Looking for the best international data roaming plans offered by the top wireless carriers in the US? This article helps you compare your options and decide what's best for your needs.
If you travel internationally and you run a business, it's important to have the ability to stay in communication anywhere in the world. I remember years ago when US cell phone carriers got rid of domestic long distance – it was a game changer. Can't we get rid of international roaming fees too? It doesn't look like that'll be happening anytime soon, so in the meantime let me show you the best international data and voice roaming options available from US Carriers like Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular and save you time from having to do the research. Plus I'll also explain my personal setup and how I use my USA number to send and receive free calls and text messages from anywhere in the world.
1. How To Make Free Calls & Texts From From Anywhere in the World
2. Verizon Wireless Travel Pass
3. AT&T Passport
4. T-Mobile ONE Plan
5. Sprint Global Roaming
6. US Cellular International Roaming
7. Google Project Fi
8. What's your solution?
How I Send / Receive Calls and Texts For Free from Anywhere in the World with my USA Number
First let me explain my personal setup: I'm on a US plan with Verizon Wireless for unlimited calls/texts and whatever allotment of data I pay for (which changes whether or not I'm in the country) – and with this plan I have access to their free WiFi Calling and Message+ features which allow me to send and receive telephone calls and text messages using my same US number from anywhere in the world where I have a WiFi or a data signal on my phone. I also have a desktop version of the Message+ App which allows me to send/receive text messages from my laptop, and the messages sync with my phone. I use this app all the time because I hate texting from my phone – it's easier to type.
This setup works perfectly for me because while overseas, I typically always have WiFi in my home or hotel. And when I'm out, I can still send/receive calls and texts from coffee shops or places with free public WiFi connections. For me, not having 100% availability to calls/texts/Internet isn't a big deal for my business. My clients e-mail me when they need something and most of the calls I make are scheduled. I'm home working most days during business hours anyway and am easy to reach when it matters. And to be honest, I prefer not having a signal when I'm away from home. We don't have to be reachable at all times just because we can be!
SEE ALSO: Which travel apps can I use offline when I don’t have Internet?
The few times during my travels when I really need Internet access all the time, I purchase a local SIM Card, with which I can send/receive calls and texts from my USA number through that local data connection. Other times, if I don't want to purchase a local SIM card but I require data through cell towers, I can activate an international hotspot device for one day or one hour at a time. I wind up paying more for data with a hotspot than I would with a local SIM, however, I'm a big fan of these devices because of their convenience and because I only pay for service when I need it. For example, I can step off a plane my first time in a country and activate my pocket WiFi immediately and have Internet right away, and then deactivate it the next day if I want to find a cheaper local plan. For me it's worth the $8.95/day to have immediate access to data when I need it.
I often recommend Skyroam for their unlimited data, flat rate daily pricing, and because you can either rent or own their devices. I'm an affiliate for Skyroam and send a lot of customers their way so I've got a special deal with them for 10% off equipment rentals or purchases – just use this link and promo code “TRAVELISLIFE” at checkout for the discount. There are, however, some limitations to their plans, so be sure to read my article about Best International Hotspots for Travelers for a breakdown and comparison of hotspot devices and service plans.
That's my setup and it works well for me, however, you may be looking for a more seamless solution for international service with your phone provider, without having to use a hotspot or local SIM card. So next I'm going to breakdown the options available to you from major US carriers.
Verizon Wireless International Data & Roaming Plans Review
Verizon Wireless offers daily, monthly, and pay-as-you-go solutions for international calling and data.
Their daily service is called Travel Pass and gives you access to voice, text, and data in 130 countries. You can check their Travel Planner tool for specific coverage areas. Most of the newer devices work with Travel Pass, but not all of the old ones do, so check their site to see if your device is compatible. Also keep in mind that 4G isn't available everywhere in the world, so you'll connect to the fastest service available in your location – which is true of every carrier's plan.
The cost of Travel Pass is $5/day in Mexico & Canada and $10/day in other countries and you pull from the minutes, messages and data allowances of your domestic plan. 4G is unfortunately capped at the first 512 MB/day and after that you switch to reduced 2G/3G speeds. This is due to international roaming agreements.
Verizon's monthly service starts at $15/month per device in Mexico & Canada and $25/month in the rest of the world. There is a cap on how many minutes, texts, and data you are entitled to and the overages get pricey.
Their pay-as-you-go service for voice calls starts at $0.99/minute for Mexico & Canada and $1.79/minute for the rest of the world, and text messages ranges from $0.05 to $0.50 per message. Data begins at $2.05/mb which equates to $2,050/GB.
One other option to point out, is if you're just looking at traveling in Mexico & Canada, Verizon's Beyond Unlimited plans start at $90/line and include unlimited calls/texts and “unlimited data” (up to 22GB/month at 4G speed before they reduce you to 2G/3G) and this price includes USA, Mexico, and Canada.
International data roaming gets expensive. You can see now why I take advantage of their free WiFi calling and text messaging features and always find my own local data.
AT&T International Data & Roaming Plans Review
Next up we've got AT&T who offer daily and multiple pay-as-you-go solutions for international calling and data. They also offer free WiFi Calling & Texting on their plans, similar to Verizon's feature, which you can use without any of the international plans outlined below. International coverage is limited to certain countries which you can view here on their global countries page.
AT&T's daily plans start at $10/day and include unlimited voice, unlimited text, and pull from whatever your monthly data allowance is back home. I reached out to AT&T to ask what their 4G data cap is overseas but I have not heard back.
Next they offer a 1GB Passport for $60 or a 3GB Passport for $120 which work in over 200 countries. Additional data cost $50/GB. Text messaging is unlimited with the Passport but voice costs $0.35/minute. The Passport fee also includes access to their AT&T Global Wi-Fi network which should hopefully help you limit your cellular data usage when WiFI is available.
AT&T's pay-as-you-go plans range from $1-$3/minute for voice, $0.50-$1.30/text, and $2.05-$10.24/MB for data which equates to $2,050 to $10,240/GB. (Hard pass on that option, thank you.)
And lastly, their AT&T Unlimited Plans include no roaming charges in Mexico & Canada and pull from your existing data allotment if you're just looking to travel in those countries.
All and all, AT&T has very comparable plans to Verizon Wireless – which other than the free WiFI Calling & Texting features – aren't extremely attractive to frequent international travelers, but would work fine for the occasional overseas trip.
T-Mobile International Data & Roaming Plans Review
Now we're going to get a little sexier with T-Mobile International Plans. They seem to have the most reasonable and attractive plans of all the US carriers – but be careful as there are limitations that would preclude very frequent travelers and full time digital nomads from taking advantage of their attractive offering.
The T-Mobile ONE Plan is $75/month (or $70 with auto payment), and this includes unlimited calls, texts, and data in the USA. Now here's where it gets sexy – this plan also includes unlimited texts and “unlimited data” OUTSIDE of the USA in 140+ countries, which you can see in their coverage locator. Calls are unfortunately not unlimited overseas and start at $0.20/minute, and they don't offer a free WiFi calling feature like AT&T and Verizon do. However, you can utilize WhatsApp calls, Google Voice, Facebook Messenger, and other VoIP services for free because those apps use data instead of voice.
With T-Mobile, their “unlimited data” in the USA is capped at 50GB for their 4G speeds and then, if necessary due to tower congestion, they slow you down to 2G/3G speeds. And overseas, “unlimited data” is only offered at 2G speeds, unless you upgrade your plan for an extra $25/month which then includes overseas 4G data up to 50GB – which of course you'd do that if you're using this plan to travel internationally.
In addition to the above, the T-Mobile ONE Plan includes:
- Unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi on Gogo®-enabled flights
- Unlimited mobile hotspot in the USA (with the $25/month upgrade)
- Unlimited stateside calling to landlines in 70+ countries and to mobile lines in 30+ countries
- Unlimited Netflix (doesn't go against your data cap) with 2 or more lines
Unfortunately, the tethering and unlimited Netflix are not offered outside of the USA.
What I love about T-Mobile's plan is how simple it is. I wish they offered WiFi calling and tethering outside of the USA, but as far as $100/month plans go for international travelers – they've got it going on.
Now if all this sounds too good to be true for your international digital nomadic lifestyle – here's the catch: “Not for extended international use; you must reside in the U.S. and primary usage must occur on our U.S. network. Device must register on our U.S. network before international use.”
So in conclusion, T-Mobile is great for travelers who spend most of their time in the USA and who travel internationally on the regular, but wouldn't be ideal for full time digital nomads.
Sprint International Data & Roaming Plans Review
Sprint offers Global Roaming which works in about 200 countries and offers $0.20/minute calls, free texts, and free data up to 2G speeds. In 50 locations around the world, you can upgrade your data from 2G to 4G/3G for $2-$10/day or $10-$50/week depending on the specific country.
As a Sprint customer, you're automatically enrolled in this global roaming, as long as you have the right phone, and you can upgrade to the faster data from anywhere (ie: you don't have to plan ahead before you go).
The good news with Sprint is that their international plan offers are simple. The bad news is they offer no transparency about their data caps or usage limitations overseas. In the USA, their monthly 4G data cap is 26GB, but I was unable to get clarification on their overseas limits. The folks I spoke to at Sprint genuinely believed that they offer “unlimited data with no cap to your 4G usage overseas” — which relative to every other roaming agreement on the planet, would make them the Superman of carriers. I've reached out to Sprint through additional channels and will update this article if I receive clarification on their actual limits.
US Cellular International Data & Roaming Plans Review
US Cellular keeps it simple too with very basic international roaming options which start at $0.80/min for voice and $35/month for between 50MB – 125MB depending on the location. Text messages begin at $0.40/send and $0.25/receive. There's also charge a $3.00 daily service fee to connect to towers overseas, of which they service around 200 countries. At the moment, US Cellular does not offer free WiFi calling like Verizon and AT&T, but I was informed that they are working on providing this feature in the future. Lastly, there is no daily cap to your 4G data allowance since they do not offer an unlimited data package overseas. So if you're willing to pay for the per MB data, you'll receive the fastest available data in the area that US Cellular has roaming agreements with.
Google Fi International Flat Rate Voice & Data Roaming
Although not technically a US wireless provider, I'd be doing you a disservice not to mention Google's Project Fi on this list. Project Fi is an international voice and data plan offered by Google that works in over 135 countries and territories with flat rate service fees. Their plan costs $20/month for unlimited domestic calls & texts and $10/GB for data. Additional phone lines cost $15/month. You can add as many tablets to your plan as you'd like for free and just pay for the data they use. While traveling outside of the US, a flat $0.20/minute applies, but you can use VOIP calling through WhatsApp, Google Voice, or FB Messenger and only pay for data charges instead of per minute fees.
Project Fi service also lets you seamlessly shift from their cellular coverage partners to over one million WiFi hotspots around the world. You are only charged for data received over their cellular network and not when on a WiFi connection. You can port your phone number over to Project Fi from your existing carrier or get a new number. In the USA, they partner with Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular to provide coverage.
Project Fi does not throttle your speed or limit your daily usage since you pay per gigabyte. They always offer you the fastest available speed in whichever country you're in at the time. The one big limitation to Project Fi is that the service is only available on select phone models such as Google Pixel and Nexus devices. However, Google makes great phones, so if you don't mind switching to one of their devices, it may be an ideal international solution for you, which is why I had to include it on this list.
What's your solution to international data roaming?
For the time being, I'm going to stick to my setup of utilizing Verizon Wireless's free WiFi calling and texting features and simply continue to purchase local data or activate my international WiFi hotspot device from time to time. That's what works for me. What works for you? Drop a comment below and let me know your solution to using your cell phone internationally. And be sure to share this article with your friends and family or in your favorite travel group to ensure that people in your life are getting the best deals possible on international data roaming.
Buying a data SIM card for overseas use is not always easy. For instance, in India, a foreigner getting a SIM is tough due to their concern with terrorism.
Interesting. I’ve never run into problems like that before. I’ve only dealt with the headache of finding a store that can provide a SIM for foreigners because not every cell phone store can do that. Now I usually gravitate towards the bigger corporate stores right away if I can find one nearby.
Great article. Thanks for the info. I recently took a new job that involves a lot of travel in Asia and Europe. I’m currently in South Korea, Taiwan is next and after that Greece. I have the AT&T $60 plan. You would be surprised how easy it is to burn through that 1G of data when using GPS. I’m probably going to pick up a mobile hotspot/sim at Incheon airport. It’s $85 a month for unlimited 4G LTE and then I can just drop my AT&T international plan. I’ll happily pay an extra $25 for wireless everywhere.
Definitely easy to burn through 1GB! Sounds like you’ve got a good plan. Enjoy your travels!
I moved to Mexico about a year ago. We have Sprint Unlimited. A few months ago I was notified that if we kept using so much roaming data, the account would be suspended for abusing the terms of the Contract. I contacted support and they had me revise my settings. Nothing about limits was mentioned.
Two days ago, we lost the ability to roam. Here is what Sprint told me
“Sprint works with wireless partners to provide coverage when traveling outside our coverage area. This roaming benefit is meant for occasional use only. I understand your concern. In looking at your account, I see that you are experiencing a Data Roaming suspension. This occurs automatically when you reach your off-network data roaming limit. International Data Roaming is blocked but you will still be able to use Voice calling and Text messaging.”
Their claim of unlimited is definitely limited. I just had to hit the limit to find out.
Sorry to hear about your experience. That’s so annoying and I wish that Sprint and the other telecom companies would be more transparent about their limitations when they advertise that type of international roaming. It’s a lot to expect from customers to read the fine print, especially when they are so ambiguous about what the limitations are and/or they change on a whim. And unfortunately people find out too late like in your scenario.
You should port your # to Google Voice and just get a local SIM card in Mexico so that you have a local number and a US number. I’d imagine data in Mexico is a lot cheaper anyway. I’m in Ecuador right now and get by for about $10-15/month depending on how much data I use, and I have my Google Voice number to be able to send/receive calls and text messages with my US number.
You should also look at Spectrum with two basic plans for the USA at $14.99 per gig or $29.99 unlimited plus the roaming is only $0.01 per mb ($10/gig) and calls at around $0.07/min (depending on location) All texts are free.