Choosing the right cell phone provider in the U.S. for international students

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.

Cell phone providers in USA

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:

USA carriers

Additional Tips:

  • 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.

14 Responses to Choosing the right cell phone provider in the U.S. for international students

  1. Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.
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  2. Eva Mcgraw says:

    Well I had a very tough time in choosing the right cell phone provider in the U.S., since there are a lot many complications and restrictions that one needs to consider well I agree to the above post, its seems to be real helpful in what one needs to consider in settling down for the same. I’ve been using Solavei cell phone service which worked real great for me.

  3. carlson says:

    that’s a wonderful article, especially for me, cuz I am about to move to the US. right now I need to pick a new phone. could you recommend me anything good? do you have in the US different phones (i need, that might be a stupid question, but i get the feeling that here in Europe we don’t have that cool stuff you might have in the USA). i would like you or anybody here to give me as many ideas as possible so i can compare them here and choose the best option for me 🙂

  4. LizH says:

    When I studied abroad in London this past semester, I used G3 wireless ( for my international calling. I saved a lot on roaming fees with a single SIM-Card that has global coverage. The set-up is a basic pay-as-you-go plan (without contracts), which is exactly what I was looking for, since I didn’t know exactly how many hours I would use and did not want to pay more than necessary. Let’s just say my parents were very happy with me after that.

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  6. Emmanuel Ssewannyana says:

    I used family network In loaded the international airtime but the calls could not be connected.

  7. Hello Guys,
    Have you heard of CampusSIMs telephone company specialized in proving affordable service specifically for International Students in the USA? I have been using their affordable $25.00 per month plan for almost a year. Their program allows students to use the same phone they use in their home country here in the U.S. on T-Mobile’s network simply by inserting a SIM card into their (unlocked) phone. The coverage is great and I really love the flexibility – I manage my account and the usage online through their cool website.

  8. JP says:

    Do not choose AT&T. They ask international students to pay a 500 USD “security deposit” which is supposed to be refunded after 12 months of contract. The truth is they will not refund it. For more information search in google the following… Never received my security deposit back

  9. Ali Kazmi says:

    Using Cellspan wireless I got an smart phone, within very cheap and affordable price 40$, and Enjoying unlimited text/minutes full month I subscribe for. As per my opinion it will be finest package for me which look reliable.

  10. Utteru says:

    I was living in USA for studies i found it is very difficult to choose right cell phone provider there, daily I was thinking about How to call China? But now with above mentioned I come to about many different aspects. Next time whenever i will Visit to USA these information will help me alot. Thank you for sharing

  11. Raj says:

    Go for pre-paid Lycamobile (in USA). For $29 you will get unlimited domestic talk & text, unlimited international text, unlimited calls to 10 international numbers, 250 minutes of additional international calls, and 1 cent per minute for additional international calls. It operates on T-Mobile network.

  12. Sophia says:

    Thanks for sharing this post with us.As i was looking for the same because i am soon going to US for my further studies so looking for which provider i choose their and your article helped me to choose that..

    Keep posting..Cheers!!

  13. I was very pleased to find this web-site.I wanted to thanks for your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you blog post.

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