Your phone is integral to every trip abroad, from your summer vacation to week-long business trips. If you are not careful, your next hop across the pond might result in egregious roaming charges upon your return. Many carriers have serious fees for any mobile data used abroad that add up quickly. Fortunately, with a bit of research (check) and some preparation, you can find the perfect plan to suit your travels abroad. In this article, we will cover the best phone plans for international travel, their pros and cons, and what other avenues are open to you depending on the frequency of your trips.
Types of International Phone Plans
There are five major types of international phone plans that all add value for different kinds of users. Each plan allows for a certain amount of cell phone usage at various price points, and some are pre-paid or added to your monthly plan, and others are pay-as-you-go. Before you pick out a plan, think about how much you will use your phone abroad. When we say to use, we mean use outside of WiFi zones.
Just about everything (texting, calling, web surfing) is possible over WiFi, and that does not draw from your cell phone plan, but anytime you use your phone (and some of your phone’s background processes if you are not careful) on your mobile data, you will draw from whatever international plan is active on your account. The five kinds of international plans are
- Bolt-on packs
- International day passes
- Monthly International Plans
- Mobile plans from that country
These are best for users who primarily call from the United States to another country. Including international calling and texting (if not already included in the plan) is a much more affordable option than all the rest. These generally have different rates for different bands of countries. Look into each plan for the countries where most of your correspondence happens to find the best rates for those specifically.
These plans are best for users who spend time in other countries but do not use much data. This is the best plan for you if you have a secure connection to WiFi and may send a message or two but nothing serious. In another country, using a pay-as-you-go plan is excellent up to a point, and that point is when it becomes more expensive than if you purchased an international day pass.
Rates for pay-as-you-go plans are steep. If you choose this plan, we recommend limiting your phone's processes because the data usage cost has increased exponentially from the norm.
International Day Pass
International day passes are best when you want more calls, texts, and data to spend. These passes give you a set amount of texts, minutes, and GBs to use each day, which is nice when planning out what you can and cannot do abroad. The rates on international day passes are lower than the pay-as-you-go plans, so if you expect to use your mobile data consistently during the day, this is the best plan for you.
Monthly International Plans
These are expensive but keep you covered overseas. Monthly international phone plans give the best value to people who need a lot of data abroad, especially those who travel to multiple countries with regularity. A local phone plan might be better if you spend all your time in one country. These plans, though expensive, offer far better rates than any others on this list.
Mobile Plans from that Country
Last but not least: you can buy a mobile phone plan in the country you are traveling to! It requires some planning beforehand, but it is often quite easy to purchase a plan internationally for your stay. The plan will outline how much you can use your phone in talk, text, and minutes. Many plans in foreign countries are affordable compared to those in the United States but come with fewer data. You won’t want to go around streaming audio and video all day, but it should be sufficient phone data for light phone usage throughout the trip. Going through mobile plans from *that* country is, of course, impossible in this article. Let’s dive into the best US phone plans for international travel.
Best Phone Plans for International Travel
Monthly International Plans
These deserve a section of their own because they are robust. We’ll start with these before going down the list of the cheapest phone plans for international travel that give less to the user.
- Price (monthly): $75
- 5 GB high-speed data and unlimited 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. At its core, it’s a great cell phone plan, and the added international benefits make it a great choice for casual travelers who don’t need to use their phones often on trips. The 5 GB of high-speed data (before your speeds fall to unlimited data at 256 Kbps) is enough to pop open maps, order an Uber, or search for the best restaurant in the area. Unlimited texting and good call rates mean you can keep in touch with everyone from home while you are away.
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.
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 schedule and are traveling
Verizon’s International Monthly Plan comes at a steep price, but all of Verizon’s unlimited plans are relatively expensive. As a Verizon customer, you can switch from this plan to one of their less costly offerings when you know you’ll be in the states, but it gives you the flexibility to grab this plan whenever you need it. While you pay more upfront, this plan bests T-Mobile Magenta if you use many minutes abroad. $.25 a minute turns into fifteen dollars an hour, quickly bringing the price points to even footing.
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 (MVNO) 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 regarding what you get per dollar spent. This is a great plan for those who are only out of the country for a little during each month. If you can limit your data consumed, this plan is very affordable each month.
As an MVNO, 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 add-on
- 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 keep your phone bill low when traveling. At a very low $10 a month, the add-on allows unlimited international text and a reduction in cost across the board. Some countries get 200 free minutes, while others receive around a 33% rate reduction.
This plan gives you little international talk and text, but it is cheap. Something like Verizon’s day pass is $10, while this is only $10 for the entire month. This plan is precious if you are smart with your cell usage abroad.
International Day Passes
The next tier down are plans that charge you every day they are in use. These are best for vacations or other short trips abroad. They usually give you a bigger pool of talk, text, and data to pull from, with the tradeoff that they are on the pricey side. Here are some of the best international day pass phone plans for international travel.
T-Mobile International Day Passes
- International 1-day pass: $5 a day. For that day, you receive unlimited calling and 512 MB of high-speed international data
- 5 GB International Pass: $35 for 10 days. During those days, you receive unlimited calling and can use up to 5 GB of high-speed international data.
- 15 GB International Pass: $50 for 30 days. For the month, you receive unlimited calling and up to 15 GB of high-speed international data.
- Unlimited talk and text
- Around half a GB of data per day for each plan
- Smartphone mobile hotspot
T-Mobile’s data passes are competitive options for the best international phone plans. These three options are great ways to tack on some extra data if you know you will be in a place where you will use a lot during your trip. While we recommend working around your schedule to use as much WiFi data as you can abroad, getting one of these passes is an excellent way to stock up on an emergency supply of high-speed data you can use whenever you need.
AT&T International Day Pass
- Price (daily): $10 add-on
- Unlimited international talk and text
- Additional lines at $5 a day
- Only pay for the days you use
AT&T also has an international day pass at $10 a day. Their pass is nice, and while $10 is pricey, it gives you unlimited high-speed data, calling, and texting during that day. It only charges you for days when you use it, just like Verizon, but anything will activate it, so you have to be careful if you don’t want to pay for that day. International day passes like these are excellent for vacations, where you can spend a long weekend or a week, and while you have a pretty significant bill at the end, it lets you use your phone like you would in the United States.
- 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 MVNO 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. They only have pay-as-you-go rates, but these rates are competitive enough to put them on the list.
Mint Mobile has its way of roaming. They have UpRoam credits, allowing users to charge their accounts with money spent roaming. This lets customers put a set amount on their account, and they will automatically get taken off the network if they spend all the allocated funds rather than racking up a huge bill. 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 quickly get very expensive. 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, so 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. International data speeds are way reduced, but keeping your cell phone off the internet as much as possible is essential.
Mint Mobile is an excellent MVNO and a solid place to go for international travel, but if you use it, keep your data consumption to an absolute minimum and try to find as much free Wi-Fi as possible!
The Best Phone Plans for International Travel
Unexpected overages after a trip abroad are a common way for carriers to charge over-the-top bills to travelers. If you are not careful and don’t have the right plan, your cell phone bill can become astronomical in your absence. Before going on your trip, plan how much you can use your phone when you are out and about. Airplane mode on your phone is a great way to limit all incoming mobile data, but if you still want to receive some info, go into your settings and find out how to limit data usage on processes you do not need. Limiting data use, in general, is also good. If you know you’re only traveling to one country, check out phone plans in your destination! A cheap phone plan and a cheap phone are a fun way to disconnect while abroad.
There are a variety of ways to limit overall data usage abroad. The three pillars of a phone plan: data, talk, and text, can all be done using Wi-Fi. That, coupled with a variety of apps that only use data, can cut your daily data usage significantly, which lets you keep on the cheapest option for an international phone plan. Some of these apps are:
- Skype or Zoom. 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 worldwide. Best of all — since it’s on Wi-Fi, there’s no need to worry about data usage! To take extra caution, you can permanently 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 excellent way to reduce your reliance on data.
- Wi-Fi calls and texts are available on various phones and are another excellent way to escape extra fees from your carrier.
There are moments when you cannot rely on Wi-Fi to operate your phone, and that’s where international phone plans come in. It is essential to know that you can call Uber or Lyft when the time comes or boot up your GPS maps to figure out how to reach your destination.