Back in 2017, Sharon and I broke up with AT&T and switched to T-Mobile as our cell phone provider. It was a big change for us and we have been saving $60 a month on our phone bill ever since. For everyday usage, we still have the same horrible reception at our house as with T-Mobile as we had with AT&T (Note from Sharon: even though there’s a frickin’ cell phone tower less than a mile from our house. What’s up with that???). However, one of the big benefits of changing to T-Mobile was their international roaming program. When we switched, this was an industry-leading benefit but since then other companies have copied the program.
To remain competitive, T-Mobile modified the terms of their travel program in July 2018, increasing the number of countries included from 154 to over 210. They also started charging more for actual phone calls, raising the price from 20 cents to 25 cents per minute. You still get unlimited text and data. Since I (Note from Sharon: We) feel this way about using my (our) phone(s) to talk to people, this works out just fine:
The T-Mobile data plan is capped at 2G speeds so we were worried about being hampered with downloading data, but T-Mobile does offer an upgrade if you want to get high-speed data while overseas:
Includes up to 512MB of high speed data plus Smartphone Mobile Hotspot and unlimited calling for 24 hours in more than 210 countries and destinations. If you use all your high speed data during the 24 hour period, you will experience slower data speeds but continue to have unlimited calling for the rest of the period. You may purchase 2 passes per line in 24-hours. Once you’re out of high-speed data on your first pass, your second pass will begin, and the 24-hour period will restart.
The cost of 512MB of high-speed data is $5 per day and you can purchase two passes per day. We filed that info away in case we needed it but planned on trying to live with slow internet.
So how did the program work?
Let’s compare to how I previously needed to prepare for international travel. Since our phones were locked to AT&T (No longer an issue because new phones are sold unlocked), I’d have to use an older phone that was no longer under contract. Then I’d need to purchase a SIM card when we landed, which in the U.K. meant heading to Carphone Warehouse or looking to buy one from eBay before we left home. We’d only have one phone with data, so the other phone would be limited to use when we had available free WiFi, as long we had a VPN connection to keep our data somewhat secure.
For this trip, our first under the T-Mobile program, our experience was quite different. When we landed in London, we had to wait to turn our phones off airplane mode until we were off the plane. Since we were allowed to use our cell-phones in the controlled area before passport control in the U.K. (unlike the U.S.), I hesitantly turned off airplane mode (something I would have been terrified to do previously because of the fear of a huge bill). Within seconds, I received this text message:
The transition to using our phones overseas was seamless. We received all of our phone calls, including the “Spam Likely” calls, which we chose not to answer to avoid being charged 25 cents per minute to find out how can sign up for a Medicare plan (Note from Sharon: Geesh, what kind of spam do YOU get? I got 3 calls in 3 days from 3 different numbers that all left me voice mails with something in…Chinese?…I think?).
Let me tell you, the ability to text back and forth with Sharon, like we do at home, was a wonderful thing. If we got separated at a store or in a museum, it was easy to find each other. (Note from Sharon: and much more polite than yelling, “Marco?” “Polo!”)
While the data speed was slower than what we were used to, the only real problem was downloading Google Maps. If I was smart, I would have downloaded the London map to my phone before I left home. We were able to explore new neighborhoods, visit small restaurants and we even managed to find a few tiki bars!
The international data plan was one of the selling points for us to switch to T-Mobile but we had never had a chance to try it out until this trip. While the data speed was slower than we were used to, it was still worth it not to search for a SIM card to purchase as soon as we got off the plane.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary