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International Cell Phone Plans

Thrifty Traveler’s Master Guide to International Cell Phone Plans

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This guest post is written by Minneapolis based writers Ashlee Kronforst and Ryan Monk. You can find more of their writing on their blog Twice the Baggage. 


Long gone are the days of traveling abroad and incurring an exorbitant cell phone bill because you used data and spoke with someone on the phone for a few minutes. In the USA, there are now many options for consumers to choose from when it comes to phone plans while traveling internationally.

Below, we will break down the major international cell phone plans, as well as alternative options that will save you money during your next international trip.


Google Fi

Google Fi is a lesser-known option while traveling abroad, yet it comes with the best prices and is one of our favorite options. The Google Fi network partners with T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular to offer you coverage in 170+ countries for $10 per GB used, as well $0.20 per minute call. It is the only plan available from US carriers with completely unthrottled 4G LTE service in over 170 countries. If you need to be connected at 4G speeds, there is no better option.

The only downfall of Google Fi is that it does not work with all phones. Compatible phones include Google Pixel, Moto G6, and LG G7. So, if you are an iPhone fan, Google Fi will generally not be an option for you unless you are willing to carry a separate device.

Get started with Google Fi



AT&T recently adopted an International Day Pass. For $10 a day, you may access your domestic plan in 100+ countries. The only catch is that you will incur a $10 fee if you use the data at any time in the 24 hour period, which is hard to track considering you have apps updating in the background.

In other words, be prepared to pay for the full $10 per day. Personally, I am able to have unlimited data and texting for $10 while we travel. This is one of the more expensive options, especially when you consider that AT&T sells the day pass by device, so it would get quite expensive for a family.

The day pass was a welcomed addition to the AT&T International plans for customers. Before it's launch, the only thing offered was the AT&T passports (still offered), which alone start at $60 for 1 GB of data, and talk at $0.35 per minute.

Get started with the AT&T day pass



Verizon was the first major US carrier to offer international cell phone plans, with their Travel Pass service. For $5 a day in Canada/Mexico, and $10 a day in 185+ countries you will get access to 0.05GB of 4G data. If you are a frequent traveler who will be gone a month or more, Verizon also offers a monthly plan starting at $70 for 100 minutes of talk, and 1/2 GB of data (not much at all).

Get started with Verison's Travel Pass



While Google Fi has the market cornered for high-speed service worldwide, T-Mobile has a broad array of options to stay connected while traveling.

As a T-Mobile Magenta customer, you receive unlimited texts and data at 2G speeds (very slow) in over 210+ countries. So if you just need the basics while on the road, it's a solid, free option.

Last year, T-Mobile introduced  T-Mobile One Plus. For $5 a day, you can upgrade to the travel plan that bumps your speeds up to 512 Mbps of 4G LTE speeds.

And more recently, the carrier introduced International Passes. For $35, you can get up to 5GB of high-speed data for 10 days. Or spring for the $50 package, which gets you 15GB over a month.

Get Started with T-Mobile International 



Along with having AT&T we also have first-hand experience with Sprint's international cell phone plans. Already included in your Sprint carrier plan is the same amount of data you currently have at 2G LTE speeds. Sprint also offers an upgrade option to purchase. For $5 a day you increase speeds up to 4G LTE.

Get Started with Sprint International


Purchasing an International SIM Card

If you want to save a few bucks while traveling internationally, but don't necessarily want to purchase one of the international cell phone plans, you may purchase an international SIM card. This option allows you to purchase a to-go or top-up plan through your phone carrier of choice in whichever country you are traveling to.

The SIM card option is conducted quite easily, as the only thing you need to make sure of is that your phone is unlocked (meaning no longer with a specific carrier). In the US, this is an easy task as long as your phone is fully paid off. You then call any major carrier and they should be able to help you out.

After unlocking your phone, you then need to purchase an international SIM card. SIM cards can be purchased on Amazon, eBay or the phone carrier of choice for just a few dollars. Some airports will even have kiosks to purchase a SIM card like the one pictured below at London's Heathrow Airport (LHR).

From there, you are able to use your phone as you would domestically. You simply use the plan you have purchased through the carrier of choice.


SIM Card and service
SIM vending machine at Heathrow Airport


Using Only WiFi

With it being 2018, so much of the world now has reliable, fast WiFi. If you wish to truly save money on your trip and not worry about incurring possible overages, you may just turn off your cellular network and data on your phone, and just use WiFi.

With so many restaurants, museums, coffee shops and other places having WiFi nowadays it is possible to go this route and still be somewhat connected. In fact, many of our favorite travel apps have the ability to download certain aspects for offline use. This is a great option when taking the WiFi-only route.


Bottom Line

No matter if you are a loyal customer of one of the US carriers listed above or just someone who is wanting to save money on your upcoming trip, you should be able to find an option that works for you. The world is becoming smaller, and there is no place this is more evident than the changes in international cell phone plans over the last 10 years.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

5 Responses

  • The T-Mobile one plus is $5 per month not per day. Also comes with unlimited gogo inflight wifi access on American and United.

  • I have used Verizon’s $10 a day plan on two different trips. I was not satisfied with the service, particularly in rural areas. Riding a bike, needing a map, and having no connection is no fun! Others with me had much better connections with AT&T and Sprint. Apparently Verizon doesn’t pair with the best Euro mobile operators.

    I’m looking seriously at a Euro SIM chip for an upcoming trip. Be careful to look for the best coverage, as well as costs in different countries (particularly non-EU countries). So far, Deutsche Telekom looks promising, but I still have more research to do. You can also download area/country maps for use with various mapping programs, for use off-line.

  • I have used my iPhone 6+ in Morocco, Spain, Singapore, New Zealand, Germany, Austria and Switzerland with the Google Fi SIM card. I use VOIP to make calls with e.g. What’s App, Google Hangouts, or Talkatone. The only place I could not get service was in French Polynesia.

  • I have used Verizon’s Travel Pass on several trips to Northern Europe. I’ve never been quite satisfied with the service. It’s like they partner with services that don’t have great service or capacity. Many times I’ve been in rural areas needing a map, and had no connection. On a recent trip, my friends phones on Sprint and AT&T were much more reliable, and usually faster. Google Fi sounds VERY interesting, maybe worth buying a phone that works with it.

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