T-Mobile $5 International Roaming: Worth Buying When Traveling Abroad?

T-Mobile’s free international roaming plan is no stranger to being raved about. It offers unlimited texting and “data at up to 2G speeds in 210+ countries”.  When traveling abroad and don’t have the interest or experience in swapping SIM cards it is a very convenient option. While the focus is on texting and wi-fi speeds, changes earlier this year dampen the value of it’s per minute calling rate which jumped to $.25 USD/min (from .20/minute). Enter the “$5” international add-on pass.

Is T-Mobile Throttling Data?

When I first started out with T-Mobile, I thought the data speed was good enough and I was able to pick up better than 2G speed. In my more recent travels, the data is throttled to 2G.  Rendering a simple site can take quite a bit of time, let alone wanting to use the GPS app to help with navigation.

This is where T-Mobile comes in with their “$5” international add-on pass.  The on-demand pass gives you 512MB of Internet and unlimited calling in 210+ countries in a 24-hour period.


First, this is a great option if you plan to make a lot of calls.  You’d come up ahead if plan to talk on the phone for more than 20 minutes in a 24-hour period.  However, I generally have a greater need for data.  With a data plan, you can also use GPS apps as well as VOIP calling apps like “Whatsapp”.

You don’t generally know how much data you have used up, until you get a message at the 80% usage mark.  When the data is used up while roaming, you’re back to 2G speed but you still have your access to the unlimited calling for the remainder of the pass.


A Couple of Quick Tips

  • Buy Pass: You can choose activate your pass immediately.  You can also schedule a specific date.

  • Reboot your device: After you purchase the plan, you will get a message to reboot your device.  While I don’t think this is necessary step since I can usually pick up faster speed after activation, I usually just reboot just to make sure that anything I do after is under the new plan.
  • Understand the limit: You can buy 2 international passes in a 24-hour period. If you use up all the data and need to buy a new one, you can buy another pass after you used up the first one.
  • Ignore confusing messages:  If you buy new pass, you would get an order confirmation text, followed immediately by a message that you have removed your international pass but you would be still billed for the pass (What?)  This was very confusing, but it turned out to be a confirmation that you’re removing your not-yet-expired international pass with a new one.

Bottom Line on International Roaming

The throttling of data to 2G speed for international roaming is frustratingly slow, making the benefit virtually useless these days.  The free texting is still good.  I’ve also used the $5 international pass a good number of times – the cost can add up quickly if you’re traveling for some days.

Is it worth it? Yes, it is a good option when you need access data quickly.  Since 512MB of data really isn’t much data allotment, here’s hope that someday  T-Mobile will offer the $5 plan with 1GB of data.


I’ve used it, have you?  If so, did you think it was worth it or did you end up using a different option?