It is hard to imagine living without it: Cell phones have become almost a necessity for students across the globe as the main way to communicate with one another. Since most of you are probably familiar with cell phone service in your home country, the cell phone providers and plans in the United States may be working differently.
We here at Flywire have gathered some information around the different carriers, plan options and tips and tricks for international students getting a cell phone in the United States.
There are two main types of cell phone services: monthly plans with a contract or prepaid plans. Due to the large number of providers and plans, it is recommended that you research several options before making a final decision.
Cell Phone Plan Options:
- Two-Year Contracts These are the most common contracts in the U.S. Contract plans offer lower monthly rates and very low prices on new phones compared to prepaid plans. Typically, the best prices are offered to customers who sign two-year contracts for cell phone service. While the rates are lower, terminating a contract early requires the customer to pay a large penalty. To qualify for a contract plan, a cell phone provider will generally review the applicant’s credit history. Since new international students do not have Social Security numbers or credit history in the United States, they typically require a security deposit which could be $400-$500. As with any contract, please ensure that you understand all requirements and charges before signing it.
- Pay-As-You-Go or Prepaid Plans Prepaid plans are easier for new international students to obtain because they do not require a Social Security number and/or a credit history check. These “pay-as-you-go” plans use the same cell phone networks and offer the same services as contract plans do, but usually at higher rates. Advantages of these plans include no long-term contracts, security deposits, or penalties for cancellation.
Major Cell Phone Carriers in the US:
- If you are bringing an unlocked phone from your home country and would like to purchase a SIM card for your phone, the best options are to go to AT&T or T-Mobile.
- Most cell phone companies charge for all calls, outgoing AND incoming, though many have free calling within their network.
- Some plans give you a set number of minutes per month. Overage minutes are charged at a much higher rate. Check your plan to see if weekend and nighttime minutes are free.
- Text messaging (SMS) typically carries an additional charge if not included in a plan. Ask about adding texting to your plan, as well as for any special international calling plans.
- Check with each cell phone carrier about coverage areas and reception. With some carriers, you have better coverage over a larger area than others.
- Some cell phone companies sell only cell phones that work in their network. For example, the iPhone® can only be used on AT&T and Verizon networks.
- If you are planning to get a contract, once the contract is signed, you will be required to pay for the entire length of the contract. If you leave your contract before your contract period ends, you will be expected to pay a high fee. If you pay a deposit and then break your contract, you may not be able to get your deposit back.
- Some cell phone companies may ask for a proof of your address if you are signing up for a contract. This includes a letter or a utility bill that has been mailed to where you are currently living in the US.