Most international students and scholars will most likely need or want a U.S. cellphone number upon arrival in America. To help you understand the process of acquiring a SIM card on a phone plan, please find a few options below that are available to you in most phone carriers in the U.S.

cellphone plans

Prepaid Plans

“Prepaid” monthly plans allow you to pay one rate per month and do not require a contract. If you are bringing an UNLOCKED phone from home, you can just purchase a SIM card upon arriving in the US to set up your plan. Plans are affordable and often unlimited so you won’t have any surprises on your bill.

PREPAID PLANS (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for international students & scholars)

  • Plans have a set monthly rate (~$35-$75) for unlimited talking, texting and data.
  • NO contracts, NO credit history required, NO deposits, NO Cancellation Fees
  • You have to buy a phone that is compatible with their company but it's yours to keep
  • Refill your credit anytime with cash or debit card
  • Purchase a SIM card and use your UNLOCKED phone from home
  • Signal is not as strong as with contract plans but in Los Angeles it generally works just fine.

Important Note:

Make sure you always pay your bill on time because if the company does not receive payment they will shut off your service the next day. In addition, if you line is disconnected for a longer period of time, you may loose your cellphone number.

Contract Plans

Contract "postpaid" plans are a good option for students and scholars if they will be in the U.S. longer than 2 years since that is typically the amount of time a mobile contract.

Contract Plans typically:

  • Large data package offerings
  • Pay for either a certain amount of minutes/month, or unlimited, ranging from $40-$70.
  • Large variety of phones to select from with attractive sales. Typically several FREE options when you open an account (however, usually you still must pay tax)
  • Coverage tends to be stronger and more reliable
  • Most plans require a 2-year agreement/contract
  • Credit history required for phone which means having a U.S. credit card for at least 6 months. Otherwise credit deposit is required
  • Each service is normally charged separately. So if you would like unlimited talk, text, and data.

Keep in mind:

Most contract plans require that you have a Social Security Number (SSN). If you don’t have a SSN then your cell phone provider might let you open an account but will likely require a LARGE deposit which they return at the end of your contract. They will also likely charge you an early cancellation fee if you go back home before the end of your two-year contract and need to cancel service.

U.S. Phone Carries

Although the Dashew Center does not recommend a specific phone carrier to international students and scholars, some of the current most popular companies are: T-mobile, Verizon, AT&T, Mint, Visible and Metro.