Best International Sim Cards for American Expat ESL Teachers

By Editorial Staff •  Updated: 02/21/21 •  Teach Abroad

An American phone number is quite valuable thing and most beginner teachers who move abroad are surprised by how difficult it is to use specific US based services abroad without an American phone number.

You can and should get a local sim in whatever country you’re teaching abroad in as data prices around the world are much cheaper than the US (1 GB of data per day in Vietnam for example costs $2.80 a month) but your local Thai or Korean number won’t let you signup or log into specific services that are US based.

For example, M1 Finance is an American brokerage firm and without a US number you can’t even sign up. In addition, as two-factor authentication grows in popularity with apps like Google Authenticater or Microsoft Authenticator, having an American based phone number to access while abroad is essential for logging into any investment related brokerage accounts or online banking account.

International Sim Cards

That’s why here at Teach and GO we want to share with you what our expat teachers specifically use and recommend. We will explain your different options and their pros and cons to help you make the best decision. Let’s get to it:

Google Fi – Our Favorite E-sim Option

Google Fi tops our list because it provides the most long term flexibility and cost savings for US citizens abroad. With their e-sim functionality, you can use a local sim card in whatever country you’re abroad in but then switch over to your Google Fi sim card whenever you need to log into a secure account.

The catch? You must be in America to activate the sim card that Google Fi ships to your address. If you happen to be abroad already, the only work around is to have your family back home activate the Google Fi sim card for you and then internationally mail you the sim card in a phone it was activated in.

No you can’t activate the sim and then take it out and just ship the sim card. No you can’t activate the sim card and download the e-sim while abroad. So if you know you’re going to be teaching abroad, get Google Fi setup while you’re in America.

Now the positives of Google Fi are simply that you pay as you go. Brian, our editor typically pays about $10 a year to use Google Fi as he only turns it on when he need to log into something. Otherwise he uses his local Thai sim card day to day.



Google Fi

The best international sim option for Americans.

One Sim Card – The International Sim

Don’t want to deal with setting up Google Fi or bother getting a local sim card? Maybe you’re not American and don’t have access to Google Fi in the first place? Then we suggest taking a look at One Sim Card Universal. It’s an international sim card that gives you both a US number and a European number.

You get mobile data and calls in over 160 countries and it’s set as a pay as you go plan at around 1 cent per MB of data used. It’s a great sim card choice for any unlocked phone. Simply buy a plan, use it up and then top it up again.



T-Mobile – The Best US Carrier Choice

T-Mobile offers a few different international plans you can take advantage of as an American under their “magenta” plan. What we like about these plans is that you get 3GB of 4G data and then unlimited 3G data after you use up your 4G.

As it’s a US carrier your plan will work in the US and abroad with no issue. What we don’t like is how expensive this route is at around $70 or so a month. Yes they do have a lower priced “essentials” plan but you don’t get data. You need data for things like two-factor authentication which makes the essentials plan anything but.

However, if you’re set on using a US carrier for simplicity sake and want to keep your phone number then we suggest going with T-Mobile’s Magenta plan.



AT&T Passport – The Worst Choice

We love the branding behind AT&T Passport and were excited to finally see a carrier create a plan that appears to be aimed at US expats, but upon closer inspection we can’t recommend passport.

While it’s acceptable for someone going on a short 1 week trip somewhere, it’s not designed for long term expats as it’s unreasonably expensive.

For $70 or $140 you get 2GB or 6GB of data for the whole month. Not per day, per month and on top of that AT&T charges an exorbitant $30 fee for each GB you go over.

T-Mobile is expensive, but at least for their plans you get unlimited text and data. AT&T is simply ridiculously expensive and not providing enough value given their price point. The staff here at Teach and GO just want to bring this up so you don’t waste your time or money with AT&T passport.



Best international sim cards for expat teachers conclusion

So there you have it, our best suggestions on how you can keep a US phone number while living and working abroad as an English teacher. Keeping a US phone number grows more important so make sure you prepared.

We strongly suggest using Google Fi with a Google Pixel or iPhone and using a local sim. That way you can get an affordable data plan (typically $3-10 a month for 2GB a day believe it or not) but still have access to a US phone number on demand when you need it.

An easy option for non Pixel or iPhone users as well is to get a One Sim Card Universal. That way it’s one sim, one number that you can use in the US or abroad. More expensive than Google Fi, but nowhere near the price of T-Mobile or AT&T.

Editorial Staff

I'm David Unwin and I head the editorial staff here at Teach and GO. I've taught as an ESL teacher in Thailand for 5+ years at all levels of education, from elementary to University. I was also one of the first 1000 VIPKID teachers. I and my team now share my extensive experience as a teacher here at Teach and GO. Learn more.