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Buying a prepaid SIM card in the US

The US prepaid SIM market can be complicated and confusing for travelers from abroad looking to buy a prepaid card in the US. With this guide, however, we will help you with the cumbersome process of choosing the right SIM card for you.

The main problem with US carriers is that they use incompatible technologies and connectivity standards. In the USA there are operators who use GSM and CDMA technologies and you need to either check your phone if it will work or buy a new phone once landed in the US.

In USA there are four main mobile operators: T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint.

T-Mobile will be the best option for travelers to large cities, however, if you plan to spend more time travelling across the country far away from large cities then AT&T might be a better option because its coverage is better in remote areas.

Verizon and Sprint use CDMA standard so if you're using a GSM phone it won't work with these carriers, therefore we don't recommend using Verizon or Sprint if you're a foreign visitor because your phone will likely not work.

Please note that if you plan to travel to extremely remote areas in not so densely populated states like Montana, Oregon, Nevada or other you might still spot large coverage gaps with no reception at all from any of the carriers.

How to buy and register a US SIM card

The best way to buy and activate a SIM card in the US is through the carrier's shop. The seller will activate the card for you and it's ready to use after a couple of minutes and they will print a receipt with your phone number on it.

Make sure that your phone is unlocked, otherwise it won't work with US operator's SIM card.

We also recommend checking if your card is fully activated before leaving the shop.

Pricing

Prices are leveled out between operators these days, but they occasionally offer generous promotions, so please make sure to check out their current pricing on their websites:

How to top up

Some plans cannot be extended and your card can't be topped up, especially plans for tourists, so make sure to choose the right plan for you.

If your plan supports topping up then it's the easiest to top up online using your credit card. You can also top up at your carrier's store.

For other plans, you can top-up your account online, using just your phone number and a credit or debit card. Since international cards work with this method, it’s probably the easiest way to do it.