In this short guide, we'll take a look at the best deals to help you choose your phone and internet package for the US 😄
How to choose a phone package for the United States?
Nowadays, having a working phone is a must for a trip to be truly successful. Therefore, arranging a phone plan in advance is almost as important as applying for a tourist visa.
If you want to use your phone and Internet on US soil, you can choose between:
- A UK package with roaming in the USA
- A prepaid Sim card
- An American package
My recommendation for a phone package in the USA📱
If you don't have time to read the whole article, here is the best solution to stay connected while in the US! Holafly offers e-SIM cards that can be downloaded from a simple QR code that will be sent to you instantly. This will allow you to travel all over the US with unlimited data. You'll have a choice of plans ranging from 5 to 90 days, and rates range from £16.50 to £86 🙂
Phone package for the USA: beware of roaming charges!
While roaming charges have been abolished in EU countries since 2017, this is not the case for the United States. There, roaming is still in place. This means that if you use a standard British package in the US to make calls, send messages or surf the Internet – you will most certainly be overcharged 😕
In order to travel with peace of mind, you will need to have a plan that allows you to use your phone on American soil.
You will therefore need an international package to use your phone and access the Internet in the United States normally. But note that not all international plans include the US as a destination.
Even if you do get an international plan, you need to make sure that it will give you access to calls and mobile data usage in the US otherwise you will be charged out of pocket, often at exorbitant prices. I'm talking about an amount that can sometimes reach nearly £8 per MB consumed on the Internet — imagine the bill! 😱
It is therefore essential to choose a mobile package that includes roaming in the United States. This way, your mobile will be able to connect to the services of American operators at no extra cost.You will then be able to access the internet, use geolocation to find your way around, communicate with your loved ones by sending them news or, for example, photos of the Empire State Building, Central Park or the Statue of Liberty 🙂
Compatibility of mobile phones in the USA
It may not be obvious, but not all phones will work with a US SIM card. Fortunately, unless you have a really old phone, this shouldn't really be a concern.
American networks do not use GSM, which is a European phone standard. They use 3G, 4G and 5G, which means that in practice you will need a smartphone that is at least 3G compatible – which has been the case for the vast majority of devices for a good ten years now.
Another precaution to take is to make sure that your phone is unlocked. UK mobile operators must, from now on, sell unlocked phones as standard. This new regulation only happened a few years ago, though. Before that, they only sold “locked” phones, so if yours is still locked, it will not accept American SIM cards. To unlock your smartphone for free, just contact your operator – don't wait until you're in the US to do it though! 😉
Save money on your U.S. phone package
Before I introduce the different types of plans available, I wanted to tell you about a good way to save money.
When choosing your plan, you need to decide how much mobile data you will need. Mobile data is expensive in the US, but with a smartphone, you can connect to public Wi-Fi in almost all U.S. cities. You'll find public Wi-Fi in libraries, town centres and government buildings. Many fast-food restaurants and other dining places also offer free internet to their customers. As such, you don't necessarily need to spend a fortune on a package offering dozens of GB of mobile data – just connect your phone to public Wi-Fi 😄
In addition, today, thanks to apps that many of us use such as WhatsApp or Facebook's Messenger, it is very easy to have phone conversations using only the internet part of your phone plan. With a bit of resourcefulness, you can therefore make do with a package that offers the bare minimum, and make maximum use of public Wi-Fi access whenever possible.
British packages with U.S. roaming
In some cases, British packages do have international features by default, which allow calls from the US. Such is the case of the packages I talk about just below.
In its packages, EE offers calls only to the United States and Canada, and calls from only Europe and the Overseas Departments. But some other major British operators do offer such packages, and for travellers who regularly go to the US or other countries outside Europe, choosing an international package is often the most practical and advantageous solution.
The Roam Abroad Pass from EE:
- Access your standard plan allowances in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand plus 47 European destinations;
- Includes a package of 50GB of mobile data;
- Available from £10 per month
O2 Travel Inclusive Zone Bolt On:
- If you’re an O2 customer, you can get inclusive data roaming in 27 international destinations, including the U.S. No extra cost when using this option;
- Includes unlimited data abroad;
- Available from £4.99 per day
The Three Data Passport:
- For this option, you must have a Three account. You will be able to use mobile internet unlimitedly;
- You can use the Data Passport in the UK and 89 destinations worldwide;
- Available from £5 per day
Vodafone Pay Monthly:
- If you are a Vodafone Pay Monthly customer, you will have an unlimited data package at no extra cost when travelling in the USA.
- This option includes roaming in a total of 105 worldwide destination and 49 european destinations;
- The cost is £6 per day.
More info here.
With all of these plans, if you exceed your mobile data usage allowance, you will be charged for the additional MBs at the U.S. rate. It is also important to note that if you send MMS messages, they will be considered as mobile data and therefore deducted from your package.
As you can see, for each option, you must be a client to benefit from the packages. Check with your operator which package they can offer, and take the one that suits you best!
Prepaid cards for the United States
Prepaid cards are often the preferred solution for tourists and people who plan to stay in the United States for a few months at most. These cards are offered by American operators. They are topped up with a fixed amount, and each traveller can choose the one that best suits his or her needs.
It is not really a package, as there is no subscription, and once the validity period of the card is over, you will have to top it up or buy a new card. Thankfully, most operators offer to roll over unused data to the next period if you choose to top up.
All the major telephone operators offer these types of prepaid cards. For example, they are offered by each of the four main U.S. operators: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. If you choose one of these operators, you’ll be guaranteed an efficient network.
The prices of these cards generally vary from £17 to over £100 depending on the amount of data offered. Another advantage of these cards is that they allow you to call and send SMS world-wide most of the time – which makes them perfect for calling the UK while in the US.
You can easily find these cards just about anywhere in the USA, but you can also order them on the Internet, either directly from the operators or from commercial sites such as Amazon. This is often the most economical solution👍
In my case, I recommend the Holafly prepaid SIM card! You can buy it before your trip and start using it as soon as you land in the United States. This card is, in my opinion, the best plan to stay connected during your stay in the US (be it for a few days or 2 months) 😉
American packages for your stay in the United States
Here is a package that will be of interest to people who are planning a long stay in the USA. You should know that in this country, it is only when you take a mobile phone at the same time as your package that you will be really committed until you have paid for the whole phone. If you take a package alone, it will always be a no-contract phone plan 👍
Overall, the packages available in the US are quite similar to those we know in Europe, although they are much more expensive. You can have unlimited calls and texts to many destinations, and access to the Internet can be either limited in terms of data consumption or unlimited.
One difference is that before you can actually use your SIM card for the very first time, you'll have to pay a set-up fee, which can easily exceed $50.
As for the choice of operator, as I said earlier, I recommend that you focus on the four most popular operators:
- Verizon is the number one operator in the country. This is a safe choice, especially if you are planning to go to more remote areas.
- AT&T is the second largest operator in the US, offering the best 3G and 4G coverage (although Verizon and T-Mobile also have very good coverage).
- T-Mobile is third and often offers slightly better value plans.
- Sprint is an operator that offers cheaper plans, but has worse mobile data coverage.
And that's the end of this article. I hope this information was enough to answer all your questions and help you find a solution for your trip 😊
If you wish for even more information, don't hesitate to go and read my article on USA SIM cards! In it, I summarise the information in this article, of course, but I also go into more depth about prepaid cards – they really are a great asset for any trip abroad, but in the US especially! I also cover e-SIM cards, which you might find interesting.
Personally, I often opt for prepaid cards on short trips to be reachable, to use GPS and to be able to share my adventures with my loved ones. Making a video call from Times Square will always amaze your family and friends, I can guarantee it! Beware of the time difference though! 😁