Use Your Phone Internationally As You Do At Home For No Extra Cost

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When I got an email inviting me to talk to some folks from T-Mobile about some data for international phone usage for their customers I wasn’t initially over-excited.  However, I figured there was not much to lose from a phone call, so I chatted with them for half an hour yesterday about some data related to their Simple Choice plans with unlimited international texts and data that has been available for the last several months.  My main takeaway from this call was that with their Simple Choice plans, people are using their phones internationally much like they do at home.  Revolutionary?  Actually, yes.  Oh, and to get this out of the way, this is in no way a sponsored post.  They have offered a SIM for me to try out on a trip at some point in the future if I want to check out coverage, but otherwise there is no compensation, back scratching, or secret handshakes involved.

Okay, picture this.  You have saved up your miles and points for a big trip overseas.  You land after you flight across the ocean, and instead of turning your phone on to see if you missed any important emails, texts from family, social media updates, etc, you just stare at the phone in fear and leave it off at all costs, even if you actually need it.  Your fear is that you will accidentally do something “wrong” and your phone will start sucking data out of the air, potentially racking up a massive four figure bill for international roaming and data use.  Despite my attempts to teach her about turning off data and only using WiFi, this is exactly how my mom treated her phone on their big trip to Europe.  It just wasn’t worth the risk or stress to her.  Though there is something to be said for having your phone (aka mini computer) off on trips!

Heck, even I have royally jacked up my international usage before by accidentally selecting “Rest of the World” instead of “Europe” on a trip to Norway earlier this year.  I landed myself a bill of almost $1,000 that I had to negotiate with AT&T about via a pretty annoying process.  Ultimately they eventually helped switch my rate plan retroactively, but made it quite clear they wouldn’t help out like that again for two years.  Now I’m the one afraid of my phone!  On my recent around-the-world trip with my AT&T plan, I had to buy both the Rest of the World and the Europe talking plans, and global texting, and an international data plan.  I mean, I love racking up 5x on telecom expenses on my Ink Bold, but this is not the ideal way to do that.

The “easy” advice is to just disconnect on trips, or just use Skype, or buy local sim cards, etc…but I don’t think it is crazy to just want to be able to use your own phone when you travel.  The good news is that T-Mobile agrees.

Here are some features of their Simple Choice Plans that appeal to me as an international traveler.

  • Unlimited international data and texting from 120+ countries and destinations
  • International texting from the U.S to virtually anywhere
  • There is nothing to activate or deactivate – it is just included in the Simple Choice Plans
  • Voice calls at a flat 20 cents a minute in the 120+ included countries
  • No contracts
T-Mobile Global Choice

Data provided by T-Mobile

Some included countries in the 120+ are Canada, Aruba, Mexico, British Virgin Islands, Brazil, France, England, Italy, Australia, Singapore, China, Japan, Israel, UAE, and about 110 more.  You can check to see if a country is included here.  If it isn’t included, talking can be a whopping $5.99/minute, so don’t do that!  Only country I have been to recently that was not included was the Maldives.

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Data and texting in Amsterdam, included!

Their Simple Choice Plans that include this global travel friendly usage are competitively priced starting at $50 a month, and go up to $80 a month for unlimited talk, text & data while on their network and unlimited 4G LTE data.  They also have family plans where the additional lines become much less expensive, down to as low as $10 a month for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th lines.  

They will also offer to cover the costs of terminating your contract with another carrier if you trade in your device + get a new device through them.

Okay, That Sounds Great, Why Isn’t Everyone Using This?

I asked that exact question on the phone yesterday as I realized I should really look into switching from AT&T as I am paying WAY more with them per month for my family plan + international plans thanks to my travel patterns than I would be with T-Mobile.  As with everything, of course there are “downsides”.  First, their network doesn’t get the best ratings in the world, though they say it is much improved from a few years ago.  Their quote was if you are near where people normally live, it should work fine.  Second, they don’t give you a “free/reduced phone upgrade” every couple of years the way many carriers do when you renew your contract, but instead you pay the full price divided into monthly installments.  I’m sure AT&T and others just hide the full phone price into the rate plans, but it is worth mentioning.  Also, your international data use is going to likely be at slower speeds than you are used to here at home (Standard speeds approx. 128 Kbps).

Personally, I haven’t switched partly because it sounds like a process that takes time I don’t have, and party because I am scared.  I know, I know here we go with being scared of the phone again.  I am grandfathered into an unlimited data plan with AT&T, and I am worried if I don’t like T-Mobile I won’t be able to get that back.  The reality is I am probably over-valuing the unlimited AT&T plan in my mind, but that is one of my hesitations.  However, I am honestly sick of having to jump through so many hoops and keep such close tabs on usage internationally with AT&T.  I’m also sick of the big bills that come with having international add-ons.  This T-Mobile approach sounds so much, well, simpler.

Using Your Phone Internationally As You Do At Home:

The data that T-Mobile shared with me indicated that those with the Simple Choice Plan make three times more calls, text seven times more often, and use 28 times more data than before when traveling internationally.  As folks are getting used to this “freedom” international data usage is nearly doubling every month.

Some quick math showed I would come out ahead by a good margin switching to T-Mobile given how frequently I have had some sort of international add-on in the last 12 months with my AT&T Family Plan.  I still haven’t made the switch, but I’m sure thinking hard about it.  I like Simple.  A lot.

What do you do when traveling internationally?  Have you used this Simple Choice plan?

Oh, and as an added bonus for us mileage junkies, T-Mobile is in many shopping portals and is currently giving 3,300 AA miles for new account activations. 

T-Mobile miles

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Comments

  1. Why not get a “flat rate” international phone by signing up for the cheapest t-mobile plan, buying a phone to go with it, and keeping your AT&T phone for when you’re in the USA.

    $50/month as a “flat rate” charge for whenever you’re traveling internationally is a pretty good deal, and cheaper than AT&T mistakes. Just set your AT&T phone to forward to the t-mobile number when you leave the country. Only worth it if you’re traveling internationally a lot, though.

    BTW, I feel your pain. I like my Verizon service here in the USA, but it’s a HUGE PITA when I travel because of the outrageous data charges. I have an unlocked iPhone 4S and so when I’m long enough in one place outside the US I’ve been getting a local SIM. But it’s not worth it for short trips, unfortunately.

    • Rob, thought about it, but two phones/plans doesn’t sound simple. May be a way to test the waters though.

  2. I switched from att when they first offered the plan. We used to spend around $150 everytime we went overseas. Now I use my iphone just like I would at home. Sometimes I’ll spring for the fast data package at $25 for 200mb of 4g that’s good for a week. It wouldn’t be necessary but its cheap compared to what I was paying. The only downfall is that with t-mobile when I travel back to South Dakota to visit family and I’m not on tmobiles network I’m only allowed 10mb of data….which is basically nothing.

  3. We have been T-Mobile users for years. The coverage is fine if you live in a metro area or surrounding suburbs. I get LTE everywhere in the greater LA area. I once went to a football game at Metlife stadium in NY and my ATT friend couldn’t do anything on the phone but I was pulling down the weather info and surfing the web while we waited out the storm. They have vastly improved their network especially since they got like $3 billion from ATT and spectrum along with roaming agreements with ATT after the failed merger. I would check your data usage to see if you are indeed coveting your unlimited data plan too much. Or just purchase a cheapo phone and use it in normal areas to see if the coverage works. They are actually the fastest data network nationwide I believe and their upgrade plans for their towers will improve on that massively.

    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2455820,00.asp

    Another awesome perk with T-Mobile is their wifi calling. If you are overseas and can connect through wifi you can make and receive calls on your cell phone as if you were at home! Which means unlimited calling back to the US! I have used it many times and as long as your bandwidth is good it sounds like a normal call. Only kicker with that is that you have to buy a T-Mobile branded phone. The iPhone currently does not support this feature but all of the T-Mobile branded phones like the Samsung Galaxy S5 or the Sony phones do. We have 5 lines and pay $206.69. 3 lines with unlimited data and mobile hotspot the other two just have basic service which includes 500 mb LTE data and unlimited 2g. Give it a shot you may be pleasantly surprised.

  4. Why not just get a T-Mobile plan period rob. If Verizon does not want to step up then dump them. I find it crazy that as travelers and how huge this is for the map functions alone we would not support T-Mobile 100%. Verizon has about a 1,000% mark-up on that international data and call up.

  5. I have been a TMobile customer for years and have the $80 Simple Choice plan with my two parents and younger brother. I have successfully used my TMobile service on recent trips to Russia, Denmark and Germany. I will be using it on another upcoming European trip this August. I’m just happy to have my phone in my pocket and being able to use it without worrying about data/text/call rates. A few years ago, before this change, I traveled to Iceland and was freaked out to have my phone on and kept it off the entire week I was away. I love having my phone off, but I’m just happy I don’t “have” to any longer. I’ve never had issues with TMobile service, can’t complain about the quality or data speed, and am ok with the fact that I have to pay full price for a phone. Getting a “free” phone from T-Mobile in the past or from another carrier was never truly free. Your main loss would be that “Grandfathered” data plan. I say, nip it in the butt, it’s not like the rest of us who weren’t grandfathered in are thinking, “Man, if only I had that!”

  6. First hand experience using this… My wife and I just got back from our two week honeymoon and tmobile coverage was awesome!

    Ps: we were at the conrad Maldives while you were at the Hyatt!

  7. As a long time Tmobile customer, I’d say it’s all about managing expectations. If you just want to be sure you won’t get a $1000 bill, the tmobile intl plan is great. If you actually expect to have constant service, it’s much less so. In the past year or so, relatively large cities in Italy and Spain have been among places where I have had no service. I just treat it like a bonus when it works and pick up a local sim if I’m going to be too long in an area with no service.

  8. I just looked into this recently. The problem is the hard credit pull they require to open up a new account. The non-credit pull plans do not include the free international data.

  9. Excellent post! Of course, coverage will vary. I noticed several roaming partners in Spain and my Samsung S4 will hunt for the best signal which will take a moment to sync. The unlimited 2G roaming data is very usable with Google Maps and with all chat apps; however, I would recommend getting the one of three 3G data passes. For heavy data users, it would still be cheaper to buy a local sim; I think it was 15 euros for 1GB. In two weeks, I will be going to 5 countries in Asia for 10 days. It will be very difficult and not worth the trouble to obtain a local sim in each for a very short stay. The marketing is true; it’s the freedom of using your phone as you would normally use it at home.

  10. I switched from AT&T to T-Mobile YEARS ago and I’m thankful I did. The wife and I recently migrated to the simple choice plan and we spent 23 days in 6 countries throughout Asia and ended up paying only $1.20 between BOTH phones for using it like normal. Could TXT everyone back in the USA like normal, or to get in touch with each other. Used it for Facebook, Google Maps, etc. Only called a couple of times (hence the $1.20 charge). All and all, it was AWESOME…except data in Bangkok could be slow at times. Worked perfect in Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore

  11. I have an unlocked Iphone 5 running Straight Talk unlimited talk, text and data for $40 month in the usa. When I travel I use Onesimcard. their prices are very reasonable, good for about 200 countries.

  12. TMobile won’t work inside my house. Zero signal. Also, their international data plan are very slow so good luck in using the phone when you need it. I carry an unlocked iaphone and purchase local SIM cards when I travel abroad.

  13. I live in NYC and my bf recently switched over from Sprint to this plan and we used the free international texting/data in Italy/France/Malta/on a cruise while in port and it worked wonderfully! I was able to post on fb/instagram, email and text and it was great! It felt great not to be disconnected and being able to share pictures with our friends/family back home while overseas was great! We were evening posting live pictures while walking in the ruins of Pompeii and that was wonderful to be able to share live pictures. I am in a grandfathered Sprint plan where everything is unlimited for $50 and I plan to ditch my plan and do the ETF with TMobile. My plan is pretty cheap with Sprint, but I loved using the free international data/text and the no contract option so Tmobile trumps Sprint in my books. I haven’t jumped ship yet since I am waiting for the new Note 4 to come out. My experiences were great. You should definitely reconsider.

  14. We switched to tmobile from verizon in february, despite some consternation about tmobile network issues. We also took advantage of the etf reimbursement offer that tmobile offered. though there was an initial issue with the reimbursement, a phone call later all was sorted. The network has been as good, if not better, than verizon (i live in washington dc), and we had no trouble with the use of data in India, when we were there earlier this year. texting was a bit of an issue, though. Tmobile reps didn’t tell me this, but it turns out, they only have agreements with certain carriers abroad, so if you don’t use those networks, you can’t text.

    That being said, the simple choice plan is awesome!

  15. @antignos

    I keep Verizon here in the USA because I travel a lot here and it’s just about the best service around. I have a number of friends who’ve switched *to* Verizon from t-mobile because t-mobile is painful in the mountains of Colorado or out in the boonies where Verizon works fine.

    Verizon falls down internationally, bigtime, but is awesome as a domestic US carrier.

  16. I’m very happy with Verizon in the US, but (because their network is CDMA, and my phone is not unlocked) their phone simply does not work in most European countries. My solution was to get EuroBuzz service. It’s very basic voice service (no data) for occasional/emergency use overseas, at a flat rate of 79 cents/minute. (Not for those who want to have smartphone functionality in Europe, or who make frequent calls, but, since I have a laptop with me, I only need occasional voice.)

  17. I use Republic Wireless – I can make unlimited calls/texts when connected to wifi, so that is good enough for me while abroad (especially at $10/month with no contract – can’t beat it)!

  18. I have had T-Mobile since 06 and love it
    The international roaming and WiFi calling features they offer are a life saver for me
    A good unofficial website to check out about all things T-Mobile is tmonews.com

  19. I recently switched from AT&T to T-Mobile because of the free international data.

    The T-Mobile coverage and signal strength (relevant in buildings) is spotty compared the AT&T’s, even in metro area like Houston. Call problems are also more common with T-Mobile. If you can live with those problems, the T-Mobile plans have a lot going for them.

  20. I switched to T-Mobile from Verizon in January and have been very happy with the coverage where I have gone domestically (Atlanta, LA, NYC). It is just as good as Verizon in my usage and the data speeds are roughly twice as fast.

    I used just over 1GB of data and sent/received a couple hundred text messages during a two week trip to China and Tibet. The data speed is fine for Google Maps, Google Translate, web and email. The coverage was also superlative. Middle of nowhere Tibet and had full bars. I did not really believe and was expecting a crazy bill but it was the same as it is every month.

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