Best international phone plans in 2023 — what travelers need to know

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Globetrotting has returned with a vengeance, so having one of the best international phone plans from U.S. carriers will be essential for your next trip. Since you last left the U.S., the best phone carriers have overhauled their plans, and that includes the extra services available to travelers. The current plans from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon even feature specific travel benefits for those who head overseas.

Best international phone plans

1. T-Mobile: Best choice for travelers
2. Verizon: TravelPass options
3. AT&T: Best for travel in Latin and Central America
4. Google Fi: An underrated traveling companion

Knowing what your options are for staying connected on overseas trips can save you big on unnecessary fees and data overages. The best international phone plans will let you make calls and browse the web when you're in another country (though there might be a fee on top of your normal monthly rate, depending on which carrier you use). Different plans might cover different countries, and how long you plan on traveling could also impact your choice of plans. Your method of travel — be it by plane or cruise ship — also affects which plan is best for you.

All of these are things for globetrotters to consider when shopping for the best cell phone plan — which will probably be one of the best unlimited data plans since they tend to offer the most travel-related perks. Here’s a look at the travel policies and perks for the three top U.S carriers along with information on Google Fi, which offers a plan that definitely appeals to frequent travelers.

T-Mobile international phone plans

best international phone plans: T-Mobile

(Image credit: T-Mobile)

T-Mobile has expanded its array of plans, but the appeal for overseas travel remains. Subscribe to Magenta, Magenta Max, Go5G or Go5G Plus, and you enjoy unlimited data and texting in more than 215 countries around the world. If you want to place or receive calls, you’ll be subject to the local rate depending on where you want to go. You don’t need to notify T-Mobile of your travel for your overseas benefits to kick in.

T-Mobile Go5G Plus Plan | Unlimited Data | $90/month

T-Mobile Go5G Plus Plan | Unlimited Data | $90/month
T-Mobile's Go5G Plus plan has the edge over Magenta Max for world travelers, even if the latter plan is $5 cheaper for a single line. That's because Go5G Plus customers get more data when traveling in Mexico and Canada (15GB vs. 10GB for Magenta Max) and 10GB more hotspot data. Otherwise, the two plans are identical: You can use your data in 215-plus countries at no extra cost. The first 5GB of data you use use will be high-speed data (with 5G speeds supported where available). The cheaper Go5G and Magenta plans ($75/month and $70/month, respectively) also feature travel benefits, including high-speed data in 11 European countries. Otherwise, data speeds are capped at 256 kbps.

Travel perks in current plans: As part of T-Mobile's Beyond Connected program, data speeds reach 256 kbps when you're overseas — double what T-Mobile used to offer. If you subscribe to either the standard Magenta or Go5G plans and you're in one of 11 European countries, you can enjoy 5GB of high-speed data every month, thanks to a partnership with T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telecom.

The perk gets better when you upgrade to either Magenta Max or GoPro Plus, both of which cost $15 more a month than their respective base plans. In that case, you can benefit from 5GB of high-speed data in 215 countries.

T-Mobile customers can take advantage of free Wi-Fi on American, Delta, Alaska Airlines and United flights. Magenta Max and Go5G Plus subscribers get full texting and Wi-Fi with streaming during flights, where wireless is available. If you go with the standard Magenta or Go5G option, you're covered on four flights per year with full streaming, plus unlimited texting; after those four flights, you can stream one hour of video. Delta SkyMiles members now get free Wi-Fi on domestic U.S. flights courtesy of T-Mobile — even if they get their wireless service from another carrier.

In Mexico and Canada, T-Mobile allows you to use up to 5GB of data whether you've got Magenta or Magenta Max; speeds are slowed to 2G after that. Go5G customers get 10GB of data in those two countries, while Go5G Plus members enjoy 15GB.

T-Mobile's travel benefits are also included in its senior plans, whether you get the Go5G option for people 55 years and older or the Magenta 55 Plus option. Pricing starts at $70 total for two subscribers on Magenta 55 Plus, while Go5G Plus 55 tops out at $100 for two lines. It's part of the reason why T-Mobile heads the list of the best cell phone plans for seniors.

If you opt for T-Mobile's lower cost Essentials unlimited plan, you'll get 2G roaming in Canada and Mexico, but have to pay for data elsewhere.

Trip-specific passes: T-Mobile offers International Pass options for travelers who want high-speed data during lengthier stays overseas. A 5GB International Pass gives you that much high-speed data along with unlimited calling for 10 days. It costs $35. T-Mobile's $50 International Pass increases high-speed data to 15GB and extends the length of the pass to 30 days. The carrier also offers a $5 daily pass that gives you 512MB of high-speed data, and unlimited calling between the 210 Simple Global destinations. 

Cruise rates: Pricing on cruises will vary according to which cruise you’re taking. You can check T-Mobile’s site to see what your pricing will be.

Verizon international phone plans

best international phone plan: Verizon

(Image credit: Verizon)

Verizon phones generally work all over the world, especially if you've got a phone built in the last few years. But where you travel significantly influences how much you’ll have to pay. How much you travel used to determine the best Verizon phone plan for your needs, but these days, Verizon offers options to level the playing field for travelers. 

Verizon Welcome Unlimited | Unlimited Data | $60/month

Verizon Welcome Unlimited | Unlimited Data | $60/month
Verizon's two new plans aren't separated by travel perks. Rather, the $80/month Unlimited Plus plans offers faster 5G coverage via its Ultra Wideband network. Welcome Unlimited only gets slower nationwide 5G service, but the plan costs $20 less each month. You'll get hotspot data with Verizon Unlimited Plus, too. Both plans can access a $10/month Travel Pass option that extends to you three such passes to use when overseas for high-speed data, text and talk. You can add and drop that option at any time, though, in case you don't plan on doing much travel.

Travel perks in current plans: Verizon pared down its unlimited plans from six to just two, and the two remaining offerings have similar traveling perks. Both Welcome Unlimited and Unlimited Plus let you text internationally to 200-plus countries. You can also use LTE data when traveling in Mexico and Canada. You're limited to 0.5GB of data consumption per day in those two countries before your speeds are slowed to 2G, and you can't use more than half of your talk, text and data in those countries over a 60-day period.

In addition to the base Welcome Unlimited and Unlimited Plus packages, you can opt for $10 monthly add-ons for your Verizon plan — some covering streaming services, another providing hotspot data and so on. The relevant package is Verizon's $10/month 3 TravelPass Days add-on, which saves you $20 a month on travel benefits as you pick up three passes during monthly billing cycles. You can accrue up to 36 passes for using talk, text and data when traveling overseas.

Trip-specific passes: Let's talk a little bit more about the TravelPass. It's Verizon's daily option for international coverage, and it’ll cost you $5 per day per device for each day you’re out of the country if you travel to Mexico or Canada and don't have an unlimited plan. In 185 other countries — including China, France and Germany — Verizon charges $10 per device per day. TravelPass gets you 2GB of 5G data, and unlimited data at 3G speeds after that; the passes also come with unlimited talk and text.

If you know you’ll be traveling for a bit more time, consider Verizon’s monthly option. International Monthly Plans at Verizon cost $100/month, but in exchange, you get 250 minutes of talk, unlimited texts and 20GB of high-speed data. (Use that, and you get unlimited data at 3G speeds.)

Verizon also offers pay-as-you-go pricing for international travel. You’ll pay 99 cents per minute in Canada and Mexico, Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands. Rates go up to $1.79 in 130-plus countries and $2.99 in 80 other places. Each text message you send will cost you 50 cents, and each received text will set you back 5 cents. Your data will be charged at a rate of $2.05 per megabyte no matter where you are.

Cruise rates: Verizon charges $2.99 per minute for voice and 50 cents for every sent text message. You’ll pay 5 cents per message received. Data costs $20 for a monthly plan, and you only get a meager 50MB. Verizon says that pricing also applies to plans on select airplanes.

AT&T international phone plans

best international phone plans: AT&T

(Image credit: AT&T)

AT&T also comes with varied international pricing depending on where you want to go. Canada and Mexico travel is covered in many top AT&T plans, and if you pay up for the Unlimited Premium option, you can use your plan in many Central and South American countries. Traveling elsewhere? Then you had best look into AT&T's travel passes.

AT&T Unlimited Premium| Unlimited Data | $85/month

AT&T Unlimited Premium| Unlimited Data | $85/month
It's AT&T's most expensive unlimited plan, but Unlimited Premium has the best perk for travelers — you can use your talk, text and data at no extra cost in 19 Latin American countries.  As with other AT&T unlimited options, you also enjoy talk, text and data coverage when traveling in Canada.

Travel perks in current plans: If you’re heading to Mexico or Canada, AT&T already covers all of your voice, data and text with its four different unlimited plans — Starter, Extra, Premium and the entry-level Value Plus option. AT&T offers a lone tiered data plan with 4GB of data that you can use in Canada and Mexico (though roaming may be at 2G speeds). Both unlimited and tiered data plans feature unlimited texting to 120-plus countries.

The Unlimited Premium plan is the best option for travelers headed to the Americas, as you'll be able to enjoy unlimited text, talk and data at no additional cost in 19 Central and South American countries.

If you do a lot of international calling from home, AT&T offers unlimited calling to 85-plus countries from the U.S. for $15 per month for each line. Calls to another 140-plus countries get discounted rates under this plan.

Trip-specific passes: For anyone off to Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America or the Asia Pacific region on a short jaunt, AT&T recommends its $10-a-day International Day Pass, which comes with unlimited talk and text and data governed by your plan. (Note that each device you take overseas will need its own Day Pass.) That service is available in 200-plus countries, and you can add extra phones for just $5 a day.

You'll never have to pay for more than 10 days of day passes on any one bill, even if your trip lasts longer. International Day Passes also kick in automatically when you use your phone abroad — you get a text message letting you know you're covered.

Cruise rates: On cruises, AT&T offers a $60/month Cruise Basic plan that covers 100 minutes of talk and unlimited texting while also offering 100MB of data. Need more of everything? Then try the Cruise Plus plan ($100/month), which includes 1GB of data on top of unlimited talk and text. 

Google Fi international phone plans

best international phone plan: Google Fi

(Image credit: Google)

If you do a lot of international traveling, don't ignore Google Fi Wireless, the wireless service set up by Google that uses cellular towers of T-Mobile and US Cellular to provide coverage. International travel is built into two of Google Fi's plans — the Unlimited Plus and Flexible options.

Google Unlimited Plus| Unlimited Data | $65/month

Google Unlimited Plus| Unlimited Data | $65/month
The Unlimited Plus plan is the way to go with Google Fi, as you can use your data at no extra cost when traveling overseas. Google Fi customers who pay by the gigabyte of data used are also eligible for this perk.

Travel perks in current plans: You've got two options with Google Fi — tiered data through the company's Flexible plan or a pair of unlimited data options. Flexible coverage costs $20 a month for talk and text plus $10 for each GB of data you use. (Data usage is rounded off to the nearest megabyte so you only pay for the data you consume.) Google stops charging you after you use 6GB a month, meaning you'll never pay more than $80. 

If you find unlimited data plans more appealing, Google has you covered there, too — it also offers a $65 Unlimited Plus option that rolls in unlimited talk, text and data. Unlimited Plus subscribers now get a year of YouTube Premium as a perk. 

The real benefit to either Unlimited Plus or Flexible is that those plans cover you when you're traveling in 200-plus countries. When you're overseas, Google Fi charges the same rate for data usage, whether you're on an unlimited data plan or paying by the gigabyte. Voice calls cost 20 cents (though calls placed over Wi-Fi are free) and you get unlimited SMS messaging. 

Alas, Google's $50/month Simply Unlimited plan is not eligible for the free data perk when traveling. That said, all three of Google Fi's plans let you use talk, text and data in Mexico and Canada.

Google Fi is even more appealing now that Google has opened up service to all phones, including iPhones. Note that phones optimized for Google Fi — Google's Pixel phones such as the Pixel 7a and both Pixel 7 flagship devices along with a selection of Samsung phones and Motorola budget devices — can switch seamlessly between cellular networks and Google's Wi-Fi hotspots, while other phones cannot.

Trip-specific passes: Unlike the other carriers here, Google Fi doesn't offer travel passes for extended trips. Your only option is to get coverage through the Flexible and Unlimited Plus plans.

Cruise rates: Google Fi is not available when you're at sea — only when you're on land in one of the 200-plus countries covered by the carrier.

Best international phone plan: Device compatibility and eSims

Traveling overseas used to mean checking to see if your phone would be compatible once you set foot in another country. But those days are drawing to a close now that 3G networks are shutting down, eliminating much of the distinction between phones that work on either GSM and CDMA. If you've got a recent smartphone that connects to LTE, chances are strong it's going to work just fine in other countries. (You still might want to confirm that your phone works on the LTE bands available in the country you're heading to prior to your trip, just to avoid any unpleasant surprises.)

Many phones now support electronic SIM cards or eSIM technology, where you no longer need to swap in a local SIM card to make your smartphone work with an overseas network. (iPhone 14 models sold in the U.S. only feature eSIM support, for example.) One of our editors took an international trip using an eSIM for her phone and found it easy to setup and use with a local network — in fact, she plans to use the eSIM approach on all future travel. 

That said, not every country supports eSIM. And depending on your phone carrier in the U.S., you might already have options that cover your phone use in other countries.

International phone plans: What about 5G?

As noted above, many of the plans that offer international travel either have you connect at whatever speed is available locally or at a reduced speed in cases where you're drawing from your own data plan. But what if you've got a 5G phone that can connect to faster networks overseas?

For the most part, we'd expect your phone to operate as before, either at whatever speed the local network offers or a capped speed if that's part of your carrier's travel plans. However, in a few instances, U.S. phone carriers have started making deals with overseas wireless providers that allow their customers to access 5G speeds when roaming. You should check with your carrier for information about the country you're going to travel in.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.

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