There’s never been a better time to sign up for T Mobile international roaming. Their “ONE” plans include unlimited texting and data in 210+ countries at no extra cost.
I travel every month, so I thought I’d put T-Mobile international data to the test. Since June 2014, I’ve tested it in 18 countries on 4 continents and followed reports from more than 100 other countries. It works exactly as advertised, but before you sign up, here’s what you need to know.
An Overview of T Mobile International Roaming Plans
T-Mobile ONE Plans include
- Unlimited talk, texting, and 4G LTE data within the USA
- Unlimited talk, texting and up to 5 gigabytes of 4G LTE data within Canada & Mexico
- Unlimited texting and 2G data connections in 210+ other countries (full list here)
- FREE Netflix subscription
- In-flight texting and up to 1 hour of free in-flight wi-fi on Gogo-enabled flights
T-Mobile International Roaming FAQ
How do you get access to TMobile international data?
All T-Mobile ONE plans include international data and texting automatically. “No credit check plans” are not eligible.
Individual plans start at $70/month. Prices per line drop as you add more lines: it’s $60/line for 2 phones, $47 each for 3 phones, or $40 per line for 4 lines.
Do I need a special phone?
Sort of. You need a phone that is compatible with the cellular network in the country you’re traveling to. Most modern smartphones are quad-band and support frequencies used all over the world. However, if you have a basic model, check with T-Mobile ahead of time to see if your phone is compatible with your travel destination.
What countries are covered by T Mobile?
With 210+ countries, it’s not all-inclusive but it’s pretty darn close. You’ll need to confirm your destination has coverage in advance but there shouldn’t be many surprises.
Just like in the USA, if you’re heading to obscure or rural destinations within included countries, you may not have a cell phone signal.
How often can you travel?
Let’s be clear: this service is meant for people who live in the USA and travel sometimes…not for people who want to live abroad.
The terms specifically state excessive users of T-Mobile international roaming may have service terminated. In practice, it seems like you should use your phone abroad less than 50% of the time.
How do you use TMobile international data?
You don’t have to do anything. Seriously, once your phone recognizes you’re in a new country (like when your flight lands), you’ll automatically have coverage. T-Mobile sends a text message confirming your service.
I love that you don’t have to call T-Mobile in advance and ask them to turn international roaming on and that you don’t have to set up your phone in any special way. It works the same way it does at home and frankly you’d never even know that you’re traveling abroad!
The one time my roaming didn’t work automatically, all I had to do was restart my phone (and it seemed to be a device issue). Please note that I have no affiliation with T-Mobile and cannot provide tech or billing support.
After 18 months, I’ve never been billed more than my standard monthly amount. There are no hidden fees!
What’s the advantage to T-Mobile international coverage vs. buying SIM cards abroad?
It can be cheaper (especially for occasional travelers) to rely on other phone service in the USA and simply buy local SIM cards when they travel. I’ve done that previously and you’d be amazed at how cheap you can pick up prepaid service in many countries.
T-Mobile has two main advantages:
- Your phone number doesn’t change. You don’t have to inform friends, family, and coworkers of a new number for every trip! Plus they can continue to text your US number at no surcharge, unlike if you just picked up a Nepal-based phone number.
- It’s convenient. You don’t have to wait in line and deal with language barriers trying to buy phone service abroad. You don’t have to switch SIM cards if you enter a new country (like on round-the-world trips).
Do you drain your phone battery? Maps in particular strain your battery, so I always pack an external battery. Power users can quadruple battery life with a compact version for only $25.
How fast is the international data?
Not fast: in fact, T-Mobile specifically advertises speeds of approximately 128 kbps (“2G”). These speeds are great for travelers to check email. Features like web browsing, social networking, and GPS/maps work if you have a little patience. However, streaming radio or video is basically impossible.
Texting works perfectly, although some multimedia messages make take a few seconds to download.
For an extra $10/month per line, you can double your data speeds by purchasing T-Mobile ONE Plus.
What do phone calls cost?
MOST PHONE CALLS ARE NOT FREE.
Phone calls to/from Canada and Mexico are included in your plan, but all other calls are charged! Costs can add up quickly.
- If you make a phone call in one of the 210+ covered countries while you are abroad, it will be 25 cents per minute. (example: you call your pet-sitter at home to check on your dog)
- If you call from an uncovered country while you are abroad, you’ll pay international rates and roaming rates may apply, so expect to pay $0.50-$5.00 per minute! (example: you call your tour guide to mention you’re running late)
Related Post: How to Make an International Call (opens in a new window) When you just don’t want to pay 25 cents a minute, these 3 alternatives will save you money when calling from abroad.
Just like with data and texting, you don’t need to turn international service on. It will work automatically.
Are there other benefits?
T-Mobile doesn’t require a contract, so if it doesn’t work for you, you’re not locked in. That’s a great way to try things out without committing long-term.
T-Mobile ONE family plans (2 lines or more) also include Netflix subscriptions to use on your phones.
Lastly, T-Mobile users get free passes to GoGo in-air Wi-Fi so you can surf the internet during your flights.
Do you have T-Mobile and don’t have great coverage at home? Find out how Google’s Project Fi compares (opens in new window).
What’s the catch?
If T-Mobile international roaming sounds too good to be true, you might be right. Although it works well abroad, there are downsides within the United States.
T-Mobile has a fantastic network in urban areas which quickly degrades in low-population areas. Coverage has improved in the USA over the past year, but it’s not perfect in small towns, national parks, and a few other US locations.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you travel to major cities, T-Mobile international roaming is an amazing deal. When it works, it is incredible value.
However, T-Mobile disappoints in smaller towns, national parks, and rural areas. If that’s where you visit, consider a different US carrier and separate international sim cards when traveling. Frugal travelers can make calls over Wi-Fi through Skype, Google Voice, or Facetime.
You can try risk-free since T-Mobile doesn’t require a contract. Getting started and moving my number was quick and easy. There’s no downside to trying it, even if it doesn’t work out long-term.