Jeremy Abroad

International Mobile Plans

July 05, 2018

It’s important to set up your mobile plan/strategy before leaving the country, especially if you’re currently with an overpriced provider like AT&T because otherwise you’ll end up with a $623 cell phone bill over two months like I did (and that was with me trying to conserve data).

International Mobile Plans (Google Sheet)

You have two options (or a combination of the two):

  1. Sign up for a U.S. coverage provider with a competitive international roaming plan
  2. Buy local SIM cards in the countries you’re visiting

Note that to use foreign SIM cards, you’ll need to get your phone unlocked. You can do this by calling your cell phone coverage provider.

Buying SIM cards will get you the cheapest rates and fastest speeds, but you’ll have to deal with the additional hassle of purchasing a SIM card and recharging it when you run out of data. But if you’re staying in countries for longer periods of time, this is going to be the best option (especially in cheaper countries where the price savings are greater).

Here’s a Google Sheet I made of all the U.S. mobile plans worth considering: International Mobile Plans (Google Sheet)

Personally, I ditched AT&T for T-Mobile’s ONE Plus $80/month unlimited 4g data plan, but there are other competitive options as well, namely Google’s Project Fi (if you have or are willing to get a Google phone) and Sprint (if you don’t mind 2g).

Project Fi has the best pricing, but I didn’t want to have to buy a Google phone. Sprint is cheaper than T-Mobile, but they don’t offer above 2g and I would’ve had to get a new phone because the Samsung Galaxy S6 I bought through AT&T isn’t supported.

Example: Ukraine

Provider Price ($/month) Speed (Mbps)
Ukrainian SIM card (Vodafone) $6 8
T-Mobile $80 0.2

In Kiev (capital of Ukraine), Vodafone representatives literally sell SIM cards on the street, and using the SIM card is as simple as putting it in your phone - no configuration required. Given the dirty cheap price and the very fast speeds, getting a SIM card in Ukraine is a no-brainer.

Wi-Fi Calling

Wi-Fi calling is often cheaper than regular calling. If your plan doesn’t have unlimited calling, see if Wi-Fi calling is any cheaper and use that instead.

What about Google Voice?

Google Voice gives you free unlimited texting over WiFi, and Google Hangouts gives you cheap international WiFi calling ($0.01-$0.10). You just have to link your phone number or port it over with a $20 one-time fee.

Google Voice also allows you to forward your U.S. number to whatever mobile carrier you’re using, so that people can still reach you at your U.S. number.

Better Alternatives?

I’m sure there are some other even better plans out there that I’m not aware of. FireRTC claims to offer free calls to the U.S./Puerto Rico, Canada, and the UK. I wonder if there’s any catch. If you know of anything better that I missed, please let me know in the comments and I’ll update this article.

Parting Thoughts

It’s a shame that traditional phone calling and texting is still even a thing given that the internet is free and more reliable (eg. Whatsapp, Telegram). If it weren’t for the fact that I’m only able to contact my bank for certain procedures via traditional phone and needing text confirmations for 2-factor authentication, I’d see no reason for phone/text service. Also as Americans we’re collectively getting ripped off by our telecom providers (eg. in France you can get unlimited everything for $20/month).

I’m looking forward to having unlimited data for the first time in my life though. I hear the speeds aren’t great, but we’ll see how it goes.

Jeremy Bernier

Written by Jeremy Bernier who left the NYC rat race to travel the world, work remotely, and find the meaning of life.