International Roaming

Oh, you'll have to pay extra for roaming data outside the U.S. — the question is how much​

We tend to travel quite a bit in this job, often outside of the United States. So we like to keep up on what it'll cost us to roam on other networks while still paying our home operator. This post is our ever-updating list of those costs.

It helps to remember how all this stuff works. Back in the early days of cell phones, you'd be (more or less) confined to a restricted region. Stray outside that region, and suddenly you're "roaming." What that really means, in a nutshell, is that your carrier then has to pay another carrier for your phone to work. And that costs money.

Fast forward a few years, and those roaming charges disappear. "Free roaming." Now, we just use our phones wherever the hell we want to in the United States. And that's the way it should be. But head outside the U.S. of A., and suddenly you're roaming again. And that means it's time to pay the piper. You might get slightly lower rates in Canada or Mexico (thanks, neighbors!), or you might not.

International data isn't cheap. Your best bet is to find a local prepaid SIM card. But that's not always easy — and there's really something luxurious about stepping off a plane, firing up your phone ... and it just works.

And so we've gathered up the international data rates for the four major U.S. carriers — Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. These are all with various international "plans" that you'll add to your account (with one pay-as-you-go exception for Verizon), and so if you're not consistently heading outside the U.S. on a monthly basis, you'll need to be sure to turn off the service once you're home.

Here's how it all stacks up:

AT&T

AT&T in October 2014 changed up its international plans a bit, offering the same packages in either a one-time shot, or in recurring monthly instances. Prices remain unchanged, as do the data buckets. The biggest change is the inclusion of unlimited Wifi. You also get unlimited text messaging with these plans. 

Here's how it breaks down:

  • $30 for 120 megabytes of data, 25 cents/MB overages, calls are $1 a minute 
  • $60 for 300 megabytes of data, 20 cents/MB overages, calls are 50 cents a minute
  • $120 for 800 megabytes of data, 15 cents/MB overages, calls are 35 cents a minute​

Sprint

Canada/Mexico

  • $30 for 55 megabytes
  • $75 for 175 megabytes
  • $125 for 325 megabytes
  • $4 per megabyte if you go over

Multiple-country pack

  • $40 for 40 megabytes
  • $80 for 85 megabytes
  • $10 per megabyte if you go over

T-Mobile

As of Oct. 20, 2013, customers on Simple Choice and New Classic plans will receive free data outside the United States. But it comes with a caveat — speeds are limited to 2G, or around 128 Kbps, much slower than what you'd be used to back home. But, hey. It's free.

We'd recommend one of T-Mobile's international data passes, however. Available are:

  • Single-day pass: $15 for 100MB
  • 7 day-pass: $25 for 200MB
  • 14-day pass: $50 for 500MB

For our money, we'd just go with the $50 option.

If you're on a legacy plan, you'll instead pay:

  • $10 per megabyte in Canada on Rogers
  • $15 per megabyte everywhere else

Verizon Wireless

  • $25 per 100 megabytes
  • No overages. You just get charged another $25.
  • If for some reason you want to pay as you go, it's about $2 in Canada, $5.12 in Mexico and $20 per MB in the rest of the world.

The bottom line​

Again, folks, when traveling outside the United States, it's cheaper to get a local SIM card, if you can. We also recommend staying on Wifi whenever possible. 

If you just have to have roaming data, though — and there's nothing wrong with it so long as you're willing to pay up — it's important to do the math. The good news is that there are options, and the options have gotten better over the years. Not that you'll likely have much of a choice when it comes to switching carriers just for overseas use, but comparisons are good.

And as always, if you have any questions about using your phone overseas, check with your carrier. Here's where we compiled these pricings from:

 

Reader comments

International data overseas: How the U.S. carriers stack up

87 Comments

Great information and good advice.
You do need to unlock your phone (best prior to travel) if switching sims and even if you plan to use the carriers international roaming, you need to ensure it's active when you get there (awkward to call back from Hanoi or Hong Kong and try and get it added or turned on to your service!).

It's worth reminding sprint and Verizon customers this is only if the phone works Overseas. Most don't.

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Thankfully, many recent Verizon LTE devices are SIM unlocked "world phones" right out of the retail box. 13 of the 23 current Android devices they sell are unlocked GSM capable world phones. I feel like Verizon should be advertising that they aren't as incompatible as they used to be...

My Galaxy SIII even has GPRS/EDGE/GSM (850/900/1800/1900); HSPA/UMTS (2100). It's nice to know that I can take it overseas with no issues.

How do i know whether my Note 3 is a world phone or not ? Can you pls fwd some link to the same ? Thanks

The easiest way is to stick a sim from another network in and see if it works. There's probably an app that can tell you, or you could just Google.

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Sprint phones working Overseas better than in USA and it has clear voice too.
But when I travel always I use Wi-Fi or, just buy me a cheap phone for the time I am in the country I`m going to. It`s way much cheaper than any carriers.

All Verizon iphones 5 and up are unlocked. I was able to buy a SIM card ($7) on Ebay and activated it before I left the USA . I just swapped SIM and hit the ground running. I paid $30 for 1 gb of data.

... or buy a Nexus or any unlocked device and just get a local SIM card. That's what I do, and it has never failed. Google Voice is also great if you're US-based, since you can still check voicemails using your data plan, and send and receive SMS from your Google Voice #.

Quite honestly if I were to spend greater than a week in a country outside the US, I would buy a nexus and get a simple when I get there. Or buy a throw away phone in the airport

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Seriously, pick up a used nexus 4 when on trips like that. Has to be a bunch of deals, even a moto x/g gsm phone.

Keep your old phone in working order.
On a month long visit to Great Britain, my wife was the only one of her party that had a unlocked phone and a "3" sim for something like $25.

The others were afraid to turn their phone on.

Just when you need Google Maps is not the time to have it become way to expensive.

Man Phil, you will have a tough time in Germany. Alex has a far easier and better experience due to the fact that the EU limits roaming costs to around .50€ per MB. Still very expansive...

At those prices the question becomes, is having a fun while traveling really even worth it. I would rather go phoneless than to pay that. If I owned a business and one of my employees handed me a bill for data like that I would fire them.

Local SIM, or which is often easier, a MiFi device. Japan is the best for this, Europe, meh. Eitherway, a MiFi will share that data with your lappie toppie and or tablets too. Just my $0.02

If you have a business you can get the T-Mobile Open Europe data plan which is valid in 28 countries and gives you unlimited data but the first 500MB at 4G for $50.

I used it this year in 6 countries in Europe including Germany.

Umm T-Mobile is gsm and they with sprint are the most expensive This way. Looks to be 50/50 to me

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I think USA is the only one that still uses cdma while the rest of the world uses gsm.

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T-Mobile's only the most expensive if you're on a legacy plan. Their $25 for 200MB and $50 for 500MB passes are about as close to reasonable as you're going to get from a US carrier.

Regardless, it's definitely a better idea to just buy a local SIM when you get there, though.

It`s depend on how much do you travel! If you`re not traveling out the USA you`ll be okay... In this case the CDMA it`s a good phones and good carriers. If, you`re traveling a lots go with GSM.

I have 9 different local (country) SIM cards I carry with me. Google Voice is great as well as Skype. I forward my US number to Skype when I'm traveling, then I can forward Skype calls to the number for the SIM card in that country. Yes, you get charged by Skype but it's like $0.02/min so it's not much and you don't miss calls (you just get calls at odd hours). All the SIMs and call forwarding isn't exactly "easy" but it sure beats paying the data rates quoted above.

They have them in the airport but you can get them cheaper in the Mexican equilivent of a 7/11

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I went to Europe this summer, and just walked into a cell phone store to buy SIM cards. Reading and discussing the details and fine print in a foreign language is a bit of a challenge, but I found that most people weren't out to screw you when you tried to explain what you were looking for. Some countries even had a phone store within the airport. I had a really good experience with Vodafone SIMs. The worst experience buying a SIM was in Spain where the sales man told me I'd be getting data, but then it turned out I needed to pony up another 10 euro to "activate" it; conveniently, he didn't mention this until I had paid him the 5 euro for the SIM and activated it.

"Take note, however, that Mexican police hold no quarter with gringos. Make sure to keep your head about you while you sin to avoid paying bribes or serving jail time for bad behavior. Sinning the rest of the time is easy; just say, "Dos cervezas, dos disparos de tequila y dos mujeres por favor.""

i love Mexico.

Can't speak for every part of the world. IN the UK they have vending machines in the airport with all types of SIM cards on multiple carriers. Another thing to mention is that all recent Verizon phones have the SIM slot unlocked as required after they picked up some spectrum.

Got a telcel sim card last week due to work trip. 4 bucks for the Sim. 15 bucks for 1gb of data. Bought it at the airport.

One thing to remember is Germany has some pretty strict laws as to who can purchase any sort of phone plan there, even prepaid. Not to say some sellers won't fudge, but as a general rule you have to show an ID that has a German address and possibly give a German bank account number. They may have loosened these up to include citizens of the EU, but Americans trying to pickup a prepaid SIM may ran into trouble. One of the reasons that I switched to ATT was because T-Mobile basically gang rapes it's customers on roaming data at $15 per MB. Yeah, $120 for 800MB on AT&T is pretty expensive, but I at least won't end up having to file bankruptcy for using it. 800MB on T-Mobile would be $13,200!!!! Especially outrageous considering T-Mobile is still owned in large part by the German company Deutsche Telekom!

Definitely, the only way to go here is a local SIM and an unlocked device (or perhaps just rent a local phone in the airport). This is true even if you have to spend $199.00 on a Nexus 4. The international data rates on any carrier in the U.S. are just plain silly.

I am with Verizon and when I went to China in 2009 it was about $45 a month for unlimited data; but when i went back to China in 2011 i have to shut off mobile data on the phone and using Wi-Fi wherever I can.

I travel to Europe occasionally and buy the data SIM. Was just in Denmark last week and bought a Telus 3GB data SIM for about $25 USD. Use skype for calls and of course gmail. Used my S4 and the speeds are pretty good. But then again they have wifi everywhere in Denmark. On trains, buses...literally everywhere!

So T-Mobile charges $1500 for 1GB of data on international roaming? You could buy seven Nexus 4s at that price!

Posted via a naked Nexus 4 running 4.3 (No cover for me!)

From my experiences in Spain, Italy and Canada the free T-Mobile works fine for hangout messages, MMS, and Google maps. If I need anything data heavy, the hotel WiFi at the end of the day is perfect.

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Wait... What?

Am I going mad?

I didn't say that, what username is everyone else seeing?

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Compared to ... well ... pretty much every other countries' carriers ... all carriers in the US suck. On a trip a few years back, needed to make a 40 minute phone call over AT&T. Keep in mind that I had already paid AT&T extra so that talking in a foreign country wouldn't be considered roaming. That 40 minute call was almost $400. In retrospect it would have almost been cheaper to buy an unlocked cell phone in the country that I visited and just use their carrier. Which is what I did on later visits ;)

Will never, and I mean NEVER, buy a carrier locked phone ever again.

For between $20-30 USD you can get a sim card in the Philippines with 20Gb of data that is good for a month. Only stipulation I found was that you could only use 800Mb of it a day. Still, if you need more, just go get another sim...

One other option, rent a mobile WiFi device. I do this when in Japan for about $100 USD per month unlimited data. I can use my phone, tablet and notebook where ever I go.

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One other option, rent a mobile WiFi device. I do this when in Japan for about $100 USD per month unlimited data. I can use my phone, tablet and notebook where ever I go.

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I'm actually happy to see this article posted because I leave the US once every few years and never really knew what was actually available when it came to data plans internationally through my carrier, Sprint, or any other US carriers. Last week I visited Poland and rather than purchasing an international data plan (which I didn't even look into) I simply bought myself a local SIM card. That local SIM card came with 1 GB of data for roughly $6. I would have been satisfied with 1GB of 3G service but they actually offered HSPA+ which was insanely quick and had great coverage. I paid $6 for what would have cost me $9,235 through Sprint. :O That put me in shock when I calculated it. I understand why it would cost a lot, but to think $6 compares to $9,235 is laughable.

On MTC Simcard now instead of T-Mobile USA.....paid $30 bucks for unlimited SMS, 300 minutes, and 4GB of 4G. Can always pay more for minutes or another 7-8 bucks for extra 2GB

I have heard many people turning on Airplane mode when roaming. That is not necessary at all. I travel many times through out the year. I have never had a big bill if i had a bill it would be $20 or less worth of charges.. The way is to leave Mobile Network ON But leave Data Roaming OFF. At this point you will be able still to get incoming calls and texts. You dont get charged for incoming texts aslong you have a some kind of texting plan you use at home. You wont get charged for incoming calls aslong you dont answer them. But if you do answer texts or calls roaming rates can be easily trackable and controlled. Also it another good idea to maybe buy a travel pack if you want..
By doing this way you can keep your original phone # which helps a lot.

I'm with T-Mobile and I did exactly what you're suggesting on my trip to Africa last year. I left data roaming off and I did not answer incoming calls. However I was able to call right back to the U.S with Wi-Fi calling for free. Overall, nothing beats getting a local SIM card though especially as those in the country you're visiting will have to pay international call rates to call you if you keep your home SIM. On the data side, nothing compares to this:Tmobile USA just announced today, 10/10/13, free global data roaming in over 100 countries.

Just want to add that I was able to place voip calls with Skype and hangouts over the "slow" T-Mobile roaming and it was very clear with the occasional drop in quality but hey its free.

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When roaming Europe, I had 3G and even 4G (but not LTE) service and speeds everywhere I went. T-Mobile says 2G only, but it's definitely not. There is no reason whatsoever to buy data from T-Mobile while roaming.

Hello Joshua

Is that plan available to new customers? How about to those who have business lines for 2-3 years but without this plan, is it available to them? What is the cheapest voice plan required to avail it? Do FAN discounts apply on voice and this data plan?

"Sprint and T-Mobile are significantly more expensive than AT&T and Verizon"
Not sure where that comes from? The numbers shown don't justify that, particularly for T-Mobile.
I personally travel a lot and have used T-Mobile new free unlimited Internet. It's terrific. Have no worries. Free unlimited texts as well. And calls are only 20ct/minute which I am willing to pay without having to worry. So typically on a trip, I have all I need and it may cost me $2.00 for a few short calls.
The biggest holes in the list of countries where it is free are in Africa. Only a few African countries. But they keep adding.
Last week, I ended up in Morocco and they give free SIM cards at the airport with 20min and 200MB free. They do not have 4G anyway, but it kept me in touch and allowed me to call the hotel for free a few times.

Yeah I'm confused about T-Mobile getting labeled most expensive when the info presented in the article indicates they are in fact easily the least expensive option. Weird.

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So with T-Mobile's 2G being around 128Kbps, or 16KB/s.. Would that suffice to get train schedules, navigation routes, etc from Google Maps in a timely manner? Or is there more stuff happening in the background that's a bit more bandwidth intensive than just some simple text?

Because I went to Tokyo a few years ago, and real-time navigation was the only reason I'd really need mobile data. Cached maps, screenshots of metro routes I found earlier in the morning, and manual navigation sufficed at the time, but real-time would have been nice. Anything else like uploading photos, watching Netflix over VPN, downloading music for the next day, etc.. All that was stuff I'm doing around wifi in my hotel...

It works just fine for that. I used it in Germany, Brussels, and all over Latvia this summer. I uploaded a ton of pix to Facebook and used Google Maps to navigate around Brussels when I was there on layover for ten hours. Video won't work but everything else was acceptable.

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I had to check the speed a few months back while travelling and it is indeed 128kbps. That said I was using my phone as GPS while driving and placed voip calls over the roaming data. I was in Canada at the time so not sure if that affects anything

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And keep in mind that, in my experience, T-Mobile's "free 2G internationally" is just a minimum service they'll claim to offier -- but in reality, you may very well get better. I've travelled outside the U.S. twice since T-Mobile implemented this feature and both times, I never connected at less than 3G speeds and was never charged a penny for it.

I travel the world for a living... I was with Sprint for 11 years. My phone was *always* a paperweight unless on WiFi when overseas until I got the Nexus 5. Even then, it was horrible. The amount of data and cost of having overages is insane. In France I got lost and turned on data for no more than 15 second, to look at maps and where I was in relation to where I needed to be. 2 hours later, I received an email for a $118 bill.

I switched to T-Mobile in June upon my return. Since then I have been in: China, Singapore, Taipei, Korea, Brazil, Germany and Japan. What have my charges been? About $8 bucks in voice calls. Total. Yes, being throttled to 2G sucks. But at least I can get emails and texts, for free, when I'm not on WiFi. It has been wonderful (aside from TMO's horrible customer service, disjointed departments and overall lack of knowledge about their own products, but I'll save that for another article/comment). As it stands now, I would never go back unless the other carriers fall in line with this. I am on the road too often for anything else to be feasible.

I think of I'm traveling overseas I'm going to grab a nexus 4 and stick in a local Sim card.

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I love it when carriers include "unlimited wifi" on their plans. Like they could keep people's smart phones from having wifi in the first place!
Unless of course what they mean is wifi calling on your number, but I honestly think they are more **** then that.

Hopefully what they mean is unlimited access to paid WiFi. I naively thought WiFi was free in Starbucks in the UK like it is in the US. Wrong! Get a Vodafone SIM before you leave Heathrow, or switch to T-Mobile for a month.

I would never have thought that providers would pay for wifi if it's charged. I'm thinking for my main example is at the airport where you have to pay way too much for wifi access.

Guess it would be best to use my unlocked phone and buy a temporary Sim from the local carrier overseas has to be cheaper than this

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With networks in the UK (and I presume, the rest of Europe) starting to offer roaming in the EU at standard rates, I'd say it's well worth an American who travels to Europe a lot to pick up a sim from one of those networks.

Hell, at some of those prices even if you have to buy a moto G to use it in it could still work out cheaper.

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Last time I was in Canada I gobbled up about 300 MB of data over a weekend. That's $75. You probably don't realize how much your phone is doing--auto-uploading photos to Facebook/G+/Dropbox/whatever, map updates for GPS navigations, constant push notifications from all your apps. Facebook anything, etc. The amounts of data are insulting for the kind of use most serious users subject their phone to.

So I'm guessing with with t-mobile and Google voice/updated hangouts you can text for free from anywhere in the world? I think 2g data should be fast enough?

I would imagine so worked fine with iMessage (messages were blue and not green to confirm it was going through imessage) last time i was in Mexico.

Voice call might or might not be a problem technically it only needs like 30 kbps and you would have over 100 usually.

With T-mobile you can call for free on Wifi anywhere in the world. And you can send regular text messages in and to one of the 120+ supported countries for free.

The wifi calling is only for t-mobile phones or Iphones I guess. My nexus 5 bought from Google doesn't support wifi calling, but I think the t-mobile ones do somehow

If you're travelling TO the USA from another country (like I did last month), you can get your local SIM (ie: AT&T) before you leave home (i got mine on ebay). Register it, choose a plan (ie: $60 per month, 4g unlimited), and load it with credit. Then, when you land in the States, you're ready to go before you've even left the plane.

For anyone venturing to the UK I'd recommend getting a thirty day SIM only plan from any of the major providers...Would probably go with 3 as their data allowances are generous.
As an aside carriers are probably the one good deal we have over here in the UK...I'm with 3 and for £18 per month on a rolling 30 day contact 5000 voice minutes with unlimited 4G which includes tethering and you can use your allowances in thirteen countries (for no extra cost) abroad including the States which came in handy on a trip to Vegas recently....speeds aren't amazing though but for that price who cares!!

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Before I visited Ireland last fall, AT&T unlocked my S3 without any problems. I bought a small data package from AT&T, but it was pretty expensive. Once I was in the country, I bought a local SIM (Vodaphone, in this case). I'm glad I got the local SIM. It turns out that most of the hotels I stayed in had wifi in the lobby but not in the rooms. It would have been much more expensive to stay on AT&T international roaming.

Pick up a 3 carrier pay as you go sim in the uk for around $30 bucks gets you unlimited data 4g inc

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Similarly, Rogers is ridiculous.

To talk 15 mins a day, send 100 text messages and use 50MB of data for 1 week roaming in the US:

- Rogers base rate: $357.325
- With a $40 Rogers US Travel Pack: $181.25
- Using a Roam Mobility talk+text+data plan: $27.95

I'm heading down next week and decided to give one a try since the last few times my bill was really high, even with a travel pack.