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

The editors here at Android Central tend to travel a lot for this job, and that isn't limited to staying in our home country. And when we travel, we need to have our phones with us and connected to data — that's kind of what we do. We're no strangers to dealing with roaming internationally, and thankfully for us the U.S. carriers are getting on board with everyone's tendency to get out of the country and see the world with their phones and tablets at their side.

Gone are the days of astronomical pay-per-MB rates, limited roaming carrier agreements and poor options from some of the carriers. Two of the big four carriers are now offering some sort of free international roaming, with the other two coming around to friendlier pricing structures and fewer restrictions on how we use our data we bought. Even prepaid carriers are getting in on the action with some international calling plans.

Even with all of these changes, international data still isn't cheap. Your best bet is to find a local prepaid SIM card when you travel and pop it in your unlocked phone. 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. Each carrier does things slightly different, whether it's buying data ahead of time, loading up full-speed data passes once you're already gone or setting up a monthly roaming add-on.

Here's how each of the carriers handles international roaming.

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.

Here's how it breaks down:

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

T-Mobile

T-Mobile now offers free international data roaming on its Simple Choice postpaid plans when traveling in over 120 countries worldwide. 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.

If you need faster speeds (we wouldn't blame you if you did), you'll have to pay for a data pass to bump up your speeds — though the actual speeds you'll get will depend on the country and your phone's radio bands. The passes:

  • $15 for 100MB of data to use for one day, speeds reduced to 2G afterward
  • $25 for 250MB of data to use for seven days, speeds reduced to 2G afterward
  • $50 for 500MB of data to use for 14 days, speeds reduced to 2G afterward

The $15 plan can be good to use in a pinch, but the best value is going to come from getting the more expensive plans that let you use the data for a longer period of time. Also remember that once you buy a data pass, it'll work to give you faster data speeds in any country that T-Mobile offers the service — you don't need a new pass for a new country.

Sprint

After having some of the most woeful offerings in the business, Sprint refreshed its international data plans in April 2015. Much like T-Mobile, Sprint offers free 2G data roaming in Latin America, Japan and Europe, with the option to purchase 3G-speed data packs if you need a faster connection:

  • $15 for 100MB of data to use for one day, speeds reduced to 2G afterward
  • $25 for 200MB of data to use for seven days, speeds reduced to 2G afterward
  • $50 for 500MB of data to use for 14 days, speeds reduced to 2G afterward

There are two downsides to Sprint's offering, though. The first is the 2G data speed, which is a very slow 64 Kbps (half of what T-Mobile offers). The second is the number of countries — only Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Russia, South Korea, Spain and the United Kingdom are on board, while other carriers offer well over 100 countries in their service.

Verizon

Verizon offers one tier of pricing for travel to Mexico and Canada, with another tier for other countries outside of North America. Data is offered on a monthly basis rather than daily or weekly rates like T-Mobile and Sprint — make sure you don't accidentally keep that monthly charge on your bill when you plan to stay in the U.S. for more than a month. Verizon offers international roaming in over 140 countries.

Mexico and Canada:

  • $10 per month for 100MB of data
  • $20 per month for 250MB of data
  • Additional data charged at rate of $10 per 100MB
  • $5 per month for 100 minutes, 100 sent texts, receive unlimited texts
  • $10 per month for 250 minutes, 250 sent texts, receive unlimited texts
  • Data usage with this add-on is limited to Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Rest of world:

  • $25 per month for 100MB of data
  • $50 per month for 250MB of data
  • Additional data charged at rate of $25 per 100MB of data
  • $25 per month for 100 minutes, 100 sent texts, receive unlimited texts
  • $35 per month for 250 minutes, 250 sent texts, receive unlimited texts

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 — make use of Wifi calling on Sprint and T-Mobile, or try a VoIP solution like Skype or Hangouts.

If you just have to have roaming data, though — and there's nothing wrong with it so long as you're willing to pay — 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 you can dive deeper into each of the carrier's offerings:

Article originally posted October 2014, updated June 2015.