Travel Tip: Get Affordable Data Plans While Traveling
Hi all, as we prepared for our trip back to London + Italy, we weighed several data options and wanted to share with you which worked best for us.
First, it is important to know what your current carrier plan covers for international data. Some are better than others and will not require you to do much, if anything to get reasonable data rates abroad. Some are scary bad. Here are the top carriers and their international rates. Some of which you MUST purchase or opt into, so be sure to call and speak to an agent if you are not ABSOLUTELY sure you are opted into their international plan.
“Travel Pass” is 10$ per day per line. 5 are Included each month with the top tier Above “Unlimited” Plan. This gives you the same service you’d get at home except you will be throttled to 2G speeds after .5 gigs. A 7 day trip will cost you $70 per line on the “Go” and “Beyond” unlimited plans. $20 and 5 vouchers on the “Above” plan, with each additional day costing 10$.
This pass is marketed as “taking your plan with you” but given that you are throttled to unbearably slow and unreliable speeds after just 500 megabytes, I would say this is not the case. additionally, you must text “Travel to 4004” in order to add Travel Pass to your plan, otherwise you risk paying the ABSURD “pay as you go” data rate of $2.05 per megabyte or $2,050 per gig. Laughable.
There is also a monthly travel bundle that is only worth mentioning to tell you that it is a rip off as it costs $70 or $130 dollars ON TOP OF your original plan and only gives you .5 or 2 GB of international data respectively. For the month.
Seriously, the only real contender" here is the Travel Pass. Even then, you have better options.
AT&T is pretty much the same deal as Verizon. You have to opt in or face paying a ridiculous $2.05 per Megabyte and it is $10 per day per line. Alternatively, you can buy 1GB of international data for $60. YAY! Also, I am not seeing anywhere that they give out any “Travel Passes” like Verizon does. So looks like you will pay $70 for a seven day trip abroad regardless of plan. $300 if away for a month.
T-mobile has made things simple. They offer one unlimited plan, “T-Mobile One”, that essentially takes care of all your needs, including a generous international plan which blows any US competitor out of the water. You get unlimited texting and 2G data in 210 countries at no additional cost with no need to opt in. Folks if you have T-Mobile and are happy with them, congratulations. Stop reading and enjoy your trip. You literally have to do nothing. UNLESS, you want faster data speeds. 2G will get you around just fine, but if you are a power FB or IG user, you are going to want something better, so keep reading.
As long as you have an LTE/GSM device, you have Sprint Global Roaming (provided you are a customer) and do not have to opt in. Like with T-Mobile, the data is 2G but is unlimited and available in more than 200 countries. Again, if you want faster data during your trip, continue reading.
Xfinity Mobile (What we have)
Xfinity has no international plans at the moment and simply charges a flat fee of 10 cents per Megabyte (or $100 per gigabyte!!!). They also charge 10 cents per minute and per text. THIS IS A TERRIBLE DEAL. Do not do this. You have other options.
So if it isn’t clear by now, here is a summarized rundown of which network has that “best” travel plans.
T-Mobile + Sprint: Free, unlimited 2G data in over 200 countries.
Verizon: $10 per day for unlimited 2G data in 140+ countries. 5 Free vouchers with top plan.
AT&T: $10 per day for unlimited 2G data in 140+ countries. Missing free vouchers.
Xfinity Mobile: $100 per GB; Only option.
Now here is how you save money AND get faster data speeds abroad, beating out ALL of these plans:
Buy a prepaid local sim card and use it in an unlocked GSM phone.
Buying a local pay as you go plan is the best, most economical way to get fast, reliable data while traveling abroad. Even better, there are NO roaming fees across Europe, so if your travels take you to multiple European destinations, you do not have to buy one at each stop.
In our case, we start in London and then head over to Italy. Now our carrier is Xfinity Mobile and we are both under contract so our phones are locked but luckily, I have my old, unlocked GSM device, an iPhone 7 Plus that we are using. If you don’t know whether or not your phone is unlocked, or know it isn’t but don’t have easy access to an unlocked one like we did, read below.
How to find out if your phone is unlocked
Call and ask. Pick up the phone and talk to customer service and ask them.
If they say your phone is locked:
Ask them when you will be eligible to have it unlocked. A phone is eligible to be unlocked when it is paid up in full. So if your phone will be paid in full prior to your trip, or you have the means to pay off your balance before your trip, this is a great option for you as this gives you a GSM phone to use whenever you travel abroad. But if you know your phone is paid in full, then you should have no issue getting it unlocked for free other than the fact the process is silly and may take a few days.
If they tell you your phone is unlocked:
Find a friend or family member with a competing cell service and ask them to swap sim cards with you. The sim should work in this phone and the carrier name should be displayed on the phone next to the signal bars. So if you have Verizon and you swap in an AT&T sim, the carrier display should change to read AT&T. Any error messages, contact customer support.
If your phone is locked and you have no means to unlock it:
Buy an unlocked phone. No, not a brand spanking shiny new one that will cost you an arm and a leg. A used one from a friend or family member or a reliable reseller like Gazelle.com. I would start by checking FB marketplace to see if any friends or neighbors in the area might be selling an unlocked phone for anything under ~$150. If you have no luck there, head over to a reseller site and expect to pay closer to $200. It doesn’t need to be fancy. This is just something you will use while traveling to browse apps and have a reliable way to contact others. I found this Google Pixel for $219 on Gazelle.com and this iPhone 6 for $141 on Backmarket.com at the time of this writing. You can also check Amazon.com for bargains like this BLU phone for $60.
If you are thinking that this is too much to spend on a phone for a trip, remember that it is a one time investment that gives you much more flexibility during your future travels than sticking with your US provider. Here are some quick cost comparisons using a 2 week trip to Italy for an example:
T-Mobile: No additional cost, Unlimited 2G data
Sprint: No additional cost, Unlimited 2G data
Verizon: $140, Unlimited 2G data; $90 with “Above” Unlimited plan
AT&T: $140, Unlimited 2G data
Xfinity: $1000 for 10GB data varying from 2G to 4G
Lyca Mobile (Italy SIM): $14, 15 GB 4G/LTE data
Unlocked iPhone 6 + Lyca Mobile (Italy SIM): $155, 15 GB 4g/LTE data
How to buy a local sim to use in my unlocked phone
Now that you have an unlocked phone (or will soon), all you have to do is buy a sim card for the country you want to visit and load it with the best plan that works for your travels. The folks over at Too Many Adapters have an incredible writeup that is one of the best sim buying guides I have come across. They break it down by country and even give you the different carrier options.
If you do not want to wait until you get into town to buy your sim, sometimes you can buy one online and have it shipped to your home address. I recommend checking Sim Options or Sim Corner. Be prepared to pay a premium for this service. Buying locally will always be the cheapest option.
For our trip, we plan to purchase a sim at Victoria station in London to use throughout the rest of our trip. We are currently keen on this Vodafone bundle that includes a whopping 52GB of data for $13. This plan is normally provides 2GB of data but they are currently running a promotion that includes an additional 50GB. Typically, we would go for something closer to the 20GB plan which is $40.
That is everything I have on this for now guys. As always, thanks for reading and let us know what you think in the comments. Cheers!