BEST INTERNATIONAL CELL PHONE PLAN FOR TRAVELING IN EUROPE

BEST INTERNATIONAL CELL PHONE PLAN FOR TRAVELING IN EUROPE


Best International Cell Plan for Traveling Europe

Using your cell phone abroad always meant expensive roaming charges, but some U.S. cell service providers are now offering competitive international plans. The charts below summarizes the best international cell phone plan of the big four providers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon) plus Google’s Project Fi.

The charts will help you decide whether you should stick with your current plan or use a SIM card instead (learn more about SIM cards here plus nine questions you should answer when deciding whether to use your U.S. carrier).

Which is the Best International Cell Phone Plan?

AT&T

AT&T monthly plans included limited data, so it has one of the best international cell phone plans if you’re going for more than a few days and you’re diligent about limiting your cellular data use (or you know that where you’re traveling has extensive AT&T free wifi hotspots).  The $10/day option is best for shorter trips. Even then, the AT&T international plans will likely be more expensive than a local SIM card, so it’s also worth getting if you value convenience and the ability to text and be accessible on your U.S. number. And it goes with out saying: do not rely on AT&T’s pay per use when you’re abroad unless money is no object!

Upfront FeeTalkTextDataOne Week Example: 30 min. calls, 15 sent/15 received texts, 500MB data
Pay Per UseN/A$2/min.$0.50/each SMS or $1.30/each MMS$2.05/MB$60 for calls + $1,025 data = $1,085
Daily Plan$10/DayUnlimitedNo additional feesNo additional fees$70 (you use minutes in data from your U.S. plan)
Monthly Plan ($40)*$40/30 Days$1/min.Unlimited200MB (Overages: $.25MB)$40 (monthly) + $30 (calls) + 0 text + $50 for data (over 300MB * $.25) = $120
Monthly Plan ($60)*$60/30 Days$.50/min.Unlimited300MB (Overages: $.20MB)$60 (monthly) + $15 (calls) + 0 text + $40 for data (over 200MB * $.20) = $115
Monthly Plan ($120)*$120/30 Days$.35/min.Unlimited800MB (Overages: $.15MB)$120 (monthly) + $12.25 (calls) + 0 text + $0 for data = $142.25
*Assumes not using hotspots, which AT&T offers in bigger cities.

Project Fi

Google’s Project Fi uses a combination of cellular coverage from Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular plus local Wi-Fi networks. As illustrated in the chart below, the only additional cost for using your phone internationally is a $.20 minute charge for calls not made using wireless. So if you already have Project Fi, it’s a no brainer, it’s the best international cell phone plan for you!

Project Fi also costs significantly less than the big four providers domestically (as little as $35/month for 10GB of data). But it may not be the best international cell phone plan for you. Beware that Project Fi only works if you have certain Nexus or Pixel phones (iPhones are NOT supported). Project Fi is also a problem if you can’t get good coverage on the plan where you live in the U.S.

Best International Cell Phone Plan - Project FIUpfront FeeTalkTextDataOne Week Example: 30 min. calls, 15 sent/15 received texts, 500MB data
Pay Per UseNo extra per month$.20/min.No extra per monthNo extra per month$6 for calls (assuming not on wifi) + 0 texts + 0 data = $6

Sprint

Sprint provides its Global Roaming and Sprint Open World customers with free unlimited international texting and data in most countries in Europe, but it’s limited to 2G. 2G is slow, even for basic email/web browsing and even more so for maps. Live streaming is nearly impossible. You can pay extra for 3G, but it’s more expensive than a local SIM card. As with AT&T, it makes sense to use Sprint’s international plan if you use little cellular data, you are able to use online calling (WhatsApp, Skype), and it’s important to you that you’re able to text and be reachable on your U.S. phone number. Note that Sprint’s international network is limited to 3G, so it may be slower than using a local SIM card if the SIM card uses 4G networks.

Upfront FeeTalkTextData$6 for calls (assuming not on wifi) + 0 texts + $50 data (assuming 3G) = $56
Sprint Global Roaming Monthly PlanNothing additional$.20/min.Unlimited$2.05/MB$6 for calls (assuming not on wifi) + 0 texts + $50 data (assuming 3G) = $56
Sprint Open World Monthly PlanNothing additional$.20/min.Unlimited200MB (Overages: $.25MB)$6 for calls + 0 texts + $30 data (assuming 3G) = $36

T-Mobile

T-Mobile gives T-Mobile One or Simple Choice North America customers free unlimited texting and data in most European countries and calls are usually about .20 a minute. But free data is limited to 2G. 2G is slow, even for basic email/web browsing and even more so for maps. Live streaming is nearly impossible. You can pay $10 extra a month for 1GB of 3G, which seems like a no brainer. The cost is similar to that of a SIM card for the same amount of data, and you get to keep your U.S. number. So if you already have T-Mobile, the only reason for not using the T-Mobile international cell phone plan is that T-Mobile only uses 3G and can be slower than using a local SIM card if the SIM card uses 4G networks.

Best International Cell Phone Plans - T-MobileUpfront FeeTalkTextDataOne Week Example: 30 min. calls, 15 sent/15 received texts, 500MB data
Monthly PlanNo extra per month if T-Mobile 1 or Simple Choice North America$.20/min.No extra per month$10/1GB 7 day pass (for up to 3G)$6 for calls (assuming not on wifi) + 0 texts + 10 data = $16

Verizon

Like with AT&T, Verizon’s monthly plans include limited data, so they’re a good option if you’re going for more than a few days and you’re diligent about limiting your cellular data use.  The $10/day option is best for shorter trips. Even then, the Verizon international plans will likely be more expensive than a local SIM card, so it’s also worth getting if you value convenience and the ability to text and be accessible on your U.S. number. And it goes with out saying: do not rely on Verizon’s pay per use when you’re abroad unless money is no object!

Upfront FeeTalkTextDataOne Week Example: 30 min. calls, 15 sent/15 received texts, 500MB data
Pay Per UseN/A$1.79/min.$0.50/each SMS or $1.30/each MMS$2.05/MB$53.70 for calls + $8.25 texts + $1,025 data = $1,146.95
Daily Plan $10/DayNo additional feeUnlimitedNo additional fee$70/week (but you tap into your existing plan)
Monthly Plan$25/Month$1.79/min.$.50/sent/ $.05/received100MB (Overages: $25/100MB)$25 (upfront fee) + $53.70 for calls + $8.25 (texts) + $100 (data) = $186.95
Monthly Plan $40/Month100 min./month100 sent/ unlimited received (Overages: $0.25/sent)100MB (Overages: $25/100MB)$40 (upfront fee) + $100 (data) = $140

How to Make Your Decision

Project Fi is clearly cheapest, but it may not be the best international cell phone plan, if you’re not willing to give up your iPhone or Samsung and be OK with coverage from Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular. T-Mobile has the second best international plan, but again, you have to be willing to use T-Mobile in the U.S. Verizon and AT&T offer more costly plans but have the best U.S. coverage in the U.S. With less than optimum coverage in the U.S. and abroad and an expensive international plan, Sprint takes last place in this comparison. And to make the most educated decision, talk to someone who has actually used your carrier where you plan to visit – coverage can differ by country or even by city within the country.

TIP: If you decide to use your U.S. carrier, check if you have to call a special number or your own number to check your voicemail when you’re abroad. And don’t forget to leave roaming on, or you won’t be able to use your phone!

I hope this helped you find the best international cell phone plan and whether to keep your US carrier. Want to learn more about using your cell phone in Europe, including whether to get a SIM card,  tips for reducing data use when traveling, choosing an online calling app, how to download offline maps, what’s the best offline map app, and whether you should rely on your smartphone, a portable GPS device or in-car GPS?   Then click here for links to each of these posts.

Or get the guide in one easy to read PDF.  Just enter your email below, so we can send it to you. You may also like one of our awesome itineraries for FranceGermany, BudapestIceland, Italy, PortugalSpain or the United Kingdom.


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