My First Experience Using T-Mobile Internationally

Filed Under: Travel Technology

As I first wrote about last week, I’ve finally made the switch to T-Mobile. F-I-N-A-L-L-Y. For those of you not aware, T-Mobile offers a Simple Choice International Plan, where you get automatic coverage in over 140 countries around the world, with data and texting at no extra charge, plus a cost of just 20 cents per minute for calls.

I can’t get over the fact that I’ve waited so long to make the switch. Previously I had AT&T and just didn’t use data abroad, but rather kept my phone in airplane mode and connected to Wi-Fi whenever I had the chance. For someone who works online and spends about half of their time outside the US, that’s plain embarrassing.

It took me so long to make the switch precisely because I hate cell phone companies, and because I kept pushing off the process of making the switch, thinking it would be a total pain. What pushed me over the edge was that T-Mobile recently added an hour of free Gogo Wi-Fi per flight. While I have an unlimited Gogo membership (and will likely keep it), that’s the point at which I said “this is the carrier for me.” Free inflight Wi-Fi and free international data couldn’t be more up my alley.


While the process was annoying, it was well worth it.

One complaint I’ve long heard about T-Mobile is that their reception in the US isn’t good. That was obviously a big concern, though in my case for no reason, as it turns out. Reception has been every bit as good for me with T-Mobile as with AT&T, though admittedly I mostly travel to big cities. Some readers chimed in and basically said that T-Mobile reception is bad to non-existent when you get out into the middle of nowhere, which isn’t a situation I often find myself in.

Over the past 36 hours I’ve been in Taiwan and Singapore, so I figured I’d share an update on my international T-Mobile experience. That is, after all, the main reason I made the switch.

How has my experience been with T-Mobile internationally?

Life changing.

Before I made the switch, some people warned me “just be aware that speeds will be really slow abroad.” I would have been totally fine with that, given that slow speeds are better than no reception at all.

The second I landed in both Taipei and Singapore, I received texts welcoming me to the country and confirming I was in one of the 140+ countries eligible for the T-Mobile international plan. I appreciate that they make it so easy.


As someone who has literally never voluntarily used cell phone data abroad, I get almost the same sensation when I switch my plane out of airplane mode in a foreign country as I do when I shower on an Emirates A380. There’s something that feels almost scandalous about it, as I picture myself being billed hundreds and hundreds of dollars with AT&T.


What are data speeds like?

The speeds were about what I expected, frankly, which I’m thrilled with.

Speeds are somewhat slower than they’d be in the US, but not problematically so. I can send emails, Tweet, Instagram, etc., without issue.

Loading my Instagram timeline takes a few seconds. Loading a Snapchat takes maybe 10 seconds. Texts send easily. Sending pictures via text takes maybe 15 seconds.

But the truth is that in the US, unless I’m connected to wifi, I’m usually only doing basic stuff on my phone, like email, Twitter, etc.

The only thing I wasn’t able to easily do is load a video on YouTube that I wanted to watch.

So yes, speeds may be a bit slower than in the US, but not problematically so. I want Wi-Fi abroad so I can stay up to date on email, messaging, etc., and T-Mobile is beyond sufficient for that.

How about phone calls?

At 20 cents per minute, phone calls are a heck of a deal while abroad as well. I’ve found the phone quality to be excellent, about as good as in the US.

This is a huge benefit for me. My dad doesn’t use a computer or any sort of texting, so I’d always have to log onto Skype, Google Voice, etc., to call him. Now I can just call him the moment I land to say hi.

Bottom line

I know I almost sound like I’m being paid by T-Mobile. I’m not.

I just spent years receiving crappy service and paying ~$270 per month for a plan with AT&T while getting charged out the you-know-what for international data.

I realize there were cheaper plans I could have used, but when I called AT&T to ask, they highly recommended I keep the current plan, because it had a plan with unlimited data, and I’d never be able to sign-up for that again. That was bad and dishonest advice.

My cell phone bill now is 60% cheaper, I get the same signal in the US, I can browse the web all the time while traveling abroad, I can make phone calls internationally at a very reasonable price, and I even get some free Gogo Wi-Fi.

T-Mobile markets themselves as “the Un-carrier,” and I think that’s pretty accurate, because I actually like them. I never thought I’d say that about a cell phone provider

So for those of you who aren’t with T-Mobile, I can’t recommend making the switch enough, assuming you don’t live in a small town in the US where their service is lacking. The only other type of plan I’d ever consider is Google Fi, as Tiffany recently wrote about.

  1. I made the switch from ATT to T-Mobile reading your article last week when I got back from my trip abroad. I couldn’t be happier. Not only is my monthly bill lower than ATT, now I have the opportunity to use the same sim card abroad.

    I have a bag full of sim cards and I’m getting tired of chasing cards every time I go abroad.

    If you’re worried about reception at home, turn on wifi calling.

  2. Totally agreed. It was totally a godsend particularly in Europe, where I was traveling between countries very frequently. T-Mobile (it is a German company after all) made it so easy when transiting between borders – no need to change SIM cards, select carriers or check data charges. I had unlimited data in almost all of Europe. You wonder how they make money, but it works perfectly for someone who travels a lot.

  3. Can’t believe you’re not using Google fi….

    ATT to T Mobile for Intl travelers is like going from UA economy to economy +.

    Google fi is like going from UA economy to JL SkySuite biz in a window seat.

    Google Fi is just in a different league than the rest for anyone who travels half as much as you. Nothing else comes compares. The guest poster a while back was spot on about this.

  4. Glad you like the data speeds. They are indeed great. However just know that each country has a different agreement with T-Mobile and some have slower data speeds than others. China for example has really slow 2G speeds and is quite annoying for things involving pictures of pretty much any kind (small icons in Twitter for example are not an issue). Singapore and Japan were both great though.

  5. Have you tried any VOIP services is Skype or FaceTime audio? Just curious if the spends are ok.

    I did a test drive a couple years back and could barely get edge speeds in my house (100 year old solid stone walls). I might see if I can test drive it again and see if band 12 makes a difference.


  6. Wow you paid $270/month to AT&T!?! Well I’m glad you’ve made the switch and I hope you like it.
    I’ve had T-Mobile for 2 years now and am fine with it. Sure, there will be times while I’m abroad that the data speeds are quite slow, but as of late I haven’t had any issues.

  7. I agree that T-Mobile isn’t good in rural areas. But when we were going to spend 3.5 months in Australia and New Zealand in 2014 it became a no brainer to stay with T-Mobile. I have also used it to tether my laptop in international locations. Our daughter was with Verizon, but she has a new job that involves international travel. She was paying Verizon $80 a month, just for her US coverage. We added her to our T-Mobile account for $30 pee month. She kept her Verizon phone.

  8. I’m thinking about switching, actually. I just came back from a three month sabbatical in Japan and wrote a long post about all of the various tricks I learned for minimizing my data usage. I was on their 800MB plan and even with great Wi-Fi in my apartment and lots of new free Wi-Fi coming on line in Japan, I still went over the limit my first month there. Hopefully I can set my name to link there. For me, it was just got so irritating to be constantly trying to sign in to some department store or 7-eleven Wifi with 8 confirmation screens when all I wanted to do was check a map.

  9. I’m on T-Mobile and have had phenomenally fast data speeds in the UAE, Qatar and Kenya. I love being able to call family via FaceTime Audio without hunting for wifi. I noticed the speed was considerably slower in Thailand, though.

  10. I’ve been using Tmobile internationally for couple years. Going to a country like Japan and having internet access right off the airplane is unbelievable, I don’t know how to travel without internet on my phone to check Tripadvisor, Foursquare, book a uber and transportation directions. It makes the use of your travel time so much better.

    For those Google fi lovers, the only problem you have to use a very limited option of devices, that’s a big downer for me.

  11. no need to spend the 20 cents per minute for phone calls. you can just download the google hangouts app and the hangouts dialer app and make phone calls through that . you are technically making a phone call using data so its free

  12. Agree with Bob on Google Fi – amazing internationally, you can pause service when not traveling (I use it as an extra phone), and so cheap! Great deal.

  13. @Bob Trial:

    Agreed. I was a Google Fi early adopter specifically for travel…though I maintain AT&T in the US. Why? Because I’m a slave to Apple, for better or worse. Until Google gets over their particular anti-Apple issues, I’ll have to keep both for ease-of-use. The second Google Fi works on an iPhone (that I don’t have to pay to get cracked/jailbroken or out of contract), I’m dropping AT&T like a hot potato.

  14. I’ve been a T-Mobile customer for many years and in Los Angeles, where I live, and traveling to urban areas in the U.S., I find T-Mobile reliability to be excellent. (Further I have found their customer service to be more responsive than their competitors).

    However, because I have a pre-paid T-Mobile plan I do not qualify for their international free coverage. My situation is that I use my phone for online connectivity but make few few calls and T-Moble offers a pre-paid plan giving unlimited online connectivity plus 100 minutes of phone time a month with phone calls over 100 minutes being charged at 10 cents/minute. This works well for me – except when I travel outside the US (and I have two upcoming international trips, one to Japan and one to Portugal).

    If I switch to one of T-Mobile’s “Simple Choice” plans I will have to give up the unlimited connectivity and while I’d get unlimited phone within the U.S., that does not appeal to me. So I’m debating whether to upgrade and while I know I could do so and then switch back, don’t want to go through that hastle.

  15. Yup as a few others have already mentioned… no need to spend $0.20/min when google hangout calls or facetime audio work just fine over the 2G speeds

  16. Thinking about switching my whole company (currently Verizon) to T-mobile and evaluating their service right now via a sales rep. We are NYC and Chicago based and coverage/reliability (so far) seems to much better than before (almost equal or better than Verizon).

    It would save us a ton of money internationally + cut our monthly costs by 1/5. We are also going to be evaluating AT&T and Sprint but looks like T-mobile might be a winner here.

  17. I’m glad you finally made the switch. I had been tracking your cell phone situation every time you mentioned it and wanted to scream SWITCH! As a long time T-Mobile user (and Google Fi) I felt it would suit you perfectly. I think in previous post comments, people were missing the specifics of your situation. The fact that you were not using data at all except when connected to Wifi meant that the switch would open up a whole new world for you. Slow data is better than no data when you are on the move. Especially for less data intensive social media apps and email. I find the speeds more than sufficient. You can also call to get the high speed data add-on which is still much cheaper than ATT. Glad I left ATT for the “Un-carrier” as they are giving the other companies a run for their money and forcing them to respond with cheaper international roaming. Wifi calling, T-Mobile Tuesdays, and seamless connection in 140+ countries etc.Thanks T-Mobile! There is nothing complicated about how they operate and your wallet is thanking you for making the switch. I have better things to think about than my cell phone bill when I land. Turn on my T-Mobile phone and go.

  18. I switched to T-Mobile from AT&T back in February. Then I spent almost 3 weeks in Europe in May, going around to 5 different countries. I had data and texting in every country and I was able to call home when my dog wasn’t feeling well. No need to turn off data and roaming to avoid charges. It is truly life changing.

  19. Told ya so on the speed point. Their advertising, which promises slooow speeds, is absurdly misleading.

    But a question: I thought tethering outside North America didn’t work with T Mobile? It’s certainly a no-no under their T&Cs, but I’m not sure how strictly that’s enforced. So, Sharon, are you sure about that?

  20. More thumbs-up to T-Mobile, I have been with them for longer than I can remember. Super easy when abroad, has been working flawlessly for me, and it’s affordable. I don’t bother getting local sim cards anymore when traveling, the savings don;t make up for the hassle, at least for me. I even use T-Mobile for almost all my international calls when in the US, business and private. Flat rate of I think $15 a month gives me unlimited calls to landline and mobile numbers in most countries.

  21. I do have a prepaid T-mobile plan $30/month (100 min + 5Gb at 4G). In every foreign country I have a roaming. Last trip to China, I also got a message “welcome to china” and that I have ‘complimentary 2G data, and calls for 20c per min.”. However, I didn’t notice any 2G marks on my phone and therefore no data. Was it wrong e-mail (i.e. prepaid plans don’t have international data) or I should activate it somehow?

  22. yes, $0.20 per minute is a great rate and beats using a different SIM in each country.
    Please be aware;
    1, one european SIM is enough, roaming rates are dropping because the regulators demanded that.
    2, Some phones can connect to T-mobile using Wi-Fi. In those phones, while conneced to WI-FI all calls to and from the USA are charged as if you were in the USA. I held my breath till I got the monthly bill and they really were free.

  23. @Stuart Falk: We’ve been with tmobile for something like 11 years. I’ve regularly called in and asked if there’s a good deal they can offer me. You might just call and ask leading questions. I finally switched from our grandfathered plan because they offered me 6GB high-speed data pp/rollover data/binge watch/international benefits/unlimited talk & text for 4 lines for barely over $100 — smokin’ deal.

  24. I love T- Mobile. They are great. I am in my second year with them and overall have very few complaints. Yes driving to AZ from CA there is little to no service sometimes but I rarely do that. I am usually in a city and my coverage is fine. I like it. I even got the North America plan which is in addition to the Simple Choice International Plan. I can use my phone in the USA, Mexico, and Canada and call any number from any of the 3 countries as if I was sitting on my sofa at home. Best plan for traveling!

  25. Actually, the other US carriers are starting to catch up. I use Sprint, which now offers a pretty great plan abroad (in most countries): $0.20 a minute for phone calls, which is terrific, and then $30 per 1 gigabyte of data… prorated. So, if you use a half a gig of data, you pay $15. If you use 2.5 gigs, you pay $75. As a bonus, your data speeds are at 3G or LTE level.

    I think Verizon offers a similar but not identical plan. I have to say I’ve been incredibly pleased with this development from Sprint, and, likewise, the idea of just… using my phone as I ordinarily would is thrilling.

  26. You should root your phone and hack it so that you can get full LTE when abroad. I was in Taiwan 2 months ago and was pulling 10Mbits easy. There is a hack at xda for android phones, not sure about iphone.

  27. I have used the international service for more than two years in multiple countries with very little problems. I have been able to post to Facebook in real time, check directions and far more. In calling US from abroad I have used wifi mode. When I had a problem figuring how to do it T mobile had a free phone number for tech help.

  28. Looks like you’re using an iPhone. If you setup wifi calling on your phone you can talk and text all you want when abroad at no cost when you’re connected to wifi. This way you still use your own cell phone number and don’t need hangouts or Skype etc. spent two weeks in China and used wifi calling when in the hotels – my entire trip only cost me around $3 in voice and SMS fees when I was out and about.

  29. I don’t sing praises about many things, including swu, gpu, rpus etc…but T-mobile’s simple choice plan is life-changing! Prior to the plan, I would get a SIM card for each country that I traveled to, in order to stay connected with work/fam/friends back home. T-mobile made that time consuming, sometimes frustrating task entirely obsolete!

    Can’t believe you just caught on, Lucky! It’s like finding out Roger Federer was playing with a wooden racket the whole time lol!

    I’m gonna echo a point someone pointed out. If you enable wifi calling on your t-mobile device and t-mobile pops up on the screen, instead of the regional carrier, you can make calls for FREE!!! On iphone, go to settings, then phone icon, then turn on wi-fi calling.

  30. Lucky, I have been with T-Mobile for 2 years and love it. Switched from ATT. I pay $140 per month for 5 lines, 10GB per line, with rollover data (20GB max).

    My experience has been similar to yours – poor reception in rural areas (for example driving from LA to Mammoth), but great in cities. Free data and texts in foreign countries have been fantastic. Like you, I have found the data speeds to be more than acceptable for iPhone use. I was able to watch my home TV using Slingbox while sitting in a London restaurant.

    Their Binge-On promotion is great. You can stream video and audio without counting against your monthly data. Before Binge-On, my teenagers would regularly exceed 10GB per month. Now they stream all they want and usually use 4-5 GB. But if you exceed your allotted data, T-Mobile throttles the download speed, instead of charging you outrageous overage – which prevented surprise hefty charges at the end of the month.

    As the Un-carrier, T-Mobile offers other perks. For example, at the start of this baseball season, they offered free MLB At Bat. You just had to sign up. So I can stream any MLB game to my phone or iPad or computer (just not local games that are blacked out). As a RedSox fan, I rarely get to watch here in LA. Now, I can watch every game. I think this subscription normally costs about $100 through but was free through T-Mobile.

    Also, last year, I needed a new wifi router at home, because my old one did not have good range. It turns out you can get a free dual band router from T-Mobile. You just go into the store and ask. It’s completely free, but you have to return it if you drop T-Mobile. I think their motivation is to put strong routers in people’s homes in order to route phone calls via WiFi calling, thereby improving phone coverage indoors. So now I have better phone coverage inside my home, and I have a fast new wifi router. For those of you who have phones not compatible with WiFi calling, they have a different device which is essentially a small cell tower. It’s also free, easy to set up at home, and you will have 4 bars all throughout your home.

    Finally, there is poor cell phone reception with all of the major cell carriers in my work building – especially on the first floor and basement. However, there is strong wifi throughout the building. T-Mobile was the first carrier to use WiFi calling. Therefore, whenever I have a weak signal, my phone automatically switches to WiFi calling, so I can use my phone normally anywhere in my building including the basement.

    I know I sound like a T-Mobile employee, but I assure you I don’t work for T-Mobile. I don’t know why I waited so long to drop ATT.

  31. Agree that the speeds vary a lot by country. China is the worst of the ones I’ve been to, you only get a 2G (EDGE) connection with T-Mobile on roaming. Even basic stuff like email is very slow. However roaming is the only way I’ve found (other than VPN) to get Google services in China, including Gmail. In most other countries your phone will be connected on 3G (LTE in a few countries like Germany), but the speed will still be throttled. However, this is still significantly faster than being connected to 2G. One thing noteworthy about the throttling is that you’ll use up your battery more quickly – your cellular radio is active more of the time to transmit the data at the throttled speeds, so it drains the battery much more than when you’re in the U.S., and the difference is bigger than you’d expect.

  32. T-Mobile is now offering Lte speeds in Europe for the summer. Until August 31. Woot woot. Keep traveling.

  33. Also agree about how great wifi calling is, especially overseas. But keep in mind if the phone decides the wifi connection is not good enough it will automatically switch back to the cell network even in the middle of a call. In most places that’s not nearly as expensive with T-Mobile as with other countries, but something to know so you don’t get surprised by charges. Unless I’m making a critical call, I switch the phone into airplane mode (to disable the cellular functions), turn on wifi, and make the call once wifi calling has been established. This way the worst that happens is the call is dropped.

  34. Interesting – I am about to move to the Middle East for a year. Called ATT last week about “All In” texting, calls and data. Was pleasantly shocked to find out its only $150 on top of regular bill. Maybe, there getting there crap together?

  35. For city boys, T-Mobile works just fine in the States. For gay boys, Grindr works just fine on t-mobile partner 3G networks overseas.

  36. You may want to correct this – “someone who has literally never voluntarily used cell phone data abroad, I get almost the same sensation when I switch my plane out of airplane mode in a foreign country as I do”

    when I switch my PHONE out of airplane mode 🙂

  37. Looking at your prior posts and status with most hotels I’m sure you get Wi-Fi for free at most places.
    Here’s where T-Mobile gets really good – when you’re on Wi-Fi and you have Wi-Fi Calling turned on, phone calls get charged at your domestic US charge aka part of your Unlimited Calling pool.

    People get calls from your regular phone number – big perk for me personally and even if you’re on a limited data amount, Wi-Fi calling uses very little data.

    Save yourself those 20 cents when you’re calling your dad 😉

  38. Oh and Wi-Fi Calling works like a charm even in the US when I’m in a rural area where T-Mobile doesn’t get much service.

  39. I use T-mobile on my 5-6 annual work trips to Asia. Agree it’s not super fast, but it’s fast enough. Only disappointment is that Vietnam is no longer on the country list.

  40. I have T-Mobile and the service was excellent when I went to Seoul in April. My speeds were always decent and I never had anything less than 3G, but it was typically 4G LTE with no issues. The wi-fi calling was really useful too. I had a few times where I didn’t use it or forgot to. The only time I didn’t have a signal was during my JSA/DMZ tour and that was due to the North Korean cell phone blockers. When I was billed after the trip, I found it only to be about $5 higher than usual. I’m so glad I had T-Mobile for my trip. Now to plan my next international vacation.

  41. As a T-Mo customer of several years, I heartily agree. Google is not available in my area, and I’d look forward to trying it when it is, but till then T-Mo is the best.

  42. Don’t forget to turn on wi-fi calling and you can make free calls from anywhere in the world when you are on wifi. No need to spend the 20 cents per minute.

  43. Hi i have a question, you ccan make phone calls right? But if we were to contact you? Donwe just have to dial your regular US number? Im trying to contact my friend, she has internet. But i cant seem to call her? Is there a special trick? Lol

  44. With T-Mobile, if you’re in Japan does your phone number stay the same but just need to add country code for someone in Japan to call you? 81-xxx-xxx-xxxx? Then you fly to Korea and your number is now 82-xxx-xxx-xxx?

  45. This is my second time in france this year and my data plan only worked when I first arrived. After I connected to a wifi in the place I stayed at, the data dissapear. I tried turning on and off several times and still does not work. Anyone else has this problem? Called tmobile and they said there is a problem with the tower in france where I connect to. But this is also the second time this year I have this problem.

  46. The promise of “Unlimited Data” with T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan is not reliable when roaming in India.

    Its service partner Vodafone will deny access to data. AirTel however gives you access to all three services i.e. Call, Text and Data.

    Bottom line, expect zero access to “Unlimited Data” in the areas where T-mobile has partnered with Vodafone. The consumer cannot opt for another carrier but T-mobile can and should, to live up to its ad.

  47. @Denny: ” The consumer cannot opt for another carrier …”

    As matter of fact I can manually select the local carrier in India (I have an iPhone).


  49. You can select a carrier manually. Naturally, the process would depend on your phone. With iPhone go to Settings, Carrier, then switch off Automatic.

    As with all manual control, you have to know what you are doing and, ewually important, remain engaged with it.

  50. hi, i am in Russia/ and my daughter in USA..told me that I will be full by T-Mobill..when I will come back to USA and got big bill becouse I use internet and texting.. Is it true ? i need make shure! Inform me please, is using internet free and texting?

  51. Should gone near the singapore-malaysian border such as punggol,woodlands or singapore-indonesia border such as part of sentosa beach or marine south pier facing batam island and try using malaysian or indonesian mobile signal with T-Mobile plans

  52. I’m moving to Germany for 2 years I am US military will T-Mobile international plan work the whole time I’m there?

  53. It should work if ur on their one simple choice plan. This January I was in India for 6 weeks . My phone worked without a problem. Call them before ur deployed to Germany . And make sure. So u won’t have any surprise just to be on safe side.

  54. I am going to China in July and I have an iPhone 5. I have no need to make phone calls, but would like to use my iPhone to play scrabble or words with friends. Will I be able to do that? Is there anything special I have to do to connect? I am staying at five star Hotels. Also, will I need a special adapter when I need to charge my phone?

  55. U probelly will need different voltage adapter to charge ur phone. IDK about China but in Singapore I stayed at swiss hotel merhcant court and in RM they had walll usb ports to charge ur devises without needing ac adapters. If ur roaming on T-Mobile roaming is free but speed is slow 128 kbps so don’t think u will be able to play games. Unless u have wifi. Hope this helps

  56. Yes u can make calls within uk or anywhere else in world cost would be $0.20 cents a minutes.

  57. I have used the T-mobile plan, but could never connect to a network in Singapore. Others have had similar issues. I can purchase a local SIM and put it in my phone, so the instrument is compatible with the local network (just in case you wanted to know). Looks like some people can connect in Singapore and some cannot

  58. I didnt have have any issue i was onSingtel network whole time i was in singapore. U can also purchase local sim for About less the. $20.00 usd. Benefits with purchasing local sim u hvae higher data speed. With tmobile its slower but its free ur not paying anything extra.

  59. When you had problems in Singapore, what kind of phone was you using. I’ve never had an issue until arriving in Singapore this week.

  60. I switched to TMobile recently being 15y with ATT. It was corp account and i had international coverage which worked like at home. But left the company and things exponential became bad with ATT cost. I like TMobile so far and among other reasons i have chosen it is unlimited data internationally where i travel.
    I am reading people advices about calling, free wifi calling (when on wifi of course), google hangouts or Skype.. But people, do you know that most of EU citizens across all countries, India, China people etc etc use viber and/or whatsup. I use viber for 10y now and Whatsup for about 5. As long as you have any data connection, it works like regular call. Any international contact in my contact list is either viber, whatsup or user fo both…as for US, being behind almost everything in comm, you can always ask your buddy, business partner or family member to download either of these.. 35.57 sec to set it up and bingo 🙂
    just my 2 cents…

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