Let me preface this post by saying that hell no, T-Mobile (nor any T-Mobile-related entity) is not paying me to write it — in fact, I’m pretty certain (read: positive) the company has no idea I exist, so stop yer nagging!
How to stay connected to the great wide internets and your family and friends while traveling abroad (and not running up mobile phone charges so steep you fear handing over your first-born child, mind you) has long been up for debate in the world of frequent travelers and penny pinchers.
In years past, I would have recommended bringing an unlocked phone, and buying SIM cards and data plans in each of the countries you planned on visiting. In fact, that was pretty much the plan for my 4 months in South America, up until, oh, 20 hours before my flight departed.
As pure luck would have it, the day before Ayaz and I were scheduled to depart, T-Mobile announced plans to pay early termination fees when you cancelled your plans with other providers. This was fabulous news.
But what it made it even better?
The company already offers a completely rocking wireless plan that includes free – yup, FREE – unlimited (!!) data in 120+ countries, free – yup, FREE – texting while abroad, and regular flat-rate calls for 20 cents a minute.
And there’s no contracts. Like, none.
Whoa. Did I just sound like a commercial? My apologies.
Anyway, for travelers, this is huge. We have had uninterrupted access to all the little things that make traveling, and in particular, traveling while working, so much easier: Google maps, Lonely Planet on our Kindle app, Google in general, email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, yadda yadda yadda and all the other social sharing apps where you can post oodles of your travel photos until your friends and family start blocking you in their newsfeeds.
And while free texting might seem like a small bonus to some, for long-term travelers it’s a lifeline to staying in constant contact with family and friends. My mom basically live-texted The Voice battle rounds for me when I didn’t have TV (what can I say? She REALLY digs Usher).
Anyway, here’s the skinny:
Is it worth making the switch?
Yes, yes and yes. At least for me and Ayaz. We have a joint plan, with the same coverage and service we had on our previous provider and are saving around $60 per month on our cell phone bill.
Also, my reimbursement of $400-plus for my early termination fees with my previous provider has arrived as promised.
What’s the catch? Is there a downside?
There’s no real catch that I’ve encountered, but the one downside is that data speeds are no faster than 3G while overseas. That said, it’s possible to buy a “boost” to 4G if needed. I had to do this a handful of times when I lost wifi at my sublet apartment during electrical storms and needed to use my phone as a wifi hotspot — I obviously needed the faster speed.
The other reality is that while I’ve had coverage most everywhere I’ve traveled in South America, it’s been lagging in more remote outposts and periodically (even in major cities like Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro) is as slow as molasses. Some days I felt like I was using my iPhone circa 2007. That said, I’ll still take slow as molasses over no internet at all.
One other usage quirk: in Buenos Aires, I needed to switch to a specific carrier network (Claro), in order for any data to work. I haven’t had that problem anywhere else, though.
Finally, I haven’t used the phone much at all in the U.S. As I mentioned, the T-Mobile announcement came the day before I was set to take off on my travels overseas. I hightailed it to a T-Mobile store immediately and made the switch. My cell and data service at my family’s home near Philly was fine, but when I tried to use the phone at JFK Airport, it was a complete bust — very slow data service, or no service at all and spotty cell reception.
Still, those are literally the only places I’ve tried using the service in the States. I’ll let you know how it goes in May, when I return to New York City.
Are you a traveler who’s made the switch or are considering making the switch to T-Mobile? Let me know your thoughts!