T-Mobile Introduces Unlimited Global Roaming – Data and Text and Flat Rate International Calling

by on October 11, 2013 · 27 comments

in Points Guy Pointers, Travel Technology

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One of the biggest worries about international travel these days is how to stay in touch and get the data and calling features you need on your Smartphone without racking up hundreds or even thousands of dollars extra on your monthly phone bill. It is possible with some carriers to unlock your phone and get local SIM cards, but that isn’t the easiest process and I’m sure I’m not alone in not wanting to deal with that every time I travel to a new country.

Some carriers, including Verizon, used to offer unlimited international data for a flat rate (last Verizon offered it, it was about $69.99 a month), but those plans disappeared and now most carriers offer their customers bundles of data at about $25 per 100MB with sometimes enormous overage charges of up to $1 per megabyte!

It’s one of my foremost concerns when traveling abroad since I have to be in touch at all times and accessible by phone and internet, so data plan pricing is always at the top of my mind.

T Mobile

Bucking the trend towards more expensive pricing and less data usage as part of its “Uncarrier” intiative that includes plans without contracts, plans with unlimited high-speed data, a nationwide 4G network, and competitive prices on phones and plans T-Mobile has just announced (with the help of spokesperson Shakira) that starting October 31, it would begin offering its customers unlimited international data and text services at no extra charge.

The new international services will be available to existing Simple Choice customers for no additional cost over their current rate plans, and will work in 115 countries across the world. Customers will also be able to place voice calls at a flat rate of 20 cents per minute while in those countries.

This represents a huge shift in industry standards and one I hope the other wireless carriers pick up on since T-Mobile reports that 40% of Americans traveling abroad turn off their data on their trips and that Americans make 55 million trips per year, so there is a potentially huge market share to capture there.

Shakira wants to keep in touch wherever you are in the world for 20 cents a minute.

Shakira wants to keep in touch wherever you are in the world for 20 cents a minute.

T-Mobile will also offer a new Stateside International Talk & Text feature to subscribers who want to stay in touch with those in other countries while here in the US for $10 a month, which features free texting, and calling rates of 20 cents per minute or less, while calls to landlines in 70 countries will be free.

One prime concern of mine would be the speed of international data, and while there are no clear figures from T-Mobile, it’s expected to be at about 2G speeds – not great, but for “free”, that might be worth it. Customers who want 3G speeds can opt for “Speed Boost” plans (speeds will vary by country) starting at $15 for 100 MB of data per week, $25 for 200MB of data per week, and $50 for 500 MB of data per week – all a lot more reasonable than T-Mobile’s competitors’ rates. Plus, there won’t be any overage charges.

Just a few things to note. For the new international features to apply, trips must be no longer than six weeks, and every three months half of a user’s data needs to used in the US – these are meant to prevent people in other countries from taking advantage of these plans.

My Thoughts

While I’m not quite ready to switch carriers from Verizon just yet, this is definitely welcome news. I am going to wait to see how data speeds end up measuring up since slow data is of no use to me, even if it is free, but I’m hoping speeds are decent because I am definitely considering this – especially because T-Mobile also just revealed that it can now offer 4G LTE coverage that potentially reaches over 200 million Americans in 233 metro areas, so it’s becoming a more viable option for domestic service as well.

I calculate that I’m abroad at least 4 months of the year, so international data charges are a huge part of my travel budget and expenses, and any downward change is a big deal in my book since it will have an enormous impact on my bottom line. My current Global Data Plan with Verizon charges me $29.99 for 100MB of Global data and then $25 for every 100MB that I use after that. Global service with Verizon covers 120 countries worldwide so luckily I’ve been covered everywhere I’ve gone. That’s in addition to my normal plan, and I’d estimate that I use about 100MB of data every 2 days, so a week abroad ends up costing me about $100. Unlimited Simple Choice plans from T-Mobile cost $70 per month, though, so I could end up saving a decent amount.

My personal hope is that the other big three – AT&T, Sprint and Verizon – will all introduce competitive pricing as well so I don’t have to consider a switch from my current carrier. Maybe that’s a pipe dream, but when T-Mobile started its Uncarrier initiative with the waiving of carrier contracts and new early upgrade features, all three reacted with similar campaigns. After all, many credit cards are waiving foreign transaction fees these days in order to stay competitive with high-value customers who travel a lot, so why shouldn’t phone companies do the same since these international data plans are just a tiny portion of their revenue? Here’s hoping!

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  • Eric

    good write up today in the NYTimes regarding this tmobile move. Having 5 lines on family plan, I am seriously thinking of moving over to Tmobile once contract is up.

  • RakSiam

    Well, not likely that Verizon will be able to offer this since their phones are CDMA, right? Since almost all of the rest of the world is on the GSM standard you’ll need a compatible phone first and foremost.

    This seems like a nice idea, but I see a lot of potential for confusion over this. I am on their cheapest $30/month plan which does not seem to be a part of this thing.

    I guess it depends on where you go, but in Asia it’s typically pretty easy to get a prepaid SIM card. I got a Nexus 4 partly because it comes automatically unlocked.

  • LG

    Why would you use a US data plan abroad at all? In almost every country in the world you can walk into a phone shop and get a SIM for a few bucks and a data plan for next to nothing. In the UK and Ireland the phone companies will deliver the SIM to your hotel so it will be waiting for you when you arrive. Get a burner Nokia for your regular SIM or a second smart phone if you insist–you’ll save enough to buy one in a month of using a local SIM. This US-centric mindset is particularly silly in someone that travels so much.

  • Carl

    yep, i just turn off my phone overseas. Roaming costs are incredibly expensive.

  • dok

    If you have an iPhone it’s fairly easy to get it unlocked whether you’re on contract or not (I have used for my brand new 5S for example and it worked flawlessly). Prices vary and AT&T seems to be the cheapest but all major carriers are supported since the iPhone 4S, 5 and 5S are CDMA and GSM dual radio. The iPhone 5 and 5S support many international LTE bands too. I unlocked my previous iPhone (4S) for travel last year and used it in Iceland, Germany, London, Edinburgh and the Dominican Republic with local sim cards that I purchased with only data on them. They all worked great and were even cheaper than my US data plan. Especially in Iceland.

    That said what T-Mobile is doing is awesome. I just don’t want to switch to them for that reason alone.

  • Kiooly

    I don’t think Verizon even sells a smartphone anymore that isn’t a “world phone” (CDMA + GSM radios). In addition, all LTE phones they sell come unlocked per US law.

  • baccarat_guy

    As one who has direct experience with T-mobile at my US Home (New Hampshire, Boston Area) and at my home in the Netherlands (Amsterdam); basically you are getting the WORST data service. T-mobile data is horrible in Amsterdam. So, in essence, you are getting unlimited use of something that is useless. ;-)

  • t-mobileman

    Hasn’t anyone heard of T-Mobile wifi calling feature? Anyone who spends substantial time abroad who doesn’t have it is missing out on the single best way to make and receive calls to and from any US number using only plan minutes.

  • Kacee

    This post is several years behind the times. Verizon phones are quad band and work everywhere. I use my Verizon iPhone 5 all over the world. The other thing about the Verizon iPhone 5 is that it comes unlocked. (I still use the VZ Global plan though, mostly because I’m lazy).

  • Kacee

    I wish it were always as easy as plug and play. At least half the time I’ve bought a SIM card in another country, there’s been an issue with accessing data. Voice is easy, data can be a real hassle (even when they tell you it’s included with the SIM card you’re buying). Topping off an account in a foreign language (Czech, anyone?) is not the easiest thing, either.

  • Rachel

    However, the T-Mobile version of the iPhone is $450 more than the same phone for Verizon, ATT, or Sprint. It’s the same as buying the phone unlocked.

  • AceTracer

    I’m on T-Mobile’s $30/mo plan, which I’ve been pleased with since I get LTE service with it. They’ve always been a great carrier with only their lack of coverage being an issue for me in the past.

    The other carriers have not matched T-Mobile on waiving carrier contacts, and their new early upgrade features are actually worse than their original policies; to the point where they’ve been called out for being deceptive rip-offs.

  • AceTracer

    T-Mobile does not charge more for the iPhone. You can pay the same $200 and then the rest in installments over the next two years. It’s actually a much better deal than other carriers that charge the same amount for the phone but more for the plans.

    You save hundreds.

  • AceTracer

    It’s not available on all phones, especially the iPhone, Nexus 4, and other popular smartphones.

  • Garry Margolis

    I’m a T-Mobile US subscriber with an unlocked iPhone, and I’m very excited by this announcement. It’ll save me a lot of money and hassle.

    I’ve bought SIMs from three different suppliers at various times for use in Europe. The Lebara and T-Mobile SIMs purchased overseas had either miniscule data amounts at EDGE speed or none at all, and because they were new phone numbers, they didn’t allow me to receive calls or voicemails to my USA number. These SIMs were primarily intended for use in one country and had high roaming costs when used in another country, and, as someone else noted, topping up a SIM with prompts in a language you don’t speak is an exercise in frustration — try Czech or Hungarian!

    The HolidayPhone SIM was shipped to my USA address. Its advantages were that it enabled call forwarding from my USA number and that it allowed a decent amount of 3G data. However, it was good only in one country, and because the voicemail prompts were in German, neither my callers nor I could leave or retrieve messages. It also had poor documentation — it required an unlock code each time the phone was powered up, but this was not made known before the fact. And the iPhone’s visual voicemail didn’t work.

    Note that not every tobacconist or phone kiosk may have the microSIMs used by recent iPhones.

    One thing to be aware of if you opt for a higher-speed T-Mobile overseas data package: LTE frequencies in other countries may be different than those in the USA, and a quad-band phone may not be able to access them. Check your phone specs against the LTE frequencies in the countries you’ll visit to avoid disappointment. In any event, you should be able to get 3G data.

    A tip: Vonage has an iPhone app called Extensions that allows its subscribers to make calls from their domestic Vonage number via WiFi, 3G, and/or 4G connections (user-selectable). It works well. Unfortunately, it won’t receive calls. This app may also be available for Android.

  • Garry Margolis

    T-Mobile will unlock its iPhones 45 days after their purchase, and after the full cost of the iPhone is paid off, the monthly fee drops $20/month.

  • Paul

    Vodafone has a great hybrid solution here in the form of their World Traveler plan that is available even on prepaid sims. For 2GBP per day you get 25MB of 3G full speed data pretty much anywhere in the world.

    I use Verizon in the states (unlocked iPhone 5), but with that Vodafone sim I’ve had no problems in Argentina, Panama, Iceland, Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, Oman and Australia. Piece of cake.

  • Laurel Heights

    Your kilometers will vary. In some countires it can be easy by walking into a local 7-11 and on a recent trip to Uruguay, it took an hour for the agent to take my details before issuing a SIM. Probably the most expensive prepaid is in Canada with a $50 minimum for the cheapest prepaid with measly data. It’s great to have the added convenience of free data roaming but I will opt for the faster data speed and to save time.

  • Ed Carney

    This comes free with your US phone service, WHY NOT? Data plans abroad are not NEXT TO NOTHING .

  • SuperKirby

    Like others have stated, YKMV. I’ve had places where I could get dirt cheap data sims, while other countries or areas has been quite a hassle to me to get the data to work properly. I’m already a TMO subscriber and hassle-free is PRICELESS compared to spending time trying to find dirt cheap local sims that has the data working properly.

  • SIM is good

    Depends where you go. The Orange network in the UK gives you 500MB for a month for only $10. Bargain.

  • joeypore

    This is great news. Everyone is commenting about international sims. That’s great and all but in some countries it’s just too much of a hassle, especially if you don’t have all that much time to begin with. Also, people need to realize that international roaming is the only (non cumbersome) way to keep your same phone number working abroad. If I’m going to the UK, then sure, I’ll pick up a Vodafone SIM and top it up for internet, but if I’m going to France, it’s a nightmare trying to register your passport and you never know when they’re actually going to activate it.

  • NYCTaxiDriver

    You article states that the plan starts on 10.31.13 but their TMobile site states 10.20.13. Which one is correct?

  • Farhan Abbasi

    Wow great idea. Can i buy and order this sim from the US or Canada?

  • Farhan Abbasi

    Are you speaking of their 4G data service or the free international data (ie 2G).

    Also how is the call reception in Boston? Very important for me and VZW has been always reliable.

  • baccarat_guy

    IMO, T-Mobile provides sub-par service in the Boston area. North of Boston off of the I-93 corridor is good for nothing. VZW and AT&T provide above average service. 4G service is hardly available in Amsterdam, and the T-Mobile 3G service is horrible. Vodaphone is definitely a step up with regards to data in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, Amsterdam is lacking in 4G; and the expansion of services has been very slow (I don’t really understand this, as it’s a rather small city).

  • Eddie

    Has anyone used it yet? 2g slow but usable?

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