If you are leaving soon for a stay in the United States (to visit New York for example), if you travel there regularly or even if you intend to settle for a while in Uncle Sam's country – you will inevitably need a phone and Internet package.
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.
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 safely, you will need to have a plan that allows for use 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 €10 per MB consumed (£8) 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 card. Fortunately, unless you have a really antique 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 5D G, 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 – but don't wait until you're in the US to do it!
CHOOSING A PACKAGE FOR THE UNITED STATES
Nowadays, having a working phone is a priority 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
- A USA Pass
- An American package
SAVING MONEY ON YOUR U.S. PACKAGE
Before I introduce you to 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 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 restaurants 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.
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 have international features by default, which allow calls from the US.
In its packages, EE only offers calls to the United States and Canada, and only calls from Europe and the Overseas Departments.
But some of the 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 best one
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 or Sprint. Choosing these operators is a guarantee of an efficient network.
The prices of these cards generally vary from €20 to over €120 (£17 to £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.
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 the USA, 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 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 the information has helped you to meet your expectations and find a solution for your trip 🙂 Besides, having mobile data and being joinable for your loved ones matters a lot, especially if you are visiting Times Square and want to make a quick video call to show them this fascinating location. Beware of the time difference though 😉