Both Sprint and T-Mobile have beefed up their respective global calling plans recently, setting themselves apart from their two larger competitors. According to The Verge, Sprint’s “Open World” plan added 33 new countries last week, bringing the total to 50 locations worldwide where customers can text for free, and use voice and data features at a discounted rate.
Meanwhile, T-Mobile added another 20 countries to its “Simple Global Plan,” bringing its total to an impressive 145 countries altogether, CNET reports. On paper, that might make it sound like T-Mobile’s plan is the best deal. But not so fast.
So what’s the best carrier for the international traveler? We take a look here and compare the plans, starting with Sprint and T-Mobile.
Sprint’s Open World plan is nice because it has no monthly service fee. The only time you pay for using Open World is when you’re roaming in one of the 50 locations worldwide covered under the plan (see Sprint’s website for more details).
Free calling and texting along with 1GB of high-speed data are available for use in Canada, Mexico, some of the Caribbean, and most of Central and South America. Elsewhere, including much of Europe, Russia, Israel, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, you’ll get free texting and calling rates of 20 cents per minute. Data is charged at $30 for every 1GB.
A word of caution: The Verge reports that in the free data countries, if you run out, you’re charged the same $30 per GB rate Sprint charges elsewhere.
T-Mobile’s Simple Global worldwide calling feature is pretty impressive, currently supporting 145 countries worldwide. Like Sprint, it is a free addition to any Simple Choice plan and you only pay for what you use.
Unlimited data and texting are included for any of the countries supported by the Simple Global plan. Data speeds are 2G only, although calling rates are the same 20 cents per minute that Sprint offers. If you plan to use your phone in Mexico or Canada, 4G LTE will work where available, and calls and texting are free and unlimited just like your standard plan, the company’s website says.
Outside of Canada and Mexico, you’ll have to pay for high-speed data. The company has three international high-speed data “passes,” available in either a day pass with 100MB, a week pass with 200MB, or 500MB that’s valid for up to two weeks, according to its website. The pricing for each plan is $15, $25, and $50, respectively. So Sprint definitely bests its rival in terms of the cheaper availability of high-speed data, even if T-Mobile covers more countries.
AT&T’s international plans are significantly different. The carrier allows you to text internationally for free. If you have a plan with 15GB of data or more, calling to Mexico and Canada is free at any time. From other countries, however, it’s an entirely different matter, and you’ll need to subscribe to the carrier’s “Passport” service.
Passport is a one-time fee charged to your bill for 30 days of use, and costs either $30, $60, or $120 depending on how much calling time and data you need. On all plans, unlimited texting is provided. Rates vary based on plan price for placing calls, though. For the $30 plan its $1 per minute, 50 cents on the $60 plan, and 35 cents on the $120 plan. On the $60 and $120 plans, AT&T will also include unlimited Wi-Fi hotspot access at participating locations, its website indicates.
You can also purchase “travel minutes” for use in Canada and Mexico in three buckets: $30 for 80 minutes, $60 for 200 minutes, and $120 for 500 minutes. Without these plans, calls are charged at a $1 per minute, which is much higher than either Sprint or T-Mobile.
Verizon’s international offerings aren’t much better than AT&T’s, unfortunately. In fact, in many cases, it’s significantly worse. If you want to use your phone in Canada or Mexico, you’ll need a compatible device (see a Verizon rep for details). For $15 per month, you’ll get 100 minutes and 100 texts (send and receive combined), along with a 100MB data allowance. Bump up to the $25 monthly plan, and both minutes and texts go up to 500, and 1GB of data is provided.
Overseas, be prepared to pay. Verizon’s $25 per month plan gives you only 100MB of data. Minutes are charged at a steep $1.79 per minute, and each text is 50 cents. If you go to the $40 monthly plan, Verizon will include 100 minutes and 100 sent texts (received is unlimited), but still only 100MB of data.
The fine print on Verizon’s website lists its overages, and they’re just as steep: $25 per 100 MB of data, 25 cents per minute over any included, and 25 cents per text.
While T-Mobile certainly wows with its expansive global coverage area, 2G data only with the standard plan is a disappointment — and adding its high-speed data “passes” is more expensive in most cases. Sprint’s coverage area included with its global plan is much smaller, but in those locations you’re getting high-speed data if it’s available. Verizon’s plans are about as bad as they come, with AT&T’s not too much better. We’d recommend just picking up a prepaid phone in those countries if that’s your carrier already — or take advantage of an unlocked phone.
If you travel often in the countries covered though, we’d honestly recommend Sprint as your primary choice (it’s much cheaper than getting a prepaid phone every time). Yes, the network is a little sketchy here in the states, but you just can’t beat the features Sprint offers at a reasonable price.
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