For vacationers and long-term travelers alike, many carriers come with a set of nasty fees for international phone usage. Fortunately, there are a lot of options for savvy travelers to find the plan that gives them exactly what they need at the lowest possible cost. In this article, we will discuss the best international phone plans, their pros and cons, and how the international phone plan scene has changed over the years.
International Cell Phone Plans
Almost every major carrier has its own international cell phone plan, and, for single trips, it makes sense to get the week or the month’s worth of international data offered by your carrier in order to save yourself the hassle of juggling multiple carriers, multiple plans, or even multiple phones! If there’s a vacation, a business trip, or something else right around the corner, your best bet is to find the international phone plan offered by your cellular service provider and add that to your plan for the appropriate amount of time.
If, however, you are thinking about switching plans anyway, peeking at the best international phone plans in advance is a great item to keep in mind, especially if you know you will travel in the future. This opens up the door for you to pick the carrier with the perfect plan that you can switch on when you are traveling and switch back off when you’re back home.
Roaming charges, feared by many a traveler, are accrued when your phone doesn’t have any international plan on which to fall back. Roaming charges are often rather steep when it comes to each text sent, each minute talked, and each MB used. Read on for the best international phone plans in order to pick out which one is right for you and to ensure that you are never slammed with a huge bill of roaming charges.
When traveling abroad, there are a few different types of plans from which you can choose. There are plans that are a little more expensive and keep you covered overseas. There are plans that charge you for every minute of talk and message sent over text, though at a much lower rate than the dreaded roaming charges. Lastly, there are plans that give a set amount of talk, text, and data on a day-to-day basis. There are pros and cons to each type of international plan, and this section will cover the best monthly international phone plans.
Most monthly international phone plans provide the best value to people who are using all they are given. Getting a few gigs of data and a few hundred minutes on the phone is great until you only use a fraction of it, and are forced to pay for the whole thing anyway. On the flip side, the amount of data, calls, and texts on monthly plans are much cheaper than they would be on a daily plan or a pay-as-you-go plan.
- Price (monthly): $75
- Unlimited data and text in over 200 countries
- Free wifi and text on flights
- $.25/minute international phone calls
T-Mobile’s Magenta plan is one of the best international plans out there. Its large monthly price tag makes it not the best choice for travelers only spending a fraction of the month internationally, but it is nice to have almost all of the payment upfront. Unlimited data and text in over 200 countries make traveling much easier. Maps work the moment you get off the plane, booking a ride on Uber or Lyft is a breeze, and texting friends and family about your arrival is just as easy as it was in the states.
In short, your phone works in just about every country. On top of that, they throw in one free hour of Wi-Fi and unlimited texting on any Gogo-enabled flight so you can stay in touch anywhere in the air.
The major downside to this plan is that you have to pay for international minutes. $.25 a minute isn’t a tremendous cost, but it adds up quickly. That’s fifteen dollars an hour for international calls to friends and family outside of North America. This is a very travel-friendly plan and comes with a lot of perks for its price.
Verizon International Monthly Plan
- Price (monthly): $100 per line
- 5GB of roaming data
- 250 minutes of talk, 1,000 sent texts
- Verizon’s plans automatically switch to “pay-as-you-go” if you don’t have the international monthly plan and are traveling
Verizon’s International Monthly Plan comes at a steep price, but not too much more than their domestic plan, which is $80 for 5GB of data. With the extra $20 per month, you get access to a lot of minutes and texts. They have a few different plans at different price points, each one providing a different amount of talk, text, and data. It is nice to have those options to pick the one that seems the best for your travel habits. Getting a plan like this is good when you know you’ll be out of the country on a regular basis.
The Verizon pay-as-you-go prices for international roaming are steep, so if you decide not to get an international plan for travel and have Verizon, make sure to take advantage of alternative means of international communication, which we explain below in more detail. The costs look like this:
- Talk. Between $.99 and $2.99 per minute
- Text. $.50 per message sent and $.05 per message received
- Data. $2.05 per MB
If you’ve ever heard someone lamenting a colossal phone bill at the end of a long stay internationally, chances are they were on a plan like this. It is designed to start charging you the moment you are off of domestic soil, so be wary when you are traveling if you don’t have an international plan set up already.
Project Fi Flexible
- Price (monthly): $20, plus $10 per GB of data.
- Unlimited international text
- High-speed data up to 15 GB monthly
- Additional cost for international calls
- Fi only works on a few devices
Project FI Flexible is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MNVO) that uses T-Mobile and US Cellular networks. Operated by Google, it is no surprise that the compatible phones are their own Pixel 3 and Pixel 3XL, as well as a few Android phones like the Moto G7 and the LG V35 ThinQ. If you have one of these phones, you’re in luck! This is an excellent international phone plan in terms of what you get out per dollar spent.
As an MNVO, Google Fi does not have first dibs on network coverage, but their phones are always hunting for the fastest service in the area regardless if you are domestic or abroad.
Boost International Connect Plus
- Price (monthly): $10
- Unlimited international text
- 200 minutes to select countries
- Reduced rates to over 200 destinations
Boost International Connect Plus is a great and cheap plan to lower your phone bill when traveling. At a very low $10 a month, the add-on allows for unlimited international text and a reduction in cost across the board. Some countries get 200 free minutes, some get minutes at a rate of $.30 per minute versus $.44 per minute.
This is not as powerful as some other plans, but the low price point is hard to beat. Boost’s International Connect Plus plan is a great way to lower the overall cost of your phone bill while traveling internationally, especially if you are not planning on using it much in the first place. The knowledge that phone plans change internationally is the first step in lowering your travel bills at the end of your trip.
International Day Pass Plans
These plans are best for people who are only using international data for a little while. They are just about always less expensive, up to a point, and if you are under that point, perfect! Phones are not as finicky as they used to be with going abroad, and just about every carrier nowadays has one or more international plans. Some have day passes and monthly plans, which is perfect!
For the layperson who leaves the country once every couple of years, there is no need to go to drastic lengths and change carriers for the best international plan, rather, it is important to pick the best international phone plan that your carrier provides. If they have a day pass and a monthly plan, think about your text, call, and data usage on the upcoming trip and then you can figure out, more or less, which one is the most cost-effective. Some of these plans, however, stand out above the rest, and we will highlight our favorites in the following section.
AT&T International Day Pass
- Price (daily): $10
- Unlimited talk and text in over 200 countries
- Data is the same as the domestic plan
- Unpredictable data speed
- Activates automatically when traveling
The ability to add international capabilities day by day is a big plus when it comes to international phone plans. A day-to-day plan is perfect for people who are only going to be out of the country or only need international talk and text, for a few days each month.
The biggest downside to AT&T’s International Day Pass is that they do not guarantee high-speed data use in other countries. In general, however, fluctuation in data speed (anywhere from 2G at its slowest to 5G at its fastest across the providers) is pretty common. Different countries and different areas have different data speeds, and we recommend scoping out the area before deciding on which plan to use.
This is different, of course, for people who travel extensively, be it for work or just to see the world. If that’s the case then a monthly plan is definitely more cost-effective than a daily plan.
T-Mobile High-Speed Data Passes
- Price (varies): Varies. There are three different plans, each of them for different lengths of time
- Unlimited talk and text
- Around half a GB of data per day for each plan
- Smartphone mobile hotspot\
T-Mobile’s data passes are very competitive options when it comes to the best international phone plans. There are three passes available. There’s an international 1-day pass, a 10-day pass, and a 30-day pass. They are priced at $5, $35, and $50 respectively. Each one allows for half of a GB of data usage each day (the longer passes are 5 GB total and 15 GB total), unlimited talk and text, and you can use your smartphone as a mobile hotspot.
On a monthly basis, it gets very pricey, but this is an exceptional international phone plan, made even better by the different lengths of time with each pass.
- Price (monthly): Varies, as all plans have international access.
- Pay-as-you-go talk, text, and data
- Low price for international talk and text
- The high price of international data
- Unpredictable data speeds
Mint Mobile is an MNVO that uses T-Mobile’s service towers. In short, it allows them to offer cheaper rates with the tradeoff that in times of high data usage across the region Mint’s customers experience slower data speeds.
One awesome part of Mint Mobile is that all of their plans are internationally compatible. They have built-in rates for international talk, text, and data that are the same over all of their plans. Mint’s international rates vary from place to place, but Mint in North America looks like this:
- Calls are $.06/min
- Texts are $.02 per text
- Data is $.06 per MB
Those are competitive prices, but the data can get very expensive very quickly. More on that after looking at their rates for countries outside of North America.
- Calls are $.25/min
- Texts are $.05 per text
- Data is $.20 per MB
Understandably, their international rates are more expensive outside of Canada and Mexico. Their talk and text are very competitively priced, whereas someone who talks for half an hour during the day and sends 50 text messages would only have to pay $10, the same as AT&T International Day Pass.
That is only if this person were to stay off of their data. As speeds have increased, so has average consumption, with the average American smartphone holder using 65-165 MBs of data every day. At $.20 a pop, that’s an extra $13 to $31 a day on data alone.
So, Mint Mobile is a great MNVO and a solid place to go for international travel, but if you use it make sure to keep your data consumption to an absolute minimum, and try to find as much free Wi-Fi as you can!
The most common way for carriers to charge obnoxious bills to travelers after they travel abroad is when the traveler uses their phone normally, unaware of the additional cost. Step one in any plan is understanding what the costs are of talk, text, and data in the country abroad. Having that piece of information fresh in your mind is a great step toward using your phone an appropriate amount, even if it is as simple as not scrolling through social media on the bus, or waiting to respond to texts after you are back in your hotel on Wi-Fi.
There are a variety of ways to limit overall data usage abroad. The three pillars of a phone plan: data, talk, and text, are all able to be done while using Wi-Fi. That, coupled with a variety of apps that only use data, can cut your daily data usage significantly, which might just let you keep on the cheapest option for an international phone plan. Some of these apps are:
- Skype or Zoom. A video call software is perfect for talking to friends and family in different countries. As long as you have a strong Wi-Fi connection, these apps allow users to connect all over the world. Best of all — since it’s on Wi-Fi, there’s no need to worry about data usage! To take extra caution, you can always disable your phone’s data during these calls.
- WhatsApp is a messaging app that relies on Wi-Fi to send texts, audio, and video. This free app works on just about any phone and is another great way to reduce your reliance on data.
- Wi-Fi calls and texts are available on a variety of phones and are another excellent way to escape extra fees from your carrier.
There are, of course, moments when you cannot rely on Wi-Fi to operate your phone, and that’s where international phone plans come in. It is important to know that you can call Uber or Lyft when the time comes, or boot up your GPS maps to figure out how to get to your destination.