Using T-Mobile in Europe and North America

old phone

After two rather trying years of dealing with AT&T’s clunky website and extremely expensive out-of-country rates, I happily switched to T-Mobile when my contract ended this April. I now pay $50 a month for up to 1GB of data, with 4G where available. And that’s it. You can use it outside the U.S. wherever T-Mobile has an agreement with local networks and you won’t pay a surcharge for having the audacity to venture abroad. No checking usage incessantly, no havering over whether to add text messaging while traveling, or global messaging, or jumping through all the other little hoops so beloved by dear old Ma Bell. (Yes, I’m that old.) I land in my destination country, turn on the phone and away we go.

Making an actual phone call will cost more abroad than at home, but since like most people, I never use my telephone to actually, you know, telephone, that’s OK by me.If I have to discuss business I’ll wait until I get to a wifi zone and Skype, or send a text, or, in an emergency just bite the bullet and pay the $15 or whatever. It’s still better than routinely forking over $75 every time I fly.

Perhaps you’re wondering. Yeah, but does T-Mobile have the same kind of reach as AT&T? No, it doesn’t. On the other hand, while I like to be able to check email on the road, I am not the kind of person whose work is so incredibly vital that it CANNOT wait until I get to a hotel or cafe with wifi. I mean, people do need to know the latest trends in flavored vodka, but not that badly. .

In this column I’m going to report my experiences using T-Mobile to give you some ideas if you’re thinking of making the switch.

Canada, November 2015: Visited Winnipeg and it was as smooth and seamless as if I were still back home in Berkeley.

France, September 2017: Great service once again in Paris. Honestly, it’s almost like being at home.

July 2015: Good service in Angouleme, all the villages in the Cognac region, and, most importantly, great service throughout Paris. Smug factor: Dangerous. I have zero sense of direction so it was fantastic being able to tap in my next location and stride off. (Note: Paris is pickpocket heaven so if you do this, do try not to wave your phone around, best plan is to memorize your marching orders and tuck the phone away. If you must keep it out, have it firmly clutched in your hand and keep all other bags zipped and buckled up and slung in front of your stomach where you can see if a stray hand comes a-calling.)

Austria, Innsbruck area (but out in the country) November 2017, worked, text/phone, some Internet, but only 2G, not great for Google maps.

Germany, November 2017, good reception in Munich and to the Austrian border.  4G and LTE often.

Ireland, September 2015. Worked great in Dublin, Galway, Tullamore and even the Aran Islands.

Italy, September 2016. Dodgy service in Venice, not much use tbh. Ditto in the prosecco country around Treviso.

Mexico, December 2015: Went to Guadalajara, drank tequila, used T-mobile, all was tranquilo.

Scotland, Spring 2015: Bit of a mixed bag. Got 3G out by rural Loch Lomond, and a faint trickle in remote Islay but Glasgow service was, as our Brit friends say, rubbish. Text still worked and lots of hotels/cafes had free wifi so not a huge problem.

Spain, March 2017, worked somewhat in Zaragoza, although not the best, esp. for directions. Went back to mapping it out with hotel wifi and going from there.

May 2015. Worked like a charm in Valencia, Mallorca and Barcelona. Cannot tell you how smug I felt as I watched AT&T slaves anxiously checking their data usage.

And here are some general tips to keep your trusty phone from turning on you like a zombie pod person. (Zombie iPod person?)

Go into settings, look for “cellular data” and then click the off button for all but the most crucial apps, like mail. That way you never have to worry about having some silly notification from Candy Crush eat up your data.

Turn off wifi when you are just walking around. This will save battery life tremendously and you can always turn it on when you think there might be some wifi to be had.

If you are stuck with another carrier and have bought an international data package, go into cellular data usage and hit reset, which will take the stats down to zero and you will be able to easily tell if you’re close to using up the amount of data you bought.

Now that I have my 1GB of roaming data, I don’t worry about this third point so much, but if you want to be extra cautious, go into settings and turn off “data roaming” most of the time, turning the feature back on only when you want to activate your 3G or 4G.

Cheers, chattily.