Fortunately there are a number of prepaid mobile operators with much lower international rates. Prepaid Phone News has gone though dozens of prepaid provider's international calling options to find the operators and plans that offer the least expensive international calling and messaging. This post is updated frequently with the latest rates and the best deals.
Last Updated 2/27/2014: Added new T-Mobile "Stateside" add ons. Removed PrepaYd Wireless which is out of business.
Read on for my recommended prepaid operators and plans for international calling and texting.
Unlimited plans: If you make a lot of international calls, 500 minutes a month or more, an unlimited international plan can be a good deal. These plans are either stand alone plans that include unlimited domestic and international calls and texts or unlimited international add-ons to unlimited domestic plans. Either way, you will end up paying between $40 and $70 per month for unlimited domestic and international talk and text.
There are several things to watch out for with unlimited international plans:
- They only cover calls to certain countries. Many sizable, but expensive to call, countries including the Philippines, El Salvador and Nigeria are usually not included.
- For most covered countries only calls to landlines are included, not mobile phones.
- They may not be truly unlimited. I've seen a number of complaints from users who had their unlimited international plans shut off for using too many minutes. How many is too many? Your guess is as good as mine but I suspect more than 2000 minutes a month would be pushing the limit
On all plans watch out for cumbersome access number dialing schemes. Several operators don't let you dial international calls directly. Instead you have to dial a 3 to 11 digit access number, wait for a prompt and then dial the international number. It's possible but tricky to automate the that process by using a calling card app or by inserting pauses and waits in the address book dial strings but I recommend choosing an operator that allows international direct dialing.
Here are my picks for the best deals in unlimited international prepaid plans. Click the operator name in the first column to see details of the plan.
|Plan||Int'l Add-On Price||Required Monthly Plan Price||Network||Countries Included Landlines||Countries Included (Mobiles)||Text Countries||Int'l Access Number||Restrict-ions|
|Lyca-mobile||$10-$20||$29 - $39||T-Mobile||$10 - 50,|
$20 - 67
|$10 - 4,|
$20 - 8
|?||direct||Unlimited calls to up to 10 numbers|
|GoSmart Mobile Int'l Bundle||$10||$30 - $45||T-Mobile||60||none||200||direct|
|Boost Mobile Int'l Connect||$10||$45 - $60||Sprint||44||5||180||direct|
|T-Mobile Int'l Talk & Text||$10 - $15||$50 - $70||T-Mobile||70||30 countries and 100 min to Mexico ($15 add on only)||200||direct|
|Telcel America||none||$60||Sprint or T-Mobile||37||Mexico (400 minutes)||Mexico only||11 digit||Unlimited calls to up to 15 numbers|
|Straight Talk||none||$60||At&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon||37||3 ||173 (Sprint based phones only)||11 digit||Unlimited calls to up to 15 numbers|
|Net10||none||$65||At&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon||37||3 ||173 (Sprint based phones only)||11 digit||Unlimited calls to up to 15 numbers|
Unlimited Domestic Prepaid Plans with low per minute international rates. If you already use an unlimited monthly plan for domestic calls and need less than 1000 international minutes per month, it can be less expensive to pay by the minute for international calls. Several operators let you add some extra funds to your account that you can use to make international calls for as a little as a penny per minute. Two operators, Ultra Mobile and Red Pocket, even include some free international calls in plans.
Rates vary widely and no one operator offers the best rate to every country. To help you compare I've defined a prepaid market basket of five frequently called countries. It includes the three nations (Canada, Mexico and the UK) that send the most visitors to the US, plus the three countries (Mexico, China and the Philippines.) with the most foreign born US residents.
For each provider I've computed the average Market Basket Price per Minute for calls to mobile phones in the five countries. Here are the best deals.
|Operator||Market Basket Price / Minute||Network||Monthly Plan Price||Int'l Call Credit Included||Int'l Text Rate||Int'l Access Number|
|Ultra Mobile||2.6¢ - 3.8¢||T-Mobile||$19 - $49||$1.25 - $20 1||free||direct|
|Lycamobile||3.8¢||T-Mobile||$16 - $49||$1 - $20||free||direct|
|Red Pocket Mobile||7.4¢||AT&T or Sprint||$19.99 - $59.99||0 - $2||40 free texts then 10¢ ea.||direct|
|Virgin Mobile||12.4¢||Sprint||$35 - $55||none||15¢||direct|
|Boost Mobile||17¢||Sprint||$30 - $60||none||10¢||direct|
Pay as you go: For light users (under approximately 300 combined domestic and international minutes and text per month) a pay as you go plan is usually the least expensive option. The best of these plans charge about 5¢ per domestic minute, 6¢ and up per international minute and 2¢ per domestic or international text. Here are the pay as you go plans with the best international rates.
|Operator||Market Basket Price / Minute||Network||Per Minute Domestic Rate||Min. Monthly Plan Cost||Domestic / Int'l Text Rate||Int'l Access Number|
|Lycamobile||5.8¢||T-Mobile||.02||.0083||free incoming .04/.12 outgoing||Direct|
|Red Pocket Mobile||16.4¢||AT&T or Sptint||.10||$5 (Sprint) or $8.33 (AT&T)||.10/.10||Direct|
Recomendations: I advising choosing based on price and which network (T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon or AT&T) works best for you. There are some especially good deals if you can use T-Mobile, including GoSmart for the lowest priced unlimited plan, Ultra Mobile's monthly plans for their 1000 free international minutes, inexpensive international rates and $5 to $20 in free international call credit per month and Lycamobile for the lowest domestic and international pay as you go voice rates.
Text Only: If you mainly want to send international texts, Ultra and Lycamobile include unlimited international text messaging with all monthly plans. On pay as you go, PTel is the best deal at 2¢ per international text.
Boost Mobile (866-402-7366) is one of Sprint's prepaid brands.
Monthly domestic plans: All include unlimited domestic calls and messaging
- $45/month - BlackBerrys only - no data, except BlackBerry Messenger on BlackBerrys
- $50/month - feature phones only - unlimited data (throttled after 2.5 GB)
- $55/month - Android and iPhone - unlimited data (throttled after 2.5 GB)
- $60/month - BlackBerry - unlimited data (throttled after 2.5 GB) and BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS, required for email and IM)
International add ons:
- $5/month - unlimited international texting, unlimited calling to Canada and to land lines in Mexico.
- $10/month - unlimited international texting, unlimited calling to land lines in 44 countries (list of countries), 5¢/minute calls to mobiles in Mexico and discounted rates to over 200 countries.
Boost Market Basket prices: Calling mobiles: Canada 10¢; Mexico 20¢; China 15¢; UK 20¢; Philippines 20¢ - Total $0.85 / 5 = 17¢.
Boost Mobile International Messaging: 10¢/each.
Boost Mobile international rate page.
For more on Boost, see Prepaid Operator Profile - Boost Mobile
GoSmart Mobile (877-582-7788) is owned by T-Mobile
Monthly domestic plans: all include unlimited domestic voice.
- 25/month - no data, no messaging
- $30/month - unlimited domestic messaging, no data
- $35/month - unlimited domestic messaging and unlimted 2G data (throttled to 128 Kpbs)
- $45/month - unlimited domestic messaging and unlimted 3G data (throttled to 910 Kpbs)
- $5/month unlimited text messaging to over 200 countries
- $10/month unlimited calls to landlines in 50 countries including all five market basket countries and unlimited text messaging to over 200 countries. List of GoSmart unlimited voice and text countries.
GoSmart Basket prices: Calling mobiles: Canada 50¢; Mexico 50¢; China 50¢; UK 50¢; Philippines 50¢ - Total $2.50 / 5 = 50¢.
GoSmart International Messaging: 10¢/each.
Gosmart international rate page
For more on GoSmart, see: T-Mobile and T-Mobile MVNOs Compared
Lycamobile (845-301-1612) is a T-Mobile MVNO with monthly and pay as you go plans and some of the best international voice rates. But MMS picture messaging is not supported and unlike other T-Mobile MVNOs, an unlocked phone is required, phones locked to T-Mobile will not work.
Monthly Plans: All include unlimited domestic and international text messaging.
- $16/month - 250 domestic voice minutes, 50 MB of data and a $1 international call credit
- $29/month - unlimited domestic voice minutes, unlimited data (50 MB at 4G speeds) and a $2.50 international call credit
- $39/month - unlimited domestic voice minutes, unlimited data (250 MB at 4G speeds) and a $10.00 international call credit
- $49/month - unlimited domestic voice minutes, unlimited data (1 GB at 4G speeds) and a $20.00 international call credit
International add ons: (available on plans priced at $29 and higher):
- $10/month - unlimited calls to up to 10 different numbers (the first 10 international numbers dialed each month) in 50 countries (list). Among the mobile market basket countries, the plan includes calls to landlines and mobiles in Canada and China and to land lines in Mexico and the UK. Calls to the Philippines are not included.
- $20/month - same as the $10 plan but includes calls to 17 additional countries and to Mexican mobile phones.
Pay as you go: Domestic minutes are 2 cents, incoming texts are free, outgoing domestic texts are 4¢ and outgoing international texts are 12¢ cents each. Data is 6 cents per MB.
There is no minimum payment but you must have a billable event (call, outgoing text or data use) every 120 days or your service will be cancelled.
Lycamobile has international direct dialing
Lycamobile Market Basket prices (unlimited plans, add .02/minute for pay as you go):
Calling mobiles: Canada 1¢; Mexico 3¢; China 1¢; UK 5¢; Philippines 9¢ - Total 19¢ / 5 = 3.8¢ (unlimted) 5.8¢ (pay as you go)
Lycamobile International Messaging: free on monthly plans, 12¢/each on pay as you go
Lycamobile International Messaging: free on monthly plans, 12¢/each on pay as you go
Lycamobile international rate page.
For more on Lycamobile, see: T-Mobile and T-Mobile MVNOs Compared
For more on Lycamobile, see: T-Mobile and T-Mobile MVNOs Compared
Monthly Plans: All include unlimited domestic talk, unlimited domestic and international text messaging and unlimited data.
- $35/month - unlimited data throttled to 256 Kbps.
- $40/month - 250 MB of 4G data, unlimited data throttled to 256 Kbps.
- $50/month - 2 GB of 4G data, unlimited data throttled to 256 Kbps.
PTel requires a 3 digit access code for international calls.
PTel Market Basket prices (unlimited plans, add .05/minute for pay as you go): Calling mobiles: Canada 1¢; Mexico 14¢; China 1¢; UK 13¢; Philippines 18¢ - Total 47¢ / 5 = 9.4¢ (unlimited) 14.4¢ (pay as you go)
PlatinumTel International Messaging: no extra charge (free on unlimited, 2¢/each on pay as you go) PTel international rate page.
For more on PTel see: Prepaid Operator Profile: PTel
Red Pocket Mobile, (888-993-3888) has traditionally used the AT&T network and recently added new plans and service that use the Sprint CDMA network. The Sprint based service is sold as "Red Pocket CDMAS". The AT&T based service has been rebranded as "Red Pocket GSMA"
Monthly Plans (AT&T GSM):
- $19.99 - 250 minutes, 500 texts
- $29.99 - Unlimited domestic voice and messaging, 10 MB of data
- $39.99 - Unlimited domestic voice and messaging, 100 MB of data, unlimited international calls to Canada, China, Mexico*, India and the UK** (* Cities of Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey only. ** Landlines only.)
- $49.99 - Unlimited domestic voice and messaging, Unlimited data (throttled after 500 MB)
- $54.99 - Unlimited domestic voice and messaging, 1.5 GB of data, $2 rollover international call credit
- $59.99 - Unlimited domestic voice and messaging, 3 GB of data, $2 rollover international call credit
- $29.99 - Unlimited domestic voice and messaging, 100 MBof data
- $34.99 - 300 minutes, unlimited domestic messaging, unlimited data (throttled after 2.5 GB)
- $49.99 - Unlimited domestic voice and messaging, unlimited data (throttled after 2.5 GB)
Red Pocket has international direct dialing (no access code required)
Red Pocket Market Basket prices - unlimited plans: Calling mobiles: Canada 1¢; Mexico 10¢; China 1¢; UK 10¢; Philippines 15¢ - Total 37¢ / 5 = 7.4¢
Red Pocket Market Basket prices - pay as you go (includes 10¢/minute base rate): Calling mobiles: Canada 10¢; Mexico 10¢; China 10¢; UK 20¢; Philippines 32¢ - Total 82¢ / 5 = 16.4¢
Red Pocket International Messaging: GSM monthly plans include 40 free outgoing international texts. Additional texts 10¢ ea. On pay as you go texts are 10¢ each. International MMS are 20¢ each to send and receive on pay as you go and free to send on GSM monthly plans priced at $29.99 and up.
Red Pocket international rate page.
For more on Red Pocket see: Prepaid Operator Profile: Red Pocket Mobile
Straight Talk (800-299-7784), Telcel America (800-220-9518) and NET10 (877-836-2368) are all brands of América Móvil's Tracfone division.
Unlimited International Plans: All three brand's offer an unlimited international plan. The three brand's plans are similar but not identical. They all include unlimited domestic voice, messaging and data (throttled after 2.5 GB/month) and unlimited calls to landlines in 37 countries, including all the market basket countries except the Philippines and to cell phones in Canada, China, India and Mexico (PDF list of covered countries) . Calls to mobile phones in Mexico are limited to 400 minutes per month and users can only make international calls to 15 unique numbers per month.
Differences between the three brands plans are in pricing and the ability to send international texts. Pricing: The Straight Talk and Telcel America International plans are $60/month, NET10's is $65/month only but a $5/month discount is available for customers who enroll in auto-pay.
International Text Messaging: Straight Talk and Net10's unlimited plans include unlimited international texting to 173 countries (PDF list), but only on their branded Android phones that run on the Sprint network. Telcel America allows unlimited international texting to Mexico only.
Straight Talk, NET10 and Telcel America require using an 11 digit access code for international calls.
For more on Straight Talk see: Prepaid Operator Profile - Straight Talk
For more on Net10 see: Prepaid Operator Profile - Net10
For more on Telcal America see: Telcel America - New Tracfone Brand Now Available
Monthly Plans: all include unlimited domestic voice and text messaging.
- $50/month - 500 MB of 4G data, unlimited data throttled to 128 Kbps.
- $60/month - 2.5 GB of 4G data, unlimited data throttled to 128 Kbps.
- $70/month - unlimited, unthrottled 4G data
- $7/month - unlimited text messaging to over 200+ countries
- $10/month = unlimited calls to landlines in 70+ countries, unlimited text messaging and discounted calling to over 200 countries.
- $15/month Unlimited calling to landlines in 70+ countries, unlimited calling to mobile numbers in 32 countries, 1000 minutes of calling to Mexican mobile numbers and unlimited texting to over 200 countries. List of countries covered.
For more on T-Mobile see: Prepaid Operator Profile - T-Mobile
TracFone (800-867-7183) is owned by América Móvil and has pay as you go plans only.
Pay as you go: Tracfone pricing is quite complicated:
For feature phones the price per domestic voice minute ranges from 4.4¢ to 33.¢ per minute depending on the refill denomination and if the phone includes "double or triple minutes for life". Domestic texts are charged as a third of a minute. Data is either half a minute per minute of browsing (older phones) or 1.5 voice minutes per KB of data (phones released since June, 2012).
TracFone Android phones have a unique "triple-triple" pricing model with separate buckets for minutes, data and texts. Price per minute, text or MB of data varies from 4.4¢ to 11¢ depending on refill denomination.
The minimum monthly cost is $6.67 ($19.99 refill every 90 days).
"Free" international calling: Tracfone users can make no surcharge calls to landlines in 60 counties including all the market basket countries except the Philippines.
Tracfone requires an 11 digit access code for international calls.
TracFone doesn't support sending international texts.
For more on Tracfone, see Prepaid Operator Profile - Tracfone
Ultra Mobile (888-777-0446) is a T-Mobile MVNO which currently offers monthly plans only. All plans include unlimited international texts at no extra charge.
Monthly Plans: Ultra Mobile has five monthly plans, all of which include unlimited domestic and international text messaging and 1000 minutes of no extra charge international calling to landlines in 72 countries and mobiles in 26 including Canada, China, India, Mexico and the UK. The difference between the plans include the number of voice minutes, MBs of data and how much international call credit is included with each plan. The choices are:
- $19/month - 250 domestic voice minutes, 50 MB of data, $1.25/month international call credit
- $29/month - unlimited domestic calls, 100 MB of data, $2.50/month international call credit
- $39/month - unlimited domestic calls, 500 MB of 4G data, unlimited data throttled to 128 Kbps, $5/month international call credit
- $49/month - unlimited dimestic calls, 1 GB 4G data, unlimited throttled data, $20 international call credit
- $59/month - unlimited dimestic calls, 4 GB 4G data, unlimited throttled data, $5 international call credit
Ultra Mobile has international direct dialing (no access code required)
Ultra Market Basket prices (1st 1000 minutes/month): Canada 0¢; Mexico 0¢; China 0¢; UK 0¢; Philippines 13¢ - Total 13¢ / 5 = 2.6¢
Ultra Market Basket prices (after 100 minutes): Canada 1¢; Mexico 2.5¢; China 1¢; UK 1.5¢; Philippines 13¢ - Total 19¢ / 5 = 3.8¢
Ultra Mobile International Messaging: no extra charge, unlimited messaging is included with all plans
Ultra Mobile international rate page.
For more on Ultra Mobile, see: T-Mobile and T-Mobile MVNOs Compared
Virgin Mobile (888-322-1122), is owned by Sprint
Monthly plans (Beyond Talk): All include unlimited data (throttled to 256 Kbps after 2.5 GB and unlimited domestic texts.
- $35/month - 300 domestic minutes
- $45/month - 1200 domestic minutes
- $55/month - unlimited domestic minutes
Virgin Mobile Market Basket prices: Canada 10¢; Mexico 20¢; China 2¢; UK 25¢; Philippines 20¢ - Total 77¢ / 5 = 15.4¢
Virgin Mobile International Messaging: 15¢/each
Virgin Mobile international rate page
For more on Virgin Mobile see: Prepaid Operator Profile - Virgin Mobile
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