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Buying a SIM Card or eSIM in the United States

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There’s nothing quite like traveling in the United States. It’s a massive, incredibly diverse country. The non-stop action of New York City. The wide-open plains of Montana. Bubbling springs at Yellowstone, muscle-bound beaches in Miami, and much, much more.

For a country that leads the world in technology, though, the prepaid SIM card market for international visitors has long been surprisingly confusing, limited, and expensive. With locked phones and post-paid plans the norm for locals, tourists have been poorly catered for.

Things have improved slightly in the last few years, but it’s still a far cry from regions like Southeast Asia or even Western Europe. All carriers have also started restricting which phones they’ll activate on their networks, so the situation looks likely to get worse rather than better in the near term.

Given those challenges, if you’re traveling to the United States and only need data, I now recommend you use a travel eSIM instead if your phone supports it. I talk more about that option below.

Whatever approach you take, though, here’s everything you need to know about staying connected in the United States.


  • I recommend T-Mobile for most travelers who want a local number
  • Also consider AT&T if you’re spending time in more remote areas
  • An eSIM from Nomad is the best option if you only need data

There are three main cell service providers in the United States: Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.

Note, though, that many older international phone models won’t get LTE service with any carrier, as the providers use different frequencies to most countries outside North America. 5G service with a non-US phone is even less likely.


Verizon (which has one of the largest networks) rolled out GSM-based LTE and 5G service in recent years that means some phones sold overseas, including recent iPhones, can now theoretically use its network.

I say theoretically, because like the other US carriers, Verizon operates a whitelist of approved devices that it will activate on its network. You can try to go through the process of checking your device here, although I’ve never had a lot of success with it.

Verizon prepaid service also costs more than the competition, so it’s hard to recommend it to international visitors even if you know your phone is compatible.


Of the other two companies, AT&T has the largest (and often, most congested) network, offering coverage throughout most of the continental United States (map).

It’s a big country, though. If you’re planning on road-tripping through lightly-populated states like Idaho, Montana, and a few others, you’ll still hit some very large dead spots.

AT&T has shut down its 3G network, leaving LTE and 5G as the only remaining options. Coupled with this, the company has issued a short whitelist (pdf) of devices that are permitted to be activated on its network.

Anything else isn’t allowed, even if you buy from an AT&T reseller like Cricket. iPhones are on the list, but if you’re an Android user, most non-US models aren’t supported.


T-Mobile has less coverage in rural areas (map), with particularly large gaps in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Montana, Utah, and eastern California. On the upside, downloads will often be reasonably fast when you do have service, typically exceeding AT&T’s speeds in major cities.

T-Mobile has also shut down its 3G network, so just like AT&T, LTE and 5G are now the only options available. That’s true whether you want voice, text, or data, and any phone that doesn’t support Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) can’t be activated on the T-Mobile network.

That’s definitely not as restrictive as AT&T’s policy, but may still cause a few problems for international visitors and locals who have older phones.

With most of my trips to the US largely confined to the cities, coverage areas haven’t been a major problem with either AT&T or T-Mobile. Pricing and data allowances have typically been quite similar, and in my experience, knowledge and service levels of the in-store staff have been much better with T-Mobile.


There are several resellers of service on both networks. Prices are typically only slightly less than buying directly from the provider, often with data speed limits, poor customer service, and in some cases, purchasing difficulties for overseas visitors without a local address or credit card.

That said, it can be worth calling into a Walmart and seeing what’s available, as you may find discounted deals on offer from the cheaper providers.

You’ll need to activate the SIM card yourself, and don’t expect much in the way of customer support, but on the upside there’ll likely be fewer ID requirements to go with it.

Note that US providers seem to treat 4G and 5G as marketing terms, often unrelated to actual technical standards. Don’t necessarily believe what’s showing at the top of your phone screen!

eSIMs for the United States


Given all of the restrictions around which phones can be used on which network, plus the fact that local prepaid prices aren’t all that great in the US to start with, most visitors are better off using a travel eSIM instead.

Of the companies out there I’ve used and am happy to recommend, Nomad has the best pricing. It’s better value than the physical SIM options, works as soon as you arrive, and because it’s technically international roaming, has none of the registration hassle either.

Like most travel eSIMs, it’s data-only: you don’t get a local number. I use apps for everything from communication to transport these days, so the lack of a local number very rarely matters to me, but you might have different needs.

If you’re new to eSIMs, they offer big benefits to travelers in terms of how quickly, easily, and (often) cheaply you can get connected when you arrive in a new country. Most recent phones support them, and you can read all about them here.


T-Mobile is one of the few phone companies anywhere in the world to offer local prepaid eSIMs to international visitors. Once installed and activated (which needs to be done within the US), you can buy any of their standard prepaid plans.

That includes those with a phone number and those without, so it’s an easy way of getting a local number if you need one. You could just use Google Voice instead (that’s what I do), but still, it’s good to have the option.

This page has all the details, but the basics are simple: download the app, provide basic contact and billing details, then activate the eSIM and a prepaid package.

It’s great in theory, but unfortunately the data-only prices are more expensive than what Nomad offers. Unless you want an extra-large data pack of more than 20GB for a month, there’s no real value in it.

If you want an eSIM with a local phone number, though, it’s definitely the way to go. While AT&T also offers an eSIM option, they hilariously insist on mailing the QR code to a physical address rather than just emailing it or showing it on the screen.

It’s also subject to same activation restrictions as its physical SIMs, so most international travelers won’t be able to use it anyway.

How to Buy a Prepaid SIM Card in United States

Selling prepaid SIM cards at international airports hasn’t really caught on in the US: I’ve flown into several in the country, and don’t recall seeing official kiosks or signage at any of them.

We’ve had a recent report that prepaid Lycamobile SIMs (on the T-Mobile network) are now available at InMotion stores, however, which operate in all of the major international US airports.

Plan choices are more limited and prices are higher than what you’d pay elsewhere, but the convenience may make it worthwhile for some.

If you’d prefer to wait until you’re outside the airport, T-Mobile stores are quite common in large cities, and even smaller places should have at least one. I’ve bought SIMs in stores in Santa Monica in Los Angeles, and Seattle’s Capitol Hill.

In both cases, I walked out with an activated SIM card in under ten minutes. The process was simple. Confirm you’ve got an unlocked phone, specify the plan you’d like, and hand over the money. You’ll get a receipt with your phone number printed on it.

It’s worth putting the SIM in your phone and confirming it works straight away. I didn’t have any problems (it took less than a minute to activate both times) but I’m always nervous when I don’t see the card working in my phone before leaving the store.

Prepaid SIM and eSIM Costs

While you shouldn’t expect any real bargains on prepaid cell service in the US, prices are getting better for light to moderate use.

Unlimited (or at least large numbers of) calls and texts are standard on most plans. AT&T’s prepaid monthly smartphone plans start at $30 for 5GB of data, or you can pay $65 for unlimited.

T-Mobile’s data-only prices start at $10 for 2GB, going up to $50 for 50GB. If you want calls and texts as well, the company has unfortunately removed its lower-cost prepaid plans recently, so they’re now $40 for 5GB or $50-60 for unlimited.

You may find different in-person deals in a particular store, but in general, T-Mobile is cheaper for unlimited data, and AT&T costs less otherwise.

At the AT&T and T-Mobile stores I’ve visited, the SIM card and activation have been free. This isn’t always the case, however, so definitely check before committing.

You’ll also pay sales tax on top of the quoted price. This ranges from nothing to nearly 10%, depending on which state you’re in at the time.


As I mentioned earlier, Nomad usually has the best pricing for travel eSIMs in the United States for all but the smallest data packs. Even then, there’s usually not a lot i it.

It’s not the only game in town, of course. I’ve used and compared many travel eSIM companies in the past: here’s how the best ones stack up price-wise in the United States.

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 15 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 2 GB

  • 3 GB

  • 5 GB

  • 10 GB

  • 20 GB

Price (USD)

  • $4.50

  • $8

  • $11

  • $16

  • $26

  • $42

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 15 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 2 GB

  • 3 GB

  • 5 GB

  • 10 GB

  • 20 GB

Price (USD)

  • $4.50

  • $8

  • $11

  • $16

  • $26

  • $42

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 3 GB

  • 5 GB

  • 10 GB

  • 20 GB

Price (USD)

  • $6

  • $9

  • $14

  • $13.50

  • $24

Topping Up


You can top-up your T-Mobile account online, using just your phone number and a credit or debit card. Since international cards work with this method (or at least, mine did), it’s probably the easiest way to do it.

Failing that, any T-Mobile store will be able to help you out, as well as authorized retailers. You can check locations here. If you’re using the eSIM app, you can manage and pay for plans that way instead.


Topping up with Nomad (or any of the other travel eSIM companies) is done by logging into the website or app. You just select your US eSIM, hit the top-up button, and buy the same package again.

The top-up packs have exactly the same pricing and duration as the original eSIMs: there’s little difference between topping up your current eSIM and buying a new one, other than not having to activate it.

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Coverage and Data Speeds

As mentioned above, T-Mobile coverage is good in most large towns and cities, but drops away in rural areas, with large dead zones in several states.

Compare the service map to your intended destinations, and if you’re going to be spending significant time driving or staying in places without signal, consider AT&T instead.

Data speeds in Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Austin, and elsewhere were all pretty good, with strong signal both inside and outdoors. Voice calls were clear, and SMS delivery was reliable.

Nomad uses both the AT&T and Verizon networks, so if you’ll be spending time in more remote areas, you’re much more likely to get service.

T-Mobile LTE speeds in Austin, TX
T-Mobile LTE speeds in Austin, TX

Check out our guides to SIM cards and eSIMs in 65+ other countries here.

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  1. You should really check out Cricket in the US. It’s on the ATT network (and is owned by ATT I believe) so same coverage. It’s $40 for 2.5 GB a month (if you sign up for autopay they knock off $5) and all taxes/fees are included. Additional GB are $10 for 1GB.
    Service was friendly and getting a SIM swapped and activated took 10 minutes.

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      I considered them, but in the end opted not to use Cricket because they throttle data speeds quite heavily. For most international visitors who won’t have a phone that supports US LTE frequencies and will only get 3G, the max speed will be 4Mbps. That’s not terrible, but since there’s little price difference between Cricket, T-Mobile and even AT&T, I decided to go for T-Mobile’s unthrottled option with a bit more data.

      If I needed to be on the AT&T network for coverage reasons and didn’t care so much about download speed, though, I’d likely choose Cricket.

  2. Is there a sim that works in both the US and Canada?

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      Most will work, but it’s more to do with how much you want to pay — you’ll typically be paying roaming fees in whichever country you didn’t buy the SIM in. Most carriers have some sort of roaming package available for the other country, but they’re typically not great value if you want to use your phone much at all.

      1. Avatar Moshe Abrig says:

        Will you have “Getting a SIM Card in Canada”?

  3. When I come to a store and buy a SIM card, will I also be able to register for a 3G/4G data packet or will it already be part of the prepaid plan? Many thanks,

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      It will probably be part of the prepaid plan already. You may be able to get a talk/text-only plan if you really want one, but most plans include a data allowance.

  4. Avatar Kate Palmano says:

    Hi Dave,

    Are you able to recommend the best prepaid SIM providers in Canada? I’ll need txt and talk but mainly data for maps. Many thanks.

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      Hi Kate,

      You can find our article on Canada here.

  5. Avatar MAXIE Smith says:

    Apart from the sim for my iPhone, will I be able to obtain wifi access for my iPad?

    We are doing a road trip around Co, Wy, Ut and SD so will be in some quite isolated spots, therefore I need access to my gadgets!

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      I can’t answer that with certainty, as it depends a little where you’re going, but given that most hotels, hostels, chain restaurants and many other places in the US offer free Wi-fi of some description, you should be fine. I did a road trip from Denver to Seattle through some pretty isolated spots a few years ago, and was able to find Wi-fi anywhere I needed it.

  6. Regarding data speeds for iPhone 6, is AT&T preferred over TMobile? I read older posts from ~2013 that mentioned iPhone incompatibility with TMobile.
    Also, which provider is best if you need calls to/from international cellphones?

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      It really depends where you are. AT&T has coverage over a wider area, but in big cities, the network is often more congested than T-Mobile, which means lower data speeds.

      There’s no incompatibility between recent iPhones and the T-Mobile network — I imagine what you were seeing was problems with older international models and the frequencies used by T-Mobile’s higher-speed network. Both the phones and the network have changed since then.

      Regarding international calling, you’ll need to check each company’s rates for the countries you plan to call — there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to your question.

  7. Dave thank you so much!! Your article was a God sent as I have a teenage boy and he is going away to the USA to school and I tried looking over a bunch of phone options and that was becoming a very wearisome so I decided to check for just switching the sim card to the country you are in (old school) and found your article.

    I am so relieved I can just look now into the other aspects of his time as as student.

  8. Did you see a price hike for Data sim cards lately? The prices I see now for 10GB in T-Mobile and at&t for pre-paid SIM cards are around 80-85 USD.

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      I didn’t, but to be honest, I haven’t been monitoring them. After T-Mobile said they didn’t sell data SIMs instore, and AT&T refused to sell me one for use in a smartphone, I just gave up on the idea for most US-bound travellers.

      Those prices don’t seem very surprising, though — 10GB is considered quite a lot of data for a prepaid monthly cell plan in the US, so I’d expect the prices to be relatively high.

  9. Headed to US for a two week road-trip and plan to be in some remote areas as well as cities. This will help a lot in reducing my time to get started once I land.

    I have used your advice for local SIMS in South East Asia previously and it was dead accurate, so thank you for both series!

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      No problem at all, glad you found it useful! 🙂

  10. Thanks Dave, this site is fantastic!!

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      Thanks Dan, glad you like it! 🙂

  11. Thank you for the wonderful site. I am arriving Seattle International Airport next week. Is there any store at the Airport I can buy the prepaid Sim from either AT&T or T-Mobile?
    Would be great to have a local number and internet to use when landed.

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      I didn’t see any AT&T or T-Mobile branding on arrival at Seatac earlier this year. This thread suggests it might be possible from Hudsons or Kens Baggage, but I don’t have any first-hand experience of that, or even where in the airport those stores are.

  12. Hi, I will be arriving San Francisco in 2 weeks time, will be spending couple of days in SF and LA, thereafter move to NYC for 2 weeks. Could you advise whether there are any kiosk in SF airport to purchase SIM for both calls, text and data. Also which is the best operator for SIM ? As I will be using mainly datas with few calls, please advise the best package to purchase.


    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      I don’t know whether there is anywhere to buy a SIM at San Francisco airport. In terms of what to buy, please use the information in the article to make your decision about that.

  13. Hello, i will be in New York for 1 week in december for the christmas. Can you recommend me a simcard for just one week. I have a samsung S4 mini and it’s unlocked. What do i need to pay attention to. I will be making calls in USA and maybe on the street send an app. The rest i will do in my hotel room. What do you recmmend?

    Thank you.

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      Just go for whatever the lowest cost call/text/data package option is at the time, with either AT&T or T-Mobile. There’s unlikely to be much difference between the cost or quality of service you get with either carrier in New York.

  14. Avatar Jackie Spang says:

    Hi! I live in Buffalo, NY and I have a French exchange student with a 3 year old Nokia phone that died last night. He only uses it when connected to wi fi (and to listen to music.) I know absolutely nothing about cell phones! I believe it has a micro sim.What should we do?
    Thank you for any advice!

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      Hi Jackie,
      You can find our recommendations for the best smartphones in various price ranges here.

  15. Hello, I would like to let you know that most supermarkets, chains stores electronic and pharmacies and even convienence stores sell prepaid sim card kits and refill cards now. Prices vary by location. One does not have to go to the Carrier store to get one. The sim card kit will come with instructions on how to activate it as well (very easy).Just to let you know that AT&T’s prepaid service is called Gophone. The current pricing plan is as follows

    $30 unlimited monthly voice/SMS, no data
    $45 plan ULTD Voice,SMS, intl SMS and 3GB of data (30Days)

    $60 plan ULTD voice,SMS,intl sms in the US,Canada,& Mexico with 6 GB of data. add more for $10 a gigabyte. (30days)Also, if you are on the monthly plan and you do not refill after 30 days, then you have 60 days to refill your account. If not, the account will be terminated and your phone number be lost.

    Hope this is helpful to anyone.

    1. Thanks Ryan, I’m from UK and was casually keeping an eye out for mobile phone and some card kiosks (like the ones in UK) in Berkeley today and your posts explain why I saw none. The 30 dollar option will be fine for my calling needs.

  16. Avatar Chris Cribbs says:

    Hi Ryan,
    The article and links are very good. Can you update me on any changes or suggestions for a three week visit to the US – prepaid sim?
    We used ZipSim last year – and like many products has its strengths and weakness. Would you suggest KnowRoaming over ZipSim or is there a better sim on the market now? Needing Data & Voice packages (data for google maps when driving).

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      Looks like a good option, if you’ve got a shipping address you can use in the US. Nice to see T-Mobile making things a little easier for travelers!

  17. I just want to suggest to look at H2O Wireless. They are an MVNO on AT&T and have a $40 8GB plan with Unlimited calls.

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      Unusually for most US MVNO’s, it actually gets reasonable reviews from users! 😉 Worth a look for high data users, given the SIMs are sold in convenience stores etc so they’re not as hard to get hold of as some of the competition.

  18. Hi Dave and others,
    I’ll be arriving in the USA shortly and will be volunteering there for a couple of months. I really enjoyed your post, since I was completely confused on my options for a cheap SIM deal. I’m used to pay 10 euros a month for calling, texting and 4G. So paying 30 dollars a month was not something I was looking forward to. I’ve looked at the T-mobile website and found something that might work for me. The pay as you go plans ( Does anyone have experience with this? Is it really as cheap as they make it appear?

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      Cell service is more expensive in the US than many countries in Europe, unfortunately, due to lack of real competition. That plan you link to is cheap if you only want calls and texts, but it’s still $5/day or $10/week for data, so you’d be no better off if you wanted to stay connected throughout your stay.

  19. Avatar Laurence Goldman says:

    Hi Dave, PagePlus Cellular is a payasyougo that works off Verizon network. So you can buy any compatible phone and pick a plan that works. Verizon has by far the best coverage in remote areas, better than ATT,in my ho. They have a “sim” that costs $80 gives you 2000 minutes, good for a year. They have monthly plans that are no better than Verizon itself. I mention this because somes Verizon connectivity is the only thing that works. Otherwise, googling alternative prepaid, brings stuff like Consumer Cellular and others.

    1. Yeah, the problem is the ‘buy any compatible phone’ part. Most travelers looking to use a prepaid SIM in the US will want to use their existing phone, not buy a new one just for that trip.

      It used to be almost impossible to use other phones on Verizon’s network due to incompatible technologies, but that’s slowly starting to change since Verizon moved to 4G/LTE. Even then, there are only a few phone models from overseas that support the right LTE bands, so most travelers still couldn’t get their phone to work, and are still better off with one of the other providers.

  20. Avatar Lori Redmond says:

    I’m travelling to California, Arizona & Nevada from Ireland for 5 weeks travelling in an RV. I plan on bringing my iPhone & iPad. I’d welcome your advice on the cheapest way to be able to use both while I’m away. Appreciate your help. Best regards

    1. Well, the cheapest way would be to rely on Wi-fi in camp grounds, restaurants etc.

      Assuming you want cellular data, and that one or both of your devices has an unlocked SIM card slot, I’d suggest buying a SIM card from T-Mobile, AT&T, or one of the AT&T resellers like H20 Wireless mentioned elsewhere in the comments, and using the Wi-fi hotspot feature on that phone/tablet to share the data with the other device. You may be better off on the AT&T network, if you’ll be spending much time away from major towns while in your RV.

      You’ll need to check the latest pricing on the various company’s sites to find a plan that best fits your needs. If you’re likely to use a lot of data, H20 Wireless may be the best bet, otherwise it won’t make much difference from a price perspective.

      1. Avatar Peter Elfrink says:

        We are going to America for 2 weeks. We have a Huawei E5786s-32a mifi all working on 3g there. And want data sim of about 10 gb where thetering is allowed naturally. Is it better to buy in the usa or through the internet at home (Three, Usasim, Prepaidzero, etc).

        Greets from Holland

      2. Without knowing your costs for buying at home, I can’t really answer that, sorry. 10GB is viewed as quite a large amount of data by US carriers, though, so don’t expect a US-based service to be as cheap as you might hope!

  21. Avatar Peter Elfrink says:

    Thank you for the quick response.
    These are the prices of prepaid data.

    Three data 12gb 50 euro UK
    Roammobility 5 gb $ 60 USA
    Usasim 10gb 100 euros ????
    Simoption 12 gb 50 euro UK
    Prepaidzero 12 gb 65 euro for mifi works on At & t

    But how do you make a choice?
    Prices in the USA are higher or the data is much lower,

    greetings from Holland

    1. I guess those prices might make your decision for you, as long as you can use all of that Three / Simoption / Prepaidzero data in the US without extra cost or limitations. They’d also mean you’re set up and ready to go in advance, rather than having to deal with it on arrival.

      The only US-based provider I’ve come across that offers something similar is H2O Wireless (mentioned in an earlier comment), which has 10GB of LTE data for $50, or 12GB for $60. I’ve got no first-hand experience with the company, though.

  22. Hi Dave
    Do you know if you can buy a data nano sim card for a 4GEE MINI in New York?
    I will be in NY for 10 days and was planning to buy a data sim card for this device so I can use it as a hotspot for all my devices.


    1. You can certainly buy nano SIMs from any of the providers, but I’m not familiar with that specific model of MiFi device, or whether EE locks it to its own SIM cards. If you’re not certain about that either, you’ll need to confirm with EE beforehand.

  23. Avatar Karen Day says:

    Hi Dave, my son is coming out to work on a crusie ship, Rehearsing in LA and then flying out to Vancover where the ship will tour around north and south Alaska for around 2.5 months then back to the US/Mexico/Panana Canal/Aruba.. etc.. He is planning to buy an unlocked phone in the UK and get a sim when he arrives in LA.. could you tell me which one would be the best for him.. he is keen on data rather than mins/txts.. and will use wifi where he can but it not alwasy easy on the ship. Many thanks for any advice.. its seem a bit daunting trying to get the best info..

    1. There are so many variables here, it’s hard to know where to start. The first thing I’d say is that no matter which SIM card your son buys, he won’t get (affordable) coverage unless he’s in port or very close to land. Most major US carriers have free or relatively affordable roaming in Canada and Mexico, and less so elsewhere.

      Since he’s not a US resident (or at least, presumably doesn’t have a credit card with a US billing address), it likely rules out the best option (Google Fi, which has $10/GB roaming in most of the world, as long as he has a recent model of Google phone).

      I’d probably suggest checking out the coverage maps for the AT&T and T-Mobile networks in the parts of Alaska he knows he’ll be going, and make the choice based on that. If he needs lots of data, H20 Wireless is on the AT&T network, but has lower prices. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, though, I have no personal experience with that company.

      When it comes to roaming, especially beyond Canada and Mexico, it’s going to cost a bunch of money no matter what he does. He’ll need to check the prices with whichever company he goes with, but personally I’d probably just try to buy a local SIM for each country if I was there for any length of time, or put up with using Wi-fi (perhaps in port, rather than on the ship) while outside North America.

      Hope that helps!

  24. Avatar mike luyeye says:

    what carrier I can use if I have a phone from Chinese

    1. Assuming it’s a GSM phone, you can use AT&T, T-Mobile, or any of their resellers.

  25. Avatar O. Dijkstra says:

    Hi Dave, my family and I are going to New york, las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco in a couple of weeks. We have 2 sons, so we like to know what the best options will be. I want my kids to be able to call us, and of course call them, and we like to have some data to surf and use maps.
    We all have iPhones and iPad. If we buy sims, can we use them in different states?

    1. Hi,

      Yes, as long as you’ve got cell signal wherever you happen to be, you can use the SIMs throughout the country. Since it sounds like you’ll be in major cities, the T-Mobile recommendation in the article should be fine for your needs.

  26. Avatar Darshil Patel says:

    Hello sir i am in usa right now planning to goto india dor few months can you please tell me which sim card is best for me
    I am only using text messages service send and receive
    I need cheap unlimited sms plan with international roaming

  27. Avatar Darshil Patel says:

    I checked everything tmobile sprint and at&t have coverage there

    1. Are you asking about buying a local SIM card in India, or using a SIM card from the United States while traveling in India? If the first of those, then the post I linked to should help. If you want to use a US SIM card in India, you’ll need to do your own research I’m afraid, since we typically recommend buying local SIM cards to keep costs down.

  28. Avatar David Spencer says:

    Hi Dave, Your article gave EXACTLY the information I needed! Thanks for making it easier to get connected in the USA. I’m a traveler from South Africa. SA is pretty easy for visitors to get connected.

  29. Avatar Farrol Goldblatt says:

    Hi Dave We are travelling from Seattle to Portland and then along the coast to San Fran and onto Yosemite. Can you recommend a service provider for Oregon
    I will be using a UK unlocked IPhone 5

    1. I can’t add much more than what’s in this article, really. Check the coverage maps for AT&T and T-Mobile against the places you plan to visit and drive through, and that should help you decide.

  30. Hey Dave, I’m American living in Thailand. I’m travelling into the US with my unlocked Xiaomi phone. I went to “” and apparently Virgin, Sprint, and Verizon work but NO ATT and TMO only 2G. I wonder, though, whether it’s possible to get a family member in the US to get me a sim card on their family plan. Is this a possibility?

    1. The type of plan won’t affect the physical compatibility of the SIM card, so if it’ll work in your phone and the carrier doesn’t have a policy preventing it, I can’t see why not. I’d double check whatever that site is telling you against the actual frequencies supported by your phone, though, as it’s the opposite story to most international phones.

  31. Avatar evans malala says:

    i love my aunt who is in america but i cannot contact her because i do not have the sim card

  32. Avatar evans malala says:

    i want to buy am american sim card while i am in kenya

  33. Hi, Your site is just … super! Thank you.

  34. A friend from France is coming to visit the US. I told him to buy a sim in France. At for 10€ for the card + 20€/month he gets unlimited calls US to US and US to Europe + 25Go in US and 100Go in France.

  35. Hi Dave,

    I’m planning to visit the US tomorrow and I asked my brother about getting an AT&T sim and he said I need to have a social security number to have one. Previously I bought T-Mobile (without social security number) but their internet speed was slow in California. Additionally I have the option to get roaming package (10gb) on T-Mobile or AT&T for 80$. The last option has the convenience of using my main number, but I would like to know if I will be getting the same speed as the US sims given that my phone is compatible with all US LTE bands.

    1. I’ve never heard of people needing a social security number to buy an AT&T prepaid SIM. If for some reason that’s a requirement at the store you intend to purchase from, maybe get a SIM from Cricket instead — it has similar if not better pricing, and operates on the AT&T network.

      As for data speeds, it’s so dependent on where you are, what frequencies your phone can handle, and how much congestion there is on the particular cell tower(s) you use. I’ve generally had good speeds with T-Mobile, but lower coverage overall. Regarding the roaming package, if your phone supports all the US LTE bands, there’s no physical reason why you wouldn’t get full speeds, BUT you’ll need to check with your provider whether they impose any speed restrictions while roaming. They often do!

  36. I will check with my provider if there are any restrictions related to roaming in the US. This should make deciding easier.

    Additionally, thank you dave for the quick feedback and for helping other visitors in this website for more than a year!

  37. Thanks Dave! I am a USA citizen but travel out of the USA almost all the time so it’s nice to know this simply for when I am in the USA (often for less than a month at a time!!). Regardless I can buy a USA SIM. Thanks:)

    P.S. Have you heard of Project Fi? I’ve been considering buying Fi next year when I’ve got a bit more $.

    1. No problem!

      I checked out Google Fi about 18 months ago, and reviewed it here. It’s not quite as good value as it used to be, but if you travel regularly, you’ll still save plenty vs most of the other US roaming options.

  38. Avatar Gary Arndt says:

    A bit of a correction…

    Sprint and Verizon use CDMA only for 2G service. They have been migrating to GSM.

    An iPhone purchases ooutside the US will work fine on either network using LTE..

    1. Hi Gary,

      Agreed, and I’ve tweaked the wording a little to make things clearer. Given that Verizon’s LTE service only works with a limited range of international phones, though, and costs more than the competition, I still wouldn’t recommend it to most visitors. Sprint’s coverage is the smallest of the four main carriers, and has even more compatibility problems for international visitors (no voice service, to start with), so there’s no reason to consider it.

  39. Avatar John Mayson says:

    Good article. I never realized how screwed up our cell phone companies were until I traveled to SE Asia.

    I have a Moto G4 which is compatible with all US networks. What I don’t know is if the international version will support all bands.

  40. Avatar Brian Mullan says:

    Dave will i lose my apps when inserting american sim card. or more importantly whats app contacts etc?

  41. Thanks for the site and all the info from everyone.
    My question is pretty specific: As a US ex-pat living in France, I have a French provider whose sim I use on an unlocked double-sim Galaxy Note 5 which I bought specially 1)to use in the US when I visit, 2) to get a US tel number to keep indefinitely, where I can be contacted from the US even when I am in France, as many offices, bureaux & banks do not accept foreign numbers. (For these organisations it seems we fall off the earth when we go beyond US borders!)
    I will be visiting Hawaii and Los Angeles at the end of the year for 3 weeks. After looking at the coverage maps, it seems I will do best with AT&T.
    What is the best/cheapest solution (plan? pre-paid sim?) for me 1) to get a US tel number, 2) to use the number only to receive calls when outside the US (my French plan includes calls from France to the US but not vice versa) 3) that I can keep the number indefinitely outside the US, and 4) that will cost the least as I will only make calls when I visit the US, usually not more than a few weeks a year? (I probably won’t need roaming as I can limit myself to using wi-fi for internet)

    1. Personally, I’d sign up for a Google Voice number, and set it up on your phone (details here). It costs nothing to have, and calls to/from the US and Canada are also free. As long as you have a data connection of some sort, anywhere in the world, it’ll ring on your phone, and let you receive/send calls and texts.

      I’d then just get whichever SIM and cell package makes sense for each trip to the US (in your case, AT&T). I’m in a similar-ish situation to you (visit the US for a few weeks a year, need a consistent US number for various reasons), and this is the approach I use.

      1. Yes, it can — in fact, it can only create US numbers. You need to be in the US when you’re setting it up (or using a VPN that makes it seem that way), and have access to an existing US-based number to do the setup verification. If that’s difficult to achieve while you’re in France, you can ask someone else to do the setup for you, and just tell you what the new Voice number is once it’s created — it’ll work fine on your phone in France (or wherever) via the Google Voice or Google Hangouts app after that.

      2. Trying to clearly picture getting a Google voice mail number, supposing I have no access to a US based number (as a working hypothesis of a worst case scenario), it seems that I will need to get a US sim card, after which I can then do everything on my own including getting the Google Voice and or Google Hangouts app. Can I get this app in France, and then use it with the new number I will create in the US? Which app is better: voice or hangouts?

        You speak about a tourist plan from US providers: what’s that? who offers them? how do they work? which is the cheapest?
        Btw do you know who has a sim that will work on a Galaxy Note5 double sim (Asian model which works perfectly in Europe)

        Thanks for all your info and help in the much improved but somewhat more complicated world of travelling & international telephone communication.
        (For the record, I remember trying to call my parents collect from a funny coin phone in the street in Paris as, under de Gaulle who didn’t believe in telephones (no kidding!) it took 2 years to get a fixed telephone line.)

      3. That’s correct — if you can’t get access to a US number to do the verification, you’ll need to get a US SIM yourself, do the Google Voice verification, and then you’ll be able to use the Voice or Hangouts app anywhere in the world. You are able to download either app while outside the US (or at least, you could, last time I did it), and then use it with the new Voice number. I’d probably go with Hangouts, since it has more features, and is a bit nicer to use.

        A tourist plan is just a SIM card and package marketed at tourists — it typically offers a useful amount of calls, texts, and data, but only for a relatively short period. T-Mobile is the only major US carrier offering such a package as far as I’m aware. When I bought it a few months ago, it lasted for three weeks, and couldn’t be renewed. T-Mobile and AT&T SIMs will work in that phone, at least for calls, texts, and 3G data.

        I’ve made my share of dodgy calls from phone boxes in Europe too, back in the day — it was definitely a great exercise in frustration!

  42. thanks for a simple answer to a complicated question. i looked at the site, but can google give me a us number?

  43. Hi Dave,

    My wife will be travelling to the USA with an unlocked iPhone 6. She will be in Fort Lauderdale & Miami in Florida, then onto Akron, OH and then further to Chicago all in the space of a 2 week period. Have been reviewing Verizon for its Prepaid plans. I personally wasnt very happy with AT&T coverage in multiple locations when I was there last year. Would be great to get your recommendation.

    1. I don’t have firsthand experience of using a Verizon SIM, but if the pricing and coverage levels in the cities your wife is visiting seem ok, it should theoretically work over LTE with her model of phone. She’ll want to double-check with the sales rep at time of purchase, however.

      The Verizon coverage map is here.

  44. Hi. If I buy my own T-Mobile prepaid SIM card for Note 8, I know it needs to activate it but do I really need to register if I am an International visitor when I visit to the US? Or no need to register it?

    1. I’ve never been asked to register when buying a prepaid SIM in the US.

  45. Ah I see. Because I remember back in December 2007, I did bought a prepaid T-Mobile with phone (because I didnt bring my own phone before I went to the US). I do remember about activating the SIM card when I register with my details after I bought TMobile phone kit (SIM card and nokia phone) for the first time.

    Unlike last May 2016, I bought a SIM card online and it doesnt really need to activate or register it. They activate it for me before travel. I didnt include details so it’s pretty good. I had TMobile SIM card last year. So thats why I dont really know if I will do the same thing back in 2007 if I will buy a cheap SIM card with a recharge card or I will do the same thing like last May 2016 (a bit too costly but it’s pretty good which is I get unlimited calls & text to the nationalwide like CA, NYC etc, and 6GB data – Except that If I want an additional options like I can add $10-$15 or whatever just for International call from US).

  46. Avatar Ulf Lernfelt says:

    Bought T-mobile tourist plan for 50 USD.

    10GB surf, 1000 min phone and 1000 text messages.

    Then assuming as with sim-card in Sweden I should be able to call and text anyone in the world.

    But discovered I just can call and text US citizens (or others with a US SIM card).

    As being here with my family (all with Swedish phone numbers) I wanted to be able to call and text them.

    So, I should have been checking this before buying the T-mobile plan.

    Writing this as memento for other tourists to the US who wants to be able to call/text their accompying their family members/ travel companions.

  47. I am from the USA but have been sailing through South Pacific & South east Asia for the last 3 years. I have a USA iPhone and I would like to buy a SIM card at LAX or near there. I will be in the USA for 2-3 months. I am heavy user of texts, WhatsApp, Messenger, gmail, and I also like to make regular phone calls. What do you recommend?

    1. Since you’ll be there longer than three weeks, the T-mobile tourist plan won’t work for you, so you’ll need to pick an appropriate option from their (or AT&T’s) monthly packages. For $45, you’ll get 4GB of data with T-Mobile, or 6GB with AT&T, plus unlimited calls and texts. AT&T also has a $35 1GB plan, if you can get away with not using much data (none of the things you mention are particularly data hungry). As I mentioned in the article, I’ve never seen much in the way of stores selling prepaid SIM cards in US airports, so you may need to wait until you’re outside LAX to get one.

  48. Hi Dave,

    My family has relocated to the US, so I’ll be visiting 2 to 3 times a year. (I am currently in Europe.)
    My question is, do you know of a provider that let’s you keep the phone number that has been assigned to the prepaid SIM card.?
    So every time I visit I upgrade or reactivate the plan, while keeping the same number.

    1. Hi Debbie,

      I don’t know of a company that lets you retain the number once the SIM becomes inactive, which is typically 60-90 days after the last top-up / expiry of whatever package was purchased. There may be some kind of long-expiry plan available that you can switch to just before you leave each time, but you’d need to ask whichever vendor you chose about that.

      What I do instead is use a free Google Voice number, to retain a US number that works wherever I am including back in the US, as long as I have a working data connection of any sort. I wrote a bit more about it in this comment and the one below it. To sign up for it, you’ll need to be in the US, or using a VPN that makes it seem that way.

  49. My friend gave me a brand new, expired Tmobile simcard. He said i can just activate it once i got into usa. Is it true? Thanks

    1. You’ll need to check with T-Mobile, I’m afraid – it really depends on the specific situation.

  50. Avatar Helen Rose says:

    Hi, If we buy a SIM card in the US, can we have them configured the settings into my phone before I leave the store?

    1. If you buy from an official carrier store, and ask them to do it, then yes, almost certainly.

  51. Great article ~ thank you!

  52. Avatar Danielle G says:

    Hi Dave, as Canadians we will be travelling to USA during holidays seasons for less than 21 days. Both of us, just acquired new iPhone8 and were told we could get SIM cards to lower the roaming fees involved, if using our phones from our Cdn provider. First, I understand T-Mobile seems to be our best bet, however what are the steps to go; should we go to a carrier location, get SIM cards ( which ones is the best alternative) and will we be able to carry on our phone numbers. I will eventually go back in USA in May for a little over 45 days, what will then be my best choice considering that we are travelling 3/4 times a year to South Eastern area with various time frames. Thanks! Looking forward for your advice.

    1. Yep, for this upcoming trip, just head to a T-Mobile store, buy the tourist SIM package I mention in the post, and you’re good to go. You will have a US number while that SIM card is in your phone — if you need to access your Canadian number for some reason, just switch back to your original SIM (but turn off data roaming first!).

      If you’re traveling in the US for more than three weeks / several times a year, you’ll need a different package. Prices and details will have changed by the time next May rolls around, so there’s little point advising something specific right now. As I mentioned in this comment reply above, there may be some sort of inexpensive long-expiry plan you can switch to that keeps your US SIM active while you’re not using it, but you’ll need to check that at the time with whichever carrier you choose.

  53. thanks for all the continuing info. i am now in the usa & trying to follow your advice to the letter. i ve installed google dialer but cannot figure out how to get a number. what must i hit? what am i missing?

  54. Hi. I’m going to travel to New York in Jan for a period of 2 months. I will predominantly stay in New York for the entire trip. I understand that T Mobile is the provider I should go with. Please suggest if the provider provides free incoming and outgoing to countries like India From where I’m coming. Database of 1 GB per month will suit me perfectly as I understand that I’ll get wifi mostly everywhere in NY.

    1. T-Mobile has an add-on plan called ‘Stateside International Talk’ that costs $15/month extra, and gives free international calls and texts to India and several other countries. You can add it to any prepaid package costing $40/month or more. More details here.

  55. Hi Dave, wonderful site! I’ll be in the US for 6 weeks, can I buy 2 T-Mobile tourist SIM pacakages to use consecutively? Many thanks

    1. Thanks! That’s a good question, actually. I suspect the answer may be no, as the SIM likely needs to be activated by the staff in-store when you purchase it, but it’d definitely be worth asking the question in case there’s a way around it.

      If not, you’ll need to buy one of the other packages, that can be topped up online or will recharge automatically after a month if there’s enough credit preloaded.

  56. Avatar Andy Brown says:

    Hi Dave, we will be a group of 10 in 2 RVs leaving from L.A. , travelling to Sequoia National Park, Vegas, Grand Canyon and back to L.A. In August this year. What would you recommend with regard to communication between the 2 RVs whilst on the road. We tried walk-in talkies last time and they were quite unreliable. Friend told me to use the Tourist SIM option. Any advice? Thanks

    1. Yep, I’d use a phone — walkie-talkies are good for shortish distances with good lines of sight, but that’s not always the case while driving. I’d consider either the T-Mobile tourist SIM or something from AT&T, just because you’ll often get better coverage in rural areas and on the open road with AT&T.

  57. hi dave, im travelling to pheonix & transiting via LA. wil be having a week in Pheonix.
    Can i get a prepaid sim card at what u have described best for travellers & inserted on my mobile just for the sake of online & emmergency call back to my country. pls help

  58. oh ya wil be travelling nx morning & can i get it fr the LA (LAX) airport. once i transit

  59. & sorry i forgotten to mention that i’m from malaysia. flying tmr at 8am (malaysia time)

    1. I don’t think you’ll be able to find anywhere to buy it at LAX, but there’ll be no problem getting it at a T-Mobile store in Phoenix.

  60. thanks dave for your fast respond but isit possible to get it in La?

    1. You can get it in Los Angeles, just not at the airport. Any T-Mobile store should be able to sell it to you.

      1. thank you very much. your respond wil definitely made my USA stay a fruitful one.

  61. Avatar Lengthy Travel says:

    Have you investigated FreedomPop? It looks like a pretty good option for tourists as they offer a free plan (200 minutes, 500 texts and 200MB) and offer pretty good prices on data increments. They seem to rely on Sprint’s network (CDMA) but that includes support for LTE/GSM so it should in theory support most GSM phones (they sell GSM SIM cards). I used T-Mobile on my last trip before having heard of FreedomPop, so haven’t tried it myself. Thus, I am more wondering/asking than stating. Would love to hear feedback from anyone who has given it a try.

  62. Avatar Andrew Ward says:

    Thanks Dave for this great advice. Walked into a T Mobile store and the very helpful employee first insisted on trying her own SIM in my phone to ensure I would get both call and data service before selling me the tourist SIM. The whole process took only a few minutes. For the metropolitan Boston area, coverage is fine for my needs. Thanks again.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Andrew – I’ve always found the staff at T-Mobile stores helpful and relatively knowledgeable (certainly compared to those at other US carrier stores, at least), so I’m glad I’m not the only one! ?

  63. Hi Dave, we plan to visit the USA next July and I’m checking out all cell phone / sim options. I stumbled across the site where they offer H2O prepaid sims using the AT&T network. It includes free calls within the USA, free texting around the world and 3Gb 4G data for $ 39,95 card included. They ship to Europe as well. Are you familiar with either H2O or Would you recommend this or is it too good to be true in your opinion?

    Thanks for you help.

    1. I’ve had one or two other people mention H2O Wireless — prices are pretty good and reviews are reasonable, but I haven’t used it myself.

      Regarding USA SIMS, I don’t know anything about them, but they look to just be adding ten bucks onto the price of what H2O are charging, and reselling the same package to you. Whether that’s worth it to get the SIM beforehand is up to you, although it looks like H2O SIMs are sold widely in convenience stores etc in the US if you’re happy to wait.

  64. Thanks for the advice Dave!

  65. Avatar Christian says:

    Hi Dave,
    thanks for the informative blog! I have used your advice in some countries already :). In the USA, I went for the t-mobile tourist pack, having used it for 5 days now, and the performance is really good :).
    I had to pay an additional $10 activation fee, not sure if this a new thing or if they played a special trick on me. If this becomes the norm it might be worth mentioning in the costing section.
    All the best

    1. Yeah, that activation fee does seem to come and go — I haven’t quite figured out whether it’s discretionary based on which store you buy it from, or whether there are specials running that means it gets waived from time to time.

      It’s the same story for both AT&T and T-Mobile, so as mentioned, it’s worth confirming before purchase — it could make the difference between which carrier you choose!

  66. Hi Dave,

    I noticed online on T Mobile’s website that you need a US address and a US credit card to buy their tourist plan online. Does this also apply when buying in store? Or can you pay with cash/international credit cards?


    1. You can pay with cash or card instore (at least at the two stores I’ve purchased at). It’s only online that’s restrictive about international cards. ?

  67. Avatar Pam Symons says:

    Hi Dave,

    We are travelling from Australia and will be in Arizona for 6 weeks, we both have unlocked Samsung 7 phones and wondering what you would suggest, we need to keep in constant touch with family due to an elderly parent who only has a landline, other family members can be contacted by mobile phones (txt ok)


    1. Take a look at the coverage maps I link to in the article — both AT&T and T-Mobile seem to have reasonable coverage in Arizona, but there are gaps with both, so compare those gaps with where you plan to be.

      If it was me, I’d buy a package with some calls, texts, and a few GB of data, then use Skype Calling to stay in touch with my elderly parent with a landline. If you add some credit onto your Skype account, you can use Skype to call physical phones (landlines or mobile) pretty much anywhere, for a few cents a minute.

      If you need to be called or texted, you’ll have a US number that you can give out. For text messages, you may also be able to use (eg) WhatsApp, iMessage, Facebook Messenger, or some other data-based messaging service, depending on what your other family members already use or are happy to start using. That’d have the advantage of being free for both parties.

      You’ll probably need to renew whatever package you buy after a month, unless you can happen to find one that lasts for two months or more.

  68. Thanks for this great advice, Dave! I flew to California from the Philippines last October to visit my cousins there, and I purchased the tourist plan in a nearby T-Mobile store. Since I only have a Samsung Galaxy A7ooYD (Galaxy A7 dual SIM 2015 model) which is only compatible with the 1900 MHz band for T-Mobile’s 2g and 3g networks, and is not compatible with any of the LTE bands in the US, it felt like a bit of a gamble. Fortunately, it worked, at least within California. Data speed is fast even in HSPA+, and I even had a stable, crystal clear Viber call with my coworker back in the Philippines while I was in Disneyland.

    However, when we traveled to Las Vegas, my signal dropped to 2g. Apparently, T-Mobile is in the process of reallocating its 3g frequencies to LTE, and by the time we were in Vegas, they have shut down their 3g service there. I asked my cousin if he could use his iPhone, which is connected to AT&T, as a hotspot, but it is disabled by AT&T as part of his postpaid plan (by the way, is disabling hotspot capabilities by the networks only a US thing?), so I was forced to use the available WiFi in hotels along The Strip. The only time I had no signal at all was when we went to the Grand Canyon, but that was expected even on AT&T which my cousins use.

    All in all, I was satisfied with T-Mobile, but I’m thinking about getting a newer phone which works on all of the US’ LTE and 3g frequencies, or trying AT&T (which uses both 850MHz and 1900MHz for their 3g, both of which are compatible with my current phone) the next time I visit the US.

    Thanks again!


    P.S. When I tried the SIM on my phone, the staff at the T-Mobile store noticed that the hole in my SIM tray is a bit bigger than usual. I told them that I can either put a second SIM or a MicroSD card there, with my home network SIM (roaming activated at that time) in the first slot. They told me that they have never seen a dual SIM phone before, and apparently, it appears that dual SIM phones are mostly unheard of in the US.

    1. Thanks for the trip report, Julian!

      Yeah, dual-SIM phones are incredibly rare in the US, and most people (and even cell store employees) have likely never heard of them. I suspect it’s because the majority of cell phone users in the US buy their phones through their carriers, and the last thing those carriers want to do is offer an easy way for people to use a second SIM, either at home or abroad.

      It’s a very different market to (eg) Asia or Europe, where people are much more likely to buy the phone outright, and stick whatever SIM(s) they like in it!

      1. Well, I guess that explains the amazed look on their faces when they saw me insert the SIM on my phone. All Android phones sold here in the Philippines, whether in stores or through carriers (yes, that’s right), are dual SIM.

        What I really find puzzling though, is the act of disabling hotspot capabilities of phones by the networks there in the US (at least in the phones that they provide, from what I gathered). I’m pretty sure that no one from the rest of the world has that problem, and the most that networks outside the US do with the phones they provide is to SIM-lock them, at least during the contract period.

        Good thing T-Mobile made sure that we could use our phones’ hotspot features with the tourist plan.

      2. I’ve never understood that either — especially since it’s not like all cell plans have unlimited data, and even those that do get throttled after you reach a certain usage for the month, so you’d think it’d be up to the customer how they want to use the data they’re paying for. It’s not solely a US thing, but that’s the place where it seems to be most common. Very odd.

      3. Dave, I just found a list of areas in the US where T-Mobile had already shut down its 3G services so far (which explains the drop to 2G when I went to Las Vegas).

        The list is here:

        “T-Mobile used to operate 3G on the 1700 MHz (= AWS) band only. This was (almost) the only operator in the world on this frequency, so hardly any non-T-Mobile US phone could cope with it. AWS is sometimes referred as “1700/2100” MHz suggesting a 2100 MHz phone would work. This is misleading as AWS is using the 1700 spectrum for uploading and 2100 for downloading and can’t be handled by a 2100 MHz-only device.

        Luckily, T-Mobile changed the game when it acquired new frequencies in 2012. They were now shifting (or “refarming”) the most of their 3G spectrum from 1700 AWS to 1900 MHz (= PCS band). This gives much better compatibility with lot of devices like the iPhone. In 2014 the refarming has been completed and 1900 MHz HSPA+ (up to 21 Mbps) coverage is now in most markets, but a few rural areas.

        T-Mobile shut down 1700 AWS in some of these markets in 2015 and keeps on shifting more markets from 1700 MHz AWS to 1900 MHz PCS on 3G. In markets where 3G HSPA+ is offered on both 1700 MHz and 1900 MHz, T-Mobile offers DC-HSPA+ at speeds up to 42 Mbps on devices that support both, which is mostly only US-sold phones. So in 2016 for T-Mobile’s 3G you need to have a 1900 MHz device now, 1700 MHz has become optional for extra speed.

        What the shutdown of 2G/3G is concerned T-Mobile has adopted a different strategy. It’s going to phase out 3G instead of 2G like AT&T. In 2017 it has begun to close 3G on 1900 MHz and refarm the spectrum to LTE. This affects in 2017 so far these key areas located in:

        Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ
        Boston, MA
        Cambridge-Newton-Framingham, MA
        Cincinnati, OH
        Dover, DE
        East Stroudsburg, PA
        Elkhart-Goshen, IN
        Florence-Muscle Shoals, AL
        Hillsboro, TX
        Lancaster, PA
        Manchester-Nashua, NH
        Providence-Warwick, RI-MA
        Reading, PA
        Rockingham County-Strafford County, NH
        Sussex, DE
        Tuscaloosa, AL
        Waco, TX
        Long Island, NY
        New Jersey
        New York, NY
        Atlanta, GA
        Bakersfield, CA
        Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL
        Detroit, MI
        Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL
        Orlando, FL
        Port St. Lucie, FL
        Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA
        Seattle, WA
        Tampa, FL
        Ventura County, CA
        Central PA
        Scranton, Wilkes-Bare, Hazleton, PA
        Dallas, TX
        Jacksonville, FL
        Las Vegas, NV
        Trenton, NJ

        You won’t have 3G data on T-Mobile in these areas. Without a 4G-capable device, you will fall back to 2G.”

  69. Hmm… pretty expensive compared to Europe or Asia, that did I expect… What plan would you choose I you´d stay for 3 months and needed a lot of data (well at least 5GB)?

  70. Do a search on this page for “H2O Wireless” – it’s a reseller with reasonable prices for larger data packages, and has decent reviews from customers. We’ve talked about it in the comments now and then, but I haven’t used it myself.

  71. Very good article. I need a local number for my short visit to US and your article helped me to decide (T-Mobile).

  72. Hi, I’m going to the US this summer and I want data from AT&T. I don’t really want to go search for a store as we aren’t in a big city the first couple of days. So my question is, can you also buy a prepaid simcard at Walmart or 7/11? And if so do you have any experience with them and do you know how to top them up? Thanks.

    1. I don’t have experience with buying a SIM from anywhere except a carrier store, but if you want to be on AT&T’s network without having to find one of its stores, perhaps look at H20 Wireless. You can buy the SIMs at places like 7-11 and Target, it resells service on the AT&T network, and reports from customers are reasonably good. You buy top-ups in the same locations, or online.

  73. I’m going to be in Hawaii later this month. Is there a prepaid SIM which will include calls and texts within the US and to the UK. Data would also be needed. The ability to buy it at LAX would be useful.

    1. As mentioned in the article and other comments, I’ve never seen somewhere to buy SIM cards at the US airports I’ve flown into, including LAX. The standard prepaid packages from major carriers don’t typically include international calls outside North America, so take a look at companies like Lycamobile instead.

      I haven’t used them in the US before, but have elsewhere in the world, and they’re typically a decent cheap option if you don’t need much in the way of service or support. You can order SIMs through the company’s site to be sent to a US address, or buy them from retailers like 7-11 and CVS.

  74. Dave, many doubts from Europe (Barcelona) before to land on USA.
    Bands in your country are different, and my Honor 10 will probably have problems to detect most of them.
    However it detects all the local and national bands by here.
    T-Mobile and AT&T, the very big ones there, I suppose, are not the most appropriate for it. Sprint seems the best option, but I will probably land without even having a prepaid sim card.
    I hope to find some of the big four operators´ store, with a friendly employee, to try coverage and operation.
    Great page and article, congratulations.

  75. Congrats on you article!!! I just loved it! Was looking for that kind of explanation.
    Thank you so much!
    MAriana (from Brazil)

  76. Actually Walmart,Target,Best Buy,Walgreens,supermarkets, and Rite-Aid have AT&T SIM card packs for $5-$10.(Sometimes as low as $1) I usually don’t advise people to buy prepaid SIM cards in the carrier stores because they might offer a better deal elsewhere. T-mobile prepaid SIM kits can also be found at Best Buy,Way cheaper than the phone store($40plan includes the SIM all by itself instead of the SIM card for $20). The only difference is that the SIM cards contain instructions on how to activate it yourself but you can save some money in the process. Also,its very easy to activate in less than 5 mins. All you need is your device,SIM card number,ZIP code,and a way to pay for your plan. Recharge card,or Debit,Credit card, that’s it. To recharge refill cards are sold everywhere,supermarkets,drugstores,chain stores,electronic shops. Follow the instructions on the card,enter the pin number and confirm. I have used prepaid for the last 10 years.

  77. Hi Dave, it’s me again. A year after my trip to California (where I tried T-Mobile on my old dual-SIM Samsung), I returned to the US and visited a few parts of the East Coast. This time, I tried AT&T on my phone for the following reasons:

    1. I was using that same dual-SIM Samsung A700YD which didn’t support any of the LTE bands in the US;
    2. AT&T uses the 850MHz and 1900MHz bands for their 3G/HSPA+ service, which are both compatible with my phone; and
    3. As I mentioned before, T-Mobile had already shut down their 3G/HSPA+ service in many of the places I visited (i.e. Boston and its surrounding areas, New York City, New Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania).

    AT&T had long shut down their 2G service, and my phone could only connect to 3G/HSPA+ and LTE on one SIM at a time, leaving the other one on 2G. So the plan was to connect to AT&T for local service and let my home network SIM roam on T-Mobile’s 2G network.

    I went to the AT&T store in the Back Bay area of Boston, and I purchased the $35 prepaid plan with (at that time) 1GB of data and unlimited calls & text. I was expecting another amazed look from the staff on my phone, but that didn’t happen. (I guess that’s because Back Bay is frequented by tourists, and the staff there are used to seeing dual-SIM phones being brought there by foreign visitors, unlike the T-Mobile store I visited in California, which is miles away from any tourist area.)

    On the contrary, I was the one who got surprised when the staff asked for my phone’s IMEI. Apparently, AT&T checks the IMEI of phones to see whether they can connect to AT&T’s 3G and LTE networks, and based on what I read, it’s not enough that your phone supports AT&T’s LTE bands in order to be able to connect to their LTE network. According to them, AT&T has a whitelist of phones which are allowed to connect to its LTE network, which includes all LTE-compatible iPhones, and AT&T-branded and North American variants of certain phones that run on Android (e.g. Samsung, LG, ZTE, OnePlus, etc.). In addition, they had a hard time activating AT&T’s LTE on Android phones purchased overseas, like international versions of Samsung phones, and brands which are not available in the US (e.g. Huawei, Honor, Oppo, Vivo, Realme, Xiaomi, etc.). I never experienced such a thing on T-Mobile the year before, let alone any of the networks back home in the Philippines.

    I asked if I could give the IMEI of my second SIM slot so I can keep my home network SIM inside the first slot, but the staff said that they need the IMEI of the first slot for the service to work. So after giving the IMEI of the first SIM slot, I transferred my home network SIM to the second slot and inserted the AT&T SIM in the first slot. Fortunately it worked without any problems throughout the trip, and data speed is decent.

    The reason why I wrote about my experience with AT&T is that, starting next year, all the three networks (Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile/Sprint) will start the process of completely shutting down all their remaining 2G and 3G networks and will operate only on LTE and 5G. Verizon will go full LTE and 5G by the end of this year (, and AT&T will shut down their 3G network by February 2022 ( On the other hand, T-Mobile’s 2G and 3G shutdown has no definite date yet, as they are still focusing on their post-merger matters with Sprint ( In the meantime, non-LTE phones will no longer be allowed to be activated on all of their networks.

    Complicating matters, the three networks have their own whitelists of phones which will be allowed to receive VoLTE service (an example from AT&T can be found here: This will definitely pose problems for foreign visitors to the US, as the whitelists only allow iPhones and certain brands and (North American) versions of Android phones to work with their VoLTE. In turn, this would mean that, unless the networks revise their policies (or the FCC steps in to intervene), foreign versions of Android phones and phone brands which are not available in the US will be limited at most (if you’re lucky) to data (and possibly SMS) connections (including roaming), even if those phones have native VoLTE capabilities and support the LTE bands used in the US.

    1. Thanks for the highly-detailed followup, Julian! I think you’re right about the longer-term implications of this, that unless there’s a regulatory mandate to support all physically-compatible phones or at least one of the cell networks sees a commercial advantage in changing their policies, we may well see a situation where visitors get (at best) data and SMS unless they happen to be in the unlikely situation of having an ‘approved’ device.

      That’s not the end of the world for many visitors, I guess — data tends to be the most-important aspect these days — but not being able to make and receive traditional phone calls is likely be a real problem for some.

  78. The ability to make and receive traditional phone calls and sending and receiving SMS is still important for a lot of visitors. We still need an actual phone number where our Uber drivers and the delivery service persons, among others, can call us, and we need traditional SMS for subscribing to call, SMS and data roaming packages, and for banks to send security codes to us in order to complete online transactions with our credit and debit cards.

    That being said, perhaps a way to get around it, at least until the networks (and probably the FCC) decide to sort this mess out, is to:

    1. get a local or international data-only SIM which can work on phones, or bring a compatible mobile hotspot where such SIM can be used;
    2. download an app which can provide a virtual US phone number which can be used for making and receiving calls, and sending and receiving SMS;
    3. download a good SMS-forwarding app in order to automatically forward text messages from your mobile number to your virtual US number and your email; and
    4. make sure to forward all of your calls to your virtual US number.

    Either that, or simply bring an unlocked iPhone without a SIM card (not older than an iPhone 6), get a local SIM card for it, and forward all of your calls and SMS there. Plus, you can use it as a hotspot (as long as your prepaid package allows it).

    Hmmm… it looks like we just got ourselves some possible new topics to discuss on this site…

    1. We definitely do. As soon as there’s more clarity about exactly what each network is doing in terms of accommodating (or more likely, not accommodating) visitors, it’ll be time to update this article and perhaps write up a detailed guide as well, depending on the difficulty level of whatever’s involved.

  79. Avatar Heather Wicksted says:

    Thanks for your always useful site and info. I wanted to provide an update on a recent (June 2021) experience with AT&T as a cautionary tale for others.

    We purchased a Prepaid Plan at an AT&T store. An inexperienced clerk sold me the wrong plan (I requested one that included calls and text Canada, he sold me one without). I assumed calls from Canada weren’t coming through because of something I was doing wrong with the phone.

    Went to another AT&T store (in another state..I was travelling) and the clerk informed me the only option he could do was to sell me another new prepaid plan that was worth $10 more and would restart my month of service.

    It was critical at this point I was able to receive calls from Canada and I didn’t want to start over with a new provider – purchasing SIM etc.. so we bought the higher priced plan.

    I phoned AT&T customer service to request a refund for the first plan, was transferred to a payment specialist who then transferred me to a customer service person who lost my call and after 1 hour on the phone was told the only way I could get a refund was to contact the store where I purchased the plan.

    Using Google Timeline I found the number and contacted the original store and got the store manager. He informed me that he was unable to refund any charges.

    Key Takeaways:
    – AT&T stores are not actually AT&T stores – they are a third-party provider and therefore have limited ability to do things if there is a problem, and AT&T has a limited ability to resolve a problem made by the store.

    – Ask for a clerk with experience when it is clear you are dealing with a new employee who has never sold a prepaid plan to anyone ever

    – Use ANY OTHER Cell phone provider than AT&T for future trips to the USA

    Thanks again for your always useful insights into SIM cards etc.. we frequently consult your site prior to arriving in a new destination and tell others to do the same.

  80. Avatar Alberto Aguirre says:

    Tourists arriving in the U.S. can now buy a local Lycamobile SIM card in any InMotion store across all major international airports. For airport standards, InMotion pricing is quite reasonable and will save you the trip to a mobile store in the city. There’s a 7GB option for $35 and 15GB option for $50. The SIM card is already preloaded so you just need to pop it in your phone, dial a code and you are good to go.

    Be sure to check your device’s compatibility before hand as T-Mobile (the network on which Lycamobile operates on) is no longer accepting non-VoLTE devices.

    1. Thanks for the update — I’ve added a mention of this into the article.

  81. Hi Dave,
    Not sure if you don’t know or don’t recommend – Airalo seems to be a great option for basically all international travel roamings – incl. in the USA.

    1. Hi Harald,

      There’s actually a link to Airalo in the article already – I recommend it for anyone whose device has eSIM support and doesn’t need a local phone number. I also recently wrote up a review of the Airalo service, after using it Cambodia.

  82. do you need to show ID to buy pre-paid simm card with a phone number? or pay cash and walk out is possible?
    same with pre-paid phones.

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