Why T-Mobile is the Best Phone Carrier for U.S. Travelers

t-mobile logo
A long time ago in a state far, far away (Massachusetts), I used AT&T as my cellphone service provider. I had been using them since I was nineteen. When the iPhone first came out, I bought it because I could remove the original AT&T SIM card, insert a local SIM from the country I was in, and still have a handy dandy smartphone to Tweet from. So I unlocked my phone (hacked it so I could use it overseas) and off around the world I happily went.

Flash forward to the end of 2012 when Verizon announced their phones would come automatically unlocked for international travel. I needed a new iPhone at this point, AT&T had awful customer service and high fees, and since the new phone would already be unlocked, it would save me some hassle. It was the excuse I needed to leave AT&T.

Flash forward again to the end of 2013 when T-Mobile announced it was giving all their users free international data and text messaging in over 100 countries — plus all calls while in those countries were 20 cents a minute. This was a pretty enticing offer since I pay a lot of money a year in phone coverage. Here’s a table of international fees I pulled together from each carrier’s website so you can compare:

Data$0$30-120 per month$25 per 100MB
Texting$0Starts at 10 cents each50 cents to send, 5 cents to receive.
Roaming20 cents a minute$30-120 per month$4.99 per month

That chart pretty lays the numbers out there. T-Mobile is the clear winner here.
Now, historically, T-Mobile had a reputation of being a really bad service provider. And for a number of years, they were — but thanks to money they received after the failed merger with AT&T, they heavily invested in their network and began offering 4G and LTE speeds. Now, their coverage map is almost as good as the other carriers (it still doesn’t have Verizon level coverage but they cover 96% of the country).

With their plans starting at $50 USD per month, it was hard to make the case to stay with Verizon. I found Verizon had awful customer service, high roaming fees (one quick phone call in Canada cost me over $10!) and with my basic service plan costing $110 a month, it became a financial no-brainer.

So I made the switch. I broke my contract with Verizon, ordered a new iPhone 5S, signed-up for T-Mobile, and hoped I made the right choice. My phone plan is now $70 per month (with taxes) – that’s a $40 per month savings right away, but the big question remained: would I have good service both at home and abroad?

Service at home in New York City has been fine. I have 4G or LTE wherever I go and I haven’t had any dropped calls. At the recent SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas, I had some spotty service, but with 20,000 people there, that might have been the reason. After using the phone for close to three months now, I haven’t had any dropped calls and only a few instances of “no service” when I was in a few rural areas, but that usually only lasts a few seconds. However, that used to happen with Verizon too, so I’m not concerned about it. (According to a new study, T-Mobile has the fastest Internet coverage, too.)

And how does it do internationally? Well, I flew to Hong Kong in February and the second we landed I turned on my phone and waited for service. “Searching” my phone shouted back at me. Searching… searching… no service.

I slunk in my seat, deflated. I kept turning the phone on and off in hopes of finding a connection. The plane came to the gate. Still nothing.

I hopped on the airport Wi-Fi and tweeted at T-Mobile. My plan was the right plan. It was all set to go. But nothing.

Deflated even more, I walked through the terminal when it happened – service. 3G service. On my phone.

I had overreacted.

When I touched down later that day in Bangkok, my phone buzzed alive with updates as I connected to the local phone operator, AIS with 3G service.

I was set to go. But service doesn’t mean good service.

So how did it work out?


I didn’t have any dropped calls, all my texts went through, and for the most part I had a 3G connection. A number of times while in the slightly rural areas, I only got the “E” network and had to deal with slightly slow Internet, but I always had it. (The only 4G network in Thailand is through True Move and T-Mobile doesn’t partner with them.)

When I came home in early March, I found my bill wasn’t $10,000 but still the same old $70 I was promised. There were no hidden fees! It was all as promised.

The following week I was in Berlin and London. My phone worked perfectly there. There was still no 4G/LTE service but I always had fast 3G service and was able to upload and share information quickly. No dropped calls, missed text messages, or bad service.

I am thrilled by this, and T-Mobile, with their contract-free (and cheaper) plans, free international data, and a better customer service model, now has me as a customer for a long, long time. I never again have to worry about buying foreign SIM cards and coverage again. There are no more additional costs in my travels. I know what my phone bill is going to be every month and I get to keep the same number worldwide.

If you are a traveler and live in the U.S., you should 100% get T-Mobile. Your life will be a lot easier, you’ll be able to keep the same number, and you’ll stay connected around the world. (And your bill will be a lot cheaper.)

If you already have T-Mobile and don’t think you have this plan, you should. It’s available to all users so make sure you call and get this service attached to your old plan if it isn’t already.

I’m really excited about T-Mobile, the land of no contracts, no cancellation fees, and free international data and texting.

They really are the “uncarrier”, and anything that breaks the Verizon/AT&T hold in the U.S. is something I completely support.

So, to all the travelers out there (or people who are just fed up with the fees and services of the other carriers), make the switch to T-Mobile and simplify your life and lower your overseas phone costs.

Update 3/15/15: Using T-Mobile phones in China gets you around the Great Firewall. I was able to use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram without a problem.

Editor’s Note: I know people will wonder so I want to say that no, T-Mobile didn’t sponsor me or ask me to write this post. I pay my own monthly bill, switched when I heard about this amazing offer, and have been very happy with the service since. I’m just here preaching about something I believe will help other travelers.

For more tips on saving money on phones and data when you travel, read three related posts below.

  1. I have the prepaid $30 month Walmart plan for Tmobile — 100 minutes free calls, then 10 cents per call, unlimited texts, and unlimited high speed data (up to 5G). Do you know if I can get international coverage with this bargain basement plan?

    • David Brier

      I have the same plan (love it) but from what I’ve ready you don’t get the International bonus deal. That is only available to post paid customers.

      • I have that $30/mo 100 min/mo plan too. After living in other countries where I can get unlimited for that same price or less, I refuse to pay more. I may even switch to Virgin, as they have unlimited for $30/mo . I’ve never used my US number while abroad (who wants to call or text me on a foreign number? Nobody. Though thank goodness for apps…), I always just grab a local SIM card to use. For keeping in touch with people no matter where I am, I use apps like Viber, the Facebook messenger, or email. I admit, the first day can be frustrating until you get the SIM card, but it’s totally worth it. And even if you’re still paying your $30 bill back home…. you’re still going to be paying less with 2 SIM cards than you did with AT&T. lol

        • hgi

          Or you could use wifi calling if your phone is capable of wifi connection with let’s say a hotel where you staying or any facility that offers free wifi. Tmobile does not charge for wifi calls.

          • maddie

            Incorrect. When you are using Wi-Fi calling the system thinks you are in the united states…. so a call to the united states over Wi-Fi is free no matter where you are

          • s

            I’m a T-Mobile rep. And this is not totally true. WiFi calls while traveling abroad DO in fact have the .20c voice charge for anywhere EXCEPT calls back to the states. And you have to make sure WiFi calling is enabled on your device.

            Again, WiFi calls back to the US ONLY are free. Any other time on Wi-Fi, you will be charged 20c/min.

    • Casey

      I have the same plan. You do not get free international roaming with this plan. Its really the only downside of the plan.

    • Gary

      Are you kidding? T-Mobile the best? I have never in my life experienced such poor customer service. It is really unfathomable what we have been through with these people. I am so frustrated that I’m not going to get into it yet again. If you are wise you will realize that they are the worst and to stay as far away as possible and they also have the worst coverage as well no matter what their price is. You’ll regret it and remember this review.

    • Globetrotter

      My wife and I spent nearly 3 weeks in France and Italy last month, roaming on our T-Mobile Simple Choice plans. We have the ‘unlimited everything’ 2 lines for $100 plan and I can honestly say I was a little nervous about the thought of having to battle the billing department when I got home. As the author has stated, text and 2/3G data was completely free and the couple of calls we made were just $0.20/min. Having the data was absolutely an lifesaver throughout the entire trip! Pulling up reservations, navigating with Google Maps, and finding places to eat and drink is indespensible when traveling abroad. I was little worried watching my wife hammering her 3G connection with Instagram uploads, but in the end we were only charged for the 10 minutes or so of phone calls that we had to make while away. I absolutely cannot reccomend T-Mobile enough now… I’ve been using them for a couple of years now and you simply cannot beat their consumer friendly offerings and the changes they have brought to wireless industry… free roaming, rollover data, free music streaming, NO overages, and NO contracts.

  2. HatlessShrimp

    I’m about to go on a trip to Europe and I was just planning to use Wifi hotspots and Whatsapp to keep in touch but this sounds so much better. So I did a little browsing on T-mobile and it turns out T-mobile will pay any early-cancellation fees from your old carrier if you turn in your old device. Just letting everyone else know because that pretty much sold me.

    • Piotr

      Is that true? Cause I have about a year left on my ATT plan. I see I can also purchase a new sim for $10.

      Would the $70 plan cover me for my 2 months in Europe?

      • Linda Lopez

        Matt, I’m wondering if you feel the need to use a dual SIM phone so you can use a combo of your int. data plan and a local SIM card or Ekit SIM card to save even more $? Do you have a phone that you prefer? I found your site and like the info you supplied on Tmobile and know I need to switch from Verizon before we leave. Thank you.

          • Linda

            Great, went to T-mobile and am ready to make the move. I have to choose a new phone and wonder if you think the IPhone 5S is still the best choice. (The 6 is out now)Thanks, you have been very helpful and a friend of mine concurred that T-Mobile is a great service.

  3. Nat

    Interesting. I had to leave TMo ~2 years ago because of the rural coverage issue. Whenever I wasn’t in a big city in the US, I couldn’t get service at all. And back then, they didn’t have the option to add an international plan for a month like AT&T did. Your post is making me cautiously optimistic about switching back. I really despise AT&T’s customer service.

    • NomadicMatt

      Look into them again. They have really expanded coverage in the last two years. They invested heavily in their service. It might not be good still but worth a look!

      • Paul

        No, it still isn’t good, in fact I’m going to have to leave T-Mobile for AT&T because the coverage is so bad outside of most cities I have little to nothing around home. Being they’re saying the majority of their expanding will be done by early-mid 2015, I’d wait a good year before trying them unless you want try their test drive now and see if the coverage in your area is tolerable or even good.

        • iKomrad

          T-mobile still has spotty coverage in South Denver, CO where I live. I keep finding areas where it says “no service” where I had service with AT&T and Verizon. I’m going to look at switch as I depend on my connectivity to the Internet/home network while on the go.

      • BohemianD

        Switched my iPhone to TM prepaid two months ago. I find that they do not do well in rural areas as I drive a long stretch of 75 with no service. It was also spotty all over Georgia. My days also seems to slow down halfway through the month despite that I have rarely used more than one gig in my lifetime. Streamjng Spotify is impossible as well, even when you’ve chosen to play a saved list. I used to like TM when I had them prior to ATT but it seems the speeds are sllloooowwww.

  4. I like T Mobile, but I switched to republic wireless about a year and a half ago, and now they have an option to just be able to use it over wifi for $5 a month. I usually get a local SIM when I go to any place for more than a few weeks, and if I’m there for less time I am not so concerned about being able to use my cell phone. I’m not really “traveling” a lot, but I’m living in different places for a few months at a time, so this works for me! I keep my US number, and switch to a cell and data plan when I’m home, otherwise I look forward to paying less when I’m away!

    • Leo

      Does Republic have a phone that you can put an international sim card in? I have their service with the MotoX and the $5/month WiFi only plan but it won’t work with providers outside the U.S.

      It’s nice to keep my U.S. number while abroad but I’d like the option to use the local providers as well without buying another phone.

  5. Gil

    Many good points taken. But I am curious about one thing….”Now, their coverage map is just as good as the other carriers.”

    What are you basing this assumption on? As far as I’m aware this is not the case. Their marketing efforts may try to convince you otherwise, but to my knowledge they are not on par with say Verizon. Source: http://www.rootmetrics.com/

    • Chris

      True, true. No one around here will use T-Mobile because it just doesn’t work in the west outside of big cities!

        • Angela Ursery

          I’m now a TMobile customer again (after ditching them for a couple of other carriers three years ago). I live in the NW, and the service coverage–and speed–have both really improved here in the last couple of years.
          I’m also going to check into the international package for my 2015 trip to the UK. I had T-Mobile the last time I went (2010) but wasn’t able to figure out a (cheap) way to have phone service there. Also, I had a wifi hot spot with me (great for on-the-street google maps, emailing, etc, BTW) and didn’t realize–then–that I could have used it for phone calls! Thankfully I know a bit more know about my electronic/communications kit these days.
          And Matt–your site is such a goldmine of information and inspiration. You are a relentless evangelist of the gifts and growth offered by the open road, and that is a wonderful thing, indeed. Thank you for all you do.

  6. Wow, international data and texting sounds amazing! Coming from Canada (home to the most expensive phone plans in the world), I’m loving the phone plans here in Germany. The one I currently use is really good and funny enough, they’re owned by T-Mobile!

  7. Definitely something I’ll be looking into. I’ve been with AT&T waaayy too long and have basically given up on using my phone while abroad unless I’m just relying on free wifi. It’s just too expensive and such a hassle. Thanks for sharing!

    Happy travels :)

  8. Mike Riddle

    Would you recommend having a plan like this for someone who doesn’t need the phone for business? Is a better option to just get a cheap prepaid phone for use abroad?

    • NomadicMatt

      Well, that depends where you live and how often you travel. I mean the phone works for me and I have great service plus my bill is cheaper. That might not be the case for you if you live in a rural area.

  9. Kevin Hassett

    I concur with what Matt said. I also made the switch from Verizon to the same T-Mo plan a few months back and am thrilled with the choice (and my bill was cut in half).

    This is a no-brainer if you are on another carrier in the U.S., especially for travelers.

  10. Slammy

    I switched to T mobile 4 months ago largely because of this opportunity, but I find the rural area coverage to be fairly abysmal. Also I have yet to be impressed by their customer service. I never had any of the oft referred to problems that other AT&T users complain of and honestly preferred speaking with them on the phone to resolve minor issues. On top of that my bill is right on par with what I paid for AT&T. I’m not sure I made the right choice.

    • mitch

      joined Tmobile, also a mistake, I would rather pay the over charges and rates at ATT for the speed and connectivity.
      Service in Germany sucks at best. absolutely NO SERVICE in Hong Kong.

      signal strength in US mainland isn’t very good either. Not happy switching, unreliable. no wonder the price and deal is good….

      • NomadicMatt

        T-Mobile doesn’t have widespread US coverage. Verizon or ATT definitely has a better network if you don’t live in a metro area. However, having them is a lot easier for people who fly in and out of the US a lot (like I do). If you’re leaving for multiple months at a time on some long term trip, it would probably be better to get SIM cards.

  11. As a Canadian, T-Mobile isn’t an option for me. When I travel outside Canada I tend to get a local SIM card with data and phone service for the period I’ll be away. I’ve done this with Vodafone Italia, for instance. In the USA I tried going to ATT… Their on-device activation looked handy. To use it though, requires a US credit card – my Canadian Visa card won’t work. T-mobile though, sold me a SIM with service for $3/day for as many days as needed. No activation hassles. So they get my recommendation for travellers TO the US.

    • Bill Mesker

      It’s weird…. I live in Ohio and I was at a place called Geneva on The Lake, (I have T-Mobile by the way) and I was having a tad bit of trouble getting reception. Strangely enough my Galaxy S3 4G LTE picked up a signal from Bell in Canada for a brief moment and I was like “what the hell?” haha. Is it possible that Bell Canada has an agreement with T-Mobile to use their towers?

      • HA! I’ve stayed at the Lakehouse Inn and Winery in Geneva-on-the-Lake several times during the off-season; the latest less than a month after your post. Small world.

        I use Straight Talk on the AT&T network and have since getting my Nexus 4 in Nov. 2012 and have yet to fall off their network that I’ve seen. Took one trip from Detroit to GotL to Pittsburgh to Columbus and back, using Google Maps navigation and streaming music without a break.

        One time I too noticed my status bar showing I’d connected to Rogers (IIRC) network somehow even though it’s 40-50 miles across Lake Erie. Only happened once that I’ve seen. One time we were listening to some radio station and then realized it was in London, about 50-60 miles away.

  12. Ryan

    I work for AT&T and my wife works at T-Mobile. I have extensive use with both carriers, and even my wife will admit, that AT&T has by far a more reliable and faster network. We have traveled quite extensively through the Pacific Northwest, Mid-West, Southwest, and Southeast. In every place we’ve been to AT&T has worked without fail, while T-Mobile has only been usable in large metro areas (except Milwaukee and Chicago, where it was abysmal). The new Mobile Share Value plans with 10GB+ are very fairly priced if you bring your own device or are on the Next program.

  13. David

    Hey Matt, how did your bill stay at $70 per month?

    From reading T-Mobie’s international info, it looks like there is no extra charge for international text or data, but international calls are 20 cents per minute…

    • Jeri

      How do you make international calls with no additional charges to your $70 bill? It’s 20 cents per minute. I can’t even take incoming calls here in Mexico without the international charge.

  14. Paddy

    I’m on T-Mobile in Mexico now for a couple of months, and have been thrilled with being able to text back & forth with folks at home without worrying about any cost. The first week I was nervously checking my usage & bill regularly, but there was no cost. The data connection is typically very slow and only worth using if I really have no choice. Even when I was trying to get something sorted out with the airline and needed to sit on hold for awhile, the $0.20/minute cost kept me from worrying too much about it.

    My wife is on Verizon and her phone might as well be dead for all the use she can get out of it due to Verizon’s high international costs. Verizon also had the gall to talk her into a $5/month service that just gives her the ability to dial in Mexico, but still has high charges for actual use.

    Otoh, when we’re up on the California North Coast, it’s my T-Mobile service that’s useless, and my wife’s Verizon phone that works like normal. However, if I had bought a phone from T-mobile (I have a Google-direct Nexus 5), my understanding is that T-mobile’s service will switch you automatically to calls over wifi if you don’t have a good cell signal (and have a wifi connection setup). This is regretfully not available if you bring in your own device (one rep said it was chip-embedded, but I suspect it’s just a pure software feature T-mobile holds back to sell more phones).

    The best thing about T-mobile free/cheap international service is that I’ll be able to keep my known phone while I travel. People will no longer need to know my temporary number, or even that I’m overseas.

    • NomadicMatt

      Yeah, I agree. They don’t always have the best service domestically but you can’t beat them on prices overseas,

    • Andrew

      Is this still working for you? I noticed in TMobiles terms they say the plan isn’t meant for long term international use. I’m wondering what “long term” is defined as. How long has it worked for you?

  15. This is so surprising but good to know! I’ve always used verizon, thinking that t mobile had shitty reception. Thanks for the tip. However, if you want to text local people in whatever country you are in, do you use a local phone or your t mobile phone still?

  16. Been using tmobile under the simple choice plan for 3 months now in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia.

    Overall works great but be careful of the 0.20/min charges and they just mistakenly charged me for more than I thought it should be. Just lots of time on the phone with them sorting things out.

    A bit frustrating – but awesome overall.

  17. Yippee! I just called them, and I’ve switched my plan (when the plan first came out they had told me that I did not qualify for the switch?!!). So looking forward to not having to worry about roaming charges when overseas and being able to text/email whomever I am trying to meet up with in the country I’m visiting–this was a problem last year in Spain…(of course, I still won’t be covered in Myanmar, but some day…..)

    As to all of the comments about T-Mobile service locally, I’ve had them all, and none of them have great service (at least in my neighborhood)…I’ve just resigned myself, for now, to keeping my landline.

    Thanks, Matt.

    • Gil

      Data speeds are capped. So in terms of streaming, browsing, etc…you’re going to be somewhat restricted. Still a great deal though in terms of international use.

    • NomadicMatt

      You get 3G up until 2.5 gigs of data then they throttle you down. I had no problem streaming YouTube videos or loading webpages in Thailand.

      • Giles

        Funny you say that Matt, im wondering why there small print reads, “we are not responsible for the performance of our roaming partners’ networks. Standard speeds approx. 128 Kbps. No tethering.”
        Last time I checked 128Kbps is barely 2G and I checked with T-Mobiles technical division and they have stated that they do not offer 3G roaming service for free! Also tested by CNN money http://money.cnn.com/2014/03/24/technology/mobile/t-mobile-international-roaming/

          • Alex

            That was my biggest concern as well, if it said “3G” but was really very slow service. If that was the case then it might not be worth it for me but if you said you could load web pages and stream video with no problems then it must be ok (at least in the area you were in in Thailand).

            I would be quickly annoyed if I had very slow speeds on an international trip as all I am really looking for is a reasonable amount of data to run local apps, Google maps, Yelp, etc.

  18. Thanks Matt for the post. I can confirm that it also works in Turkey, I was in Istanbul, Izmir, Bergama, Selcuk and Goreme, and I always had good signal and data worked perfectly. I was able to text my family with no problem and calls were fantastic as well. I have a Nexus 5

    • Starr

      Glad to hear it works well in Turkey. Turkey has been the most frustrating, for me, place to get cell phone service. I was hear last year and in order to get a SIM card, it had to be put in a friend’s name as she was Turkish and I would have had to go to register my phone in Kusadasi. The phone worked for the week I was here and then my phone was blocked for any future use. I am here in Turkey again for a month and could not get a SIM card to work. The telecom agency blocks the IME number. Registration is expensive. I was told 120 TL to register and you would only be good for the period of time equal to your visa.
      I’m changing to T-Mobile when I am next in the US.

  19. Great post! I had no clue this plan existed. I wish I knew about it 4 months ago when I came into Canada from the US for 4 months. I might just have to make the switch when I go back to the US.

  20. Man, you Americans get much better phone deals than us in Canada… our Big Three raised rates on the same day last week for the same amount within a hour of each other … aie!

  21. Kiya Johnson

    Thanks, Matt! I was already a T-Mobile customer and didn’t realize I could qualify for this plan without paying extra. I called and wasn’t eligible for the plan switch but the T-Mo rep went ahead and credited me back the $100 migration fee. My bill is now also $30 cheaper. Wow…the things I learn from reading this blog!

  22. I too had AT&T for many years and besides the relatively higher charges, the need to sign-up for a 2 year contract, and the horrendous customer service I found the service good. This time around I could not commit to a 2 year contract and with the option of obtaining a no-contract plan from T-Mobile, I switched. I got the same horrendous service (no change there), lower monthly fee with no-contract, but the downside has been horrible service. I am in Austin, Texas and even outside of the couple of weeks of SXSW the service is horrible. I hardly ever get a connection the first time and usually it takes me 5-6 or more attempts before the call connects. I get varying amounts of bars and that makes no difference to the ability to connect. i have had 4 bars at certain times and still unable to make a phone call! Never had this problem with AT&T. Six of one and half a dozen of the other but to say T-Mobile is the best phone carrier for US travelers is misleading at best.

    • NomadicMatt

      It’s not misleading, it’s simply my opinion. I think they are the best for US travelers. I’m talking about using them overseas, not domestically. I don’t think they offer the best coverage in the US but they offer the best deals for travelers and if you are traveling a lot and want to save money, I think you should consider moving to T-mobile.

  23. Ahhh thanks for sharing this!! I wanted to know from someone who traveled quite a bit if this is worth the switch. I don’t travel as much overseas but I visit family in Canada a couple times a year and the roaming or prepaid is ridiculous in Canada.

  24. Elena

    its true! and its amazing! i am studying abroad in montreal for four years and after my first year of switching sims back and forth, having to buy a new one every time i went back to the states, i jumped onto my family’s tmobile plan ( as an additional line my service only costs $10 /month).

    I was worried about tmobile cutting me off after a month or two, but i am going onto month number 5 and still going strong!

  25. Jim

    TM is the best deal for travelers period. My wife and I pay around 100-bucks a month for unlimited minutes, text, and data (up to 2.5 gig each high speed, after that they throttle it back) We go to Mexico a lot, and my wife said it worked great over in Italy recently. Added around $2.20 to my bill when she was there, and that was for call usage. It used to kill us when we traveled. We would basically have to turn the phones off to keep from incurring charges, now we can tell people to text or call if they need to, and it is great for getting directions and reservations for restaurants or museums using the free data.

  26. Dan Kraft

    Before I switch over to T-M, I need to have an answer to a question which T-M has not given me consistent answers when I’ve checked.
    Are incoming calls from the US while in Europe and other areas charged 20 cents a minute as are outgoing calls? Some reps have told me no, but others have said maybe!
    Should I use a local country SIM card if for example I will be in a country for a long time where it won’t cost me but it will cost the caller in the US (but they can use Skype for pennies a minute).
    On our next trip, we will be going to four countries in 12 days, so I’m sticking with my international GSM phone with a Onesimcard.com card which has free incoming calls in all the countries in Europe. It will cost me 20 cents a minute for my family to call me on a toll-free US number.
    Next year, when we’re going to spend longer time in Italy and other countries, I was thinking of using a dual-SIM card phone so that I can use a local SIM card and my onesimcard.com SIM card.
    But maybe with T-M’s international plan, it may pay to join them.
    Any thoughts?

    • Jim

      as long as you are in one of the countries covered under their Simple Choice plan (Italy is) it is 20 cents a minute for out/in calls. Check their list on the website.

  27. Interesting. I had T-Mobile for years – the service was very hit or miss in the US (I often couldn’t get service in my condo in Chicago or had to stand right by the window to get it and often had dropped calls). When I went to Egypt in 2008 with a semi-smart phone, I was able to access very slow internet and email the entire time for no extra charge. But then when I went to Europe in 2009, my plan had somehow changed (without them telling me) and I got socked with $800 in charges with no warning! Not happy and they would do nothing to help me out. Then I had another experience where someone was sending me hundreds of text messages that led me to get overage charges (even though I had blocked them and never received them). The T-Mobile reps wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say when I protested the $200+ bill for the overages.

    I eventually cancelled my T-Mobile contract when I left on my RTW trip in 2011 (their one saving grace was they unlocked my phone for free). When I returned in fall 2013, I spent a day going back and forth between the AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile stores trying to decide which to go with and when I did all the math, AT&T came out on top. If T-Mobile offered free international data & texting at that time, they definitely didn’t advertise it. They also didn’t offer any kind of no-contract plan for a smartphone and their contract options were more pricey than AT&T.

    When I went to Canada in June, I briefly added AT&T’s international data plan to my account, but because there was wi-fi pretty much everywhere I went, I barely used it and I cancelled before I ever got charged for it. I didn’t bother adding the data when I went to Nepal in October and again, I could find enough free wifi that I really wouldn’t have needed the data.

    So I suppose if you think you’ll be texting that often or won’t have access to wifi, T-Mobile might make sense for traveling, but with the prevalence of free wifi, I’m not sure it makes that big of a difference.

  28. Harold Smith

    Check out millenicom.com, they are resalers for xxx (not suppose to say). A lot of full time RVer’s use them for LTE hotspot service when traveling around the country. This past Christmas Millenicom had a killer special, a iPad mini for $200. with free cell service for 4 months, after that we down graded to free 3G service for the rest of the year. And, get this, free international data service (in countries TMobile partners with). We are setting out for Europe this spring and all of the countries will be covered. I was wondering how that was all going to work, but you explained it for me. Thanks! Please use my name as a referral.

  29. Hi matt,
    On our recent US road trip I bought a T-mobile sim for my phone. We are Australian with Aussie phone and didn’t want a contract nor did we have an address in the US. We paid cash no questions asked, although I have since logged on to their website with no problems. I originally had it on the $30 a month unlimited plan (3g limited to 500mb then unlimited 2g) and it was great. Used it as a GPS for the car and despite the occasional drop out (think rural NY state and Pennsylvania) it was great. Then transferred to the pay per day of $2 which suited us perfectly. Found no difference between 2G and 3G to be honest. Fast enough to do what we wanted.
    Cheers James

  30. I’m right with you Matt — I made the jump to T-Mobile a month ago for the same reason as you. You over looked two important points though: 1) T-Mobile will pay the any early cancellation charge you’re charged by ATT and Verizon, and 2) for an additional $10 per month you’ll not only get insurance for any lost or damaged phone (including water damage) but it also will give you a new phone every six months if you want one — so you’ll always have the latest model.
    Be careful, however, and don’t pay for their insurance — pay the #10 for this Jump Plan which includes the insurance.

    • hgi

      True $10 compulsory fee includes insurance and Lookout App for android phones (I don’t know about iphones). This is an antivirus malware as well as has several other security features.

      As far as insurance by their own company Assurance (they wouldnot admit they own it), it sucks. They made me pay a deductible of $175 for a cracked screen on my Samsung s4. And the replacement is a reconditioned unit. And it took 4 weeks turn around after much phone calls and intervention from tmobile.

  31. xf

    This is a highly personal issue that is going to differ for everybody. The reason the mobile carriers give you 30-day returns is so you can figure out whether their network works for you. Sometimes they don’t have coverage in your neighborhood, and sometimes you just live in a dead zone (and every carrier has them).

    If T-Mo works for you, great. If you don’t live in a urban core or a freeway corridor, though, you’re probably still screwed.

  32. “Only” 70$/month ? It looks like a joke. Seriously.
    I am not american, I have been traveling for 13 months so far, only using local prepaid plans with local sim cards with local providers and I can swear I NEVER paid more than 30usd per month.
    In the US, I had the T-mo/Walmart plan (30USD/month)
    In Mexico, Telcel Amigo (±20USD/month)
    In New Zealand, Skinny (16NZD/month)
    In Australia, Yatango (0AUD for the first month)
    So yes the T-mo plan is more convenient but also way more expensive that what you can find in most of the countries. Think about it :)

    • NomadicMatt

      While that works for you as a traveler, as a US resident 70 a month (with tax) is pretty cheap for a monthly phone plan. This allows me to have a phone in the US and have one overseas. For non-US residents or permanent travelers like yourself, your way is probably better.

      This is just another option for travelers.

      • hgi

        If you own a business, you could end up paying $100 for upto 5 phones both for talk txt and reasonable data about a gig for each phone. So for 5 phones it would work out to $20 a month. Not bad.

  33. Interesting- I used to have T-Mobile for 3 or 4 years, but the service was so spotty in the western United States that I eventually gave it up. Might be worth looking back into, although I still swear by keeping a “pay-as-you-go” phone for abroad. Sure, it might be circa 2002, but it still works, and it’s cheap!

  34. frank

    Thanks for the great info! Question: I thought that putting in (switching) local SIM cards automatically changes the phone number of the phone. (??) How do you get around that and keep the same number in different countries?

    • NomadicMatt

      You can’t unless you keep the same SIM card in (switching SIM cards does change the number like you said). Since I keep T-Mobile, I always have my US number.

    • BR

      I used G3 wireless, it’s a global SIM card I have a canadian number since I’m from Canada, but you also have a choice of a US number. I used them when I traveled to different parts of Europe – Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany and France. Works pretty good, cheap rate too, it was 39¢ anywhere in Europe. Check them out http://www.g3wireless.com

  35. NomadicMatt

    It might be worth it to get a second phone and just put local SIM cards in and not use your AT&T phone overseas.

    And the AMEX/Boingo partnership is for platinum card holders.

  36. I’ve had some bad experiences with T-Mobile, but it definitely seems like they have stepped up their game over the past few years. I may have to reconsider 😛

  37. I can’t say that I’ve ever had a bad experience with Verizon customer service – they allowed me to suspend my account without billing when I was first traveling abroad. But obviously T-Mobile has the more affordable coverage! And yes, when I went to Nepal a single phone call on Verizon would’ve cost me something insane like $20/minute!

  38. Thanks for the post Matt. I’ve been researching this issue a lot. Have you looked at Straight Talk Wireless. They have an International Unlimited Everything Plan for $60 /month and you can chose to use it on either AT&T or T-Mobile GSM> Wouldn’t that be better than what you’re suggesting. Maybe I’m missing something.

    Take a look at: http://www.straighttalk.com/wps/portal/home/shop/unlimitedinternational/!ut/p/b1/fYxBDoIwFAXPwgX4jw-l7bKKCCQWrCZqNwZdmEbBjdHrq4krE53dJJMhT7uEFXQiBSvakh_7ezj1t3Ad-8vbfb4v0CzSpanYWVuiLrr1RLUOgKSGfDgM8eM4xIhTLSDAOlG5zpgz2pD_GlRSoO6q6WouLbLX4G_QlvwJ8AMDGvzs7EwUPQFRZIbP/

    And tell us what you thnk.

  39. Arturo

    I will be traveling north of Hanoi and would like to use a phone’s mapping software.
    I will be traveling with a Verizon iphone 5s from the USA.
    What would be the recommended way to accomplish this?
    a) Buy a nano sim card when I arrive in Hanoi?
    b) Buy a local phone in Hanoi, with prepaid card?

    My order of importance
    1 Mapping
    2 Texting
    3 Making international phone calls
    Thank You.

  40. Rob

    T-Mobile is an awesome company now with the new CEO (J.L.) who did a fantastic job revamping the company. Their plans are undeniably the best in the market! However, like one of your readers has mentioned, the ONLY negative thing when traveling internationally ESPECIALLY if you plan to stay in a foreign country for work, retirement, or just for an extended vacation, none of your local friends in those countries will call you or text you because it will be too expensive for them. I find that when I travel overseas, (other than Singapore which VERY, VERY expensive), it is usually always cheaper to buy a local SIM card with a prepaid plan.

    If T-Mobile would have some form of a “dual SIM plan” that would be perfect!

  41. brian

    T-mobile has always had better international plans even before this change last year.

    Caution though – the still have outrageous fees for those places not on the 100 country list. – So you still have to check the list and purchase locals sims occasionally instead of all the time. For me it means that this year I will need to purchase 2 sim cards instead of 9 I would have needed before. The speed maxes at 3G even if you are in a 4G area – which is fine for basic stuff.

    Their coverage is weaker than ATT or Verizon – but the only relevant thing is how the coverage is where you live – as they all have weak spots somewhere.

  42. ted

    I saw this article on cnet.com talking about the unlimited web and text. It was saying that it would not work for long term travelers because:

    “… and T-Mobile said it isn’t designed for people moving for a long stretch. Trips overseas can only last six weeks, and over a three-month period, half of the data usage must be in the US, weeding out potential people looking for a loophole”

    link to the articel :http://www.cnet.com/news/t-mobile-to-offer-free-unlimited-international-data-texts/

    i was hoping to get a phone for our extended traveling, but looks like I’ll have to stick with local SIM cards???

    • NomadicMatt

      For a long term traveler, it’s not a good deal simply because you can probably spend less than 70 a month on local SIM cards and if you are going away for a year or more, there’s no point in keeping a US based account since you aren’t using it. It’s good if you are gone for a few months but not a year. I would suggest a SIM card.

      • Nick Alcantara

        So does the phone service stop working if you have not used the phone a certain amount of time in the US? I would like to travel a year with this service, I hope that’s an option.

  43. I’ve had the same experience with T-mobile. They’ve been fantastic, I’ve had almost no coverage issues, and I’ve saved about $40 a month vs. my old verizon plan. For anyone considering the switch, it’s definitely worth it (especially if you live in a major metropolitan area).

    Also, T-mobile has a $30 a month, pre-paid plan you can enroll in (it’s only online, I believe). It gets you 100 min of talk a month, plus unlimited texting and data, both domestic and international. It’s pretty rad.

  44. I tried this. I have a pre-paid T-mobile plan and was told in the T-Mobile store it would work when I got to Thailand. I got on the ground and of course, no service. I spoke with T-mobile over my (free) Google voice number thru Gmail, and they confirmed that it doesn’t actually work for pre-paid plans, and that the only way to get it to work was to come back to the USA and get a new SIM card.

    I wanted to stay with T-mobile so I didn’t have to worry about getting SIM cards in every country and could reach my friends and family back in the states with minimal trouble, but in the end I wasted $100 on filling my prepaid account. Anyways, $70 a month is way more than you’ll pay for 2 gigabytes of 4G data in any country in the world (other than the USA). So if you want to save money you can just use a SIM card from whatever country and Skype / Viber.

    If you have an iPhone I’ve heard you can even make regular voice calls thru Google Hangouts though we’re still waiting for this on Android.

    • NomadicMatt

      That’s true. $70 is more than SIM cards generally cost but when you are also living in the US, it’s a good, inexpensive option when compared to the other carriers.

  45. Karim W

    Beware if traveling to Hawaii:

    I just got back form Kauai and data was useless. Didn’t work at all and on the 6th day of my trip I got a text stating that I used 40MB of the 50MB allotted for data roaming. There was link to click on for more info but it didn’t work.

    Today I called T-Mobile and was informed that Hawaii is domestic roaming and is limited to 50MB and after that it will turn off unless you buy more data.

    Here is the link that they emailed me today for more info:


    For the record, this year I have traveled to Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, and Dubai and the data worked fine even though it was slow.

    At LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) there is no service in most of the airport and while on the runway.

    • Dat

      Yeah if you look at the coverage map Hawaii is very spotty. 99% of Kauai is roaming, but the more populated islands of Oahu and the Big Island there is a lot of T-Mobile’s network that you shouldn’t be charged roaming for I believe.

  46. jeff w

    Great. I’m also looking at Wind Mobile in Canada which promises unlimited text voice and data in both USA and Canada

  47. Mama Frost

    Hi Nomadic Matt,

    My daughter will be studying abroad in Japan for a semester (4 1/2 months). She has tmobile with a 2GB data plan. Will she still have free international data for that long of a period or should she have her phone unlocked and buy a sim card once she gets over there? Also, there is a concern about entering a contract over there because the adult age in Japan in 20 and she will be 19 during her stay. I don’t think she’ll be making too many phone calls; mostly texts, but I want to be able to hear her voice from time to time, ya know?

  48. Kris

    You’re right – I love t-mobile. i am a recent traveler and have discovered the virtues of this provider. If I may ask – I’m considering a phone upgrade do you know what phone works best with t-mobile 4G?

  49. Stephen

    It should be noted that the T-Mobile plan is not intended for extended international travel (more than 5 weeks continuous out of the USA). The plan Terms and Conditions are very clear for extended travels the account can be flagged and terminated at T-Mobile’s discretion. If you actually go to and explain your plans to a T-Mobile store they will actually refuse to sell you the plan & sim card per company policy.

    This can be verified by reviewing the small print on the T-Mobile website (http://www.t-mobile.com/cell-phone-plans/individual.html#lshop_plans_1)

    “Not for extended international use; you must reside in the U.S. and primary usage must occur on our U.S. network. Device must register on our U.S. network before international use. Service may be terminated or restricted for excessive roaming or misuse.”

    Based on this Nomadic Matt post I recently tried to convert to T-Mobile for my around the world trip and ran into this exact issue. It is possible I (and others) may be able to fly under the radar as the policy is very discretionary, but unfortunately this is not a viable “one size fits all” for travelers. To date – I have not found any US based carrier that has a plan for long term international travel.

    • NomadicMatt

      You wouldn’t want one! T-Mobile is great for people who bounce in and out of the country. I go away in two/three month periods. If you are going away for a long period of time (3-12 months), it would be way cheaper for you to ditch a US carrier all together and simply get local SIM cards.

  50. James

    There’s too much fine print with T-Mobile that I find snake-e. They offer an unlimited everything plan.. but your data switches to 1 GB after 24 months.. wow.

    They offer unlimited data.. but you get 15 kbps.. soo cool. not.

    I would rather take out my sim card and check my e-mail once a day with wifi when I’m traveling.. because thats about all you can do with 15 kbps anyway.

  51. David

    So far my wife and I have been in The Netherlands for 3 weeks and we make great use of the free texting. Also having an iPhone helps with others texting us. On shopping trips if we get separated we just text each other. My wife has also made use of the free data roaming. I was uncertain about using data roaming after I upgraded to iOS 8 because you can only turn off 4g/LTE and then it comes up with 3g – was not sure if I would be charged for the data.

  52. Mike

    NomadicMatt, great read, posts, comments and feedback. I agree with all the points you brought up about roaming for data, etc. Where I struggle in the US is finding the best US Carrier plan for calling to & from Canada, do you have any suggestions? How do you minimize those expenses and if you just used your mobile phone (you might already) would you still recommend T-Mobile. Thanks.

    • Marcus Shumway

      Mike – I agree with you. I’m struggling to have 1 phone for North America and be able to carry on normal phone dialogue when in the USA to Canada and when in Canada to the USA. There is no real advantage with anyone. Closest is T-Mobile with free data. One solution would be a SKYPE App, that uses Data for calls on the iPhone. My worry is that I would be heavily relying on the data, which when 3G might not be the best call quality.

      Bottom line is that somehow, the Big 3 in Canada have built the most expensive mobile network in the world, and they continue to to get away with it. It has to be the Socialist government protecting it. Once real competition arrives, with a good USA carrier to Canada, Canadians will be hugely advantaged and will be shocked at how much they’ve been over paying. w

  53. Pat Jones

    I agree with Ryan above: the only downside to T-Mobile for me is that T-Mobile has spotty 4G and 3G reception in some rural areas in the western half of the United States. Phone switches from 3G to 2G 15 miles or so away from Des Moines, Iowa. Similar situation traveling along Interstate 80 and 90 in the midwest. At least I can talk and text. Just my two cents.

    Hey, at least T-Mobile Prepaid phones can roam onto other GSM providers.

  54. Frank

    I have the T-Mobile Simple Choice Plan: Unlimited Talk + Text. It has 1 Gig of monthly data selected (free). I find that while travelling internationally I can text, but I don’t actually get internet/data support. This was in the Philippines (Cebu City) and Mexico City.

    I always end up buying a local SIM.

    • Frank

      Ugh, my phone had a setting that disabled global roaming for data. After I changed that setting, I do get internet with my T-Mobile plan while in Mexico.

  55. Kevin

    I’ve been w/TMo for 2 years (from VZ) and haven’t had any issues. Service has been great, maybe a few areas out on Long Island with no reception. However, those are areas I drive through anyway and I’ll get reception again within minutes. TMo’s service has been improving and I get better reception at places where my friends w/ other carriers don’t.

    My family and I will be heading to Europe next week and we can’t wait to try out the free int’l data. I don’t mind the ‘slow’ speed, I just need it for Google Maps, Translate and Yelp. Why would I need faster speed to watch YouTube or Netflix when I’m on vacay?

  56. Keith

    We are traveling to New Zealand and Australia in Feb. 2015. The trip will be 3 weeks. We are doing a cruise along the NZ coast then crossing to Australia and staying in Oz an additional week. We are with Verizon and do not want to switch because Verizon is the only decent carrier on Cape Cod (they even have 4G there). I was thinking of getting a local sim card in New Zealand and another in Australia. Then someone recommended getting a T-Mobile sim for the trip. We want data for Facebook and maps and some texting and the ability for family to contact us if anything bad should happen. Not sure we need to call anyone locally in NZ/OZ because we don’t know anyone there – yet. Should and can we get a T-Mobile sim card for the trip? Not sure we could use T-Mobile in the US as even though VZ smartphones are unlocked they might block US carriers? Any recommendations are appreciated.

  57. Geeta

    I’ve had T-Mobile since 2006 on the individual plan and transferred to the family plan in 2011. The service in San Francisco is reasonable. If you travel to Toronto or New Delhi, the internet and phone call quality is pretty good and you can transfer on local mobile networks and utilize the internet to call out via phone software, bypassing phone charges altogether.

    Yes, Verizon has the best coverage in the U.S. I remember travelling up to National Parks with friends and their phone would have coverage while my T-Mobile phone wouldn’t. But sometime their phones wouldn’t have coverage either out in the boonies. Driving through Vermont, I would recommend Verizon based on my experience with AT&T from in 2005-2007. However, things may have changed since then.

    For the price, $115 for 4 lines with free international calling to land and mobile calling (we’re too lazy to use the internet or calling cards) to a bunch of countries, I feel we’re getting a reasonable deal.

  58. Globe Trotter

    I am a frequent traveller and T-Mobile comes really handy. Unlimited FREE Data and Text is a boon. Yes, T-mobile domestic coverage is not that good but works 95% of the time – so who cares ? It is highly economical and while traveling you are always in touch with your family – for free !!

  59. C

    Im in tijuana , mexico and i was wondering if anybody knows if i make calls over wifi to the US will it be free? Or do i still get charged?

  60. Lindsey

    I’m from the US but I’m currently in Australia. I have the international coverage plan with T-Mobile, my boyfriend is in the US still and I was wondering if it will charge his phone bill if he’s texting me from there?

  61. John

    I have AT&T and 3 iPhones on the plan and was grandfathered into “unlimited” data. Needed a hotspot and went to T-Mobile, got an MF61 hotspot and a “simple choice” plan. Couldn’t get the hotspot to work in the UK in the summer of 2014 (though the retailer promised it would). Customer service couldn’t figure that out. Had nothing through England, Ireland and Scotland.

    Now I see they removed the 2-year contracts and provided international unlimited texting and was wondering….it it better to just go with one month of T-Mobile service for our trip or get 2 sim cards? We are planning to go back to UK (England, Ireland and Scotland) and would like a way to contact each other (text or brief call) and possibly a short call to the States. Some data for maps/mapping apps is a plus but the intra-family contact is the primary goal. We have no plans on leaving AT&T for the moment since I am still skeptical on how they handled my prior trip with the hotspot and representations connected with that.

    Also, can you use the phone as a hotspot on the 50-60 Simple Choice plan while in one of the approved countries for international data/texting (albeing 2G unless you bought a package?)?

  62. Lorenzo

    I know TMobile has the best service for travellers.

    I need a dual sim phone here in the US , to get calls on both my European number, which I want to keep active in the US, as well as on my US number.

    So I purchased online a dual sim phone (unlocked) but I have no data connection here in the US. Two TMobile stores told me already that the TMbile network is not compatible with my phone.

    I don’t understand why if you speak about dual sim phones in stores here in the US they look at you as you are asking for a fancy item.
    And I certainly don’t understand why people buy iPhones, which with all their fancy tech are not even DUAL SIM!

    Anyway, I am stuck here with the TMobile network not working on my phone.

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