Global SIM Card Magic: Why I Switched to T-Mobile

I started writing this post poolside at a hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia while texting with friends across the world on my iPhone, thanks to my unlimited data on my brand new global SIM card.

Since I left the US about two months ago, I have landed in seven countries all over the globe, and in all seven countries, I have been able to use unlimited data on my phone.

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No, I am not buying local SIM cards anymore, those days are gone. Also gone are the days of depending on WiFi. Sure, it’s great when it’s available, but if it’s unavailable, it doesn’t matter to me anymore because I have unlimited global data.

I have officially switched from Verizon to T-Mobile, and I’m here to tell you why I’m not going back.

Related: A Complete Guide to Using Your iPhone Abroad: For Dummies

unlimited global data

I’ve been a Verizon customer for almost 10 years until I switched to T-Mobile before this loosely-defined, round-the-world journey. If you live in North America, you are probably familiar with the ads promoting T-Mobile’s unlimited data worldwide, particularly their convenient plans for traveling between the US, Canada, and Mexico.

I finally decided to look into this myself, but to be honest, I was sold before I ever walked into the store. I’m not affiliated with T-Mobile, I just want to share the advantages, disadvantages, and general tips around making the switch from my point of view.

Disclaimer: T-Mobile makes perfect sense for me as a constant traveler, on the go, visiting many countries. If you are leaving on a long-term trip, or you travel to foreign countries quite often, it will make sense for you as well.

However, if you’re only going somewhere for a short period of time, you may find what you need by simply using WiFi abroad, getting a local SIM card, or even buying a pre-paid SIM card before you leave. T-Mobile does NOT have great coverage everywhere in the U.S., so be sure to triple-check coverage at home before you make the switch. 

Global SIM card

Advantages of Switching to T-Mobile:

  • They help buy you out of your current contract: I received a $350 prepaid Visa (They’re now using MasterCard) to reimburse my early termination fee.
  • You get unlimited data and texting in over 140 countries worldwide. UNLIMITED. DATA. This means not hassling with local SIMs, new numbers in each country, and topping up or running out.
  • They never charge overages for data. Ever.
  • Free WiFi calling on top of unlimited data (without WiFi it’s 0.25/minute – great for emergencies)
  • You can get a new phone or keep your current phone if you want to and they can activate any size SIM card for it. Note: You must buy a new phone from T-Mobile and trade in an old one in order for them to buy you out of your contract. Loophole: Purchase a $30 basic phone from the store, bring an old (working) phone that you can trade in (for credit), and have them activate a SIM that fits in your current phone.
  • There is no contract. If you hate it after a month or a year, you can cancel.

Disadvantages of Switching to T-Mobile

  • Coverage is getting better but may not be as good as Verizon in some places in the US, so be sure to triple-check coverage in your frequently visited areas before you make the switch.
  • Sometimes the data is slower than what I was used to on 4G LTE, but since I’m in other countries, I don’t complain.
  • If you take your T-Mobile phone to a place in the US where there is no T-Mobile coverage, you have to “borrow” from another provider (like AT&T). The problem with borrowing is that AT&T only allows you to borrow 200MB per MONTH. This pretty much means you only have data for emergencies in these areas, until you run out, re-enter T-Mobile coverage, or your billing cycle starts over. Not fun.

How to Switch to T-Mobile:

You can do it online or in person. The process goes something like this:

  • Credit check
  • New SIM card
  • Give them your cellular carrier information (you’ll need your account number and password for your current carrier) so they can port over your number to activate the new SIM (you will be without service at this point during the switch)
  • This cancels your current carrier on the spot (and you can expect an early termination fee on your next bill if you are in a contract)
  • You will be charged a $15 line activation fee on your first bill
  • Your new SIM is activated, and you are back in service
  • When your early termination bill comes through, follow the instructions on switch2tmobile.com and they will issue you a prepaid Visa card, this process can take a couple of months
A woman wrapped in a vibrant red shawl reviews images on her camera against the backdrop of a bright orange wall with a decorative wagon wheel, evoking a sense of artistic travel photography.

Using T-Mobile Overseas

  • When entering a new country, you’ll receive a welcome text from T-Mobile reminding you that you have unlimited data (as long as the country you are visiting is one of the 140+ covered by T-Mobile).
  • To ensure that you don’t accidentally use data for phone calls and incur unwanted charges, you can change your cellular settings to data only, instead of data and voice. To do this on an iPhone: go to Settings > Cellular > Make sure Cellular Data is “On” and Data Roaming is “On” and under Enable LTE > choose “Data Only” instead of “Voice & Data.” Phone calls will still work on WiFi, and you will see “T-Mobile WiFi” when you have good WiFi connections and can make unlimited calls than with the Free WiFi Calling, otherwise, phone calls cost .25/min.
  • You will automatically pick up the local carriers, and the service provider that shows up on your phone will change as you travel. This is fine, because it’s all data, and you have unlimited data. Even when it says Extended, you can still use it and you won’t incur any data charges.
  • Remember you can use WhatsApp and Voxer to communicate using all the unlimited data you want.

Related: How to Make and Receive Phone Calls for Free or Cheap Overseas

My Experience Since Switching

I can’t even begin to describe how elating it is to be able to use the cell phone that is always in my hand for such convenient functions as communication and internet searches in the very moment that I enter a new country, without having to worry about finding a new local SIM card or incurring massive charges on my bill for roaming usage. Nor do I ever need to worry about topping up my credit, which usually entails an exhausting pursuit of running around town searching for any store that offers the right data for my carrier. And THEN, following the instructions on the back of the card, which often are in foreign languages, incurs a higher risk of screwing something up, which usually means asking a local to do it instead.

I save HOURS of time, a LOADS of stress by completely removing myself from that situation. Also, I know how much my bill will be every month, without fail, and it is less than I was paying in my contract before. #winning

If you have switched to T-Mobile or have something helpful to add to this conversation, please share your experience in the comments. T-Mobile is not for everyone, so let’s help each other determine what makes the most sense for each of us!

Related: The Best Cell Phone Plans for Travelers

Does T-Mobile work in…

Check if T-Mobile works in your destination by clicking here.

UPDATE – Here is a list of countries I have been to (or stopped through, or simply picked up service from nearby) since switching to T-Mobile, where T-Mobile works:

  • Albania
  • Argentina
  • Austria
  • Bosnia
  • Brazil
  • Bulgaria
  • Cambodia
  • Canada (works just like US)
  • Chile
  • Croatia
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • England
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Liechtenstein
  • Macedonia
  • Mexico (works just like the US)
  • Morocco
  • Portugal
  • Scotland
  • Serbia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Thailand
  • Turkey

UPDATE 1/19 – The only countries I have visited in the past three years where it has NOT worked at all are Kosovo (zero service) and Jordan (service shows up but doesn’t actually work at all). In Jordan, I purchased a Zain SIM card for the three weeks I was there. Including all the data (which I didn’t even use up) I spent about $15.


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12 replies on “Global SIM Card Magic: Why I Switched to T-Mobile”

Hey Jackie, Thanks for all the great information on this blog and on your podcast. There’s an addition tip (loophole) that I’d like to add, that can be useful to travelers who’s primary residence is in the states. The trick is to purchase the $20 Tmo Simple Choice tablet plan and use it in your smart phone conjointly with Google Voice and Google Hangouts. The Google apps are free and will act as your phone to send and receive calls. You receive the same great perks that you do with the Simple Choice phone plans, but without a dedicated phone line. Also, the unlimited global data that you receive with these plans is throttled to 128 kbps, meaning that it’s not nearly as fast as it is while in your home region. As we know this throttled speed is still plenty fast to use voice and some video services while abroad. I use this loophole when I’m in the states as my primary cell phone so that I can save money to use for travel.

Thanks, Peter, this is oh so intriguing for me, but I have a question for you now! With Google Voice, do you have one phone number (and can you save/use the one you already have?), or how does that work without a dedicated phone line? I’m also considering using tossable digits, once I research more into that..

So Google Voice (GV) is a service that provides you with a telephone number with an area code of your choice. GV redirects your calls to your physical phones such as, cell phones, landline, ect. To my knowledge, about a year ago, Google added a feature to the IOS Hangouts app which allows users to place and receive calls using the dialer portion of the app. In a way this feature turned GV from a call forwarding service to a VOIP phone service. When selecting a GV phone number you also have the option of porting your existing cell phone number to Google for a one time $20 fee. I took my number from ATT and ported it to Google. This allowed me to drop the phone plan and go with data only from T-mobile. $20 a month from T-Mobile with no fees or taxes saves me hundreds of dollars a year vs. a traditional single line plan. There are a few other minor limitations with this trick so it’s definitely not for everyone. That’s basically the gist of it. Oh, I forgot to add that GV has some of the best international rates that i’ve seen. Let me know if that makes sense or if you have any other questions. I briefly looked into Tossable Digits but I’m exactly sure how it works. I think it’s similar to GV without the dialer feature.

Unlimited data is a separate option from whatever your text plan is, so first of all it depends on your service plan (texting might not be free). But secondly, it is best to use WhatsApp because locals in other countries won’t want to pay their own service fees to send you texts on your US (or whatever foreign) number. With WhatsApp, everyone is using data, not charging anything to anyone’s text plans, which is brilliant with T-Mobile’s unlimited data plans. It is also the most widely-used texting app, which suggests that most people are probably already using it.

What a great blog! I stumbled upon your blog because of your instagram photos of SE Asia (which I happen to be at, at the same time). Anyway, I switched to T-mobile for your same reasons! It worked great in Thailand and Cambodia…you can’t expect the same type of speeds traveling abroad but as long as you can send an email, get directions, and overall GPS you’re good. I can’t recommend this enough because to me, it’s too much of a hassle to keep on changing your sim and what comes with constant sim changing – people back home not being able to contact you should something urgent come up.
Your travels and writing are inspiring. Keep up the good work!

How well did it work in Costa Rica? I’m moving there in February for 2.5 years with the Peace Corps. What do you think the best plan would be?

I have only had it a few months and haven’t been to Costa Rica with it yet, but either way I would not recommend it if you’re moving to one specific place. It’s great because I’m hopping from country to country, but the best idea by far for you would be to get a local SIM card since you’ll be there for 2.5 years. Make sure your phone is unlocked, and then when you get there just get a Claro or other local SIM and pay as you go. Costa Rica is one of my faves, hope you enjoy!

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