AT&T today announced "new roaming benefits" that will let AT&T customers use their plans (including calls, text, and high-speed data) while traveling in Mexico and Canada just as if they were in the USA.
But things aren't nearly as simple as they should be.
Not all AT&T plans qualify, the rules are different for Canada than Mexico, and even many of those who do qualify will not get this new feature automatically - you may actually need to explicitly add this "free" new perk to your account before you travel or else you risk the potential for outrageous international roaming charges.
Here are the details...
AT&T Mexican Roaming:
Mexican roaming is coming to new and existing AT&T customers who have a Mobile Share Value Plan with 15GB ($100/mo) and larger data allotments.
Beginning on May 20th - these Mobile Share Value Plans will gain Mexican roaming automatically, allowing you to make calls, send text messages, and use as much of your monthly data allotment as you want in Mexico - including at full speed in areas where AT&T's roaming partners have LTE coverage.
Calls to/from Mexico will be treated just like calls to/from US numbers - making things easy while traveling south of the border.
AT&T is adding this feature to both consumer and business lines that meet the requirements.
But it does not appear as if older grandfathered in plans will be getting access to this Mexican Roaming feature, so if you are heading to Mexico you may be tempted to give up any old unlimited lines you might still have - or to increase your existing shared plan to be at least 15GB/mo.
Mobile Share Vale Plans with less than 15GB/mo are still eligible for AT&T's Mexico Roaming Bonus, which was launched in November 2015. This free feature must be added to each line in advance of a trip, and it unlocks free Mexican talk and text and 1GB of data usage per line.
If you do happen have one of AT&T's new DirecTV-linked unlimited plans, you do also get roaming in Mexico too... And Canada!
But not automatically.
Read on to learn what you need to do before you travel south.
AT&T Canadian Roaming - DirecTV Customers Only:
AT&T is limiting free Canadian roaming to only customers who have the new AT&T Unlimited Data Plan, which is ONLY available to customers who also subscribe to DirecTV.
No DirecTV, no free roaming in Canada.
But if you do have one of these new AT&T / DirecTV Unlimited Data Plans - now you have access to Unlimited Data in Canada and Mexico too!
AT&T will treat usage in Canada or Mexico exactly the same as usage in the USA, with unlimited voice calling and text messaging, and unlimited data too - but with the same potential for decreased speeds after 22GB of usage in a month.
But AT&T wants to make it clear that the plan is only good for short trips - if you are a snowbird who is going to be north or south of the border for more than a month or two, you risk getting cut off. AT&T's fine print says:
"If talk, text or data usage in Mexico and/or Canada exceeds 50% for two consecutive billing cycles, AT&T may remove roaming feature. After 22GB of data usage, including in Mexico and Canada, AT&T may slow speeds."
Unlimited data across North America is indeed a killer feature.
But getting this roaming benefit for those who have the AT&T Unlimited Plan is not automatic.
Before you travel to Canada or Mexico, you need to explicitly add the free "AT&T Roam North America" feature individually to each and every smartphone and tablet unlimited data line that you want to be covered.
There is no additional charge for activating this roaming feature, but AT&T insists on making its customers jump through hoops - perhaps hoping that many will forget and end up paying the price.
The Roam North America feature can be added to supported Unlimited accounts through the myATT portal at www.att.com, or by calling AT&T. Just remember to do so BEFORE your trip.
And do remember - these AT&T Unlimited plans do NOT support tethering, or sharing data by creating a personal hotspot.
T-Mobile Does It Better
As nice as it is to see AT&T expanding North American roaming options - it only illustrates how much better T-Mobile's Mobile Without Borders feature is, which gives ALL T-Mobile customers full voice and text roaming and access to their data plans throughout Canada and Mexico, including high-speed data.
And with T-Mobile - there are no hoops to jump through, features to add, or separate TV package that must be subscribed to.
It just works.
We just got back from a three week trip through Canada, and our $35/mo T-Mobile 6GB tablet plan roamed on to every carrier we ran across, giving us LTE speeds and the best possible coverage as we traveled.
And best of all - we could share this data to get all of our other devices online.
And our Sprint phone roamed seamlessly too with the One World feature enabled - giving us voice calling and 1GB of relatively slow 3G data to use.
Our AT&T phones however were mostly useless in Canada, and this new roaming benefit wouldn't have helped.
It is nice to see that AT&T is getting better when it comes to international roaming, but unless you have DirecTV - AT&T still leaves a lot to be desired.
- AT&T Unlimited Data is Back – But Only For DirecTV Subscribers
- AT&T Adds Mexico Roaming Bonus to Mobile Share Plans
- T-Mobile “Mobile Without Borders” Extends Coverage to Canada & Mexico
- Verizon Introduces TravelPass - Lets you use your domestic plan for $2/day while traveling in Canada & Mexico.
- Sprint Open World - Free optional feature for Sprint plans that gives 1GB/mo of 3G data in Canada & Mexico.
- Also, check out the updated International Travel chapter in the 2016 edition of The Mobile Internet Handbook.