The days of settling for expensive international calling rates are long gone.
Carriers big and small now offer competitive international rates and packages, while a litany of apps allow you to bypass cellular calling altogether.
We've done the research and have come up with some of our favorite international calling plans and apps. First, though, some particulars.
Do all cell phone plans allow overseas calling?
While some cell phone plans allow for--and even specialize in--international calling, there are a portion that don't. Republic Wireless and US Mobile are just two carriers that offer no international calling whatsoever.
But even some that at first blush don't offer international calling (or, at least, reasonably priced international calling) sell bolt-on packs that give you international calling privileges. MetroPCS, for example, sells $5 add-ons that give you unlimited talk, text and data to and from Mexico or Canada, or a $10 add-on that gives you calling to over 75 countries.
Bolt-on packs or pay-as-you-go?
When it comes to calling internationally, you generally have two ways to go: bolt-on packs, or pay-as-you-go rates.
Take T-Mobile. If you go with their unlimited ONE plan, you'll get calls to Mexico and Canada included, but calls to landlines and mobile phones in other countries will be subject to pay-as-you-go rates. A call to a landline or mobile in Australia, for example, will run $1.99/minute (sidenote: for a list of the calling rates to a variety of other countries, follow this link and use the sidebar to find the country you're looking for).
However, for an extra $25 a month, you can sign up for the ONE Plus International bolt-on. This entitles you to unlimited international calling to landlines in 70+ countries and mobiles phones in 30+ countries; 2x the data speed abroad; and unlimited in-flight WiFi on Gogo-enabled flights.
If you want to circumvent traditional cellular calling as a means of keeping in touch with friends and family abroad, there are a litany of apps at your disposal. Many argue in favor of these apps over regular calling for their lack of expense--if there is any at all. Here a few well-known ones.
Skype remains the most popular video chat app around, used by folks the world over to keep in touch with each other. With more than half the WhistleOut team in Australia, we too turn to reliable old Skype when we need to chat with our colleagues.
Crucially, you don't necessarily need the person you're connecting with to be on Skype as well--with Skype credits, you can call any number. This is how our own Rob Barnes keeps in touch with his family back in the UK.
WhatsApp is, you guessed it, an app--specifically, one designed for messaging. WhatsApp users can send and receive messages--or make calls for that matter--to other users all over the world, avoiding carrier charges in the process. Hence its popularity, and hence Facebook's decision to pay 19 billion for it back in 2014. You can even transfer money via WhatsApp now.
Like WhatsApp, Viber is an instant messaging and VoIP app that allows users to connect with each other without having to shell out money to cell carriers for the privilege.
Facebook seems to have integrated some of the functionality of WhatsApp into their platform, as you can now make calls--video or otherwise--to your friends via Facebook Messenger. Since calls are made over WiFi or data, you'll avoid using your cell phone plan's minutes.
Best International Calling Plans: Major Carriers
T-Mobile ONE PLUS International
As mentioned earlier, Plus International is a $25 add-on to T-Mobile's regular $70 ONE plan that entitles you to some key benefits. First, here's what's included with ONE:
- Unlimited texting and 1 hour of free data aboard Gogo-enabled flights
- Unlimited talk, text and data in and to Mexico and Canada
ONE Plus International includes all of the above perks, plus:
- Unlimited WiFi on Gogo-enabled flights
- Unlimited international calling to landlines in 70+ countries and mobile numbers in 30+ countries
For less than $100 a month, you'll be getting just about the best international plan on the market.
Sprint Unlimited Freedom w/ International Connect
While there's no denying T-Mobile's excellence when it comes to international use, Sprint's Unlimited Freedom plan with International Connect add-on is not only cheaper but includes more free calls and texts to core countries than ONE Plus International. Specifically, it includes free calling to landlines in more than 75 countries, and mobile numbers in more than 55 countries. Discounted rates are available elsewhere.
For $65 ($50 for the Unlimited Freedom plan + $15 International Connect add-on) you'll be getting one of the better international plans out there. Plus, unlimited talk and text in Canada and Mexico is included.
AT&T Unlimited Plus
AT&T packs some great international benefits into its unlimited plans, even their less-expensive Unlimited Choice one. Perks include:
- Unlimited talk, text and data in Mexico and Canada
- Unlimited text from the U.S. to 120+ countries
I tested out AT&T's performance over the border using Unlimited Plus and was pleasantly surprised. If you're in the market for a carrier that a) provides great coverage and b) offers excellent international benefits, you could do worse than this plan.
Best International Calling Plans: MVNOs
Tello Unlimited Build-Your-Own
Tello offers some of the lowest international rates out there; specifically, 3 cent calls and 1 cent texts to many countries. Moreover, calls to Mexico and Canada are included at domestic rates on all of their plans.
Tello allows you to customize the exact amount of talk and text you think you'll need, so you're not stuck paying for unused talk, text or data.
Ting L Monthly Plan
Ting is an up-and-coming MVNO that uses the "pay for what you use" model whereby users can customize their talk, text and data allotments each month.
Ting minutes are now global minutes, with free calling to over 60 countries. This is a pretty fantastic perk for those who rely on their phones to keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues abroad.
MetroPCS has followed parent company T-Mobile's lead into the world of unlimited with their $50 (taxes and fees included) all-in offering. The plan includes unlimited calling to landlines in over 75 countries if you're in the U.S. What's more, you can add one of the low-cost bolt-ons mentioned earlier in this article to expand your international calling options even further.
You don't have to take my word for it; compare the above plans with those of dozens of other carriers via WhistleOut's comparison tool.