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 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
- $30 for 55 megabytes
- $75 for 175 megabytes
- $125 for 325 megabytes
- $4 per megabyte if you go over
- $40 for 40 megabytes
- $80 for 85 megabytes
- $10 per megabyte if you go over
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
- $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: