How to Get Free Texts and Cell Phone Data (Almost) Worldwide

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T-Mobile offers an incredible deal for travelers. All of their monthly plans offer free text messages and mobile data in over 120 countries worldwide.

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On previous trips, I’ve done everything from buy a local SIM card in every country to pay AT&T upfront for way-overpriced international phone, text, and data packages. On this round-the-world trip, I kept my phone and phone number and got free text messaging and mobile data in five of the six countries I visited. In all my trips abroad, this was the most stress-free when it came to staying connected.

How does the T-Mobile plan work? What countries does it cover? What was my experience?

You may have noticed the intense competition among American wireless providers in the last year. T-Mobile took a novel approach to attract subscribers and completely did away with contracts.

When I came back from eight months abroad last year, I had a phone but no phone contract. I didn’t want to sign a contract, so I was attracted to T-Mobile.

T-Mobile offers four monthly plans, and they are all month-to-month plans.

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All four plans offer unlimited talk, text, and data. Where they differ is how much of the highest speed data you get per month. If you reach that limit, you still get unlimited data, but you get it at the slowest (Edge) speeds.

I selected the $60 per month plan and was generally happy with my service. Then I went abroad, and I was thrilled with my service.

All four of the plans include “Unlimited international data & text in 120+ countries and destinations PLUS unlimited international texting from the U.S. to virtually anywhere.”

Here is a list of the 120+ countries in which T-Mobile customers get free texts and data.

On my trip, I was visiting:

  • Macau
  • Singapore
  • Cambodia
  • England
  • Slovenia
  • Germany

All of those countries except Slovenia were on the free list.

So in Macau, Singapore, Cambodia, England, and Germany, I turned my phone on after landing, and I could text friends and family in the United States. I could use my phone for email, maps, and everything else even when I was not at my hotel on wifi. And all of it was free.

I could not make free phone calls. Phone calls back to the United States cost $0.20 per minute. I accidentally dialed my voice mail a few times during the trip and ran up under $1 in charges.

Local calls were even more expensive. I lost my passport for about an hour in Macau, and in the mad scramble, I made a few calls to my hotel which cost me $2.39 per minute. (Best $17 I ever spent to figure out that the passport wasn’t in my room, so it must be in the taxi and have them contact the taxi driver and get him to drive it back to me!)

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For whatever reason, Slovenia, an EU member, is not on the free list. Data in Slovenia would have cost me a whopping $15 per MB! I use about 60 MB a day of data on my phone at home. I don’t want to spend $900 a day on data charges, so when I landed in Slovenia, I kept my phone in airplane mode, only used it on wifi, and made do without data when I left my hostel.

Since international data can sometimes be extremely expensive, I was very careful when using T-Mobile’s free plan. First I checked that my countries were on the free list. Then I called a T-Mobile rep to double check. Then I anxiously awaited my bill after returning home. Other than the $17 spent on roaming phone calls that I mentioned above, my bill was for the normal $60 plus taxes that it always costs!

Is T-Mobile a Good Deal for You?

There are a number of factors to consider. International data and texting prices are only two factors. For me, T-Mobile is a good fit because I want a contract-free plan, had my own phone already, and travel a lot. For you, some other company may offer a better deal.

Also see:

Have you used T-Mobile’s free international data and texting? Do you know of a better phone deal for travelers?

 


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24 COMMENTS

  1. What you describe is great and I considered switching from VZW heavily, however, google T-Mobile and see how HORRIBLE people think the customer service and quality of service is, generally, in the USA. Considering that most of us (maybe not all) spend a majority of our time in the USA, you all need to consider the above before making the switch.

    • For sure. Take everything into account. I looked into how people in Hawaii liked each carrier, and T-Mobile was fine from what I heard. Some places it probably stinks.

  2. Hey Scott–the nexus 4 shows up on your exif tags pretty regularly. Is that your main phone? Work seamlessly overseas?

    • Yes, I’ve used the Nexus 4 for about 14 months. I got it right before Argentina because my brother recommended it, it comes unlocked, and it was $299 (half the price of an iPhone.) It has worked perfectly for me overseas with a number of local SIM cards. My only complaint is that battery life is not very good.

    • Sadly–the $40 plan doesn’t include the international package. They call it the “Simple Starter” plan, as opposed to the “Simple Choice” plans which DO include the international deal. Here’s a Q&A from the bottom of the page you linked us to:

      Is Simple Global included (intl roaming, stateside intl talk and text, etc)?

      The Simple Starter plan will not have access to international service packages. The plan is intended for domestic users as an entry-level option for wireless data usage.

  3. I was just in Canada and I experienced fast free 3G connections everywhere – really fast! TMo is also buying you out of ATT contracts and giving you cash for old phones.

  4. I switched from Verizon to T-Mobile in January, and while I agree their coverage isn’t that of Verizon it’s been ok. Traveling however has been awesome! I’ve used my Nexus 5 in Egypt, Turkey, and South Korea so far; turn off airplane mode when I landed and wait for the two text messages from T-Mobile regarding unlimited SMS and data with $0.20 calls back to the States. I too am a little anxious about the bill when I get home, but so far everything has been good.

    • When u get back and open your bill, you’ll see a bunch of detailed roaming charges but with $.00 at the end of each. Then you’ll be like, “man, they really do mean free international data!” But then you realize u still have to pay your monthly bill 🙁 but u pay it with ur Ink Bold card and that makes it alittle easier. 🙂
      Then u go and recycle all the trash snail mail you’ve been getting with a –> 🙂

  5. I am going to Europe for 6 weeks this summer. Everything I’ve read is that Sprint is horrible about data fees. I wonder if it would be worth it to get a plan for 6 weeks just to not have to worry about it?

  6. For me, in NYC, the T-Mobile service is fine.

    This is great as I go back to the UK at least once a year for a few weeks which means I don’t need to keep two phones. Also, great for checking in on FourSquare which is hard otherwise 😉

  7. Currently using this in China. Works great. Even in middle of nowhere Tibet I had a strong signal. Data is not fast but plenty good enough for navigation, email and basic web surfing.

    In the US, T-Mo is great where I need it…ATL and NYC.

  8. T-Mobile started their international data feature (officially called “Simply Global”) just before I started a long multi-country trip. I already had T-Mobile so it was as if the heavens opened up. The only countries I visited where it didn’t work were Burma and Ethiopia. Otherwise, arrive, dial #766# to kind of check in, and you’re on the internet, using maps, looking up hotels, whatever.
    I use a Google Voice number to dial out from my iPhone even in the US, so I could make calls just as if I were at home — US for free, elsewhere for cheap Google rates. Receiving calls is a little clunkier because the relevant apps are clunky. Texting is a bonus, but keep in mind if you text someone local, it would be an international text for them to respond (luckily Whatsapp is popular in many places).
    The other consideration here is that in many countries a month’s worth of local SIM card costs a lot less than the $50+ you’re paying to T-Mobile. On a long trip, you could vacation your T-Mobile plan and save $45+ per month toward local SIM cards — and if you have lots of people to call and text locally, it will be a lot easier with a local card.
    So there’s nothing to complain about, and it’s a great, great feature … but you’ll get the most value from it if you a) have some kind of VOIP number in your phone, eg google voice, b) are taking short trips or visiting multiple countries for short times each and/or c) don’t expect a lot of incoming calls or texts from local numbers.

  9. T-mobile reception is spotty in my immediate neighborhood, yet I’m happy because they have wifi calling so coverage inside our home is fine.
    If you need to rely on wifi calling, make sure your phone offers it. The Nexus 5, sadly, doesn’t.

  10. Unless you talk a lot on your phone and you travel a lot you should look at the T-Mobile $30 plan. 100 minutes per month, unlimited text and 5G of 4G data. Take the extra $20+ per month to buy your SIMs when you need them in other countries otherwise bank it for other expenses.

    This plan is part of their prepaid offerings, you have to set it up on line using a SIM starter kit from T-mobile that they offer free on a regular basis or or pay a charge to set it up at Walmart.

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