If you live in the United States you know that T-Mobile offers cheap cell phone service. And within the U.S. you get what you pay for: cell coverage that’s not great. But if you travel internationally T-Mobile has really changed the game by offering free texting and data service in over 120 countries, and calls for 20 cents a minute. This means that when you land in Egypt, Spain, Vietnam, Peru or Trinidad, as soon as you turn on your phone you will get a friendly text message from T-Mobile informing you that your service is free.

Why is this t-mobile service so valuable?

Texting: ever worry about getting separated from someone you are traveling with and have no way to contact them? Free SMS services means you are in touch whenever you want. You don’t have to go find wifi to send a message, and then hope they can also find wifi to receive it.

This is also an important part of connecting with locals. In Turkey last year (before this T-Mobile plan was offered) I was invited to have dinner and stay the night with a woman and her daughter who I met on a boat trip. She gave me careful directions but I still managed to get lost. If I had been able to text her I would have saved the hour I spent wandering the streets with my heavy backpack trying to locate the landmarks she’d told me to look for.

Data: For me data is tremendously useful for tourism. Maps are accurate and searchable, and I can pull up various travel tools to find good restaurants, and research information about various places I’m visiting.

When I ran into a wiWine and food winne and cava festival in Barcelona while visiting the Arc de Triomf I wasn’t sure what exactly I was in line to buy (but I figured if it involved wine it had to be good). I was able to pull up the festival information on my phone so that I was informed enough to buy tickets by the time I got to the window.

Phone calls: I don’t think this is a big added value. When I want to make calls internationally I just use skype over wifi on my phone. My $3/month plan covers all of my calling needs. But in an emergency, or if you can’t get good enough wifi to make a call, 20 cents per minute is a pretty good deal for flat rate international calling.

I don’t work for t-mobile or have any financial interest in them. And in fact I only used them in the United States because they are cheap. But with this free international service I’ve become a big fan.