You know how indispensable your smart phone is in your daily life, so why wouldn’t you want to use it abroad? Usually, international phone plans are expensive or a hassle to set up. With T-mobile, however, we’ve had a different experience. In the past year, we’ve traveled to more than ten different countries on four continents and have had coverage through T-mobile in all but one of them (Vietnam). We didn’t have to purchase a special plan, unlock a phone, or use a foreign sim card.
There is no setup, no setting changes that need to be made, and the best part is that with the Simple Choice plan, global coverage is included with our regular, monthly service. No additional cost.* With 100+ countries that offer unlimited 3G data, free text messaging to US numbers, and free calling over WiFi, it’s kind of a no-brainer for frequent world travelers.
*If you want higher data speeds and calling to the US off of wifi, there are additional costs.
Checking e-mail underground in the French countryside
What Can You Do With The T-Mobile Plan?
Now imagine how helpful your smartphone can be when you are traveling in a foreign country, specifically, one where you don’t know the language very well. But it’s more than that. Here are the things we’ve found super helpful when using our smartphone while traveling:
Using Google Maps to find a destination and get the directions to that destination
Using Google Maps to plan our route using public transit, bike paths, and walking routes
Using Google Maps to make sure we’re getting off at the correct stop on public transit when we don’t speak the language
Using Trip Advisor or Yelp to find a restaurant or reviews about a popular attraction
Texting or emailing people back in the US
Texting or emailing our Airbnb host when we’re running late for check in
Calling US companies, friends, and family using WiFi calling
Looking up words from a menu or translating a sign
How Does the Plan Work?
T-mobile message received upon landing in Denmark
T-Mobile has partnered with cellular providers all over the world to give its customers this ability as part of a regular contract. Speak to your T-Mobile representative to get a plan – Simple Choice (or whatever new plans they have next) – that has global coverage. Once you confirm that you get global coverage, here’s what you do:
Prior to traveling, go to the coverage page and find out if the country you are traveling to has an agreement with T-Mobile.
Once you land, turn off airplane mode and allow your phone to search and connect to the local network on its own. No settings need to be changed. (Bonus tip: for a faster search/connection, reset your phone. You don’t have to do this, but I’ve found that it connects faster this way).
Wait for two messages from T-Mobile that let you know you’re connected. You might receive an additional message to offer you a faster data speed (4G LTE) if you want to pay extra for it.
You’re connected! Go surf, check Facebook, send a text message, etc.
That’s it. No extra equipment to purchase. No special SIM or change of settings.
What To Be Aware Of With this Travel Cellphone Plan:
Phone calls to foreign numbers (even though you are connected to a local network) are not free. They tend to be about 20 cents per minute, but check the rates before you call, just in case. Texts to foreign numbers appear to be free.
If you make a call home without wifi, you’ll be paying international rates. Voicemails cost as well (you can get around this with a Google Voice number which allows you to check messages online).
The data speed is relatively slow, especially if you are used to 4G LTE. Be patient. It’s working. Just remember that, at one point, 3G was so fast.
Data coverage varies by country. You can see the coverage and access areas using this page. As you might expect, even countries that are covered may have spotty service.
If you are going to make phone calls over WiFi, make sure you have the correct settings and indicator on your phone that lets you know your call is indeed going over WiFi. This could be a potentially costly error.
Finally, double check with T-Mobile about all of the details, as their plans do change over time!
This is a guest post by Michelle and Jedd of Intentional Travelers. This 30-something couple left their full-time jobs to join the Peace Corps, then became digital nomads, doing work online as they travel the world.