I've tried it all: international SIM cards, "WiFi only" on airplane mode, and international call/text packages, so when T-Mobile came out with their new international features I had to try it out.
Anyone who has traveled internationally knows that you have to get creative with your smartphone abroad in order to avoid sky-high roaming and calling charges.
T-Mobile's plan doesn't charge for "roaming" (using data off of WiFi abroad), so it's basically like using your phone back home.
I needed to upgrade to an iPhone 6S anyways, and switched from AT&T to see for myself what the fuss was all about.
(I was actually very interested in international data/no "roaming" at no extra cost...which I'll go over in this review!)
By the way this is Part 2 of the Travel Hacks Series! Click here to read Part 1 (First-time review of Airbnb), and keep an eye out for Part 3, using packing cubes for the first time.
T-Mobile for International Travel Purposes
Some cool features T-Mobile offers on the plan I have:
- International data "up to 4G" in many countries (I got only 2G or 3G, so the speed was still slow, but better than nothing) >>> check country coverage here
- Rollover data (I wish my AT&T plan had that before I switched)
- Video and Music streaming for Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, Soundcloud, etc. doesn't use up your data whether or not you're connected to WiFi
- Free international texting; international calls at 20 cents/minute
Why I switched to T-Mobile
I was hesitant to switch from AT&T to T-Mobile as my bill would go from about $75 at AT&T (3 GB data/month) to $115 at T-Mobile (6 GB/month).
However, considering I would get twice as much data per month and the international features, I felt it would be a smart decision since I had an upcoming trip to Europe and other travel plans in the works.
Comparatively, getting a SIM card in a foreign country costs between $10-20 ish per month which gives you data and calling/texting to numbers from the same country. If you're going this route, make sure your phone is unlocked.
I used a SIM card when I lived in Italy previously and it worked great. For this trip, however, I would have needed to get a few SIM cards in the various countries if I wanted to have one the entire time.
Did the international data work with T-Mobile?
According to the website and the reps I worked with when I signed up for my plan, international data goes up to "super-fast 4G speeds."
I traveled in the big cities in Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, and Iceland and never did I reach 4G. I got usually 2G or 3G. (You can see the available speed of the country you're going to using their map, linked above).
Besides traveling by bus between the cities, I was in:
- Vienna, Austria
- Salzburg, Austria
- Bratislava, Slovakia
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Berlin, Germany
- Bavaria region, Germany
- Munich, Germany
- Reykjavik, Iceland
I found great 2G-3G coverage anywhere in Austria, including the countryside traveling between the cities. It worked the same during our day trip to Bratislava.
The coverage wasn't as great for me in Prague. It would work about half of the time.
It worked some of the time in Reykjavik, Iceland, but there are so many WiFi spots in cafes and on tour buses that it wasn't totally necessary.
Their coverage map shows the data works in Germany, however, it didn't work at all for me in Berlin or Munich, two large cities.
This was incredibly frustrating as there were multiple moments where I was counting on my data to work, especially if WiFi wasn't easy to find out and about.
Take the coverage map with a grain of salt...I found it wasn't entirely accurate during my trip which became frustrating as that was the reason I chose to switch to the carrier and pay more per month.
Why is having data beneficial when traveling internationally?
It's nice to use your phone like you would at home, and not have to rely on WiFi in situations where you just need your phone to work. That's why I chose to go with T-Mobile to try it out, though buying a SIM card on arrival would work just as easily in terms of data/roaming.
A great benefit of having international data is that you can have location services on - I like this feature for pulling up directions on Google Maps. (You can track your location on Google Maps without data/WiFi, though you can't put in directions).
Since my location services were on I was able to use the Snapchat location filters out and about! If you didn't use a geofilter on your snaps, were you actually there? Haha 😛
Video and Music Streaming
I tried streaming a YouTube video in Vienna over my 2G or 3G and it wouldn't load (Vienna was where I found the best/fastest data). So I assume that feature only works when you're back in the US.
It's a nice feature though, since streaming video would especially take up a lot of data! Now for it to not drain batteries as quickly...
My texting worked most of the time. iMessage through iPhone always worked over WiFi, which is the same for any phone carrier.
My regular texts didn't always deliver but most of the time they did. When that happened I switched over to Whatsapp instead.
Gogo In-Flight WiFi
I didn't previously know about the one free hour of Gogo In-Flight WiFi, so it was a welcome surprise on some of my flights!
The Gogo WiFi is actual WiFi and not limited to certain services, so I was able to get a little bit of work done and catch up on some YouTube shows during the six hour flight from Iceland to New York City. This also includes unlimited texting.
Not all of my flights (even those on the same airline) had this feature so keep in mind that it's not always available.
So is T-Mobile worth it?
I think it depends on your needs and where you're traveling to.
All the shiny features above were enticing to me and I can assume they would be for frequent travelers.
The 2G/3G data is pretty slow though, so I wouldn't rely on that if you'll need WiFi to work out and about if you're traveling for business, however it is definitely nice to not always have to search for WiFi or get a SIM card. (Except in Germany, where I didn't get any data.)
The Gogo In-Flight WiFi for an hour is a nice feature too.
I think what would be best is to weigh the pros and cons, check the coverage map (but don't trust it completely...), and see which features would be the most beneficial to you!