If you think your mobile phone bill is too damn high, you’re absolutely right. Like many people, I’ve always felt I was overpaying for mobile service. (Talk to IT departments at companies large and small, and many will tell you that despite significant corporate discounts, they also feel they pay too much. )
And there’s no doubt we’re all paying a lot. According to a J.D. Power report, the average U.S. monthly cell phone bill was a whopping $73 in 2014. Those are the most recent averages I could find, but if you look at data plans from the big four U.S. carriers, data plans start at around $50 a month, depending on how much data you’re buying, and head straight up from there.
Mobile service is cheaper in the developing world
You might think advanced North American infrastructure should make mobile service, cheaper, but apparently that isn’t how it works. In Thailand, for example, even the laziest tourist can buy a SIM card at the airport that offers 4GB of data over 15 days for around 700 Thai bhat, worth approximately $20. Two of those would give you 8GB of data over a month for about $40.
But wait, that’s just about the worst rate you can get. Buy in advance, and you can get a 30-day SIM card with 3GB of data and 30 minutes of calling for 429 bhat, about $12.50 USD. If you need more data (hey, everyone needs more data), that same 700 bhat ($20 USD) will get you 6GB of data and 50 minutes of calls. And that’s just the lazy person’s price. You can also buy a basic SIM card for almost nothing and top it up as needed to pay even less.
While Thailand may not be as big a country as the U.S., it has all kinds of terrain—from massive, crowded cities to remote mountains, islands and jungles. And my experience is that dtac’s service works better in Bangkok than AT&T does in San Francisco and better on the beach in Koh Samui than AT&T does in Stinson Beach, California.
Europe offers cheaper mobile service, too
Thailand is far from the only example. According to a recent Canadian survey of eight countries, the U.S. and Canada topped costs for most configurations. Prices in some European countries came in with prices almost 50 percent lower. That’s why you keep hearing stories of visiting Europeans finding it cheaper to keep their own local service deals and roaming in North America for as long as the they can get away with it.
My own mobile contract is about to run out, and with U.S. carriers finally turning away from subsidizing new phone purchases, I’m looking to find a better price to satisfy my ever-increasing mobile-data needs. Please don’t tell me I have to move to Thailand!