If you've ever traveled overseas and flipped on your smartphone, you've likely been greeted with a message informing you how much you will be penalized (ahem, charged) to roam. There's no fundamental reason why mobile data in a foreign place should cost so much, and yet, it's not uncommon to hear of oblivious users racking up thousands of dollars in international data roaming fees – even a quick refresh of your inbox could end up costing $25 or more.
For years, the options for saving money on mobile data while traveling were few, and complicated to boot. You could either rent a mobile hotspot ahead of time for around $10 to $15 per day, or try your luck searching for a local SIM card upon arrival. The latter is a particular challenge when landing at odd hours, or any nation where you don't speak the native language.
T-Mobile recently unveiled a plan overhaul that fundamentally alters the way Americans look at international data. Bucking the trend of outrageous and arbitrary roaming rates, T-Mobile's "Simple Choice" customers can now access free data overseas in over 100 nations. We're talking Aruba, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Russia, China, Israel, India, Japan, the Christmas Island (seriously), and Spain, just to name a few. In case it wasn't clear, the data is free, as in, $0.00 per month. Oh, and texting? That's free too.
Here are the details: as long as you're signed up on a "Simple Choice" plan, you'll get free international data in over 100 nations automatically beginning October 31. Simple Choice plans were launched earlier this year, and they're truly a better deal than the carrier's older plans; to switch, just login to your account or give T-Mobile a call. When you're overseas, data is limited to speeds that are faster than dial-up, but slower than your average DSL or cable connection. This should suffice for e-mails, checking in with social feeds (except Instagram, which can take a while), and other low-bandwidth services.
If you happen to need a speed boost, you'll pay between $15 and $50 for a variety of enhanced packages – a bummer, for sure, yet still cheaper than the wildly-priced packs from AT&T and Verizon. As an example, AT&T and Verizon charge up to $20 per megabyte in most of the nations that T-Mobile includes for free; this means that having a 10-minute Skype video call with a loved one would cost you $400!
With T-Mobile's new plans, the free data roaming is automatic. Instead of fearfully leaving your phone in Airplane Mode once you land, you can just switch it on as if you were landing on U.S. soil. If you're content with the limited speeds, you won't have to worry about overages. If you select a Speed Boost option, you'll be notified via text when you're nearing your data limit; at that point, you can opt to purchase more or simply let your plan exhaust itself. Perhaps the best part of the announcement is that there are no strange billing changes; the roaming is free and automatic, so you don't even have to alert T-Mobile that you're planning on traveling overseas. For once, a carrier honestly does seem to be making things as simple for its customers as possible.
For frequent travelers, this new T-Mobile plan could save hundreds – if not thousands – per year. Though getting on board could prove difficult if you're already signed up with another carrier. Be sure to check your existing contract, since many carriers charge upwards of $300 to opt out early, which would obviously negate a huge portion of your future savings.