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T-Mobile International Roaming in Europe: a Trip Report

T-Mobile International Roaming in Europe: a Trip Report

Apr 20th, 2014, 03:22 PM
  #1  
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T-Mobile International Roaming in Europe: a Trip Report

I recently tried out T-Mobile's international roaming while using my Android phone while in Europe for two weeks. I have T-Mobile's "Simple Choice" plan (unlimited everything in the US) that adds cheap roaming in select countries outside the US: 20 cents a minute calls from Europe to the US or for calls received from the US plus 20 cents a minute in country. Plus you get unlimited free 2G data roaming and free WiFi calls to/from the US. (Assuming your phone has the ability to do WiFi calling, and assuming your SIM card is capable of WiFi calling; T-Mobile can convert an old SIM to a new one that does WiFi calling for free, at any T-Mobile store.)

Not all countries are included in T-Mobile's international roaming agreement. (Slovenia and Croatia aren't for example, and T-Mobile roaming there is crazy expensive.) I used my phone in France, Germany, and Switzerland, all of which are included. Check T-Mobile's website for the list of countries.

Note that not any GSM (T-Mobile) phone will work outside the US. Some older phones (flip phones) may not have the key "GSM-900" (900 MHZ) frequency required to work in most European countries. I know for sure one of my old flip-phones DOES NOT work in Europe even though it works fine on T-Mobile in the US. My current phone is an Android which is a true "world phone" - it has all the GSM frequencies needed to work both in the US and in Europe

In each new country I visited, it took a few minutes for the phone to register on the new local partner network the first time; afterward, I'd get a text message welcoming me to free roaming there. In France, I roamed on Orange (mobile company);. In Switzerland, on Swiss Telecom. In Germany, I roamed on T-Mobile Germany and occasionally other networks. Data performance on the T-Mobile network in Germany seemed the best.

I didn't make lots of actual phone calls while in Europe. I mostly used it for data. 2G data is free but also generally pretty slow. The speed varied; sometimes it was unbearably slow, other times it was very usable. I used the phone for data on trains and buses as well as at hotels that didn't have free WiFi. I even used the phone's built-in hot spot to put my laptop on the internet. T-Mobile's marketing angle seems to be to get you to buy 3G data passes once you get frustrated with the slow speed of 2G, but I stuck it out and did fine with the slow speed. For email and Facebook and basic web surfing it was fine, as long as I was patient. Uploading even a few pictures to Facebook could be frustrating, though. As I said earlier, 2G performance varied from very slow to slow but usable.

I made several WiFi calls with the phone. The quality of the WiFi call depends on the quality of the WiFi and internet connection you are using. My phone tried to sense whether the WiFi quality was acceptable and would inform me if not. The phone makes it clear whether you are using WiFi to call or the regular mobile network, so you won't make a non-WiFi call by mistake. (You can also just put the phone into "Airplane Mode" then enable WiFi, so you won't even be able to make a real mobile call by accident.) Even when the phone thought WiFi quality was good, the call quality, usually pretty good, became garbled sometimes. I called my mother several times, and I could almost always hear her perfectly but sometimes she could not hear me well. But it wasn't bad enough that we couldn't have a conversation.

I made only a few non-WiFi calls. Looks like I made only 9 minutes worth of calls, because my total roaming cost for two weeks was $1.80 USD. I called a hotel a few times to confirm a reservation. The phone was smart enough to figure out the country code etc. for me. If I googled for a phone number, I could just select that number to call - very easy.

In Germany, I found that making calls at Starbucks during the day (when the US finally woke up) was very convenient. Starbucks in Germany have free WiFi just like in the US. The McDonalds in Germany - at least the one in Berlin - will text you a passcode for free WiFi if you give them your phone number. I tried this once but I never received the passcode text message. (Free texting is included in T-Mobile's international roaming, too.) Maybe they don't text to US numbers? In other countries, you don't need a passcode for WiFi at McDonalds in my experience. Of course, you can always use the WiFi at your hotel or at any restaurant you patronize that offers WiFi.

Overall, the cheap/free international roaming in Europe was a huge benefit to me. I went to the trouble of unlocking this phone before I left the US, in anticipation of buying a local SIM (as I had in the past), but I didn't need to this time. I think the days of buying a local SIM card while in Europe may be over, at least for me. I think other mobile companies will eventually have to follow T-Mobile's lead and offer cheap roaming overseas, sooner or later.
Andrew is offline  
Apr 20th, 2014, 03:43 PM
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Did you have to set the data to "GSM" only? https://support.t-mobile.com/message/321661.

It is not clear if 2G is all you can get no matter how your phone is set, and it is not possible to accidentally use 3G/4G and get hit with huge roaming charge,

OR

Unless you set the phone to "GSM" only, the phone would go ahead and use 3G without you knowing about it?
greg is offline  
Apr 20th, 2014, 04:14 PM
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I did not set to "GSM only," but the wireless icon said "2G" when I was in Europe and says "3G now that I'm back in the US. I am pretty sure they aren't out to trick people into using 3G and expensive roaming unless you dig into your phone's settings. I assume the "welcome to unlimited free data roaming" text messages meant something, too.
Andrew is offline  
Apr 20th, 2014, 04:55 PM
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Thanks, Andrew. I switched to this plan in anticipation of our annual vacation to either Europe or cruising the Caribbean. Glad to hear it's easy to use.
trvlgirlmq is offline  
Apr 21st, 2014, 01:37 AM
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Unless you set the phone to "GSM" only, the phone would go ahead and use 3G without you knowing about it?

GSM refers to the frequencies used, not the data protocol used.

E, H, H+, 2G, 3G, 4G, LTE refer to the data protocols.

The data speed is capped so that's why you never saw 3G or 4G. As for the allegation of that being a marketing ploy by T-Mobile to get you to pay for faster speed, you're kinda right except it is the local carrier that wants to be paid to give you faster speeds, not T-Mobile US. After all, why give away something valuable for free when you can charge for it?
sparkchaser is offline  
Apr 21st, 2014, 01:37 AM
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Forgot to say that this was a good trip report and it should be linked to when the relevant questions pop up in the Europe forum.
sparkchaser is offline  
Apr 21st, 2014, 05:28 AM
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I have tried plans that have only 2G data, and find them extremely painful. On a recent trip to the US, when I was visiting a relative who didn't have wifi, I bought a T-Mobile pay-as-you-go SIM card. Unless you sign a contract, you can get only 2G data (at least until 9 months ago). It was so awful that I put my Italian SIM card back in my phone and paid for data roaming. I probably just am not patient enough. In the summer, we spend a lot of time at our country house, where 3G doesn't arrive. I often drive to a nearby cemetery where there is a better signal, to check my email there.

Italy has very cheap roaming now within Europe and also in the US, so I also don't think I'll be buying local SIM cards any more when I travel. The EU has capped roaming costs, including data roaming, within the EU, so if you'll be in Europe, and don't have the patience for 2G, you might want to find out what the costs would be for getting a SIM card in your first country and using it for roaming in other European countries. It would cost more than the T-Mobile basic plan, but it would probably cost less than the 3G packages they offer.

My Italian provider, TIM, includes the US in all of their roaming plans designed for Europe. Since I visit the US often, this is very convenient for me. For short trips, or trips where I'll rarely need data services, TIM in Viaggio Full can be activated without cost, and remains active permanently. When I'm outside Italy, it gives me calls throughout the area of Europe and the USA (on regular networks, not wifi calling) for 16 cents a minute, with a 16-cent connection charge. This plan charges you €3 every day that you connect to data services outside of Italy, and gives you 25mb of 3G data, which is enough for email, light web browsing, and maybe downloading a map or two.

I've had very good results with their new TIM in Viaggio Pass plan, a bundle that includes both talk, text messages, and plenty of 3G data. It costs €10 per week, starting when you first use the phone outside Italy, and gives you 200 minutes of talk time and 200 texts (to anywhere in Europe or the US), and 500 mb of of high-speed data. The plan expires at the end of the week, but can be renewed. (They didn't have this plan yet on that trip to the US when I bought the T-Mobile SIM card.) If I'll be using data services on more than two days during a trip, this plan saves me money over the TIM in Viaggio Full plan.

These TIM in Viaggio plans are for roaming outside of Italy, not for use within Italy. For use within Italy, TIM has a very new plan, designed for short-term visitors, which costs €20 for one month. It's called TIM Welcome; it has to be activated on a new SIM card (€10, which includes €5 of initial credit). This gives you 200 minutes of talk time and 2gb of data, to be used within a month. When the month is up, the plan can't be renewed; the rates are so good that I think they're afraid Italians would try to use it permanently. One of the most interesting features is that the 200 minutes of talk time can be to Italian phones and also to numbers in many other countries, in all continents except Antarctica. You can see the list of countries on this page:

http://www.international.tim.it/en/t...FWzHtAodlTsAbA

These plans might be useful for people who will be spending most of their time in Italy, or who will be traveling in several European countries, but arriving first in Italy. People who will be in Italy for more than a month might want to start off with TIM Welcome, then switch to one of their other plans.
bvlenci is offline  
Apr 21st, 2014, 06:32 AM
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Very useful thread. Thanks.
Fra_Diavolo is offline  
Apr 21st, 2014, 06:33 AM
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Hi Andrew. This is such a timely report for me. Thanks. We have had T-Mobile service here in the US for quite some time. We switched to the Simple Choice plan just this month because for us (five family members) it is cost effective.

Also, since I am going to Italy this Summer I am thrilled at the per minute cost there. I have an elderly parent and it is invaluable to me to be able to call her daily. Also it is great to keep in touch with the kids.

I see using my Samsung Galaxy 3 primarily for calls and not data but it is nice to know that we can. We are staying in a villa and we have free WiFi there. It will be nice however to contact my husband who is arriving separately. In case there is a glitch with the flights.

I have purchased SIM cards while traveling but this is much easier and very cost effective. It always seems when I go with friends/family to these house party vacations that the other house guests are mad to use their phones every time we turn around and it can be quite expensive. Now I can text away and make calls without breaking the bank,

bvienci. This is very informative about the plans in Italy. I could not get a handle on the SIM cards sold there three years ago and barely managed.

Those who understand the ins and outs of phone plans in Europe have great information.
Sher is offline  
Apr 21st, 2014, 06:36 AM
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Thanks for all the detail. We currently have a verizon contract (renewed since Xmas in order to get 2 new "free" samsung s4 phones) And we are returning to France to live in a few weeks so we have been considering changing to tmobile since they will effectively buy out most of your contract for switching-although you have to buy a new phone from them. So this info is super timely for us to think about.....
jpie is offline  
Apr 21st, 2014, 06:43 AM
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FYI, new phones are not always that expensive for T-Mobile. I got my Android, a T-Mobile-branded Prism II, for only $29.99 on sale (it was a holiday sale). That's a pretty sweet price when you consider there's no contract. It is a somewhat slow phone, but it is very usable. I don't do much more than make calls and occasionally check email and Facebook on it. (It's my first smart phone so I can't say I completely understand what I'm missing.) The fact that it has WiFi calling built-in as a feature is pretty sweet.
Andrew is offline  
Apr 21st, 2014, 07:25 AM
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Yeah I have to admit I might miss my s4 but I could probably learn to cope given that my needs are pretty minimal. The bigger thing for us is that our family in France will not want to call a US number, so we might end up with French pay as you go anyway or even starting the dreaded French contract again....
jpie is offline  
Apr 21st, 2014, 07:37 AM
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Why not keep your S4? Since you're switching carriers, go ahead and unlock it and root it and take the S4 to Europe and leave your new phone in the U.S.
sparkchaser is offline  
Apr 21st, 2014, 07:39 AM
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"Thanks, Andrew. I switched to this plan in anticipation of our annual vacation to either Europe or cruising the Caribbean. "

trvlgirlmq - We used the T-mobile service last fall for a week in Italy and then a cruise to Barcelona. No problems in each country. We also were keeping in touch with home because of my elderly mother's failing health. THEN the problem. After the transatlantic cruise and arrival in the Bahamas, we figured the cost of phone calls and roaming would remain the same. Wrong!! The 25+ minute phone call to my sister regarding Mom cost over $100. No more 20 cents a minute. Was over $5/minute.

So research your countries carefully!
wikoffclan is offline  
Apr 21st, 2014, 08:02 AM
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wikoffclan - Yes, the list of countries in the Caribbean is limited so I know to check before our trip to see if I can use the phone on that particular island. Our next cruise stops in Mexico, Jamaica and Cayman Islands which are all covered.
trvlgirlmq is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2014, 06:15 AM
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sparkchaser-from what I understand, if you want Tmobile to "buy out" your contract you have to give them the phone. Otherwsie we would either have to keep paying our Verizon contract or buy it out. But I am going to check on all the ins and outs before I make the switch (if I do). Since we are likely to come back to the US every year for a awhile, we may just buy out the contract anyway and start a small contract in France-but as you all probably know, you practically need a PhD to figure out the carrier plans these days.....
jpie is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2014, 06:31 AM
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If you don't have to hand in your new phone, then I would keep it as a backup (or as your US phone).
sparkchaser is offline  
May 21st, 2014, 09:15 PM
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I have just used the T-mobile Simple Choice plan in Denmark, and I am very satisfied.
When I turned on data roaming in Denmark, I got a nice assurance message from T-Mobile "Unlimited web included as a part of your global coverage. To purchase high speed data please visit http://t-mo.co......"
As a comparison, I visited Lebara, 3, and Telia stores in Copenhagen. Only Telia told me they do have prepaid SIM with data, but the SIMs were all sold out due to a large of cruise passengers.
The Simple Choice Plan SIM connected to "3" as a preferred roaming partner. My wife's T-Mobile pay as you go plan SIM never connected to any of the carriers. I suspected that the Plan had more roaming partners than the prepaid, and I am now certain that is the case. I would change my wife's phone to the Simple Plan when I get back to the U.S.
The signal bar showed "R", and the Network Info App said UMTS 384kbs = 3G! I did not buy the additional T-Mobile high speed pass. I am totally sold on the Simple Choice plan.
greg is offline  
May 21st, 2014, 09:25 PM
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I recall reading somewhere (on this thread?) that if there is no 2G network available, you'll get 3G. I don't think I ever got anything close to 3G anywhere in France or Germany (or Zurich, briefly) in two weeks, and I'm aware of what 3G speed is like on my phone in the US. (My phone can't do 4G anyway.) Perhaps you got lucky in Denmark?

But yes - I was very happy with the plan, too.
Andrew is offline  
May 24th, 2014, 07:15 AM
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T Mobile explained to me that if you are in Europe, I asked specifically about Italy, it may not pay to purchase a data plan bump up. Since the SIM is dependent on the roaming network they are using it may not get you faster speeds. This is with the Simple Choice plan where you get free data roaming in 100 countries.
I will just take my chances with the included roaming.
Just when I get handle on buying and using SIM cards in Europe, sort of, this comes along. Back to school for me.
Sher is offline  

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