinner reservation. But wait, you can’t request a Lyft to pick you up because you forgot to set up international data! Then you remember you have T-Mobile, and you already have unlimited data and texting.
T-Mobile offers unlimited texting and data in over 210 countries across the globe, so you can count on your Google Maps, Lyft, and Airbnb apps basically anywhere you go. Nope, it doesn’t even cost extra—it’s baked into your plan.
If your flight says anything about being Gogo-enabled, you can count on an hour of free Wi-Fi and unlimited texting while in the air. Listen, if you’re flying internationally, you can use all the distractions you can get. Being able to text friends and family and refresh your Twitter feed can make a flight feel a lot quicker.
In-flight data means you can check Twitter and post dreamy landscapes from your window on Instagram.
What we don’t like
Charges for international calls
Where T-Mobile drops the ball is in its international calling. The Magenta plans seem geared toward technologically-savvy travelers that can get by with just data and text. But for those of you who want to make international phone calls to family and friends outside the United States, Canada, or Mexico, you’ll pay 20 cents a minute.
Mint Mobile: Best budget option
- Low minute-to-minute rates
- Decent international coverage (for the price)
- Slower data speeds
What we like
Mint Mobile offers some of the best pricing you can find for minute-to-minute international phone calls. You also get a pretty good deal for local calls as well.
Low minute-to-minute rates
Mint Mobile’s approach to international calls caught our eye when we saw the low minute-by-minute rates—and that calls to Mexico and Canada are included in your basic Mint plan.
Here’s what else Mint Mobile has going on:
- Calls to Canada and Mexico are included in your base plan.
- Calls from the US to other countries start at 1 cent per minute.
- Calls from outside the US start at 6 cents per minute.
- Mint Mobile offers low rates to 160+ locations.
If you have a Mint Mobile base plan, you can add to your international roaming balance through Mint’s UpRoam service.
This gets you talk, text, and data in over 160 countries at pretty cheap rates compared to other international plans. Here’s what it’ll cost you to call your mom and let her know you arrived or to text your old roommate to meet up while you’re in the country.
*Price includes autopay, paperless billing, and multi-line discounts where applicable. Taxes and fees not included.
Decent national coverage (for the price)
Mint boasts a pretty long list of destinations you can call—over 160, to be exact. Of course, the countries you can call depends on where you’re calling from.
If you’re calling from the US, Mexico, or Canada, you should check which countries are included. And if you’re calling from another location, check Mint’s international roaming plan for which countries it includes.
What we don’t like
Slower data speeds
What about Mint’s coverage in the states? Well, Mint runs on the T-Mobile network, so you can expect decent coverage in populated areas. But out in the country, not so much.
Though Mint Mobile runs on T-Mobile’s network, that doesn’t mean it always has the same speeds T-Mobile users enjoy. As with many smaller networks that use Big Five infrastructure, Mint Mobile customers will get deprioritized over T-Mobile customers, which means your data speed will be much less predictable.
A major carrier will always provide better coverage and data speeds to its direct customers rather than other carriers who piggyback off the network. In this case, T-Mobile will prioritize its own customers over Mint Mobile’s, despite both being on the same network.
AT&T: Best day pass
- Affordable price
- Strong coverage
- Unpredictable data speeds
What we like
If you’re on one of AT&T’s plans, you can add the International Day Pass for an extra $10 per day. The Day Pass is a good alternative to minute-by-minute calling rates if you plan to make a lot of calls while you’re traveling—especially since you’re charged only for the days you place calls, send texts, or use data.
Here’s a quick look at some AT&T International Day Pass features:
- $10 each day you use the plan
- Unlimited talk and text in 100+ locations
- Data restrictions are the same as back home
You might want to upgrade to the AT&T Passport®. You get talk, text, and data in more than 200 countries for 30 days at a time.
With the Day Pass, you can use your phone in more than 100 locations. While this includes many popular destinations, you’ll find several countries are missing from the list. (Unless you upgrade to the AT&T Passport, which includes more than 200 locations.)
What we don’t like
Unpredictable data speeds
Your data speeds in other countries may range from 2G all the way to 4G—and that could be the difference between downloading a web page in a few seconds (4G) or three minutes (2G), depending on how much data you use or how much congestion there is.
Fluctuating speeds are pretty common during international travel since speeds rely on the technology available in the country you’re in. So if you’re planning to put your toes in the water and your butt in the sand at Anse Lazio in Seychelles, you’ll have access to only 2G and 3G networks. (But really, who cares? You’re on the beach, baby!)
And it actually went really well. My data speeds felt consistently quick, and I was able to pull up maps and call Ubers from basically anywhere. Densely populated places like London usually have better data speeds, but your mileage may vary when visiting more rural areas.
Google Fi: Best prepaid international plan
- Flexible coverage
- Fast data speeds
- Only compatible with certain devices
What we like
Instead of relying on just one network, Google Fi hops on networks owned by T-Mobile and US Cellular—and it uses Wi-Fi networks too. That way, you’ll get the best international data speeds.
Basically, if you have more than one cellular network available to you, Google Fi will use the network that’s the fastest. This happens in real time, so you can rest assured that if you’re experiencing coverage issues, Google Fi is on the case and hunting down a better network for you.
That network and Wi-Fi hopping gets you coverage in 170+ locations. And those locations include some popular destinations that might just be on your bucket list.
Google Fi speed
Because Google Fi hops onto three different cellular networks and also alternates between a cell signal and Wi-Fi, chances are good you’ll have the fastest speed possible most of the time.
Google Fi will look for the fastest data speeds, but if you’re somewhere remote with weak service, your speeds will only be as good as the service.
What we don’t like
Although most Android phones and iPhones work on Google Fi, only “Fi-friendly phones” can take advantage of Google Fi’s unique network switching capabilities. These, unsurprisingly, include the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3XL, as well as Android devices like the Moto G7 and LG V35 ThinQ.
If you don’t have one of these devices, your Google Fi service won’t feel quite as reliable.
International calling alternatives
If all this international phone plan business feels overwhelming, you’re not alone. That’s why call and text apps were created.
Not only can an app be easier to use (you’ll just need to worry about a Wi-Fi connection or data), it can be cheaper too. And chances are you’ve heard about and maybe even used some of these apps before.
- WhatsApp lets you send texts, audio recordings, and videos. It’s free and works on pretty much any phone—no need to worry about that SIM card.
- Skype has been around the block a few times, and it shows. You can easily use this app to make a voice call to your sister in Paris or do a group video call and chat with friends from all around the world.
- Viber lets you call, text, or send photos to your mom while you’re enjoying the good life on a beach, ice cold drinks in hand. You know, the kind with little colored umbrellas.
- FaceTime is available only on Apple devices, but it’s a great way to make a video call to your family in the UK over the holidays if they also have an iPhone or iPad.
OK, while we did say these apps could be cheaper than buying an international plan, you’ll need to be careful. Unless you’re connected to Wi-Fi, using any app on your phone means you’ll be paying for data.
The SIM card swap
If you’re lucky enough to have a phone that runs on a GSM network, you might be able to swap your SIM card out for one that works overseas. (And some CDMA phones allow you to do this too.)
If you’re not sure if your phone uses a GSM network, you can check which network it uses with this guide. (If you’re on an AT&T or T-Mobile plan, chances are your phone uses GSM.)
Once you’ve confirmed your phone uses GSM, you’ll then need to unlock it, which can take several hours and requires you to make a few calls.
It’s usually cheaper to buy a prepaid SIM card once you’ve reached your destination, though you can buy them in the states if you really want to. Be aware, though, that once you pop in your new international SIM card, you won’t be able to check messages sent to your US phone number.
You don’t need to be Jason Bourne to take advantage of burner phones overseas.
Grabbing a cheap prepaid phone once you reach your destination may be less expensive than paying for an international plan, especially if you plan on staying abroad for a while. But check the fine print first.
For instance, when we moved to Japan for a few years, we ditched our stateside cell phone plan (sorry, Verizon!) for an NTT plan and phone. One thing we didn’t know at the time is that our contract was re-upped without our knowledge. So by the time we were leaving—three years later—we had to pay an early termination fee to close out our contract.
Long story short: if you’re buying a phone and plan overseas, research all the fine print beforehand.
So which international cell phone plan deserves to be your plus one on your next world adventure? Here’s a quick summary of what we discovered.
Which international cell phone plan should I choose?
- T-Mobile Magenta comes with unlimited international texting and data—but it has pay-as-you-go rates for international calls. However, you can add international calling and double your data speed if you pay a bit extra per day.
- Mint Mobile is a prepaid option and boasts the lowest per-minute rates currently available. And you don’t have to pay extra for calls to Canada or Mexico.
- AT&T International Day Pass can easily be added onto your current AT&T plan for a short trip—and you’re only charged on the days you use your phone while overseas.
- Google Fi offers prepaid international service that uses three cell networks plus Wi-Fi to ensure you always have the best coverage available. Most phones work with the service, but only Google Pixel devices and some Android phones can take advantage of Google Fi's unique network switching capabilities.
So which international data plan are you leaning towards? What’s your experience been like traveling with your cell phone plan? Let us know in the comments below.
- WhistleOut, “Guide to Finding the Best Cell Phone Coverage.”