Traveling overseas with T-Mobile: free data and text is good enough for most

Matthew thought T-Mobile's free international text and data offer was too good to be true. He was wrong and won't leave home without his T-Mobile SIM.

I've been a T-Mobile USA customer since 2002; check out my 2002 review of the T-Mobile Sidekick I purchased to start my service, and enjoy the benefits of its Uncarrier initiatives. I am now on my first international trip since T-Mobile announced free international text and data.

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If you travel overseas, you may want to give serious consideration to T-Mobile.

While I knew that T-Mobile offers free text and data in over 120 countries, I thought it was just too good to be true. Surely there was some catch that would make things virtually unusable and require some kind of massive service upgrade to actually work.

It turns out I was wrong. As soon as I landed in London for my flight transfer, I turned on my iPhone 6 Plus with my T-Mobile SIM inside and received a friendly text message clearly stating that I have unlimited text and data as part of my global coverage. Phone calls are just 20 cents per minute.

I sent and received a few text messages and then flew on to Barcelona, Spain. I received another welcome message when I landed in Spain, confirming the same options and phone call rates. Text messaging worked just fine, but I figured there must be some kind of limitation with the data access since you don't even get unlimited LTE access in the US.

There is a limit to the speed of your data access when using this free service. T-Mobile states you will generally see a speed limit of about 128 kbps. In the US, I typically experience download speeds between 8 to 20 Mbps so this is quite a difference. 128 kbps is what T-Mobile customers see when they exceed their high speed data allotment, if they have a limit in place.

I was able to check email on the go, enjoy Google Maps when I ran, and share select photos with family and friends. The free data speeds are not enough to get much work done, but for staying in touch and staying safe the free options are more than enough for most people.

There are optional high speed data passes, available at reasonable prices. The day or data allotment sets the limit, whichever you hit first. Smartphone mobile hotspot service is included with these updated passes.

  • 1 day, 100 MB for $15
  • 7 day, 200 MB for $25
  • 14 day, 500 MB for $50

Calls can be made at 20 cents per minute, but if you have a phone with WiFi Calling support then you can connect via WiFi at a hotel or other hotspot and make calls back home for free. Minutes are used up, but if you have unlimited minutes there should be no consequence.

I still travel with my Truphone SIM card and have been using it on this trip for calls back home when I don't have a good WiFi connection. Calls from Spain to the US with Truphone are less than half the price of T-Mobile at 9 cents per minute. I can also get faster data speeds with my Truphone SIM, but data is consumed on a per MB basis from your prepaid account so the costs can escalate. However, being that it is prepaid you can control costs. I also enjoy having a local Seattle number on the Truphone SIM where incoming text messages are free.