Last Updated: 12/27/19 | December 27th, 2019
A long time ago in a state far, far away (Massachusetts), I used AT&T as my cellphone service provider. 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 that their iPhones 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 140 countries — plus all calls while in those countries were 20 cents a minute.
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||$0||Starts at 10 cents each||50 cents to send, 5 cents to receive|
|Roaming||20 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 for being a really bad service provider. And, for a number of years, they were — but thanks to the 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 and 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. My phone plan is now $70 per month (with taxes) — that’s a savings of $40 per month right away, but the big question remained: would I have good service both at home and abroad?
Flash forward again to 2019. I’ve had T-Mobile for over five years now.
And I still think it’s the best carrier if you’re a frequent traveler.
Domestically, the service is pretty good. 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 I only have a few instances of “no service” in a few rural areas, but that usually only lasts a few seconds. However, that used to happen with Verizon too, so, while annoying, it’s not a deal breaker for me.
Because I get this phone because it’s the cheapest U.S. provider out of the big three.
I don’t have any dropped calls, all my texts go through, and, for the most part, I have 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.
I am thrilled that T-Mobile — with its contract-free (and cheaper) plans, free international data, and better customer service model — is out there. 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 US, 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.
That said there are few instances where you should NOT get T-Mobile.
First, if you’re traveling for more than a month, it’s worth it to get local SIM cards. T-Mobile is great for people who bounce in and out of the country frequently (like myself). It’s not good for people who are doing multi-month trips. Get a local SIM card. It’s cheaper.
Second, it’s not great if you need fast Internet. They throttle your coverage to 2G most of the time and it can be painful if you need to use sometimes. You can upgrade to faster speeds for an added fee but then you’re not saving much money.
Finally, in the years since T-Mobile came out with their plans, Google Fi has been introduced and this is often a better, faster, and cheaper alternative to T-Mobile. If you aren’t hooked on your iPhone, consider getting Google Fi as a better alternative that still allows you to roam the world with the same number.
They really are the “uncarrier,” and anything that breaks the Verizon/AT&T hold in the US 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 1/15/19: As of 2018, T-Mobile has decided that all accounts have to be in the USA for “the majority of their usage.” What that means is hard to decipher, but some accounts have been suspended for being away for more than 3 months in a row. So while T-Mobile is still great for the average travelers, long-term travelers may need to re-evaluate their plan. (Long-term travelers should be using local SIM cards anyway because that’s going to be much cheaper!)
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.
How to Travel the World on $50 a Day
My New York Times best-selling paperback guide to world travel will teach you how to master the art of travel so that you’ll get off the beaten path, save money, and have a deeper travel experience. It’s your A to Z planning guide that the BBC guide the “bible for budget travelers.”
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- World Nomads (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Need to book your trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. The are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.