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NYT weighs in on best cellphone plans

he doesn't really address it, but first you should think about how you're going to need/use the phone (hopefully not much, since it should be a vacation) and that will help narrow choices. I have to think for most people it's just easiest to turn on your current phone's international plan and then turn it off when you get home.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/21/travel/how-to-pick-a-cellphone-plan-for-traveling-abroad.html

Posted by
47 posts

With T-Mobile Simple Choice, the whole point is you do not have to think about how you are going to need or use the phone. No international plans need to be turned on. If you can make the call over Wifi, its free. If not, you only pay as much as you use, 20 cents a minute. During the 2 weeks we spent in Europe, I used 18 minutes calling back to the U.S. and within Europe. So it cost me $3.60. There was no charge for texting.

The 120 countries and destinations covers 95% of the places people visit. Basically, you arrive in the country, turn on your phone and you are ready for use. You get a welcome text confirming the free texting, free 2G data and 20 cents/min. voice rate.

My neighbor in the U.S. commented that I sounded as though I was right next door even though I was calling from Belgium. The free data is another story as that is extremely slow at the 2G speeds and can be spotty as you move from place to place (especially on a train). But the voice and texting is what I value most.

Posted by
300 posts

Data is another story as that is extremely slow at the 3G speeds and can be spotty as you move from place to place (especially on a train). But the voice and texting is what I value most.

3G would be nice. What you get overseas on T-Mobile is limited to 128 kbps (you can pay for a bucket of faster data but I didn't) - about twice as fast as old 56k dialup (if you're old enough to remember that). But that's fast enough for maps, Facebook updates and uploading a photo now and again. Having tried to tour Europe without data service I'll take slow any day. I'm definitely a fan of using TMobile for European travel.

There are some eastern European countries where their roaming seal doesn't apply and you're instead on the old $15/MB plan. You get a text message when arriving in each country telling you what your rates are so with some planning and some attention to detail you shouldn't end up surprised.

Posted by
47 posts

My mistake. You are right that it is not 3G. T-Mobile's Simple Choice limits the free data to a maximum of 2G speed. I corrected above.

I agree with you that slow is better than nothing. I was able to get information a few times on webpages while I was on the go.

Posted by
823 posts

My 2 cents...

I will NEVER travel without a smart phone again. No, I don't sneak into my work email or try to micro-manage the office while I'm away. But, I do like to keep in contact with family and friends and I find it essential for a relaxed vacation to be able to find directions and make travel/hotel/venue arrangements on-line and on the move. Need to know what bus/tube line gets you to..? Look it up. Can't remember the name of that place you wanted to see? Look it up. Need to make a table reservation? Book it on-line.

That being said, I cannot believe the stupidly-high price of American cell phone providers "international" roaming plans. The only more expensive plans out there are the international traveler (I won't mention brands) you see at the airports and in travel magazine.

My last trip, to London, I spent GBP20 for a pay-as-you-go SIM with 1.5GB of 4G data, free SMS and calling to the US for 3 cents (GBP) a minute (several hundred minutes of calling time included). The SIM also gave me unlimited access to the cellular provider's city-wide WIFI network.

I know I might offend someone's sensibilities because I just made travel more like being at home, but that's what makes me comfortable. I like to take the guesswork out of things so I can explore without worrying about other things. To me, the smart phone became very liberating.

That all being said, all you need is an UNLOCKED smart phone that uses GSM cellular networks. Generally speaking, any newer phone designed to work on AT&T or T-Mobile networks will do, but it MUST be unlocked. These can be found relatively cheap on any of the big internet sales sites or in independent used cell phone shops in your home town. Make sure the phone is a "quad band" GSM phone and you'll be just fine. Once you have your phone, find instructions for replacing the SIM card - easy enough to find on-line if you don't have a printed manual.

I personally run iPhones on the Straighttalk network. While I'm on the plane headed for Europe, I pop out my Straighttalk SIM and when I land, I pop in my 'local' SIM. The process is reversed on the way home so that as soon as I land in the US, I’m back on my home network.

Good luck and have fun.

Posted by
300 posts

That being said, I cannot believe the stupidly-high price of American cell phone providers "international" roaming plans. The only more expensive plans out there are the international traveler (I won't mention brands) you see at the airports and in travel magazine.
My last trip, to London, I spent GBP20 for a pay-as-you-go SIM with 1.5GB of 4G data, free SMS and calling to the US for 3 cents (GBP) a minute (several hundred minutes of calling time included). The SIM also gave me unlimited access to the cellular provider's city-wide WIFI network.

OK, but Greg and I each spent less than five dollars total for our international roaming on T-Mobile, while you sent around 30 dollars for your SIM plus the calling. You probably had data at higher speeds than we did, but we were able to send and receive texts on our "normal" number rather than a special European number. The game is changing to the traveler's benefit.

Posted by
823 posts

OK, but Greg and I each spent less than five dollars total for our international roaming on T-Mobile, while you sent around 30 dollars for your SIM plus the calling. You probably had data at higher speeds than we did, but we were able to send and receive texts on our "normal" number rather than a special European number. The game is changing to the traveler's benefit.

Yes, I spent about $25 more but the service was so much better, it was worth the extra money. I don't have T-Mobile and really have no desire to switch to T-Mobile (for even a month) and 2G T-Mobile international roaming just wouldn't cut it.

Posted by
9363 posts

I have spent nowhere near $30 for a local SIM when abroad. On my last trip, my SIM was 9 euros with 9 euros credit on it. If I had needed more I could have bought more time, but I used less than that (I used wifi whenever possible.) What I would hate about using my "regular" number while traveling is all of the "nuisance" calls - confirmation calls for upcoming appointments, friends who didn't know I was traveling, my university seeking donations, etc. I prefer to have a different number while I'm gone.

Posted by
4958 posts

Yeah, depending on the country, you can get much cheaper SIM cards than that. I paid $3 USD in Bosnia for a lot of data and I forget how many calls - probably only 3G though (my phone is 3G in the US but works only 2G in Europe).

I have T-Mobile too and have used it in the countries where T-Mobile supports international roaming (not in Slovenia, Bosnia, or Montenegro). 2G really was adequate for me, but I guess I'm not a power phone user. Sometime it was really slow, but I assume that was because I had poor reception (when probably 3G would have been bad too). Still, $50/month for T-Mobile's Simple Choice plan is starting to feel expensive to me, given that I don't really use many cell minutes or much data in the US anyway. I'm thinking of switching to a sub-carrier like GoSmartWireless (owned by T-Mobile, runs on their network) for $35/month. The extra convenience of cheap international calls and free data probably isn't worth an extra $15/month given how rarely I need to use it in Europe. And I mostly use my Google number as it is - and I can use that for free in Europe anyway. Next time I think I'll just buy local SIM cards all the way.