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International Phone Plan

November 24th, 2015 · 3 Comments

Previously when traveling internationally we have had to get SIM cards for our phones in each country we visited. Typically it goes like this: You arrive in the country and unless you find open WiFi, your phone is pretty much useless. As soon as possible, hopefully within a day, you find a phone store and buy a SIM card and data plan. Once you get set up, you can use your phone in the country, but calling back to the US is generally quite expensive.

Before our recent trip, I switched to Google Project Fi, and set Gisele up with T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan. Both of these plans include international service in over 140 countries. It was great. As soon as we landed at the airport, we turned the phones on and usually before we arrived at the gate we had service. This worked in Hong Kong, Sydney, Singapore and Taiwan (and Canada a couple of months ago).

In some countries you can buy a SIM and service for cheaper than we paid for T-Mobile, but the convenience was well worth the few dollars we would have saved (besides, to take advantage of that savings we would have had to cancel our domestic phone service at the start of the trip and reinstated after we returned). Being able to simply use the phones wherever we went was really nice.

The main drawback is that data is limited to about 128 kb/s on Simple Choice when out of the US (I get 256 kb/s with Project Fi). That’s too slow to stream video, but for email, WhatsApp and simple web browsing it is fine. We also noticed that when calling each other there was a very long lag that sometimes led to confusion, until we started talking through WhatsApp’s phone service. It might be that the normal phone service routes our calls through the USA and back, causing double the normal international lag.

I know that T-Mobile doesn’t have as good of coverage in the US as some of their competitors, but with few exceptions it’s been fine for us. And with their international coverage I can’t imagine us switching unless there is better competition. Anyone who travels out of the country a lot should consider it as an option.

As a side note, T-Mobile has just introduced their unlimited video through Netflix, Sling, Hulu, etc. (not YouTube), which sounds interesting though I haven’t tried it or checked out the details.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dick // Nov 25, 2015 at 7:06 am

    It’s great how communications options have improved. Verizon and most major carriers also have a cruise ship package that lets you use your phone on the ship. It’s not cheap, but if you need connectivity, it works.

  • 2 Donna // Nov 27, 2015 at 7:45 am

    It was great being able to keep in constant contact with you during your travels through What’sApp (with your exception of days at sea). It’s a really good plan.

  • 3 Daryl // Nov 28, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    Richard — I’m sure that shipboard phone plan is cheaper than buying a satellite phone.

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