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AT&T adds new international roaming plans

After announcing Canada and Mexico plans in June, the carrier will introduce international calling plans for Europe and other global regions.

From Sydney to Santiago, save money when making calls abroad. Kent German/CNET

AT&T today announced new international roaming plans that will go into effect tomorrow. The Europe and Rest of World options will join the Canada and Mexico plans that the carrier announced last June.

For each region, customers can choose one of three packages that delivers a set amount of minutes for a flat monthly rate. Of course, going over your allotment will result in hefty overage fees and exact coverage will vary by country. Also, keep in mind you'll need a quad-band handset that supports the 900 and 1800 GSM networks that are used outside the United States.

AT&T says that the Europe Travel Minutes package covers more than 40 countries on the continent, with the Rest of World Travel Minutes plan spanning most other countries in Asia, the Caribbean, South America, Africa, and Australia. There are some significant gaps, but most popular travel destinations should be covered. See AT&T's site for the complete list.

On the whole, the calling plan should save you money, especially if you're going to make a lot of calls. Consider that without an international rate plan, the carrier's standard roaming rates range from $1.39/minute in most European countries to $4.99/minute for less-traveled destinations like Botswana.

Here's how the different plans break down.

Canada and Mexico Travel Minutes
80 minutes of talk time for $30 per month
200 minutes of talk time for $60 per month
500 minutes of talk time for $120 per month
50 cents per minute overage rate

Europe Travel Minutes
30 minutes of talk time for $30 per month
80 minutes of talk time for $60 per month
200 minutes of talk time for $120 per month
$1 per minute overage rate

Rest of World Travel Minutes
15 minutes of talk time for $30 per month
40 minutes of talk time for $60 per month
100 minutes of talk time for $120 per month
$2.00 per minute overage rate

Data and messaging
Smartphone users and texters can opt for data and messaging plans, as well. The Global Messaging 600 package, which is replacing the existing Global Messaging 500 plan, lets you send up to 600 text, picture and video messages in 140 countries for $60 per month. Without it, you'll pay 50 cents per sent text message and $1.30 per sent multimedia message. Alternatively, less prolific communicators can go for the Global Messaging 200 package (200 messages for $30 per month) or the Global Messaging 50 plan (50 messages for $10 per month).

Also beginning Friday, AT&T customers who have a 300MB or 800MB Data Global Add-On package can use the AT&T Wi-Fi International app to access up to 1GB of free data each month when using AT&T Wi-Fi hot spots in 13 countries (see the carrier's Web site for hotspot locations).

Before you go
When using your phone abroad, always keep careful track of your usage to avoid a nasty bill shock when you get home. Also, take note of this tips before you leave on a jet plane.

  • Calls to voice mail will incur all applicable fees, and you'll need to enter your password to access your voice mail. On the other hand, calls to your carrier's customer service are typically free.
  • The method for making local calls in each country will vary, so make sure you know how to do so. Also, remember that emergency-dial numbers will be different from 911.
  • When in a foreign country, you will have to use the appropriate country and area codes for calls back to the States.
  • When roaming, the name of the local carrier will appear on your phone's display. Your phone will be locked to AT&T's specific roaming partners in each country.
  • Your phone should automatically search for and select a network in each country, but you may have to do this yourself through your phone's menus or by turning your handset off and on again. You also should receive a text message from your carrier warning you that you're now roaming internationally.
  • For data access, your phone must support international data networks. For example, while Europe uses the 2,100MHz UMTS (GSM) band for 3G speeds, the United States uses the 1,900MHz band. Check that your phone is compatible (the iPhone 5 is, for example). Similarly, not only is LTE coverage much more limited outside the United States, but AT&T's current LTE phones won't support international LTE networks.
  • Don't forget an electrical plug adapter for your phone charger.
  • If you want to forgo international roaming completely, a cheap and easy option is to take an unlocked phone and use a local prepaid SIM card.