Global SIM Card Magic: I Switched to T-Mobile and I’m Not Looking Back

I started writing this post while sitting poolside at a hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, texting with friends across the world on my iPhone, using 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.

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 because I have unlimited 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

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, or even getting a local SIM card. T-Mobile does NOT have great coverage 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), 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 isn’t as good as Verizon 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. Which 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 months

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 then 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, which 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…

UPDATE 12/16 – I am still using T-Mobile, currently living in Mexico and it works exactly the same here as it does in the US. I can make and receive calls for free, and I have unlimited data. 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 has coverage: Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Thailand, Cambodia, Italy, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, France, Spain, Turkey, Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Canada (works just like US and Mexico), El Salvador, Mexico.

UPDATE – Adding to the list of countries where I can attest that T-Mobile DOES work: England, Scotland, Switzerland, Ecuador.

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.