International travel is lots of fun, but if you bring your iPhone on your trip and expect to use your regular voice and data plan, you’ll get a huge, unpleasant surprise when you get home: a bill for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
That’s because most phone plans only cover use in the U.S. Using your iPhone overseas counts as international roaming, which can be extremely expensive. For example, if you stream a song or two while on international roaming — using just 10 MB of data — you could be charged US$20 or more! Add in email, texts, social media, sharing photos, and getting map directions, and you’ll run up a big data charge.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you’re an AT&T customer, you can save yourself from catastrophically large bills by signing up for an AT&T international plan before you leave on your trip.
AT&T Passport International Plan
The AT&T Passport plan can be added on to your current monthly plan for the length of your trip. This extra service gives you the ability to make calls and use data at prices while you’re overseas at much cheaper rates than if you were using international roaming. These are the current plans offered by AT&T Passport:
|AT&T Passport Rates|
|Passport 1 GB||Passport 3 GB|
|Data Limit||1 GB||3 GB|
These plans are available in over 200 countries. If you’re going on a cruise, AT&T offers special cruise packages with specific calling and data packages meant just for cruise ships.
If you’re going on a one-time trip, you can add AT&T Passport to your plan for 30 days. On the other hand, if you travel to other countries regularly, you may prefer to add it to your standard plan and pay for it every month. AT&T supports both options.
Other major phone companies offer international plans as well, including options from Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
AT&T International Day Pass
If you’re only going to be overseas for a day or two, another good option to consider is AT&T’s International Day Pass.
For just US$10 per day, you can use the normal voice and data plan you use at home in over 100 countries. So, with this option, whatever you’d normally pay for data, calls, and texts is what you pay in other countries, plus the $10/day fee. That’s pretty simple.
You can enable the International Day Pass for any of your devices and it will automatically work when you’re traveling within the supported countries.
While this is a good option for a day or two, if you’re traveling internationally for more than that, this may not be the best option. Remember, the 1GB Passport plan mentioned earlier costs $60 and works for the whole month. So, if you’re on a longer trip, that may be a better choice. But, if you only need an international plan for a couple of days, it would be a savings at just $20.
Another Option: Swap Your SIM Card
International plans aren’t your only option when traveling. You can also swap the SIM card out of your phone and replace it with one from a local phone company in the country you’re visiting. In that scenario, you can take advantage of local calling and data rates as if you weren’t traveling at all.
If you’ve got an iPhone XS or XR, you’ve got another option. Both of those models support two SIMs being used in the phone at the same time. The second SIM, in this case, is a virtual SIM, meaning there’s no hardware needed. Just signing up for a pay-as-you-go plan with a local phone company in the country you’re visiting and you’ll be able to use your iPhone like a local.
The Costs Without AT&T Passport
Thinking you don’t want to spend the extra money and that you’ll take your chances with international data roaming? Unless you plan to use no data and make no calls, we don’t recommend it.
Here is what you’ll pay without a plan like AT&T’s Passport or International Day Pass. It’s also the rate if your package expires or if you’re traveling within countries that aren’t in the “200 countries” list above.
Cruise Ships & Airlines: $3/minute
Rest of World: $3/minute
$1.30/picture or video message
Cruise Ships: $6.14/MB
For some perspective, let’s say you regularly use 2GB of data per month while at home and expect to use the same amount when away. Without an international plan, you could spend upwards of $4,000+ just for data ($2.05 x 2048 MB) before even accounting for calls or texts.
If You Forget to Sign up Before You Travel
By now you’re probably convinced that you should get an international plan, but what if you forget to sign up before you travel? The first way you’ll be reminded of this will likely come when your phone company texts you to let you know you’ve incurred a big data charge (maybe $50 or $100).
Immediately call them back and explain the situation. They should be able to add international data to your plan and backdate it so that you get the international plan features but only pay for the plan, not the new charges.
However, if you forget to call or they won’t cooperate, and you come home to a phone bill of hundreds or thousands (or even tens of thousands) of dollars, you might be able to contest the huge data roaming charges. Learn how in How to Fight iPhone Data Roaming Charges.
International Travel Tips for iPhone Owners
There’s a lot to know about traveling internationally with your iPhone. If you’re planning to take your iPhone on your trip, learn how to avoid big iPhone data roaming bills and what to do if your iPhone gets stolen. Also, don’t forget the correct international charging adapter when you travel.