Need to Make a Call? Phone Service in the U.S.


4 minutes

One of the biggest issues international exchange visitors face upon arriving in the U.S. is phone service. Arriving alone in a new country can be very daunting, and being able to connect with others is important for emergencies, safety and general wellbeing.

Unfortunately, it can also be expensive, and international exchange visitors have limited phone service options. Most U.S. residents sign up for 1-2 year contracts and pay on a monthly basis. However, due to the length of these contracts, as well as the deposit and credit check requirements, this is not always the best option for temporary visitors. We have provided some information and links below that can help you start investigating your options for phone service in the U.S.

No Contract Service

The best option for visitors to the U.S. is a flexible, no-contract plan that is adjustable monthly, or even daily, if you prefer. Most of them do not require expensive deposits and credit checks and they allow subscribers to switch plans anytime to suit the changing needs of world travelers like yourselves.

U.S. SIM Cards

As long as you have a tri- or quad-band cell phone that is unlocked, you can purchase a U.S. SIM card to insert into your phone. This will instantly provide you with a local phone number, free you from high roaming rates, and will allow you to connect instantly with people you need to contact. The SIM cards allow you to buy pre-paid minutes that can be purchased through cell phone providers' retail locations and even grocery stores.

InterExchange Career Training USA participants can receive a special discounted rate on a no-contract SIM card offered through Fonepool. You can find more information on their website: http://www.fonepool.com/

Major U.S. Phone Service Providers

AT&T Go-phones are a great option for visitors to the United States and are highly customizable to individual needs. There is no deposit or credit check necessary. You can simply purchase a go-phone and select from a daily, weekly, monthly or pay as you go plan. There is no annual contract, and you can conveniently refill/top off your account online or even through text message. You can get all the features of a normal contract, including unlimited calling, text messaging, voicemail and more. There are a wide variety of phones and plans to choose from, and prices will vary depending on what you need. For more information on cost, look at the AT&T Go-Phone website for more details.

T-Mobile also offers no-contract monthly plans that allow for more flexibility for exchange visitors. To participate in these plans, you can either purchase a U.S. phone or buy a U.S. SIM card for your unlocked phone and choose a monthly plan that you can renew every month. T-mobile requires the purchase of a $10 SIM Card Activation kit, which comes with a SIM card and an activation code. You can also change your plan each month online or by going into a retail location if you find that your cell phone usage is more cost-effective with another plan.

Verizon is another major carrier in the U.S. Typically, Verizon is considered more expensive than other carriers; however, clients of Verizon claim that it has better service throughout the U.S. This may be particularly useful if you are outside of a major city. Verizon also offers an unlimited monthly data and phone plan for $50/month, as well as daily and monthly plans that you can adjust according to you needs. You can browse Verizon's prepaid plans here.

There are several high value no-contract carriers out there, many of which competitively offer unlimited plans for around $40/month. Carriers such as Boost MobileMetro PCS and Virgin Mobile do not require credit checks, deposits or contracts, allowing you to buy adjustable plans with short commitment times or even opt to pay as you go. These carriers also offer international calling and texting services for slight additional fees. To participate you will need to purchase a phone and choose a payment option, which you can do from their website and retail locations.

Special Things to Note:

  • Warning: If you buy a SIM card or any prepaid mobile device through websites such as Ebay or Amazon, you need to be cautious. Carefully research what you are buying, and make sure it is from a reputable seller and that your purchase includes all necessary components to be functional.
  • Text messaging in the U.S. is different than elsewhere in the world. In the U.S., most phone companies charge you when you receive text messages as well as when you send them. You should take this into account when you select a plan, as it is usually better to opt for a plan with unlimited text messaging. The same applies to phone calls—you are charged minutes for both incoming and outgoing calls.
  • If you are buying a SIM card for an unlocked phone, make sure the U.S. carrier is compatible with your phone, as certain phones may have restrictions to specific carriers in the U.S. even if they do not abroad.  It is best to have your phone unlocked before coming to the U.S.
  • When choosing a network, select the network most of your contacts are under if possible, as calls and text messages within the same network tend to be cheaper or even free.

InterExchange Career Training USA is a top J-1 Visa sponsor for university students and young professionals who have already secured internships or training programs with companies in the U.S. If you still need to find an internship or training program in the U.S., check out our resources and start the J-1 Visa sponsorship process early.

Ani Kington Ani Kington

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.

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