Huawei P40 Pro Talking on the phone

The US has so many carriers and individual phone plans, it can feel like finding a needle in a haystack. Once you measure out your data needs and realize what you’re spending, you might realize that it’s time to make a change. However, deciding to change is often easier than actually doing so. We’ve made life easier by summarizing the best cell phone plans available right now.

See also: The best Android phones

We’re not just going to throw the most perks or the largest data cap at you — we want to find the right plan for your needs. That might be the cheapest limited-data plan or the one which most suits your jet-setting lifestyle. We’ll start by explaining what to look for when you’re comparing plans, and then we’ll summarize the best plans for different users. Whether you’re looking for a plan to cover your entire family or the most budget-friendly way of joining the 5G revolution, you’ll find the answers here.

What are the best cell phone plans?

Sprint Verizon T Mobile and Verizon carriers stock photo 3

There are tons of factors to consider when tracking down the best cell phone plans. The price is sure to be an important factor for many people, but finding a plan that matches your budget doesn’t mean you’re getting a good deal. You’ll want to consider what coverage is like in your area from each provider, what perks come with the plan, whether your existing phone supports the carrier, and much more. Let’s look at some examples of how your usage may fit well with particular plans.

Average user plans — Many of us fit into this category, going through a few gigs of data each month plus a modest amount of calls and the odd text here and there. If so, the likes of the 5GB Verizon Wireless data plan might suit you. It has unlimited talk and text, plus 5GB of data and some perks, all for $55 per month. 

Basic phone plans — If you’re never streaming YouTube on the go and just want a bare-bones plan that’s easy on the wallet, there are plenty of basic phone plans available. A nice example is the flexible US Mobile plan, which lets you build your own package. You can tailor the plan to your usage, including a limited amount of talk, text, and data for $10 per month or even less.

Family plans — One of the best ways to get value for money is to get a plan that covers the whole family, and many carriers offer family or multi-line plans for that very reason. For example, the T-Mobile Unlimited Essentials plan lets you pick up five lines of unlimited talk, text, and high-speed data for a total of $120 per month. 

Business plans — A great way to save and support all of your business’s internet needs. For example, the Verizon Business Unlimited Plans gives all your business wireless lines access to their nationwide 5G network while having unlimited talk, text, and data starting at just $30 a line.

Unlimited plans — Unlimited data plans are all the rage these days, with some carriers offering several tiers of unlimited plans. They are the more expensive options, but if your phone is always streaming something or other, then an unlimited plan offers you the comfort of ensuring you’re never shy of data. One of the most popular unlimited plans is the T-Mobile Magenta Max plan. Not only do you get Netflix included, but you can also get unlimited data that T-Mobile will not throttle.

5G plans — The unlimited plans above are the best cell phone plans you can find, so in terms of getting the most out of your 5G, those plans might be the best place to start. However, there are alternatives available, and some are significantly more affordable. They range from the $50 or $60 per month unlimited plans on offer from T-Mobile to the top Mint Mobile plan. Mint does cap you at 15GB per month, but for an introductory prepaid plan of just $25 per month, you’ll struggle to find a cheaper way to enjoy 5G speeds while having a decent chunk of data to play with.

International traveler plans — One of the most overlooked factors in choosing a cell phone plan is the roaming charges if you’re out of the country, but no one likes getting fleeced while they’re away. There are several good solutions for travelers, none more so than Google Fi. You’re free to use your text and data for no extra charge while abroad, and calls are just $0.20 per minute. You can sign up here. 

Prepaid plans — If you have your own device and don’t want to get locked into a long contract, a prepaid plan is probably your best bet. Most carriers offer prepaid plans, with some of the best cell phone plans from the MVNOs, such as Visible. It offers one single phone plan for $40 per month ($25 in your first month) and offers unlimited talk, text, and data.

Now that you’ve worked out what type of user you are, let’s look closer at what’s on offer to suit your needs.

Best phone plans for the average user

Best cell phone plans for the average user.

We’re all special in our own way, but statistically, you probably fit into the category of an average phone plan user. I know I do. I stream music and short videos when I’m on the go, but realistically I only get through a few gigs of data per month. I like to have a hotspot as an option for friends or my laptop, but it’s only used occasionally. Texts are pretty much a thing of the past, but I get through a few hours of calls every week. Sound familiar?

To be honest, the average user will almost certainly get better value from a prepaid plan (see the best prepaid plans section below). Still, there are benefits to a limited-data contract. You may well get better perks and easier customer service. Here are a couple of the best cell phone plans for average users like me.

Verizon Wireless data planMint Mobile limited data plans
Cost
Verizon Wireless data plan:
$55 for one line
$40 for two lines
$35 for three lines
$32.50 for four lines
$31 for five lines
Mint Mobile limited data plans:
$15 to $25 per month
Unlimited talk and text
Verizon Wireless data plan:
Yes
Mint Mobile limited data plans:
Yes
Data
Verizon Wireless data plan:
5GB
Mint Mobile limited data plans:
Up to 15GB
Other features
Verizon Wireless data plan:
Carry over data
Safety Mode to avoid data overuse
Verizon Up Rewards
Mint Mobile limited data plans:
None

5GB Verizon Wireless data plan

The 5GB plan costs $55 per month for a single user. If you add a second line, the price of each plan increases by just $25. These prices don’t include taxes and fees.

This plan includes unlimited voice and texting to numbers in the US. It also offers carry-over data, so if you don’t use all of your high-speed data before the end of your monthly billing cycle, it will be added to your next monthly period. If you need more high-speed data before the end of the billing period, you can add more data in 1GB chunks for $15 each.

Perks of the plan include Safety Mode. Basically, if you run out of your high-speed data allotment before the end of your billing period, you can still keep using your phone; it will just access Verizon’s network at a much slower speed. You also get access to the Verizon Up Rewards scheme.

Mint Mobile limited-data plans

Mint Mobile’s plans start for as little as $15 per month and top out at just $25 per month with an impressive 15GB of data.

While you won’t get very much in the way of extra perks, Mint’s devices are solid, and it relies on the massive T-Mobile network for service. If you stick with the most affordable plan, you’ll get just 4GB of data to work with, but it’s nearly impossible to beat $15 per month. Just make sure to sign up for the six or 12-month plans, as they offer the best savings.

Best basic phone plans

mint mobile sim

Unlimited plans and lengthy $90-per-month contracts will look ridiculous to some of you. You’ve got a phone you like already, and you do all of your streaming on Wi-Fi, so you just want the cheapest plan that gets you connected. No frills, no fuss. There are plenty of options that can tick these boxes, and they tend to be prepaid plans. We’ve looked more at the best prepaid plans below, but we’ll look at a few of the best cell phone plans that can suit the lowest of budgets in this section. 

US MobileMint MobileGoogle Fi
Cost per month
US Mobile:
$10 (or lower!)
Mint Mobile:
$15 ($25 after three months)
Google Fi:
$20
Talk and text
US Mobile:
150 minutes
100 texts
Mint Mobile:
Unlimited
Google Fi:
Unlimited
Data
US Mobile:
500MB

Mint Mobile:
4GB (slowed thereafter)
Google Fi:
$10 per GB
Other perks
US Mobile:
Build your own plan
Mint Mobile:
Free calling to Mexico and Canada
Google Fi:
Same data and text rates abroad

US Mobile

US Mobile lets you choose your own combination of talk, text, and data, so theoretically, you could get a plan without data for around $4 per month. In reality, a bit of data is always handy, so in the example above, we’ve chosen 150 minutes of talk, 100 texts, and 500MB of data, which all comes to $10 per month. 

Not only are the plans flexible, but the carrier even lets you pause a line for $2 a month — perfect for those that travel to the US and want to maintain a number there, or simply for those times when you’re tight on money but don’t want to risk losing your number.

Mint Mobile

Mint Mobile has three simple plans, the most affordable of which is just $15 per month for the first three months. This is an introductory rate, so the price goes up to $25 per month thereafter, but that’s only if you choose to renew. That’s the beauty of prepaid plans. This plan includes unlimited talk and text, plus 4GB of 4G LTE or 5G data. After you use this allocation, you don’t get cut off; you’re just slowed down to minimal data speeds. The plan also includes free calling to Mexico and Canada.

The affordable prices might make you think that you’re sacrificing a level of coverage, but that’s not the case. Mint Mobile relies on T-Mobile’s nationwide network, which is only getting stronger after the Sprint merger. This is a GSM network, so you should check that the phone you’re bringing is GSM compatible.

Google Fi

If data isn’t a big deal for you, the Google Fi Flexible plan is one of the best cell phone plans out there. It’s only $20 per month for unlimited calls and texts. You can choose to use data, but it’s an extra $10 per GB of usage. You can manage all of your usages and plan changes from your phone, too.

Whether or not you choose to use data on the Flexible Google Fi plan, It’s a handy carrier for international use. It charges data and text at the same rate when abroad — free in the case of texts. If you’re in the US and calling internationally, affordable rates start at $0.01 per minute.

Best family plans

LG G8 ThinQ Review Photo Sample kids on rock

Family discounts are a great way to save money, especially when it comes to phone plans. Pretty much all the carriers offer savings when you sign up for more than one line. Some carriers, such as Spectrum Mobile, offer you one plan at one price, which you can share across more than one line. But there aren’t many of these offers, and often they don’t represent great value for money unless your family is planning on using minimal amounts of data.

Instead, in this section, we’ll focus on the bigger savings you can make on the best cell phone plans offering multi-line accounts. Some of them are the lower-tier unlimited plans of the big carriers, so there’s some crossover with the next section. If your family budget stretches to the best unlimited plans on offer, you might be better placed to skip ahead. All of those plans will be open to multi-line savings too.

See also: Family plans: Which carrier is the best for your family?

Verizon Start UnlimitedAT&T Unlimited StarterT-Mobile Unlimited EssentialsCricket Unlimited
Cost
Verizon Start Unlimited:
$70 for one line
$120 for two lines
$135 for three lines
$140 for four lines
$150 for five lines
AT&T Unlimited Starter:
$65 for one line
$120 for two lines
$135 for three lines
$140 for four lines
T-Mobile Unlimited Essentials:
$60 for one line
$90 for two lines
$105 for three lines
$120 for four lines
$135 for five lines
Cricket Unlimited:
$60 for one line
$90 for two lines
$110 for three lines
$130 for four lines
$160 for five lines
Talk, text, and data
Verizon Start Unlimited:
Unlimited
AT&T Unlimited Starter:
Unlimited
T-Mobile Unlimited Essentials:
Unlimited
Cricket Unlimited:
Unlimited
Hotspot
Verizon Start Unlimited:
No
AT&T Unlimited Starter:
No
T-Mobile Unlimited Essentials:
Unlimited 3G Data
Cricket Unlimited:
15GB
Streaming
Verizon Start Unlimited:
SD quality (480p)
AT&T Unlimited Starter:
SD quality (480p)
T-Mobile Unlimited Essentials:
SD quality (480p)
Cricket Unlimited:
SD quality (480p)
Extras
Verizon Start Unlimited:
Apple Music for six months
Disney Plus for one year
AT&T Unlimited Starter:
Device security
Fraud blocking
Spam risk alerts
T-Mobile Unlimited Essentials:

Cricket Unlimited:
HD voice and Wi-Fi calling

There are various caveats and details to each of these plans, which you’ll find in our individual carrier pages linked in the summaries below. One example is that while all of these plans offer unlimited high-speed data, they can all be slowed during network congestion. Higher-tier versions of the plans from some carriers offer ‘premium data’ — a data allocation protected from this throttling.

Verizon Start Unlimited

Verizon has four unlimited plans, with Verizon Start being the most affordable of them. That means unlimited data, but not the extras of the more expensive plans such as hotspot or mmWave 5G access. You’ll pay $70 for one line, $120 for two lines, $135 for three lines, $140 for four lines, and $150 for five lines or more, so you can see how the savings add up. The plan includes unlimited talk and text in the US, Mexico, and Canada, plus when you’re in those countries, you can use up to 512MB of 4G LTE data per day, with speeds reduced each day to 2G speeds if you go over.

Check out more details of this and other plans on our dedicated Verizon plans page, or hit the button below to find out more directly from Verizon.

AT&T Unlimited Starter

The cheapest of the three AT&T unlimited plans is Unlimited Starter and costs $65 a month for one line, or you can get a four-line bundle for $140. These prices are with a $10 discount for using paperless billing and AutoPay. The plan supports standard resolutions for video streaming, though it doesn’t come with the tasty Disney Plus perk of the Verizon plan.

You can see how this plan stacks up against the other AT&T Unlimited plans in our comprehensive AT&T plans guide, or head to AT&T to compare using the button below.

T-Mobile Unlimited Essentials

The basic T-Mobile Unlimited Essentials plan charges $60 a month for one line, $45 a month each for two lines, $35 a month each for three lines, $30 a month each for four lines, and $27 a month for each additional line. You can use unlimited 3G data for a hotspot. Additionally, you can get unlimited talk, text, and 2G data in Mexico and Canada. It’s worth noting that, unlike the other T-Mobile Unlimted plans, the prices of this plan don’t include taxes and fees.

There’s much more to know about this, and the other T-Mobile plans, which we summarize for you on our T-Mobile plans page. Alternatively, you can sign up now at T-Mobile via the link below.

Cricket Unlimited

It’s not just the big carriers that offer significant multi-line savings, so we thought we’d show you how the MNVO’s stack up against them. One of the best of the rest for family plans is Cricket Wireless, which offers two versions of its unlimited plan. The one we’ve featured doesn’t offer any big streaming services, subscriptions, or similar perks, but it does provide a 15GB mobile hotspot.

The plan costs $60 a month for one line and drops to $55 with AutoPay billing. That’s cheaper than the other big carriers, but you don’t see the same incremental savings with Cricket as you add more lines. At $160 for five lines, it’s actually the most expensive in our comparison.

Find out more about this, and other Cricket Wireless plans here, or check out the homepage via the link below.

Best unlimited data plans

Verizon Wireless logo stock image 7

We’ve already touched on unlimited data plans, and we’ll show you the best ones on the market in this section. If you’re on a limited budget or you just want to get the best possible value for money based on your usage, these plans probably aren’t your best bet. However, some people just want the best cell phone plans with as much data as they can burn through in a month without worrying about being capped. These top-tier plans also tend to offer very significant extra perks that you won’t get from the lesser plans or MVNOs. 

See also: The best unlimited data plans

There’s a lot of overlap between this section and the next section: 5G plans. The reasons for this are pretty obvious. The big carriers are all offering 5G now, and the best cell phone plans that will include access will be the premium-level ones. Put even more simply, why would you want a 5G connection — reaching download speeds of over 1Gbps sometimes — on a plan that’s capped at 5GB per month?

Verizon Get More UnlimitedAT&T Unlimited EliteT-Mobile Magenta MaxUS Cellular Even Better
Cost
Verizon Get More Unlimited:
$90 for one line
$160 for two lines
$195 for three lines
$220 for four lines
$250 for five lines
AT&T Unlimited Elite:
$85 for one line
$150 for two lines
$180 for three lines
$200 for four lines
T-Mobile Magenta Max:
$85 for one line
$140 for two lines
$140 for three lines
$170 for four lines
$200 for five lines
US Cellular Even Better:
$75 for one line
$145 for two lines
$175 for three lines
$200 for four lines

Talk, text, and data
Verizon Get More Unlimited:
Unlimited
75GB premium data
AT&T Unlimited Elite:
Unlimited
100GB premium data
T-Mobile Magenta Max:
Unlimited
50GB premium data
US Cellular Even Better:
Unlimited
50GB premium data
Hotspot
Verizon Get More Unlimited:
Unlimited
30GB premium data
AT&T Unlimited Elite:
Unlimited
30GB premium data
T-Mobile Magenta Max:
3GB 4GB LTE data
Unlimited 3G data
US Cellular Even Better:
30GB
Streaming
Verizon Get More Unlimited:
HD quality (720p)
AT&T Unlimited Elite:
HD quality (720p)
T-Mobile Magenta Max:
HD quality (720p)
US Cellular Even Better:
Full HD quality (1080p)
Extras
Verizon Get More Unlimited:
Apple Music
Disney Plus, Hulu, ESPN Plus
500GB cloud storage
AT&T Unlimited Elite:
HBO Max
T-Mobile Magenta Max:
Netflix
Gogo in-flight texting and Wi-Fi
US Cellular Even Better:
2 free Redbox Movie Night rentals per month, per line

We’ve highlighted one or two key extras you get with each plan in this table, but in reality, these are the top-tier plans of the biggest carriers with all the bells and whistles attached. There are all types of international benefits in each plan, such as data allocations in Canada and Mexico and/or free texts to hundreds of other countries from the US. All the plans offer 5G access, but 5G coverage and speed vary between networks, so you’ll want to check out what each one provides.

Verizon Get More Unlimited

Get More Unlimited costs $90 per month for one line, $80 per month each for two lines, $65 per month each for three lines, $55 per month each for four lines, and $50 per month each for additional lines. Monthly prices for each line increase by $10 if you don’t enable AutoPay.

The plan also includes an unlimited mobile hotspot with 30GB of LTE, a free Apple Music subscription, and 500GB of Verizon Cloud storage. Add to that unlimited texting to over 200 countries, unlimited talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada, 50% off a tablet or mobile Jetpack unlimited plan, and Verizon’s Up Rewards access.

There are more details on our Verizon plans rundown or directly from Verizon via the link below.

AT&T Unlimited Elite

Unlimited Elite costs $85 per month for one line, $75 per month each for two lines, $60 per month each for three lines, and $50 per month each for four lines. The prices are after the discount you get when you enable AutoPay.

Video streaming now soars to 4K thanks to AT&T’s latest update, and you no longer have to worry about data overages. The plan also includes unlimited texts from the US to over 120 countries and unlimited talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada. Finally, Unlimited Elite includes a free subscription to the brand-new HBO Max. You can enjoy everything from Friends to Game of Thrones from the convenience of your phone.

For a fuller summary of this package, head over to our AT&T plans guide or hit the button below to explore the AT&T plans page.

T-Mobile Magenta Max

There’s a really nice perk to the Magenta Max pricing in that the Uncarrier won’t throttle your data. So the costs are $85 per month for one line, $70 per month each for two lines, $47 per month each for three lines, $43 per month each for four lines, and $40 per month for five lines.

Video streams top out at 720p resolution, with Magenta Max also including a free subscription to Netflix. New and existing subscribers can access the standard plan, which normally costs $12.99 per month and lets you stream on two devices simultaneously. 

Our T-Mobile plans page goes into much more depth about Magenta Max and the other T-Mobile plans. Alternatively, the link below takes you to the T-Mobile homesite.

US Cellular Even Better plan

Unlike the other carriers, the best cell phone plans from US Cellular kick streaming up to 1080p Full HD quality. With the Even Better plan, you also get 30GB hotspot data, 50GB priority data, and two Redbox rentals per line per month. 

The Even Better plan starts at $80 for one line of service, but it drops as low as $50 per line per month if you have four lines of service. As a nice extra touch, you get $10 back if you stay under 3GB data usage for the month.

Check out our US Cellular plans guide for the full details or the US Cellular site via the link below.

There are other unlimited plans worthy of your consideration, including several prepaid options like Visible — which offers truly unlimited data with a few catches.

Business Plans

Verizon Wireless logo stock image 1

Powering up your team’s mobile plans is essential for any small or medium business to consider. Staying connected between business members is key, and there are some great business plans for you and your team.  Among the many features you might look for while investing in a phone business plan, a few major categories stand out: affordability, calling, and high-speed connection. Here are some of the best plans that fulfill these criteria while also having extra features to fit your business needs.

Verizon Business Unlimited PlansAT&T Business Unlimited Elite
Cost
Verizon Business Unlimited Plans:
Starts at $30 per line
AT&T Business Unlimited Elite:
Starts at $30 per line
Unlimited talk and text
Verizon Business Unlimited Plans:
Yes
AT&T Business Unlimited Elite:
Yes
Data
Verizon Business Unlimited Plans:
Unlimited data. Domestic 5G and LTE
AT&T Business Unlimited Elite:
Unlimited data. Domestic 5G and LTE
Other features
Verizon Business Unlimited Plans:
Call filter
Enhanced Security Features
Premium Network Access
AT&T Business Unlimited Elite:
Standard Mobile Security
Standard-Definition Video Streaming

Verizon Business Unlimited Plans:

Verizon offers an affordable yet high-quality plan for business owners. The plan starts at $30 per line and supports unlimited text, talk, and data at this price point. It also includes access to Verizon’s nationwide 5G connection, one of the best in the country. 

While more features are added as you improve the line, Verizon covers the basics very well in their base plan while also including more advanced options for power users. Verizon also offers limited deals such as getting up to $1000 off a smartphone when purchasing select smartphones. Other features such as greater security and premium network access are also available when upgrading your plan.

All in all, Verizon’s business plan, when paired with the company’s reliability, high speeds, and affordable prices, is a great plan for many small and medium businesses owners. 

Check out Verizon Business Plans

AT&T Business Unlimited Elite:

AT&T is also no stranger to the business plan market. The plan starts at $30 per line, and it includes some great features. Each line has unlimited text, talk, and data and has an unlimited connection to AT&T’s 5G national network.

It also includes some special add ons, such as having free-roaming in both Mexico and Canada, standard video streaming, and access to AT&T’s 5G network where available.

Ultimately, while each business’s needs are different, AT&T provides a solid plan for companies and their mobile connection.

Check out AT&T Business Plans

5G Plans

Verizon Wireless logo stock image 6

As mentioned above, there’s a lot of crossover between this section and the unlimited plans section. The best cell phone plans summarized in that section are the most premium packages you can get from the biggest carriers in the US, so they all include 5G connectivity if you have a compatible device. If you’re looking for the best 5G plans out there, you should give all of those options some consideration. 

That said, MVNOs usually offer simpler and more affordable plans without the long contracts of the big four carriers, and 5G access is available on these providers if you know where to look. So consider this rundown as more of a summary of the 5G alternatives out there.

See also: 5G plans in the US — What are your options?

Metro by T-MobileGoogle FiMint MobileUS Mobile
Price per month
Metro by T-Mobile:
$60
Google Fi:
$70
Mint Mobile:
$25 for three months
$45 thereafter
US Mobile:
$65
Talk and text
Metro by T-Mobile:
Unlimited
Google Fi:
Unlimited
Mint Mobile:
Unlimited
US Mobile:
Unlimited
Data
Metro by T-Mobile:
Unlimited
Deprioritzation after 35GB
Google Fi:
Unlimited
Mint Mobile:
12GB
US Mobile:
Unlimited
Deprioritzation after 50GB
Hotspot
Metro by T-Mobile:
15GB
Google Fi:
Unlimited
Mint Mobile:
Unlimited (within data allocation)
US Mobile:
10GB
Extras
Metro by T-Mobile:
100GB Google One cloud storage
Amazon Prime
Google Fi:
100GB Google One cloud storage
Mint Mobile:

US Mobile:
Disney Plus
Netflix
And more

Metro by T-Mobile

Being on the T-Mobile network, all Metro plans have access to 5G. Plans start from $40 per month, and the cheapest unlimited data plan is $50 per month. On that plan, you also get 100GB of cloud storage with Google One. We’ve highlighted the top package, which is $60 per month. Thanks to the extra 10GB mobile hotspot and Amazon Prime membership, we’re calling it the best option.

The button below takes you to the Metro by T-Mobile plans.

Google Fi

Also on the T-Mobile network, Google’s Project Fi plans offer 5G coverage. Where these plans are a bit pricier than Metro, they’re also more flexible. One user can get a plan for as little as $20 per month, though you pay $10 per GB of data, so it’s not right for a 5G plan. The Unlimited Plus plan is $70 per month, but you can make big savings when adding more than one line. For example, it’s $150 per month for three unlimited lines. You can also try the Simply Unlimited plan with a pared-down set of features for $60 per month.

Find out more about Google Fi plans here, or follow the link below to check them out for yourself.

Mint Mobile

All Mint Mobile plans also have access to the T-Mobile 5G network, and they couldn’t be simpler. You can choose from 4GB, 10GB, or 15GB of data, and the introductory three-month plans start from just $15. There is a brand new unlimited plan, so you can hop on the 5G train at a great price, and you won’t have to worry about your data cap.

Our Mint Mobile page goes into more detail, or the button below takes you to Mint’s plan page.

US Mobile

US Mobile finally has widespread 5G access, and you don’t even have to pay extra for it. The carrier initially offered its top speeds as part of an early access program, but now it appears to be a feature rather than an extra. As always, you can build your very own plan with as much or as little data as you please, or you can go for US Mobile’s powerful unlimited plan with its extra perks.

You can check out our US Mobile in-depth analysis or head straight to US Mobile via the link below.

International traveler plans

It’s fair to say that what your carrier can offer in terms of coverage and prices abroad isn’t likely to be the top of most people’s concerns right now. Still, if you’re signing up for a two-year plan, you’d hope to get the chance to travel well before the end of it, whether it be for business or pleasure. 

If you’re planning to spend a significant amount of time in any one country, you might find it works out cheaper to buy a local prepaid SIM card. There was a time when carriers didn’t really offer much in the way of perks for travelers, and you just had to suck up extortionate roaming charges if you wanted to use your phone while abroad. Thankfully, many providers now recognize that the world is getting smaller, and most of them now offer international travel perks to keep you using your plan. We’ve picked out some of the best cell phone plans for travelers here.

Related: Ready to see the world? Here are the best travel gadgets to get

If you’re hoping to start or resume a jet-setting lifestyle, be aware that you’ll really want a GSM-network compatible phone. In the US, Verizon and US Cellular are CDMA carriers, but the rest of the world mostly relies on the GSM network. This is phone-specific, though, so many of the best phones can handle both bands, even if you’re on a Verizon plan. Plus, it’s likely that if you buy a SIM-free or unlocked phone, it will be GSM compatible. In any event, you should always check before you head off on your trip. 

T-MobileVerizonGoogle Fi
Plan price per month
T-Mobile:
$70-$85
Verizon:
$70-$90
Google Fi:
$70
Mexico and Canada
T-Mobile:
Unlimited talk and text
5GB of 4G LTE data, then unlimited 2G
Verizon:
Unlimited talk and text
500MB per day of 4G LTE data, then unlimited 2G
Google Fi:
Unlimited texts and high-speed data
Calls for $0.20 per minute
Rest of world
T-Mobile:
Unlimited 2G data and texting
Calls for $0.25 per minute
Verizon:
$10 Travel Pass to use your domestic plan abroad.
Data speeds slowed after 500MB per day

Google Fi:
Unlimited texts and high-speed data
Calls for $0.20 per minute

T-Mobile

All T-Mobile unlimited plans offer free international texting, but the Magenta and Magenta Plus plans also offer unlimited data. The caveat is that it’s at 2G speeds — 128kbps on Magenta for $70 per month and 256kbps on Magenta plus, which is $85 per month for one line. The simplicity of the plan is appealing, but it means your standard plan isn’t great for much more than browsing. Calls back home from abroad are $0.25 per minute. There’s a bit more freedom on the Magenta and Magenta Plus plans in Mexico and Canada, with 5GB of 4G LTE data per month before your speeds are slowed.

T-Mobile also offers International Passes for an extra monthly payment. There are 5GB and 15GB International Passes that let you enjoy that amount of high-speed data. The 5GB pass lasts 10 days and costs $35, while the 15GB pass lasts 30 days and costs $50. A nice extra travel perk from T-Mobile is Gogo in-flight texting and Wi-Fi. You get one hour of Wi-Fi on the Magenta plan and unlimited on the Magenta Plus plan.

We’ve only given the travel details in this section, and obviously, you shouldn’t judge the plans based on this aspect alone. Our T-Mobile plans page outlines what each plan offers, or head to T-mobile via the link below.

Verizon

All Unlimited Verizon plans include unlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada, plus 500MB of 4G LTE data per day, after which speeds are slowed to 2G.

Verizon offers the TravelPass, a daily fixed fee to use your domestic plan allowances abroad if you’re going further afield. The cost is $5 per day for Mexico and Canada (if you’re not on an unlimited plan) or $10 per day in more than 185 other countries. Data is curtailed in the same way that it is on the unlimited plan in Mexico and Canada. So after using 500MB of high-speed data each day, you’re slowed to 2G speeds.

See also: The best travel apps for Android

You can pick up monthly passes if you don’t want to pay by the day during an extended trip. Monthly passes cost $70 for 100 minutes of talk, 100 texts, and 0.5GB of high-speed data. For $130 per month, you can up that to 250 minutes of talk, 1,000 texts, and 2GB of data.

For a more rounded analysis of each Verizon plan, head to our dedicated page or find out more about the TravelPass via the button below.

Google Fi

Though not one of the big carriers, Google Fi definitely offers one of the best cell phone plans for traveling abroad. No travel passes or throttling data speeds with Google Fi; you can simply use your plan abroad for largely the same cost as you do domestically. That means unlimited texts and data at no extra charge than you would pay in the US, and calls are $0.20 per minute.

The Flexible Google Fi plan is $20 per month, but an extra $10 per gig of data, though after using 6GB of data, you’ll be able to use a max of 20GB data without any further fees. The Unlimited Plus plan at $70 per month is a better bet if you use a lot of data. Just don’t look for the Simply Unlimited plan if you’re hoping to go abroad.

You can find out more details on our Google Fi page or check out the plans for yourself via the link below.

Best prepaid plans

Cricket Wireless stock photo 2
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

Prepaid plans have come a long way in recent years; prepaid is no longer just for those with poor credit or tight finances. They’re perfect for those who want more flexibility or the freedom to switch carriers when a better deal comes around.

There are essentially three types of prepaid providers: Those offered by the major carriers such as AT&T or Verizon; MVNOs such as Google Fi, which piggybacks on the networks of the big providers; and small outfits which are owned by the major carriers such as Metro by T-Mobile. If you’ve made it this far down the whole post, you’ll have already come across several great prepaid plans, and there are literally dozens of them out there. For a full rundown of the best prepaid cell phone plans, you’ll want to check out our dedicated page.

In this section, we’ll just give you a flavor of how some of the best cell phone plans of the prepaid variety stack up against each other. Bear in mind that each carrier below, except Visible, offers several tiers of prepaid plans, so if you like the provider’s look but want to see if there’s a better prepaid plan for your budget, be sure to use the links to find out more.

T-Mobile Simply PrepaidCricket WirelessVisibleMint Mobile
Price per month
T-Mobile Simply Prepaid:
$40 plus taxes and fees
Cricket Wireless:
$40 ($35 with AutoPay)
Visible:
$40 ($25 for first month)
Mint Mobile:
$35 ($20 for first three months)
Talk and text
T-Mobile Simply Prepaid:
Unlimited
Cricket Wireless:
Unlimited
Visible:
Unlimited
Mint Mobile:
Unlimited
Data
T-Mobile Simply Prepaid:
10GB
Cricket Wireless:
10GB
Visible:
Unlimited (slowed at times of network congestion)
Mint Mobile:
8GB
Hotspot
T-Mobile Simply Prepaid:
Shared with data allowance
Cricket Wireless:
No high-speed data
Visible:
Shared with data allowance
Mint Mobile:
Shared with data allowance

T-Mobile Simple Prepaid

The Simply Prepaid plan offers unlimited talk and texts, along with 10GB of 4G LTE data, for $40 a month for one line, with discounts when you add more lines. Taxes and fees aren’t included. Extra perks include scam-blocking protection, Wi-Fi calling, and Music Unlimited. For an extra $5 per month, you can add talk, text, and up to 5GB of 4G data in Mexico and Canada.

Find out more on our T-Mobile prepaid plans page or from the T-Mobile plans page via the link below.

Cricket Wireless

Cricket Wireless is an AT&T-owned carrier running on the AT&T network. You can bring your own device, assuming it’s compatible, or you can choose from one of Cricket’s own prepaid phones. Keep in mind that if you buy a phone from the carrier, you will have to keep it on the network for six months before you can unlock the phone and use it on another network. 

The featured Cricket plan offers 10GB 4G LTE data for $40 per month, which drops to $35 per month if you sign up for AutoPay. The plan includes HD voice and Wi-Fi calling with compatible phones.

Check out our Cricket Wireless page for a more extensive summary, or hit the button below to find the plans on offer from Cricket.

Visible

Visible is a recently launched carrier owned by Verizon and utilizes its 4G and 5G networks. It tries to do something different in that it has just one plan to choose from, with no other options or add-ons to make things confusing. There’s also no store to visit; Visible is only available on its official website or Visible app. Our own Andrew Grush gave Visible a shot, and you can read about his experience right here.

There’s just one Visible prepaid plan: $40 a month with no taxes or fees. That price gets you unlimited talk, text, data, and hotspot support on that plan for your phone. Visible is also offering your first month of service for $25 as well as Party Pay, where you can share with friends, and you’ll each pay $25 per month for good. If you refer a friend, Visible will chop your bill down to just $5 per month each time someone joins.

For more info, check out our dedicated Visible plans page or the site itself via the link below.

Mint Mobile

Mint Mobile relies on T-Mobile’s nationwide network, which is only getting stronger due to the recent Sprint merger. This is a GSM network, so you should check that the phone you’re bringing is GSM compatible.

Mint offers three limited-data plans and an unlimited option, with the best-selling plan offering unlimited talk and text plus 10GB of 4G LTE or 5G data. This plan is usually $25 per month, but the first three months are just $60 total, with no obligation to renew afterward.  You also have access to T-Mobile’s 5G network. 

We dive into everything about Mint Mobile here, or you can check out the plans via the link.

The best phone plan deals

On top of discounts and perks, many carriers offer limited-time deals to try and acquire your business. These can be meager rates on specific plans or big savings on phones when you join the network. We’ve picked out some of the best deals on cell phone plans and phones around right now, and we’ll keep updating this page as enticing new offers arise. 

T-Mobile — Four unlimited lines for $105

Right now, you can set up four lines of unlimited service for just $105 total and get all of the bells and whistles. From the largest 5G network to T-Mobile Tuesdays, there’s a lot to like about switching.

You won’t have to hand in your device when you switch, but if you want a new phone, T-Mobile will help you pay off your old one up to $450. Lines five and six — should you need them — will cost $24 and $23, respectively.

Hit the widget below to find this deal, or you can check out a whole handful of other great offers on our dedicated T-Mobile deals page.

AT&T — Save $700 on an iPhone 12

If you’re already thinking about a switch to AT&T, there are plenty of great promotions right now to sweeten the deal. Among other phone offers, if you switch providers and trade in an eligible phone, you can get as much as $700 off the iPhone 12 series. Those savings would effectively make the Mini free, and other versions cost as little as $3.33 per month.

The widget below takes you to these specific deals, or you can explore what else is currently on offer from AT&T on our full rundown page.

You can find even more deals here:

The best Carrier-specific plans

The T-Mobile logo at MWC 2018.

Many of the best cell phone plans of each separate carrier in the US have already come up in this rundown, from the all-encompassing Verizon Get More Unlimited plan for pretty much every perk a cell phone plan can offer, to the most affordable, bare-bones plans of US Mobile. However, we know your time is precious, and you might just be curious about the best plan that each carrier has to offer. This section will briefly outline each provider’s best cell phone plans, along with links to our dedicated plan pages for each carrier you can visit for more info.

Verizon — Get More Unlimited — $90 per month for one line

Plans don’t come any more premium than the Get More Unlimited plan from Verizon. You get 720p streaming, 75GB of premium 4G data, and 30GB of 4G hotspot. It also offers perks such as Apple Music, Disney Plus, one year of Discovery Plus, 500GB of cloud storage, and a half-off tablet offer. As with all Verizon plans, you can text to over 200 countries too.

AT&T — Unlimited Elite — $85 per month for one line

The most expensive of the three AT&T Unlimited plans, Unlimited Elite, costs $85 a month for one line or $200 for four lines. The Elite tier will throw in 40GB of free high-speed mobile hotspot data a month, 5G access with compatible devices, and a high-definition video streaming experience. Finally, the Elite plan grants users access to HBO and HBO Max.

T-Mobile — Magenta Max — $85 per month for one line

If you want the biggest and best that T-Mobile offers, Magenta Max is the way to go. One line costs $85 per month, two lines are $70 each, and a third line is free. It provides unlimited Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi and texting, plus Scam Shield Premium to block or screen calls you may not want. You can stream up to 20GB of 4G LTE hotspot data, but after that, you’ll drop to 3G speeds. Plans with two or more lines include Netflix Standard free for a year.

US Cellular — Even Better — $80 per month for one line

The Even Better plan offers unlimited talk, text, data, and streaming at 1080p Full HD quality. You also get 30GB hotspot data, 50GB priority data, and two Redbox rentals per line per month. If you’re roaming in Mexico or Canada, you can use 1GB of data, 200 minutes, and 200 texts. The Even Better plan starts at $80 for one line of service, but it drops as low as $50 per line per month if you have four lines of service.

Boost — Unlimited Plus — $60 per month for one line

The Boost Unlimited Plus plan also offers streaming quality at 1080p, music up to 1.5Mbps, and gaming up to 8Mbps. On top of the unlimited talk, text, and data, your hotspot data allocation is 30GB.

Mint Mobile — Unlimited Plan— $30 per month during the introductory period or on the 12-month plan

Mint just launched its unlimited data plan, and it is one of the most affordable MVNOs out there. You get unlimited talk and text, plus a mobile hotspot. Free calling to Mexico and Canada is also included, and 5G-access is available on T-Mobile’s large nationwide network.

Google Fi — Unlimited Plus Plan — $70 per month

Google Fi offers three plans, with the Unlimited Plus Plan giving you unlimited data for a fixed price. It also includes a Google One subscription that provides 100GB of cloud storage for free. You can make considerable savings by buying more than one line for a whole family, too. Keep in mind that “unlimited data” is high-speed up to 22GB but slows down beyond that point. As mentioned in the traveler section, Google Fi is a great plan for going abroad as you can use your text and data allocation as normal, with low-cost call rates. You can also check out the Simply Unlimited plan for some budget-friendly unlimited service at $60 per month.

Metro by T-Mobile — Unlimited High-Speed — $60 per month

The best cell phone plans from Metro by T-Mobile plan offer unlimited talk, text, and data, though Metro may slow you down in periods of high network congestion once you go past 35GB of data usage for the month. The Unlimited High-Speed plan comes with a host of nice extra perks, such as a 15GB mobile hotspot, 100GB of Google One cloud storage, and an Amazon Prime subscription. However, video streams are capped at 480p SD.

Cricket Wireless — Unlimited Plus 15 GB Mobile Hotspot — $60 per month

The top Cricket plan costs $60 a month, or $55 a month with AutoPay billing. You get unlimited talk, text, and data, with no restrictions on download speeds, in principle. However, Cricket does say you may temporarily experience slower speeds if your local network is congested. You also get 15GB of high-speed mobile hotspot data a month with this plan. The plan supports video streaming at 480p, plus roaming in Mexico and Canada for calls, texts, and data. You can also send unlimited texts to 37 countries too.

Xfinity Mobile — Unlimited Plan — $45 per month

If you have an Xfinity Internet connection, then you can take advantage of Xfinity Mobile. While this is much cheaper than some unlimited data packages, there are caveats. Streaming is SD, and you don’t get the higher-quality cellular service in times with high network traffic perk that the cheaper Xfinity plan offers, although you can purchase an HD pass to get it. As well as the potential to be slowed at times of network congestion, you get reduced speeds after 20GB of usage per line. Xfinity will also give you a discount for each line of service you add to your account.

US Mobile Unlimited — $45 per month

US Mobile plans now include a revamped unlimited plan, which is $45 for top 4G and 5G speeds. That gets you at least 50GB of high-speed data a month, with downloads of up to 200Mbps. If, for some reason, you go over 50GB of data before your monthly billing period ends, you might get slowed. You also get up to 10GB of high-speed 4G LTE roaming data per month in over 140 countries with this plan.

Visible — Unlimited Plan — $40 per month ($25 for the first month)

Visible keeps things simple plan-wise by offering just one. It’s $40 per month with an introductory rate of $25 for the first month, and it offers unlimited talk, text, data, and hotspot. The caveats are that mobile hotspot speeds are capped at 5Mbps and limited to one tethered device at a time, and the unlimited data allowance can be slowed at any time of network congestion.

Spectrum Mobile — Unlimited Plan — $45 per month

Like Xfinity, you have to be a Spectrum Internet customer to enjoy Spectrum Mobile. The Unlimited plan offers unlimited talk, text, and data on 4G and — where available — 5G networks. You can also use a mobile hotspot on the Unlimited plan, though speeds will slow to 600Kbps after reaching the 5GB threshold in your billing cycle. Spectrum Mobile allows for DVD-quality streaming, which typically means 480p. Other Spectrum Mobile perks include free international texting from the US and 2,000 minutes of combined monthly calling to Canada and Mexico. If you need more than that, Spectrum offers low international roaming rates for your next adventure.

Unlocked phones vs carrier phones

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Sony Xperia 1 III, OnePlus 9 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max side by side
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

You might ponder whether to buy an unlocked phone to bring to a network or to get one as part of your plan when you sign up. We can help you decide. In general, a carrier phone — also known as a locked phone — is sold through a wireless carrier or a third-party partner (such as Best Buy, for example). When you buy the phone, it is already attached to your wireless account or will immediately attach when you first set it up.

Carrier phones are almost always locked to that carrier; you can’t buy a phone through AT&T and immediately take it to Verizon. This lockdown can be removed, but there are usually significant requirements involved. It also depends on the carrier, with Verizon being one of the few carriers that doesn’t lock its postpaid phones.

Unlocked phones are devices you buy without a carrier involved. This could be buying directly from the manufacturer or through a third-party retailer (such as Amazon). Unlocked phones usually come with no SIM card and no prerequisite to sign up with any particular carrier. As the name suggests, unlocked phones are not bound to any particular carrier, so you can feel free to bounce from one carrier to another as you see fit.

So, which is better? Well, a carrier-locked phone has three main advantages.

Firstly, you rarely have to pay for the phone in full up front as the carrier will let you split the phone cost across the length of your plan. In fact — and this is the second perk — on the best cell phone plans, you won’t have to pay the full retail price at all. Carriers know that it’s much more profitable to get you locked into an 18- or 24-month contract than to sell you a full-price phone. So you’ll regularly see carriers, especially the major players, offering deals when you switch that get you a $1,000 phone for half-price or less across the life of your plan. 

Finally, there are some phones which you can only get as carrier phones. The LG V60 above is a great example. You might find it online unlocked somewhere, but only once it’s been through another party’s hands. LG doesn’t sell this phone unlocked yet and doesn’t appear to intend to do so soon.

Interested in going the carrier route? Here’s a link to the best carrier-specific phones:

Prefer to go with a prepaid carrier? We have a list for that too:

Unlocked phones have the obvious benefit of freedom. Pay for them outright, but then you can do what you like with them. You can bring them to the prepaid plan of one carrier, then cut from it if the plan isn’t working for you and try another. You’re also not restricted to the phones that the carrier in question offers. Plus, you can buy a refurbished device to make significant savings. Some carriers have even caught on to the popularity of this approach and offer refurbished phones as options in their online stores.

But be warned, a disadvantage of buying unlocked is that certain phones don’t support specific network bands. This can be complicated for buyers who don’t know all about the differences between types of networks (CDMA vs GSM, for example) or which bands their carrier predominantly uses in their area. This can be especially confusing when importing devices from other countries. In general, you should do a lot of research on a device before buying it to ensure it will work the way you expect it to.

You can dive much further into the pros and cons of carrier vs unlocked phones in our expert analysis on the subject, but those are the key differences. If you’ve already decided that an unlocked device is the way you want to go, then our best phone deals hub is regularly updated on the best deals on unlocked phones from around the web. Also, be sure to check out our guide to the very best Android phones.