With all the choices for international cell phone plans out there, phoning home seems easier for E.T. than for your average traveler.
All of these plans are good in their own way, so treat this like a choose-your-own-adventure story and follow your heart.
If you’re planning a long trip (a month or more) and want to use your phone often while globetrotting, make sure to check for these types of restrictions so you can avoid a nasty surprise.
Best postpaid international plans
AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile round out our top choices for international plans from the four biggest cell phone companies.
All of the top four wireless carriers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon—offer international options. But unsurprisingly, some are better than others. We think AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon offer the best solutions.
AT&T International Day Pass
AT&T unlimited plan pricing
If you’re on one of AT&T’s well-priced plans, you can add the International Day Pass for $10 extra 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
Taking a months-long trip?
AT&T International Day Pass price
The International Day Pass is an add-on, so you’ll still need to pay for an AT&T base plan if you want to phone your friend in Berlin and ask if they want to meet up while you’re in Germany.
Learn more about AT&T plans
The Day Pass itself costs $10 per day, which sounds like it adds up fast. But it’s only $10 for any day you make a call, send a text, or use your data, so unless you’re on a long trip and using your phone on the regular, the price is pretty reasonable.
AT&T International Day Pass coverage
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—a quick skim didn’t reveal any locations missing from this list.)
AT&T International Day Pass speed
But speeds in other countries may range from 2G all the way to 4G—that could be the difference between downloading a web page in a few seconds (4G) and downloading a web page in three minutes (2G), depending on how much data you use or how much congestion there is. You can find out what data speeds to expect in AT&T’s comprehensive international coverage chart.
Fluctuating speeds are pretty common while traveling internationally 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—well, you know—in the sand at Anse Lazio in the Seychelles, you’ll have access to only 2G and 3G networks. (But really, who cares? You’re on the beach, baby!)
But how slow is 2G compared to 4G? Skip ahead to our quick guide on download speeds to find out.
Verizon Above Unlimited
Verizon unlimited plan pricing
If you don’t want the hassle of an international add-on and just want a plan that can hang while you’re on a short trip abroad, Verizon’s Above Unlimited plan is a great choice.
While it’s the priciest option out of Verizon’s three unlimited plans, it offers a few extras you won’t have to find room for in your carry-on.
- Talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada are included.
- Five TravelPasses per month (with international talk, text, and data) are included.
- TravelPasses give you unlimited talk, text, and data in 130+ locations per day.
- Outside the US, you get 512 MB of 4G data per day.
- You’ll need a “world device”—check your phone’s compatibility here.
How long does a TravelPass last?
So if you think you’ll need more than five days of access to your phone while traveling, you should look into adding more TravelPasses.
Verizon Above Unlimited price
Verizon’s Above Unlimited plan is the most expensive of our picks. Unless, of course, you make a lot of calls with another plan that charges per day or per minute.
If you travel a lot and like to use your phone to keep in touch with the folks back home, this price can quickly be justified, especially since Above Unlimited functions the same as your cell phone plan back in the US. That’s right—you’re not paying extra for those international perks here.
The Above Unlimited plan also comes with a ginormous data cap while you’re in the US. So if you love to stream videos on public transit or make Skype calls from the airport (there’s a reason we don’t trust airport Wi-Fi), don’t worry.
Find out what else you get with Verizon
Verizon Above Unlimited coverage
If you go all in with the Above Unlimited plan, you’ll get to travel with all your talk, text, and data in 130+ destinations.
This is a pretty long list that includes a number of popular destinations. Watching the vibrant colors of the Northern Lights from the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel in Rovaniemi, Finland, anyone?
Verizon Above Unlimited speed
Take Verizon overseas and you may experience speeds as low as 2G, depending on the technology available in your country—or if you’ve used up that 512 MB of 4G data allowance.
If you’re not sure how slow 2G is, check out our short guide to download speeds.
T-Mobile ONE Plus
T-Mobile unlimited plan pricing
T-Mobile offers two plans with international benefits: its ONE plan and its ONE Plus plan.
While you’ll get the same main international perks on the ONE plan compared to ONE Plus, we picked ONE Plus based on a couple of features that could be worth the extra cash you’d fork over each month.
What does T-Mobile ONE Plus International get you?
T-Mobile ONE Plus International comes with a few extras while you’re traveling overseas. That includes unlimited international calls to landlines in 70+ countries, calls to cell phones in 30+ countries, and unlimited 4G LTE data in Mexico and Canada.
T-Mobile ONE Plus price
Prices for T-Mobile ONE start out relatively low compared to the other top four carriers. But if you want to upgrade to the ONE Plus plan, you’ll need to add a bit extra each month (and for each line).
Get all the T-Mobile deets
T-Mobile ONE Plus International coverage
T-Mobile has international coverage in over 210 destinations. That means you can use data and text friends from almost anywhere in the world. Check included countries and places here.
One thing that’s missing from T-Mobile ONE Plus, though, is international calls. While AT&T’s and Verizon’s international passes include text, ONE Plus charges you a couple dimes to make an international call over Wi-Fi.
To be fair, that’s not the most expensive rate we’ve seen. And T-Mobile has introduced a daily data pass option that includes international calling, so we must not be the only ones who noticed this missing piece.
T-Mobile’s daily data pass adds international calls
T-Mobile ONE Plus International speed
Overseas, things might start to slow down for T-Mobile. This is common for pretty much any international plan, and it mostly has to do with what network technology is available in the country you’re exploring.
Want to learn more about the difference between 2G, 3G, and 4G? Check out our mini download speed guide.
Best prepaid international plans
Prefer prepaid? We recommend Mint Mobile and Google Fi for staying in touch while abroad.
If prepaid is more your jam, there are still plenty of international options out there. We think Mint Mobile and Google Fi offer the best options.
Both offer pricing that varies depending on your location. Here’s a quick glance at how they compare.
Mint Mobile vs Google Fi prepaid plan comparison
Mint Mobile international roaming
Mint mobile plan pricing
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.
Mint Mobile price
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 text your old roommate to meet up while you’re in country.
Mint Mobile international roaming rates
|Canada and Mexico price*||Everywhere else price*|
|Calls||6 cents/min.||25 cents/min.|
|Texts||2 cents/outgoing text||5 cents/outgoing text|
|Data||6 cents/MB||20 cents/MB|
|Learn more||View plans||View plans|
* Price includes autopay, paperless billing, and multi-line discounts where applicable. Taxes and fees not included.
Mint Mobile coverage
Mint boasts a pretty large list of destinations you can call—over 160, to be exact. Of course, what countries you can call depends on where you’re calling from.
If you’re calling from the US, Mexico, or Canada, you can check which countries are included here. And if you’re calling from another location, you can check which countries are included in Mint’s international roaming plan here.
What about Mint’s coverage in the states? Well, Mint runs on the T-Mobile network, so you can expect good coverage in populated areas. But out in the country, not so much.
Mint Mobile speed
Since Mint runs on the T-Mobile network, you’re on one of the top-rated networks when it comes to speed in the US.
Once you hop across the pond, however, your data speed may drop.
This can happen while roaming internationally since not all countries have 4G networks up and running. But how slow is 2G? Great question—find out the answer here.
Google Fi (Formerly Project Fi)
Google Fi plan pricing
Is it wrong of us to expect great things of Google Fi just because it’s owned by Google? Let’s just say we weren’t disappointed.
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 other Android devices like the Moto G7 and LG V35 ThinQ, among others.
Google Fi also has a somewhat unique approach to international roaming.
- International roaming includes 170+ locations.
- You get the same data rates and free unlimited texts while abroad.
- Calls from the US start at 1 cent per minute—you can check the rates beforehand.
- Calls from outside the US are 20 cents a minute.
- All Google Fi plans include pay-per-GB Bill Protection, so you’ll only pay for the data you use.
Google Fi coverage
Instead of relying on just one network, Google Fi hops on networks owned by Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular—and it uses Wi-Fi networks too.
This is a huge boon when you’re traveling, since you’ll likely have a Wi-Fi network nearby. (Unless you like to go all Bear Grylls and challenge yourself to navigate extreme terrain.)
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 ASAP.1
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 99.9% of the time. At least.
Sometimes this means you’re still stuck on a 2G network—and that’s just how the cookie crumbles, since some countries don’t have US-level cellular technology yet. If you’re curious about how much slower 2G is than 4G, check out our mini guide here.
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?
- AT&T International Day Pass can easily be added onto your current AT&T plan for a short trip—and you’re only charged per day when you use your phone while overseas.
- Verizon Above Unlimited is at the higher end of the price spectrum, but it includes five TravelPasses each month that let you use your talk, text, and a small amount of 4G data each day while abroad.
- T-Mobile ONE Plus is less costly than Verizon Above Unlimited and 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 we could find. And you don’t have to pay extra for calls to Canada or Mexico. We call that a win.
- 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.
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.
Check out WhatsApp
- 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.
Learn more about Skype
- 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.
Download FaceTime on the App Store
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.
What does “4G speeds” actually mean?
Sure, we’re all used to 4G speeds by now, but most of us can’t even remember when 2G was the standard.
Normally, you probably don’t give much thought to whether you’re on a 4G network or not, but while you’re traveling, those slow speeds can come out of nowhere.
These speeds measure how quickly you can download information from the internet to your phone. That includes loading websites and downloading the latest selfie your spouse sends you while you’re on a business trip.
Here’s how each speed compares.2
- 2G: Ranges from under 0.1 Megabits per second to 0.1 Megabits per second. That means it’ll take about three minutes to download that selfie.
- 3G: Ranges from 0.1 Megabits per second to 8 Megabits per second, depending on the type of 3G technology used. That selfie will now take four seconds to download. Whoop!
- 4G: Is typically set at about 15 Megabits per second. Now that selfie will pretty much instantly appear. Aww, suddenly we feel homesick.
- Google Fi, “Have a Question? We’ve Got Answers”
- Ken’s Tech Tips, “Download Speeds: What do 2G, 3G, and 4G Actually Mean for You?”