If there is one thing cell phone plans are when you're trying to travel abroad, it's this: expensive. AT&T charges $10 per day, and Verizon's monthly international plan is an additional $70 per month on top of your existing plan.
International options can also be confusing. Going on an international trip should be a fun cultural experience. It shouldn't be a headache trying to figure how to get your phone to work while abroad or if you'll be hit with a sickening cell phone bill when you return home.
That's why we took the time to test out the international options available from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Google Fi to see which ones were best. Our recommendations:
Google Fi is one of our favorite options for international traveling. Why? Because Google Fi includes international roaming data for free with their plan.
The way Google Fi's plan works is you pay $20 per month for unlimited talk and text, and $10 per GB of data. International roaming data and international texting are included for free with your plan. You pay the same rates while abroad as you do when you're in the United States. The only difference is calling is $0.20 per minute when you're outside the United States.
This makes Google's plans one of the easiest and most affordable options for getting international coverage. You get fast data speeds, and your plan just works wherever you are.
Google allows you to use your plan outside the United States for up to 6 months at a time. This should be enough for a semester abroad or an extended stay in your favorite country.
Similar to Google Fi, T-Mobile includes international roaming data for free with their Magenta Plus plan. You get unlimited talk & text with up to 5GB of LTE data in Canada and Mexico. You also get unlimited international data at 2G speeds along with free unlimited texting in 210+ supported countries. T-Mobile includes free texting and unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi on Gogo enabled flights too.
Being able to travel to any one of 210 countries and have your phone just work is amazing. Data speeds are slower at 2G speeds. However, the 256Kbps 2G speeds T-Mobile advertises performed surprisingly well in our 2G vs 3G vs LTE data speed test.
All taxes and fees are included with Magenta Plus. You get unlimited data (50GB of which is prioritized), and 20GB of hotspot data.
T-Mobile Magenta Plus earns our recommendation as a great unlimited data plan while in the United States, and as a great family plan for international traveling because of the free international services that are included.
US Mobile recently announced support for international data roaming. They offer international data roaming in 140 countries.
What's especially great about US Mobile? They include international data for free with their plans.
Customers on US Mobile's custom plans, which start as low as $10 per month, get 250MB of international data included for free with their plan. Customers on one of US Mobile's unlimited plans, which start at $40 per month, get 10GB of high-speed international data included for free with their plans.
If you need more international data, you can purchase more right from the US Mobile application. The rates are affordable too. In most countries, you can get 1GB of data for 30 days for just $5, or 5GB for 30 days for $15.
The caveat with US Mobile is that their international features are only available on eSIM compatible devices. Most new phones from Apple, Samsung, and Google support eSIM, but you'll want to chat with US Mobile customer support to confirm your device is compatible.
New smartphones now include something called eSIM. eSIM stands for "embedded SIM." Phones with an eSIM have a secondary SIM card that is embedded in the phone. This eSIM card can be activated on a data plan just by scanning a QR code. Having an eSIM can let your phone be active on two cellular data plans at once: one in the physical SIM slot and one on the eSIM.
If you have a phone that supports eSIM, such as the iPhone XS or newer, Galaxy S20, Pixel 4, or any other eSIM phone, then a great option is to simply purchase an international data plan and activate it on your eSIM.
Sites like Airalo offer international data plans for eSIM. You can purchase data plans that last from 7 to 30 days. The rates are affordable too. 1GB of data for 7 days in Spain is just $5. This is a waaay better deal than AT&T's $10 per day pass, where one week would cost you $70!
As mentioned above, US Mobile also offers international data plans via eSIM.
If you're staying in a country for more than one month, you'll probably want to look into purchasing a plan from one of the local carriers.
Many countries actually have data plans that are cheaper than in the U.S. For example, in the UK you can get 25GB for just $28 from O2. In Iceland can get 10GB for $24 from Síminn. In Sweden, you can get 15GB for $36 from Telenor. You get the point.
Consider researching plans local to the country you're visiting to get the best deal. These plans will be much cheaper than any eSIM data plan available, but they may take a little bit more effort to sign up for.
The good news is your current smartphone is likely compatible with all international plans too! Most international carriers use GSM technology. If you have a GSM compatible phone, which most modern phones are, then you should be all set! You just need to confirm your phone is unlocked before you can use it on another carrier.