US Cell Phone Carriers & Contracts
One of the first things you’ll likely want to do upon your arrival is secure cell phone service. After all, you’ll need cell service and mobile data to find your way around, schedule apartment viewings, and keep in touch with your loved ones.
How to Get Cell Service
The most common way to get cell phone service is to sign up for an automatically billed monthly plan, which will come with a given allowance of call minutes, data, and other features. These plans may or may not involve a contract, so be sure to read the fine print! Contracts most often last between one and two years, and if you decide to cancel your service early, you will have to pay a large fine. To entice you to sign a contract, many carriers will include perks such as a complimentary new cell phone or access to premium streaming services like Disney +. Additionally, if you have a family, many of these plans will offer discounts to bundle multiple lines together.
Another popular method is “prepaid,” in which you pay at the beginning of each month for only that month’s service. There is no commitment, and some carriers will lower the monthly fee the longer you stay with the carrier. The downside is that you are unlikely to enjoy any perks that often come with contract commitments. Prepaid plans (and their accompanying sim cards) can be purchased at cell carrier stores as well as Walmart, Target, and even convenience stores such as 7-11.
Top 3 Cell Phone Carriers
The US has many cell phone providers, but the largest companies and those with the best service coverage are T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T. Let’s take a closer look:
- Often rated the best all-around cell phone carrier for its balance of features and cost
- Often has the cheapest plans
- Excellent 5G coverage (250 million people nationwide)
- Excellent 5 G coverage (220 million people nationwide)
- Impressive perks when signing a contract
- Plans tend to be more expensive than those of T-Mobile
- Fast LTE speeds
- Less coverage than Verizon
- More expensive than T-Mobile
When choosing a carrier, check to see which has the best coverage in your area, then decide what’s most important to you in terms of perks, commitments, and cost.
Using a US Sim Card
Once you decide on a cell service method, your new carrier will give you a sim card. If you plan to use the sim card in a phone you already own, make sure the phone is “unlocked,” meaning it doesn’t have a technical restriction built into it, limiting its use to only the carrier who sold it. This is an important thing to check before you leave your home country. If your phone is locked, you can sometimes get your current carrier to unlock it for you.
Once you ensure your phone is unlocked, replace your current sim card with your new US sim card, and you are ready to go!