Using a cellphone in Ireland without having to turn over a pot of gold

Using a cellphone in Ireland without having to turn over a pot of gold

KILLARNEY, IRELAND — I have business in Dublin this week but decided to take a few vacation days in the Emerald Isle. But being away doesn’t mean being disconnected. I’m still writing, filing radio reports, and making calls and sending texts to the U.S. and other countries. And that means not only finding hotels with good Wi-Fi but also having a cellphone that I can affordably use from overseas.

On previous trips I would either go through complicated gyrations in search of affordable calling and mobile data or stress every time I needed to use my phone for fear the bill would exceed the cost of airfare and hotel combined. That’s because — unless you have a special plan — international roaming rates can be prohibitively expensive, as much as $3 to $5 a minute for making or receiving calls and $20 a megabyte for data. Given how much I’ve used my phone this week, I could have wound up spending thousands of dollars in a few days if I hadn’t made other arrangements.

In the past, those arrangements often consisted of buying a local SIM card for each country I visited. That means finding a local phone store, paying upfront for calls and data, and deciphering often complicated rate plans to have a clue about what I’d wind up paying.

But thanks to a new international day pass from AT&T, I’m using my phone this week just like I do at home. I’m not worrying about how much I talk or how much data I’m using. I’m even using my phone to tether my laptop, which can gobble up gigabytes of data.

Both AT&T and Verizon recently introduced unlimited data plans in the U.S. and new international plans that allow you to take your home plan with you to about 100 countries. The plans aren’t cheap, but they eliminate the worry about getting a bad surprise when the bill comes.

For both carriers, the international plan is simple. Except for Mexico and Canada, you pay $10 a day to take your domestic plan with you. In my case, that means unlimited calls, texts and data.  The $10-a-day rate kicks in as soon as you make or place a call, send a text, or download any data. If you don’t connect to the cellular network on any given day, you don’t pay. You can still connect your phone to Wi-Fi, so if you’re using Google Voice or WhatsApp, you can make calls and send texts for free. Sprint and T-Mobile also have international plans that, depending on your usage, can be cheaper than AT&T or Verizon.

Sprint just announced international service that automatically provides free “basic” data roaming, free texting and voice calls at 20 cents a minute in 165 countries for no extra charge. T-Mobile has a similar plan. As always, contact your carrier and read the fine print before relying on any international plan. And — at the rate these companies are innovating — check for new plans and ask them to review your current plan to see if there’s a better one. It’s not uncommon for cell carriers and cable providers to keep you on more expensive plans until you call and ask to switch to a better one.

My wife, who is traveling with me, doesn’t need to be in constant contact, so she’s carrying a Google Nexus phone with a Google Project Fi account. We’re paying $30 a month for her plan plus $10 a gigabyte for data and 20 cents a minute for calls with free texting. When she’s with me, she tethers her phone to mine and pays nothing for calls or data. Project Fi lets you suspend your account for up to three months if you’re not using it, so she uses and pays only when traveling outside of North America.

AT&T now offers two domestic unlimited data plans. Its Unlimited Choice plan costs $60 for one line, $115 for two and $20 for each additional (up to eight), but it limits your speed to 3 megabits per second and doesn’t allow you to create a Wi-Fi hotspot to tether a PC or other devices. Its Unlimited Choice Plan, which can be very fast and does allow tethering, costs $90 for one line, $145 for two and $20 for each additional line. That’s the plan I have for myself, my wife and three other family members, bringing our average cost per line to about $55 a month when you add taxes and fees. Verizon has a similar plan at about the same price while both Sprint and T-Mobile offer less expensive unlimited plans. I posted a summary of all the major carriers’ new plans at larrysworld.com/unlimited.

So, despite seeing an occasional rainbow here in Ireland, I haven’t found that fabled pot of gold. But at least I don’t have to shell out my pot of gold, dollars or euros just to use my phone.

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Published at Thu, 20 Apr 2017 14:40:44 +0000