Global roaming: which carrier is best?


WhistleOut
21 April 2017


Americans love international travel - but it's still one of the biggest causes of unexpectedly high bills for smartphone owners.

We've compared the big carriers below to see what their standard rates are for the top three destinations for American travellers, as well as what each carrier offers in the way of global roaming packages. More information and rates for many more countries can be found at each wireless carrier's website.

Looking for info on Mexico and Canada plans? Head to our guide here.

AT&T

Roam North America and International Day Pass

If you’re headed to Mexico or Canada, AT&T's Roam North America is available free on Unlimited Plus and Unlimited Choice postpaid plans. This feature will give you unlimited talk and text, and unlimited use of your plan's data, within both Mexico and Canada. 

Outside North America, customers have the option of using their plan's included talk, text and data allowance on a day-by-day basis. You can switch on International Day Pass for $10 per day and make unlimited calls, send unlimited texts, and use your plan's monthly data allowance without additional roaming charges. 

The $10 fee will be charged for each day you use your device while roaming, so be warned: any use of background apps will trigger Day Pass, and the $10 per-day cost can quickly add up. 

Passport roaming packs

If the above options don't work for you, AT&T's Passport plans start at $40 per recharge, provide coverage in more than 200 countries, and are good for 30 days before expiring.

The $40 Passport includes unlimited text and multimedia messaging, unlimited data over WiFi, 200MB of cellular data, and voice calls are charged at $1.00 per minute. Data overages attract a fee of $0.25 per MB.

AT&T's $60 Silver Passport comes with unlimited text and multimedia messaging, unlimited WiFi data, 300MB of cellular data and a lower voice call rate of $0.50 per minute. If you go over your cellular data allowance, expect to pay $0.20 per extra MB.

Finally, the Gold Passport is priced at $120 per recharge and includes unlimited texting and multimedia messaging, unlimited WiFi data, and $0.35 per minute voice calls. The plan also includes 800MB of cellular data, with excesses charged at $0.15 per MB.

AT&T customers on Passport plans will also have access to unlimited WiFi hotspot use at participating locations in over 35 countries.

Pay-per-use rates

Example pay-as-you-go rates for AT&T customers who do not purchase any of the above add-on packs are as follows:

Canada Mexico United Kingdom
Cost to call the US per minute $1.00 $1.00 $2.00
Cost to send text message to the US $0.50 $0.50 $0.50
Cost of data $2.05 per MB $2.05 per MB $2.05 per MB


Sprint

Sprint Global Roaming

As of April 2017, Sprint's free Global Roaming service is now automatically activated on all eligible plans. The feature gives customers free texts, free 2G data roaming, and phone calls for $0.20 per minute in more than 160 destinations. If you're a Sprint customer traveling with a LTE/GSM capable device, you should have automatic access to Global Roaming from the moment you touch down internationally.

Although data use is free, speeds are restricted to just 2G. If you prefer faster roaming options, you can buy a one-day speed data pass for $5, or a week-long speed pass for $25; these include unlimited data use with speeds up to 4G. 

Prices apply to more than 50 popular destinations, with exceptions: Canada and Mexico speed passes are priced at $2 per day or $10 per week, and China passes are available for $10 per day or $50 per week. 

Premium International for Mexico and Canada

If you're on Sprint's Unlimited plan, you'll receive bonus 'premium' international roaming included in your monthly plan cost. This package gives you free high-speed data roaming in Mexico and Canada, plus free calls and texts within both countries. 

Pay-per-use rates

Now that Sprint Global Roaming is automatic for all customers, previous pay-per-use rates for most countries don't apply. Example Global Roaming prices are as follows:

Canada Mexico United Kingdom
Cost to call the US per minute $0.20 $0.20 $0.20
Cost to send text message to the US $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Cost of data $0.00 (2G only) $0.00 (2G only) $0.00 (2G only)

Verizon Wireless

TravelPass

Customers travelling to Mexico or Canada can purchase the new TravelPass feature, which for $2 per day gives you access to all your plan's domestic features (including data) with no roaming charges.

Another 100 countries are also available for $10 per day, and again, you can use your plan's talk, text and data allowance internationally with no extra fees. Customers only pay the $2 or $10 charge on days they use their device outside of the US.

Other options

If your destination isn't included in Verizon's TravelPass add-on, you can buy a separate plan that covers over 140 additional countries and offers low-cost calls and texts. A global plan will cost you $25 per month, and includes 100MB of data. Bump it up to $40 each month, and you'll receive 100 minutes of voice, 100 texts and unlimited received texts. Data overages aren't cheap, however; expect to pay $25 for each extra 100MB you use on this option.

Pay-per-use rates

Example pay-as-you-go rates for Verizon customers who do not purchase any of the above add-on packs are as follows:

Canada Mexico United Kingdom
Cost to call the US per minute $0.99 $0.99 $1.79
Cost to send text message to the US $0.50 $0.50 $0.50
Cost of data $2.05 per MB $2.05 per MB $2.05 per MB


T-Mobile

Simple Choice and One plans

T-Mobile allows customers on One Unlimited and Simple Choice plans to access unlimited data and texting in 120 countries, at no extra charge, as well as make calls back to the US for a low $0.20 per minute. The downside? The unlimited data is restricted to 2G speeds.

However, if you prefer faster web browsing, you can buy high-speed data passes from T-Mobile to add to your plan. A single day pass with 100MB of data costs $15, a week-long pass with 200MB is $25, and $50 will buy you 500MB to be used over 14 days.

For countries outside of the included 150, standard text messages are charged at $0.50 per text sent, with data rates up to $15.00 per MB depending on the country. Voice rates will also vary for non-included countries (and for customers not on a Simple Choice plan).

Mexico and Canada roaming

If your travel plans keep you in North America, there's even better news: One, One Plus and Simple Choice North America users can also use their plan inclusions (that's unlimited talk and text, and their 4G LTE data monthly allowance) in both Mexico and Canada at no additional charge.

LTE data will be available in selected cities, and use is unlimited, provided the majority of your usage is still on US networks. More information on this feature can be found in our article here.

Pay-per-use rates

However, if this doesn't apply to you, example pay-as-you-go rates for T-Mobile customers not on Simple Choice or One plans are as follows:

Canada Mexico United Kingdom
Cost to call the US per minute $0.59 $1.79 $1.49
Cost to send text message to the US $0.20 $0.50 $0.50
Cost of data $10.00 per MB $15.00 per MB $15.00 per MB


Other carriers

Boost Mobile

Boost Mobile now offers a $5 per month Mexico Plus add-on, which gives customers unlimited calls back to the US, unlimited international text, and up to 8GB of data use when roaming in Mexico. You'll also get unlimited calls to Mexico and Canada from within the US, and unlimited international text messaging when at home. 

If you're traveling to other countries, Boost refers its prepaid customers to Sprint if they require international roaming service outside Mexico. 

Cricket Mobile

Cricket Wireless has recently added some excellent Canada and Mexico roaming features to its $50 Smart and $60 Unlimited plans. Customers can now make unlimited calls and send unlimited texts between the US, Canada and Mexico, and use their plan's domestic high-speed data allowance when traveling in both countries.

The feature, called Data Access Plus, is available free on the above plans as part of your monthly service. Unfortunately, if you're a Cricket customer heading outside North America, roaming in other countries is not yet available from the prepaid.

MetroPCS

MetroPCS has recently added a $10 World Calling plan add-on to its prepaid service. The feature gives you 200 minutes of voice calls, 200MB of data and 200 text messages in selected countries. You'll also get unlimited calling from the US to landlines in over 75 countries, 200 minutes to mobiles worldwide and unlimited international texting.

Customers planning a trip to Mexico will want to add the $5 Mexico Unlimited service to their plan. The pack includes unlimited calling and texting and unlimited use of your plan's high-speed data when in Mexico, free of roaming charges. The $5 per month service can be added to MetroPCS' $40, $50 and $60 plans. 

Likewise, if you're headed to Canada, you can enjoy unlimited calls home and unlimited use of your plan data with the $5 Canada Unlimited add-on. 

Republic Wireless

Republic Wireless doesn't offer international roaming; however, customers with Republic Wireless devices can make calls over Wifi.

Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile doesn't offer international roaming.

U.S. Cellular

U.S. Cellular allows customers on contract plans to access roaming in a handful of destinations. Calls from Canada and Mexico are charged at $0.80 and $1.20 per minute, respectively, with text messaging costing $0.40 per text in both countries.

Data is charged at $1.00 per megabyte, although data packs are available: $35 buys you 125MB of data to use in either country, with overages charged at $0.30 per MB.

Data packs are also available for Latin America and Europe, priced at $35 for 50MB and with a $0.70 per megabyte overage fee. Voice calls from countries in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and the Asia Pacific start at $1.20 per minute (up to $2.40) and all sent texts are $0.40.

Project Fi

Project Fi's plan includes international roaming in 135 countries, with data charged at $10 per gigabyte - so exactly the same pricing as domestic data use. Customers can access high-speed data, as well as make unlimited calls and texts when traveling. 


Things to remember

Despite the savings, a major problem with buying an add-on international data pack is that not all customers will be able to monitor their usage in real-time when traveling internationally. Some carriers offer data and voice call usage trackers and alerts, but be warned: you may experience delays in getting up-to-date information.

Another point about data use: carriers don't necessarily charge data use per kilobyte. Instead, they may prefer to charge customers in increments of 10KB or more. Make sure you're aware of the minimum cost of each data session before you go online.

Remember - there are still alternatives to using your cell phone abroad. Upon arriving at your destination, you can switch to a cheap prepaid handset or (if your phone is capable), buy a local SIM and place in your device.

Likewise, if your phone runs on GSM networks you may be able to insert a global or travel SIM to get discounted rates on voice calls, texts and data.

Finally, take advantage of WiFi wherever possible. Most hotels offer it as a complimentary service, and you'll find free wireless internet available in many tourist and business-friendly places. By switching off your phone's cellular connection and relying on Wifi, you can potentially save hundreds - even thousands - of dollars over the course of your trip.

Airplane at sunrise image via Shutterstock

Passport image via Shutterstock


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