I’ve been in Brazil for a few days this week leading a 2 day STEM Institute for K-12 teachers at Graded School in Sao Paulo. From my past experiences traveling overseas to China, I know it can be a VERY costly mistake to simply use your cell phone in another country if you don’t arrange in advance to have an international calling plan or add-on feature to your existing plan which covers overseas charges. This turns out to be accurate for U.S. AT&T customers traveling in Brazil. My iPhone 6 is on our school’s business plan, and without an “international passport” add-on from AT&T these are the charges for calling, texting, multimedia texting or using data:

Calling: $1.99 min
SMS: 50 cents per text to send (no charge to receive)
Multimedia SMS: $1.30 for each picture message to send
Data: $12 per MB

Yes you read that correctly: a charge of $12 per megabyte to use data on my iPhone 6 is assessed by AT&T if I don’t have a special “international calling package” added to my line. This makes it fiscally crazy to use a transportation app like Uber or 99taxi without an international phone plan. Because my iPhone 6 is “locked” by AT&T, it’s not possible for me to purchase a compatible SIM card from a local Brazilian cellular company and simply put it in my iPhone. This can be a good option when traveling in other countries with an unlocked smartphone. The rules and procedures for getting a smartphone unlocked by a U.S. carrier changed in early 2015 to make it a little easier on consumers, but generally it’s still not possible to get a smartphone unlocked before it’s out of contract. So in a situation like mine (when I’m still in an iPhone contract) this means signing up for an “international travel package” is the only viable option for using my smartphone when traveling abroad, other than using it on hotel, school, or other provided free WiFi.

Here are the current options for AT&T international travel packages:

If you can’t view that image, here are the rates for the 3 available plans shared as text:

$30 passport plan
calling: $1 per minute
unlimited texts
120 MB of data
extra data: 25 cents per MB

$60 passport plan
calling: 50 cents per minute
unlimited texts
300 mb of data
extra data: 20 cents per MB

$120 passport plan
calling: 35 cents per minute
unlimited texts
800 mb of data
extra data: 15 cents per MB

I’ve been able to use Skype on my laptop over school and hotel wifi to make a few calls back home to my family during my trip.

Lessons learned: Be sure to get an international calling plan activated on your phone BEFORE you leave the United States, if you’re traveling overseas with a locked smartphone. If your phone is on a school/business calling plan, you will NOT be able to directly get an international calling plan added to your line unless you are an authorized phone plan manager for your organization, registered with your cellular provider.

Be careful using a cellular telephone when traveling abroad if you don’t have an international phone plan activated. Failing to heed this warning can be costly to your organization and/or to you when your next phone bill arrives.

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6 Responses to Don’t Use an AT&T Phone Overseas Without an International Calling Plan

  1. Ryan Collins says:

    What about using an old phone and picking up a SIM? (I know nothing about traveling internationally, I have to live vicariously through others 🙂

  2. Stephen Ransom says:

    This is exactly why I switched to Tmobile… NO international data fees or roaming fees. So far, it was worked fabulously. Coverage isn’t perhaps as good as ATT, but I can live with that. While still on ATT, I was near the Canadian border and my phone ended up roaming on Canadian towers instead of US towers… the result being a $1600 bill over 3 days (which I didn’t have to pay, thankfully). The roaming costs were so prohibitive that we wouldn’t even use our phones while in Canada (where we frequently visit). No more with Tmobile. We now use our phones abroad like we always use our phones while in the US.

  3. Wesley Fryer says:

    Yep, that could be a good option too, Ryan. We actually have a couple of phones we need to sell and one of them would have been perfect for this.

  4. Wesley Fryer says:

    Good to know about T-Mobile for sure. Our family made the switch to T-Mobile but when I got my new job this summer I went on their AT&T corporate cellular plan. I’m debating, once my contract is over, if I’ll stay on it. T-Mobile rocks for SO many reasons, including the monthly data allotment. This was the 3rd month I exceeded my 5 GB quota with AT&T. Never went over with T-Mobile.

  5. Stephen Ransom says:

    Yes… and even if you DO go over your Tmobile cap (2 GB free), you NEVER get charged for overages. How they approach it is if you go over your cap, they just throttle you down to a slower speed. I really like that.

  6. GR says:

    Definately a much better option. I usually travel to Europe with one unlocked phone so I can either use AT&T (on a cheap international plan) or get a local sim with Vodafone or T-Mo (for voice/data). They rates are much cheaper. The only drawback is that your international phone number won’t be available to your contacts unless you let them know.

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