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International roaming charges when you’re on AT&T, Verizon, and to a lesser extent Sprint (but not T-Mobile), can be exceptionally expensive. The best option for cheap data is to buy a local SIM card when you arrive at your destination. But even that can be expensive if you’re on a tight budget (or crossing borders regularly). Most travel SIM cards, however, are a rip-off.
ChatSIM, at least on paper, is a deal too good to be true: $30 for a year of unlimited international messaging.
There’s a catch, of course. ChatSIM only lets you message using WhatsApp, Messenger, Line, and a few other services. There’s no web surfing, no photo uploads, just text-based messages.
I tried it out. Here’s what I found.
Planning a big trip? Check out 10 Things To Bring On Every International Flight (And 3 Things Not To), Is Verizon’s TravelPass Worth It?, Should You Pay in Local Or Home Currency When Traveling?, Are Travel SIM Cards Worth It?, Is Travel Insurance Worth It?, and The Best Cellular Plan for Travelers.
It’s important to be clear what ChatSIM is: It’s for checking in and chatting with your family and organizing meet-ups with new international friends, but not for browsing Facebook or uploading Snapchats (you’ll have to find WiFi for that). Many of the negative reviews I’ve read about ChatSIM seem confused by this basic premise. Whether or not you think this is worthwhile is a separate argument. It is what it is.
Except when it isn’t, but we’ll get to that.