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How to Get Phone Service in Another Country
If you’ve got an international trip coming up, save yourself the stress and get your phone service set up now. You definitely don’t want to be in a position where you land in a foreign country, only to realize you don’t have any service to hail an Uber driver or look up directions for public transit.
The easiest way to get phone service in another country is to use your existing phone and phone plan. Most cell phone carriers offer travel add-ons that hook you up with cell coverage around the world. Follow this guide to make sure you get phone service wherever you’re traveling.
How to get international service with AT&T
AT&T customers can use their same cell phone plan while traveling abroad with the AT&T International Day Pass. You pay $10 a day, and you get access to your unlimited data, unlimited talk, and unlimited text while you travel. If you’re traveling with a partner, you can add another line for $5 a day.
The service covers over 210 destinations, including Hong Kong, Mexico, and England, to name a few.
I recently tried using the AT&T International Day Pass on a trip to England. With everything set up, I had the service the second I walked off the plane in Heathrow Airport. It was almost like AT&T’s service was better in England than it was in the United States because I had excellent coverage everywhere, including Tube stations.
According to AT&T’s website, you can’t pay for more than 10 days of the International Day Pass per bill. In other words, after 10 days of use, you won’t need to pay for any extra days for the rest of your bill period. Our advice? Plan your trip so you can maximize that window of free coverage before your billing period ends.
Setting up International Day Pass
Follow these steps to set up your AT&T phone service in another country:
- Sign into your AT&T account.
- Select the line you want for the International Day Pass.
- Add International Day Pass to your account.
If you’ve done everything correctly, this is what you’ll see at the end of the process:
You shouldn’t have to pay anything when you first activate International Day Pass. The service will automatically start when you arrive in a different country, and you’ll pay for every day that you use. Once you’ve added the International Day Pass to your phone line, you won’t need to add it again for future trips.
AT&T Unlimited plans
Whatever AT&T plan you have now is the one you’ll take with you on your travels, so make sure your current plan has everything you need. Here’s what AT&T currently offers:
How to get international service with T-Mobile
If you’ve got a T-Mobile Magenta plan already, then you can literally walk off the plane right now and expect unlimited data and texting right away. T-Mobile Magenta plans come with international perks built-in, so you don’t have to set up anything before leaving.
Whether you’re planning on traveling for a few weeks or for a few months, you can use your T-Mobile unlimited plan abroad as much as you want. Currently, T-Mobile covers more than 210 countries around the globe with wireless coverage.
Speaking of T-Mobile traveling perks, you also get a free hour of Wi-Fi and unlimited texting on Gogo-enabled flights. Considering Gogo is the main provider of Wi-Fi during air travel, you can plan on taking advantage of those perks for most flights.
T-Mobile Magenta Plans
You only get the travel perks with Magenta unlimited plans. Here’s what pricing looks like for T-Mobile Magenta plans:
How to get international service with Verizon
Verizon offers essentially the same exact service as AT&T, except it's called TravelPass instead of International Day Pass. After you add the TravelPass to your Verizon line, the service will automatically work as soon as you step on foreign soil, and you’ll get charged $10 per day. Verizon covers (you guessed it) 210+ countries with international service, just like T-Mobile and AT&T do.
If you need some help deciding between the three carriers, Verizon does offer the best 4G LTE coverage in the country. For those of you living the nomadic life, Verizon gives you reliable coverage both at home and abroad.
How to set up Verizon TravelPass
You can add TravelPass to your account on your computer, on the Verizon app, or just by texting Travel to 0404.
Set up TravelPass on your computer
- Login to your Verizon account.
- From the top menu, select My Plan, and then go to Manage International Plans.
- Add TravelPass.
Set up TravelPass on the Verizon app
- Open the Verizon app.
- Open the menu on the top left, and then tap Plans and Devices.
- Follow the onscreen prompts to add the international data plan.
Verizon Unlimited plans
Verizon offers four different unlimited plans, and none of them come very cheap. On the bright side, you get awesome coverage and free perks like a Disney+ subscription.
How to get a local SIM card
You can always ditch your current cell phone plan and just buy a new SIM card when you arrive at your destination. If you plan on staying more than a month abroad, getting a local cell phone plan will absolutely save you money over going with a temporary data pass from a US carrier.
Once you arrive in a new country, go to a local telecom store (the equivalent of a T-Mobile or AT&T store) and purchase a temporary SIM card.
You’ll feel tempted to buy a SIM card in the airport when you land, but you’ll end up paying more than you would in a telecom store. Plus, you wouldn’t have as much help from in-store clerks. In fact, you could even ask the person at the telecom store to insert the new SIM card for you and help you select a plan.
Follow these steps to set up a new SIM card while traveling:
- Turn off your phone.
- Locate the SIM tray on your phone. For iPhone 12 and newer, you’ll find the SIM tray on the left side of the device, and it's on the right side for older iPhones. For Android devices, you can typically find the SIM tray on the bottom of your phone.
- Use a SIM ejector (or paperclip) to remove your SIM tray.
- Replace your old SIM card with the new SIM card. Make sure to hold onto your old SIM card for when you return back to the states.
- Push your SIM tray back in your device.
- Activate your SIM card.
Take advantage of free public Wi-Fi
A friend of mine recently got back from a two-month long stay in Europe and didn’t pay a cent for international travel cell service. He downloaded all the area information on Google Maps before he left so the app could work offline, and he simply relied on public Wi-Fi everywhere he went. Sadly, he didn’t make it home, and we’ve been looking for him ever since—just kidding!
If you want to travel on the cheap, you can try going without cell service and just hopping on public Wi-Fi wherever you can find it. Only experienced travelers should consider this an option, because I honestly don’t think I would have made it back from Europe with constant cell service.
If you’re going to use public Wi-Fi primarily or to supplement your other data plans, be sure to use a good VPN to keep your data safe. Public Wi-Fi isn’t secured like your home Wi-Fi is, and hackers can see what you’re doing if you don’t encrypt your connection with a VPN. Be extra cautious if you need to access important info, including your banking sites or apps.
How to get phone service in another country recap
It’s not as hard as you’d think to get phone service in another country. Here’s a recap on the easiest ways to get phone service while traveling:
- Use a Travel Pass from your current carrier: AT&T and Verizon offer travel passes that cost $10/day and let you use your current data plan while traveling abroad. T-Mobile automatically hooks you up with traveling perks that allow you to use your cell phone in a foreign country without paying anything extra.
- Buy a local SIM card: Head to the nearest telecom shop after arriving in your destination and purchase a new SIM card. You’ll get cheaper service and potentially better coverage by going with a local service provider.
- Use public Wi-Fi everywhere you go: For the true nomads out there, you can always just rely on public Wi-Fi to get everything you need from your phone. Just make sure to download maps of the area on Google Maps or Apple Maps so you can get directions while offline.