As pricey as Verizon's Above Unlimited plan may be, it could be worth it if business takes you overseas on a monthly basis, thanks to the addition of some complimentary TravelPasses. For infrequent travelers taking short trips, programs like Verizon’s TravelPass or AT&T’s International Day Pass will likely be good enough. But again, T-Mobile offers the most appealing international coverage, especially once it launches its $5 On Demand Pass in August.
Verizon is the nation’s largest carrier for good reason: It offers the best coverage in the most places in the US according to third-party tests and surveys (including those of PCMag and RootMetrics), so you’re more likely to have a signal no matter where you are, and its pricing is competitive with that of AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile for the amount of data that most people actually use. It isn’t the best choice for people who frequently travel outside of the US or who want unlimited data, but it is the first carrier everyone else should look at.
With Verizon’s TravelPass you can use your plan in Mexico and Canada for $5 per day. The charge jumps to $10 per day for use in other countries. Usage in Canada and Mexico are included in Verizon’s Go Unlimited, Beyond Unlimited and Above Unlimited plans at no additional charge. Verizon’s Above Unlimited plan includes five TravelPasses each month, good in more than 130 countries. The carrier also offers monthly and pay-as-you-go international roaming prices.
Verizon: Verizon Wireless is offering BOGO and rebate deals on a ton of Apple and Android phones right now. With a qualifying trade-in, you can take $300 off a Pixel 2XL, Samsung Galaxy S9, Galaxy S9 Plus, Galaxy Note 9, LG G7 ThinQ, LG V40 ThinQ, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS, or iPhone XS Max when you purchase one of these devices and add a new line. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and Galaxy S8 are also on sale for $100 off with no trade-in necessary.
But like the Unlimited Choice plan that preceded it, the Unlimited &More plan comes with a few big catches. Video streaming is limited to standard-definition quality, with the speed capped at 1.5 megabits per second. The plan doesn’t provide mobile hot spot capabilities, so no tethering your computer to your phone. (Verizon has similar restrictions.) And people who subscribe to the cheaper unlimited plan no longer get free HBO.
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If you'd prefer to use a different Android phone or an iPhone, T-Mobile remains a strong alternative, letting T-Mobile One subscribers use data in more than 210 countries, though at 2G speeds. You can talk and text for free in Canada and Mexico, though T-Mobile limits you to 5GB of LTE data in those countries. (Be aware that the carrier's new T-Mobile Essentials unlimited plan doesn't include these international perks.)
For longer trips, AT&T has retooled its AT&T Passport, which provides 30 days of service when you travel. Users thought the previous iteration of AT&T Passport offered too little data (since data was limited to 200MB, you can see their point), so AT&T increased the amount of data in its travel plan. The $60 Passport gives you 1GB of data and unlimited texting; you'll be charged 35 cents per minute for calls to any country. A $120 AT&T Passport boosts your data to 3GB. Don't go over that allotment, as AT&T charges $50 for each GB you go over.
Sarah Schlichter is IndependentTraveler’s Senior Editor. She hails from Maryland and now resides in Pennsylvania, where she sings in a local community choir and enjoys experimenting with different international recipes (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires — no humans or animals were harmed). The smell of Sarah’s delicious Moroccan couscous ignites a wave of envy in the office when she brings in leftovers for lunch. Sarah, IndependentTraveler’s resident travel expert, has visited more than 25 U.S. states plus dozens of countries including Belize, Guatemala, Morocco, Canada, Dominica, the U.K., Norway, France, the Netherlands and New Zealand … just to name a few.
For $10 more per month for a one-phone plan, the company offers its Beyond Unlimited plan. That plan offers sharper, HD-quality streaming and 15 gigabytes per line of full 4G LTE mobile hot spot use. (After that, your speeds are capped at 600 Kbps.) And Verizon promises to not throttle your data speeds until you use 22GB of data during a given month.
T-Mobile has carved a niche for itself in the U.S. with their all-in pricing (i.e. taxes and fees baked into plan costs). The carrier's straightforward lineup of unlimited offerings have proven eminently popular and shepherded in the "unlimited revolution," as other carriers have sought to imitate T-Mobile's success. The carrier's ONE plans are still some of our favorite unlimited plans on the market, packed with tons of features and reasonably priced.
T-Mobile offers one of the simplest solutions for traveling overseas. If you subscribe to the company’s T-Mobile One unlimited plan or are clinging to one of its Simple Choice plans with tiered data, you automatically get unlimited data and texting in more than 140 countries around the world. As of July 22, that number will grow to 210 places, T-Mobile says. 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.
With every carrier, unlimited data isn’t truly unlimited — but AT&T sets the limit unusually low, with every unlimited plan throttling speed after 22 GB of data usage. That’s half of T-Mobile’s data limit. If you spend a lot of time streaming or browsing social media in places without Wi-Fi, there’s a chance you could go over your limit. And if you want “unlimited” data but no DIRECTV Live, no dice: The pair are inseparable. There are some standard phone plans that have smaller data limits for a lower price, but the comparable value is poor. While you can set your cap at 1 GB for just $25, the 10 GB cap is $75 — more expensive than the standard $70 unlimited plan.
The carrier's new Above Unlimited offers that Canada/Mexico benefit, too, and augments it with another goodie aimed at travelers: you get five daily TravelPasses each month to use in more than 130 countries. That lets you use up to 512MB of LTE data per day. Just be aware that you'll have to do a lot of traveling to justify the higher rate for Above Unlimited, as it costs $95 a month for a single line versus $75 and $85 for Go Unlimited and Beyond Unlimited, respectively.
Each call is priced at a per minute rate for international toll, plus airtime and applicable charges and taxes. Rates vary, based on country called. Per minute rates only available from a customer's local U.S. Cellular home calling area. U.S. Cellular per-minute rates are subject to change. Taxes, long distance, toll, and other charges may apply. Other restrictions and limitations may apply.
One of the key ways Sprint has been able to stay competitive in the U.S. mobile market is by pricing their plans very inexpensively. Take for example Sprint's Unlimited Freedom plan, just $50 for one line, or an incredible $100 for four lines. And this to say nothing of the carrier's $1 for a year of unlimited deal. No U.S. major is cheaper than Sprint.
“The first point to consider is which carrier has the best service where you live and work or spend much of your time,” say Jamie Huff and Tammy Parker, wireless analysts at Current Analysis. The quality of a provider’s network can vary drastically within the same city or metro area. To illustrate this difference, here’s what Verizon looks like next to T-Mobile in terms of nationwide speeds (the blue means faster data speeds detected; the orange indicates slower):
Most cellular customers in the United States subscribe to plans that are set up as post-pay, which means they are billed monthly and obtain service if they have good credit. A growing number of subscribers are also choosing prepay services (Pay-as-you-go) which provide both advantages and disadvantages in comparison to prepay, but for some it is the only way they can have a phone.
I write about all things "cyber" and your right to privacy. Before joining Consumer Reports, I spent 16 years reporting for The Associated Press. What I enjoy: cooking and learning to code with my kids. I've lived in the Bronx for more than a decade, but as a proud Michigan native, I will always be a die-hard Detroit Tigers fan no matter how much my family and I get harassed at Yankee Stadium. Follow me on Twitter (@BreeJFowler).
Sprint Unlimited Military Plan: Includes unlimited domestic calling, texting, 500MB LTE MHS, VPN & P2P & data. MHS reduced to 3G speeds after 500MB/mo. Third-party content/downloads are add’l. charge. Plan not avail. for tablets or MBB devices. Select Int’l svcs are included for phone lines. See sprint.com/globalroaming. Subsidized devices incur an add'l. $25/mo. charge.