Last Updated on February 7, 2021 by Jeremy
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In all of my travels, I never carried a phone. I'm going to repeat that to let it sink in. Out of the 66 international countries I've visited, totaling well over 700 days of travel, I never once used a cell phone. In fact, even when I was at home I never even owned a smart phone. Crazy, right?
Call it a mix of wanting to save money and not getting hit with roaming charges when abroad, but the truth of it was that I never had any desire to be that connected. When I was out exploring I didn't want any distractions, and I loved every second of it.
But now that I use a phone when traveling, I wanted to have data on the go. Naturally, I purchased my first smart phone with a Simple Choice plan- a T Mobile international data plan with data and text included in 200+ countries.
If I'm going to do it, it will be done right, and with a starting price of $50/month I was sold.
Free T Mobile Data Roaming Changes Everything
I'm still very much a fan of the notion of “when I travel, I want to be disconnected.” But at the same time I also have the added conundrum now that when I do travel, it may have more business attached to it as I've been getting sent on assignments via this website. (Also, I wanted Instagram.)
It was if a giant billboard was flashing in front of my eyes saying “You have to do this, you idiot.” So I did. (…and Instagram is amazing).
The major selling point to me for T Mobile data roaming on the Simple Choice plan was the free data usage in 200+ countries for accounts based in the USA. In my opinion this is a game changer, and I am quite surprised that a cell phone carrier is bold enough to offer that. This means no more accidental $1,000+ surprises, and a great relief to cell phone users everywhere.
But I'll tell you a secret, on my first trip abroad I was incredibly paranoid.
Are You Sure I Won't Get Charged?
When I landed abroad on my first trip with my phone (a Samsung Galaxy S5), I turned it on and nothing happened. There was no time adjustment, no welcome to France text like I was supposed to receive, not a single thing was different.
I was incredibly confused.
After playing with the settings a bit, I noticed that my data roaming box was unchecked. Now, based on the start of this article you can imagine that I know very little about smart phones. But what I did know was that the data roaming button is what causes those $1,000+ bills I was hoping to avoid.
It was also the button I needed to check to get data internationally.
With great hesitation I checked that button, and a whole new world opened for me. The welcome texts began, my time updated to France time (with a side-by-side home time clock too- love it), and within moments I was told I had a 3G connection and I was updating Facebook telling all of my sleeping friends and family that I had landed.
It was completely amazing, until I remembered reading that T-Mobile Simple Choice plan is supposed to only provide only up to 2G speeds for free data abroad (around 128kbps).
My paranoia began all over again.
The Problem With 3G and 4G Abroad
You can imagine the state I was in when I realized this. I had already used around 50MB of data, worth about $750 on the old fee structure, when I asked myself if something was wrong.
I googled it, on my phone no less, and found very few encouraging answers. Crap.
As it turns out, and with a significant amount of research, the T-Mobile data connection does connect to 3G networks abroad. So if you found yourself reading this post after searching due to the same kind of panic attack I had, you can breathe easy. The thing is that the 3G data you are receiving is throttled, meaning that the max speed is capped just under 3G speed in order to remain free.
Even with that suggestion from a random article I found online, I wasn't convinced. It wasn't until 24 hours when my data usage posted that I finally began to breathe easy. Looking at the dates I was abroad the service structure I received was no different than before I left- and it was reflected on my bill that way a few weeks later. No charges for data and barely even a blip that I was out of the country! (I did make a few phone calls, so my international call bill was around $2 thanks to the laughably small $0.20/minute rate).
Unfortunately, Your Bill Will Not Be $50/Month
If the previous section of this post has you wanting to run out and pick up a T-Mobile plan, I won't blame you. Throughout the two weeks I traveled around Paris and Sri Lanka I had amazing coverage, and the only times my data plan did not work were also in places where those with local SIM cards also had spotty coverage as well.
I just need to let you know that your bill will not be $50/month.
My bill for that very same plan is actually $92/month.
There are a few reasons for this.
- The base plan that is $50/month only covers 1GB of 4G data when you're in the US. I am always near wifi, so I bought this one and have yet to go over my limit. (As a side perk, you aren't charged for over use, the speed is just throttled.).
- You'll probably want insurance as that is $10/month, covers just about any damage or theft you could imagine, and also lets you replace your phone with the newest model when it is 50% paid off. Since the payback models are on 2-year terms, this means you get a new phone every year while saving more money in the end.
- Next, as alluded to above, if you finance your phone you'll be paying around $25/month for a $600 smart phone.
- Finally, there are taxes. Great.
But when it comes down to it, these fees are inline with most standard smart phone contracts, yet T Mobile international coverage includes 200+ countries as a perk.
Considering I used $90+ worth of data at their old $15/MB rate while still taxiing in to the gate when I landed in Paris (a paltry 6MB), you can imagine I am a happy convert. Or at least, I would be if I ever had a phone to compare it to in the past.
Let the love affair begin.
By my gushing you may wonder if this post was sponsored. It was not. I am paying off my phone and the service fees mentioned above as described, and truly love the service.
About the Author: Jeremy is a full-time travel writer based in Pittsburgh and primary author of this site. He has been to 70+ countries on five continents and seeks out new food, adventure activities, and off-the-beaten-path experiences wherever he travels.
7 thoughts on “Does the T-Mobile Really Give Free International Data?”
Thanks for this. Going to China for the first time and even tho I went in to the T-mobile store and asked, I still could not believe it would really be this cheap. We went to Canada last summer and got an extra 100 dollar charge from att, for Canada–we could see the USA from our hotel. Also we are on the 55+ plan so just 35 dollars a phone with taxes and we bought our phones used outright, so no contract or phone to pay off or insure since for another 100 bucks we can get another one (nexus 5x), or switch back to our old att phones. Liking the 5x so far (since March). Another note: my husband did not like the coverage with his phone, but it was old–I got him a 5x too and now he loves the T!
I’ve used T-mobile in Japan, China, and Canada with no extra steps (got into the country and data worked) and no extra charges.
Really helpful article, so thanks for spreading the word about this seemingly too-good-to-be-true deal! It’s super useful to know the actual costs involved and that the service seems quite good value for that. Are T-mobile the only phone provider that offer this sort of thing do you know?
Thanks, glad we could help! Honestly I’m not quite up to speed with what other carriers are doing right now. I haven’t heard of others doing unlimited international data, but I could be wrong. T-Mobile is doing its best to be leaps and bounds better than other networks so I wouldn’t be surprised if the others haven’t caught up yet.
I can also vouch for t-mobile, as we’ve been using it on our round the world trip too for the past year now. We got the free data roaming in 27 of the 30 countries we’ve visited so far and its been so helpful to be able to access maps, book future travel, and keep in touch. So nice to not have to swap out sim cards and still have a reasonable price for our needs. My experience has been similar to as you describe and I also had the jitters when first switching the data roaming on, lol. Cheers!
Glad to read this! After trying out a global SIM, I decided to go with T-Mobile as well but haven’t left the US yet with it. I didn’t buy my phone through them so don’t have those extra charges.
Looking forward to hearing what you think when you leave next. I’m quite happy so far!