Our January visit to Turkey was our first overseas trip since switching from Verizon to T-Mobile. As we’ve written before, using Verizon overseas proved to be a nightmare.

As a result, we recently switched over to T-Mobile almost entirely because it touts international data capabilities — basically our plan allows us to access our data allotment overseas in over 140 countries. (I have an iPhone 6s and Laura uses an iPhone 5s.)

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The gist of what happened is this: One of our phones easily connected, while the other did not. We then repeatedly had to keep calling T-Mobile trying to get them to activate the other phone. It was a frustrating experience that shouldn’t have happened, and that wasted our time.

Here’s how it played out:

Before the trip:

A few days before we departed, Laura went to the T-Mobile store by our house to make sure we were good to go. They told her to call customer service, which she did and was told she didn’t need to do anything; international roaming should just automatically work.

Upon arrival:

We arrived in Istanbul at night, in a snow storm, with Laura’s parents relying on us to find our hotel. On the metro ride into town I tried to get my phone to work, but it just wouldn’t connect. I kept playing with the roaming settings, and turning my phone on and off, but to no avail.

Luckily, Laura’s phone connected, which made it possible to use Google Maps to find our hotel.

Over the next several days:

After my phone failed to connect for about a day Laura called T-Mobile on her phone (mine couldn’t even make the free 611 call to customer service). They told her that for some reason my phone had some sort of hold, but assured her that they removed it.

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And soon thereafter my phone finally connected! It was great and I figured a minor problem was resolved.

But I was wrong. The next day my phone disconnected again. This time I called T-Mobile and was frustrated by a customer service rep who insisted I go through the steps of shutting off my phone and playing with the settings. It finally came out that the hold had somehow come back on, but it was a frustrating call during which I got the sense that the customer service rep was trying to avoid telling me everything.

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My phone worked for the rest of the day, but finally that night it cut out a third time. I went through the whole thing yet again, and finally my phone started working. And this time it finally stuck!

This shouldn’t have happened.

I get that there are sometimes weird glitches with phone service, but there’s no reason it should have dragged on. Plus, international data is the whole point of having T-Mobile. If you have to fight to get it to work every day, it kind of defeats that point.

Because we were traveling together this wasn’t ultimately a huge deal. But if I had been traveling alone — say, if I’d switched over before my trip to Paris in December — it would’ve been highly problematic. And in any case, I can’t really recommend a service that only worked half the time.

The actual cell service was…okay.

T-Mobile in Turkey was fast enough to use Google Maps, check email, and very slowly visit websites. The company is upfront about having slow speeds overseas, so that was fine and expected. There’s also an option to pay extra for faster speeds, though I haven’t tried it.

My biggest quarrel was that connecting to Turkey’s networks drained my battery very quickly, sometimes within a couple of hours (my phone is brand new). I have a pretty powerful supplemental battery that can do several charges, but even that wasn’t enough to get me through a day. In fact, my battery was dying so quickly I worried my phone was broken (it wasn’t).

I don’t know how much culpability T-Mobile has in this problem, if any. Still, I never had battery problems while using my Verizon iPhone 5 in Iceland, England, and France.

In the end, I wasn’t especially happy with T-Mobile. I’m not ready to abandon the company the way I was with Verizon, but the lesson seems to be that American travelers who want international data don’t actually have a lot of great options from carriers back home.

— Jim Dalrymple II

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Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Editor in Chief of Tripping Over the World. Also, reporter at BuzzFeed News.

4 comments

  1. My boyfriend and I both have T Mobile and took our Galaxy S3’s on a 5 week backpacking trip through Europe last year with the hope of being able to use the international data plan and we couldn’t get either of our phones to connect to a network the whole time we were there! They told us we were good to go before we left and I had my parents contact them once we were over there to get it fixed and they took a “hold” or something of the sorts off our phones and it STILL wouldn’t connect. We tried everything! It was extremely frustrating and left us a bit sour on the whole international data thing. Fortunately, WiFi is not too difficult to come by in Europe and offline maps saved us. Maybe our phones were too old or something, but it definitely wasn’t all it cracked up to be. We have S6’s now so I suppose we’ll try again next time we go out of the country. I’m glad you eventually got yours to connect! It’s a nice concept if it actually works 🙂

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