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. (In retrospect, best decision EVER!) We still have the same horrible reception at our house 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 its 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 24 hours of increased international features, with up to 512MB of high speed data plus Smartphone Mobile Hotspot and unlimited calling 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. Authorized users may purchase 10 passes per line to use within 30 days. 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. We filed that info away if we needed it but planned on trying to live with slow internet.
T-Mobile also sells a 5GB Pass for $35.
Includes up to 5GB of high-speed data, including Mobile Hotspot, PLUS unlimited calling for up to 10 days in over 210 destinations. Speeds & coverage vary based on device and country. Note: Once you use all your high-speed data, you will continue to have unlimited calling and data for the full 10 days but may experience slower data speeds. If you use all your high-speed data and purchase a NEW pass before the expiration of the first one, your second pass will begin immediately. Your original pass and any remaining benefits will expire when you activate the new pass.
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 “Scam Likely” calls, which we chose not to answer to avoid being charged 25 cents per minute to find out to sign up for an extended warranty for our car. (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, as 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 were smart, I would have downloaded the London map to my phone before leaving home. We explored new neighborhoods, visited small restaurants, and 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.
Now that we’re getting ready to explore the world again, not having to worry about getting data on our phones as soon as we land is a nice change.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary
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I save all my welcome messages from T-Mobile. They’re all in one message and it’s fun to look at them once in awhile and see all the places I’ve been to over the years.
Yup. Totally love that, especially the one or two (I know that Ireland was one) that I somehow got as I flew over the country without getting within 35,000 feet of the place. It really brings back the memories.
Go to a T Mobile store and ask them about getting a home signal booster. One should be included free for each account and this has made all the difference at our house. We love their international coverage.
We’ll have to check that out. I’ve enabled wi-fi calling and that gives me decent coverage when at home but I’d love to have better coverage around the house.
Let me second that. I went AT&T to T-Mobil and they just gave me the booster. I nearly halved my phone bill, got WAAAY better international use and my phone at home is now 4 bars at all times. Don’t just check into it, do it.
If you guys don’t mind paying $140 for 2 lines per month, T-Mobile One Unlimited is giving unlimited free data including roaming overseas. It’s a step up for international travelers to get unlimited 3-4G data speed and don’t want to constantly buy/switch sim cards in different countries. The only issue is you have to not use more data internationally than domestic..
That sounds like a good idea for people who travel overseas frequently. Since it took us almost two years to try the international coverage, I don’t want to pay an extra $40 a month 🙂
2G is better than nothing, but I found it entirely unusable for most of my purposes while traveling, and switched back to AT&T
Use wi-fi calling on your phone when connected to internet