When I travel in the US, I always purchase a prepaid sim card for my smart phone.
Why do I bother to do that?
So I have access to wifi 24/7
I never have to worry about finding wifi – particularly if I need to locate information like addresses of hotels etc when landing at an airport.
If I am hiring a car – I like to know I can call a real person and not be stuck on the side of the road waiting for a good samaritan to help if I have any car issues.
It’s not very costly to buy a prepaid sim card in the USA…so why frustrate yourself with not having one?
There are so many telecommunication companies out there, but which phone company has the best sim card for people traveling within the US? This is the question every traveler must ask themselves before they arrive there.
After 2 stints in the US in the past 12 months, totaling almost 5 months of travel – I swear by one company over others based on key factors – coverage, store locations and price. I have never had any issues with this company (beyond being in the middle of absolutely nowhere and no one having coverage there!), and will never hesitate using them based on my experience. But do bear in mind that there are many telecommunication companies out there – and it can really depend on where you are traveling and how much you are willing to spend, for which company is right for you and your trip.
One last thing I will mention is you get what you pay for. If you find a cheap deal – especially with an unlimited plan, be wary of it if the coverage map is just not great. Some companies have zero coverage in some areas and you will wish you had paid more for a better option. This will matter to you if you are traveling within those areas for a number of days – and literally can’t access any wifi at all. What’s the point of having unlimited anything if this happens?
Also, is unlimited really unlimited? Most companies will cap their plans – so if you need tons of data for work particularly, or you plan to tether to a second phone…make sure you know what amount you are really being offered with your data options – as speeds do decrease past certain allowances.
How Much I Am Paying For A Pre-Paid Sim Card In Australia?
As an Aussie who is currently paying $40 AUD for an unlimited talk and text plan with Amaysim (including international minutes), I also get 20GB of data included with my plan. Deals overseas are not always on par with those at home and the amount of data we have access to. But you can still get good deals when you are away to cover all the data you will need if you do your research.
FYI – If you are visiting Canada never purchase a sim in Canada when traveling – use an American company that has coverage there for free, or even a $5 fee so you can use your sim card in Canada and Mexico (if you need it there too). When I lived in Vancouver in 2016/2017 I was paying $60 CAD plus tax for a 2GB plan with Virgin (like, WTF????) – I relied on free wifi at Starbucks, the Vancouver Public Library and my at home wifi to get me through each month! Canada was way too expensive for anything fair.
There are cheaper prepaid options obviously, but Canada do not always have coverage in remote areas or the data allowance – which would be an issue for most travelers.
Who Are The Major US Pre-Paid Sim Card Providers?
So who are your sim card provider options for traveling within the USA? There are many out there (and many cheap companies who partner with the big brands); but for the purpose of this article, I will be focusing on the main 4 telecommunication companies listed below that are all within the USA. As you will see, there are differences between them in all of the major factors I look for when choosing a sim card – but you don’t have to go for the best option to be able to get a fair deal either. Just what you need for your time there. Don’t waste your money using your home provider though – they are complete rip offs with $5 a day options in most cases which are far too expensive, and you may be stuck on 2G or 3G speeds (which may lag and there isn’t anything you can do about it!)
The phone companies I will be looking at are:
I will also be looking at Sim Corner – a company you can purchase from BEFORE you leave home.
What Connection Speed Do You Need For A Prepaid Sim In The USA?
Before we look at the different companies in detail however, there are a few key terms I need to cover to ensure you know what you are getting from each company.
3G – Third Generation. Before 4G came along, 3G was the speed most devices were compatible with. Using 3G will usually mean you have some buffering on streaming videos, but for all other uses the connection should be relatively ok for general internet browsing and social media. Overall 4G is what you should be getting in most places today as long as your phone is 4G compatible – but it may not be everywhere, particularly in more remote areas.
4G – Fourth Generation Technology based on the speed and connection it offers. It is beneficial for users who stream media, browse the Internet, and download data. If 4G is not available in an area that you are in, it will only give you 3G – which means a slower speed for that duration of time.
4G LTE – Fourth Generation Long Term Evolution (almost 10 x faster than 3G). Ultimately the LTE of this 4G means the best connection speed which is available today. But again, your phone must be 4G LTE compatible to get the benefits of this speed. If you aren’t, then 4G is the best you will get even if you are in a LTE compatible area. Either way, 4G will still be far faster than 3G so it’s not the end of the world if you can only reach those speeds.
Ultimately, it depends on what your phone capabilities are and what coverage the phone company you use can actually give you. So always check with them before purchasing, so you understand what speed you can actually get with them. In 2019, we may even move into 5G – so that will add an even better layer to what is already available.
*Do note: some people have phones they take over and no matter what they do – no sim cards work in them. It is rare, but it may happen depending on the capability of your phone. There is not much you can do. It has never happened to me, but has to friends – including recently. So bear this in mind, particularly if you purchase a sim card through companies like Sim Corner, as you may be spending money on something you can’t actually use. If this did happen and you aren’t traveling alone – I would try and tether and take an unlimited plan out on the phone that works, so between you both you have enough data to last you.
And – ALWAYS make sure your phone is UNLOCKED and not locked into a carrier at home. Or you will not be able to use it at all overseas which is really frustrating.
Comparing The Best Sim Cards For Traveling In The USA
All information has been screenshot from the following company’s websites on October 28th, 2018. Prices and plans may vary compared to this information when you travel there as plans change or get more competitive.
Also note that tax is not included in these plans unless specified. Each state has a varying sales tax rate and this will cause a difference between pricing in one state and another.
Auto Pay Versus Paying Cash When Buying A Sim Card
Auto Pay is a cheaper way to go pre-paid and means you never have to go in store to extend your prepaid plan each month. BUT…it does require you to log in to your account and turn off the auto pay feature BEFORE the month is up and before you LEAVE the USA – to avoid being charged for another month. Auto Pay is really easy – I used it recently and saved $10 on my prepaid plan (plus gained 2 extra GB for free). But do make sure you ask the store what zipcode they have used to set up your account as you may need this information to login – so you can turn it off. But you will need to know what your phone number is and can access this in the Contacts area of your phone.
A lot of people complain that they were wrongly charged for another month by their provider on their US trip – don’t buy into that at all. It is your responsibility to TURN IT OFF and if you get charged or struggle to turn autopay off when you get home, that is truly on you. Be aware, it’s in the contract.
If you don’t want to Auto Pay you can pay cash – but it means you will need to visit a store to do this every month. The cost will be more expensive (as you won’t get any discount or extra GB’s like I was offered), but it will mean you don’t have to worry about auto renews either. In 2017, I paid cash for this reason, but I will stick with the Auto Pay option as it is easy to turn it off – and you can always go in store a week before you leave if you can’t turn it off and get a staff member to help you. It won’t affect the remainder of your plan at all if you do this.
Also bear in mind that in store deals can be better than those listed below – so it always pays to visit the store of the company you will be likely using so you can get the best deal. If price matters, do the leg work to get a price you’re happy with, especially since the Aussie dollar is not on par with the US dollar. It can be a huge difference.
Verizon Prepaid Sim Card Plans
Verizon are the highest rated phone company in the US. They have the best percentage of coverage, particularly 4G LTE across the country and many people are happy with them based on their feedback and from what I am reading about traveling in the US with Verizon.
Verizon are a great option if you will be traveling across the US and not sticking to major cities. There are also no lock in contracts. Verizon have plenty of locations countrywide too. Coverage really does matter.
Verizon’s coverage map highlights just how far they reach – which makes it the best coverage (just) in the United States in comparison to all others (as the other maps will show you.)
As you can see in the graphic below, the colours represented on the map highlight the tiers of connection that are available with Verizon.
-The red represents 4G LTE – which covers almost everywhere in the continental US – and Alaska’s major cities and Hawaii. There are some limits depending on where you are though as you can see.
-The grey represents lower connections within the US where 4G LTE is not available – but there is still coverage to be found and it will just depend on where you are for what speeds you get.
-The white dots are Verizon LTE Advanced cities which means that these cities are offering speeds that are the fastest in the country – even with the speeds of 4G LTE available.
Although Verizon do cover most of the US, there will be pockets of no service given the remoteness of some areas – but the pockets shouldn’t last too long if you find them. It will ultimately depend on what phone you are traveling with as to what speeds you will have access to as well.
Verizon Coverage Map
Verizon’s Prepaid Sim Card Plans
Verizon have “Data Only” plans which means that you will only be able to access data – not phone or text services. These plans are not tied to a contract so you can change or cancel after using your data anytime.
Data, Talk & Text
Verizon have data plus talk and text plans (which i recommend in case you need to call anyone in the US – particularly if you are using hire cars and may need to call for assistance on the road). If you are needing a plan for more than 1 month, unused data will carry over on most of the plans (except the unlimited plan) and you can Auto Pay plans should you not want the hassle of renewing in store or online during your holiday – you will score a $5 discount with Auto Pay and paperless billing too.
If you want to call Mexico and Canada, you will need to up your plan to the $60 plus tax plan to be able to phone people within these countries. If you plan to travel within Canada and Mexico as the second graphic shows it will cost you $5 extra per day with the Verizon Travel Pass – which is actually a really horrible inclusion and a major reason why I would not use them if I was traveling in Canada or Mexico. They really need to compete with others who are including international roaming to some countries for free.
Based on this, the unlimited $75 plus tax plan seems a better option if you think you will go over 10GB that month. Or if you plan to tether to another phone. But $60 plus tax for a 10GB plan for one person is quite good. Though if you are traveling in Canada or Mexico then the Travel Pass in the following section will end up quite costly for you.
International Travel Pass (Canada & Mexico)
If you are traveling to Canada or Mexico – make sure you read this before choosing Verizon in case it ends up costing you more than you’re wanting to spend.
Verizon have family discounts (or couples discounts) the more people you have using their prepaid services. Plans discount if you have 2-5 other people on their own plans which are linked to yours.
If you have 2 phone plans on the 7GB of data option: The first plan remains at $50. The second is discounted to $35. So the total for 2 prepaid phone plans totals $85 USD. Do note tax still needs to be added to this price – which will vary depending on which state you purchase it in. If you have Auto Pay selected you should receive at least an additional $5 off the multi line plan.
There are pretty decent savings here if couples, friends or family are traveling together – and want the best coverage on their trips.
A 7GB plan with Verizon will cost $50 USD plus tax. For $10 plus tax more you can gain an extra 3GB and take it to 10GB. If you have 2 people traveling and both want to buy a prepaid sim card, between you both you can get 14GB for $85 – (or $80 with Auto Pay) if using the 7GB plan which is a saving of $15-20 combined overall.
Verizon look really good. They have the coverage which back them up. They have good reviews. They have decent prices which are on par with other companies – and their discounts are even better if you are not traveling solo. If you are traveling as a couple or family around the US, Verizon is a wonderful option in my opinion and if they cover the areas you will be in they would be worth using. If I were to travel to Canada or Mexico on any US trip, I couldn’t use them though based on the hidden costs associated with that, which is a real shame.
I haven’t used Verizon, unless I use a non Aussie phone, then I can which is very unlikely. The reviews for Verizon look pretty reputable too, so that gives me confidence in them overall if you have a phone that can use their service.
AT&T Prepaid Sim Plans
AT&T have a really good coverage map as you can see. Verizon has a little more 4G LTE cover – but for the most part whether you can access 4G or 3G, they don’t have too many gaps in their market either – which is why they are in the top 2. AT&T do have good coverage across Alaska and Hawaii too. If you are traveling to Canada or Mexico their plans do allow you to use your phone at no extra cost when traveling there – which is something Verizon don’t offer. That is a winner right there.
AT&T have different coverage maps on their website depending on whether you are looking at data or voice. The data coverage is stronger than voice, but there isn’t a whole ton of difference.
–Yellow is the lowest speed with 3G (very minor based on the map)
–4G (a little more spread out) is orange
–Dark orange represents the 4G LTE – and is pretty much everywhere give or take those more remote places.
–Stripes on the map represent 3rd party providers who partner with AT&T – which may reduce down to 2G (so be wary of that if you were to use one of those) because they are not directly with AT&T.
–White areas are where coverage is very limited. SO you may not get much coverage – or lower speeds if you are within that area.
AT&T Coverage Map
Data, Talk & Text
AT&T have some really good options – at really solid pricing. They have unlimited talk and text within the US, plus unlimited text to over 100 countries, discounts for Auto Pay and Multi line offerings. No lock in contracts.
The bold pricing below each plan includes an Auto Pay discount. The smaller text underneath are the costs paying without Auto Pay eg; cash.
I traveled for 2 weeks with AT&T in October 2018 and went into the Canadian Rockies, throughout California, Austin, Texas, New Orleans, Portland, Oregon and the coastline from Astoria to Tillamook. Overall I was really happy with the service – it dipped out here or there but only in really remote areas when driving in Oregon but it was often unnoticed in all honesty. AT&T were also really good in Canada – where I was roaming and given the remoteness of that region, AT&T was a winner there too. Once I hit the Icefield’s Parkway towards Jasper at Peyto Lake, coverage did disappear for a little bit given the highly remote surroundings, but it wouldn’t have lasted too long.
The best thing about AT&T is any plan above the 1GB plan offers unlimited talk and text to and within Mexico and Canada and no limit on the data available – it just depends on what plan you have. Some speeds may reduce to 2G but I never really felt they did when I was using it, so I was pretty happy.
Below are the pre-paid plans that are available with AT&T:
Like Verizon, AT&T do offer multi plan discounts for up to 5 people.
If you have 2 phone lines on the 8GB of data option: the first plan remains at $50 plus tax (or $40 plus tax with an Auto Pay prepaid plan). The second is discounted to $40 plus tax (plus another $10 discount with an Auto Pay prepaid plan so it drops down to $30 plus tax). Therefore, the 2 pre-paid phone lines total $70 USD plus tax – with an overall saving of $30.
Verizon’s plan of 2 lines at 7GB costs $80 plus tax with discounts – so AT&T are already 1GB more per person and $10 less in cost per multi-plan. Overall, this is a really decent plan money wise – and the coverage is very favourable.
To recap – an 8GB plan with AT&T will cost $50 USD plus tax if paying cash. If you Auto Pay you save $10 (just be sure to turn that off!) When I was purchasing my sim card in store, I was offered 2GB extra for no extra cost – so definitely ask them if this is possible if you are looking to use AT&T. If you have 2 people traveling and are wanting a prepaid sim card, between you both you can get 16GB (or even 20GB if offered more) for $70 USD – which is a saving of $30 overall.
With Verizon, travelers can get a 10GB plan for $60 plus tax (with a $5 discount when Auto Paying), and a 7GB plan for $50 (with a $5 discount when Auto Paying). If you are a single traveler and can’t use an additional multi line discount, you will still be $10-15 USD plus tax better off with AT&T if you use Auto Pay as the 10GB plan they have (when visiting in store, only cost me $46 USD taxes included). But if that difference in price doesn’t bother you (take into account the exchange rate and how long you are over there), Verizon is a great option. If you plan to travel in Mexico or Canada, AT&T will be your best option for your travel – which is something pretty important for travelers to consider since Verizon charge $5 a day for this. I would rather have roaming for free.
AT&T are a really solid prepaid sim card option – for less. They have great coverage but like with all of them it does have a few coverage issues in remote places but no company is exempt from this. You can’t get disappointed with the offerings of AT&T at all it seems. It will depend on where you plan to travel – as they do have slightly less coverage than Verizon here and there, but all in all this is a really good option for traveling across the US, Canada and Mexico – and one I can wholly recommend.
T-Mobile Prepaid Sim Plans
T-Mobile are a solid third – and a popular choice with travelers due to the low cost. But at what price?
It will really depend on where you are traveling for this one. I surveyed travelers who recently used T-Mobile and their feedback was not on par with Verizon and AT&T. Large cities had outages (including ones like Las Vegas), some remote areas had zero coverage – when others at least had a few bars. If you are driving and relying on maps this should be a consideration for you over cheaper prices – because I need to know where I am, and if I have car trouble I need to be able to call someone. However, other travelers I know have also had no issues with T-Mobile. Hawaii has great feedback, and California as well, but it will depend on where you are within these places too.
T-Mobile Coverage Map
T-Mobile as you can see has a lot more coverage issues than the others. This can matter to you if you are within these areas – especially if driving and using a GPS on your phone. The pink represents coverage. The white represents no coverage – which is actually quite significant and not just situated in remote areas either.
I had a hire car hotspot with T-Mobile in 2017, and unfortunately it dipped out more than it should have given what it was hired for. When I drove from Las Vegas to Page, Arizona it dipped out a few times, from Page through Monument Valley it was ok – but when I headed up through Utah to Arches National Park and a few other places, as you can see on the map, I had zero coverage (which luckily didn’t matter too much as it was a straight run on one road). But had I broken down – I would not have been able to call anyone. And that alone freaks me out. I can’t vouch for how At&T and Verizon would have been in these areas, but I can bet that they would at least have had pockets of coverage within these areas based on their maps and the feedback i have been receiving from others.
T-Mobile also have a handy comparison chart on their site for the T-Mobile ONE plan – but again they do seem to sell themselves as being ‘superior’ based on cost and speeds – but the coverage issues will impact on these promises. So take that into consideration when comparing them to the others.
Data, Talk & Text
T-Mobile’s plans cover a range of differences depending on what you are looking for. The table below highlights what you can get with them. Do note that Unlimited for T-Mobile is set to 50GB a month, before speeds decrease.
Pay As You Go – starts from $3 a month, and includes 30 minutes of talk, 30 text messages – you need to purchase a pass to use wifi.
Simply Prepaid – Unlimited talk and text within the US. Current promotion looks to be $40 plus tax for 10GB on 4G LTE. If you plan on traveling to Canada or Mexico it is an extra $5 a month to use this there. Hotspot is capped to your data allowance at full speed.
T-Mobile Essentials Prepaid – Unlimited data on 4G LTE, unlimited talk and text within the US. Includes complimentary unlimited service in Canada and Mexico for talk and text. Unlimited data is available there but at 2G speeds (which is how it differs from the ONE plan.) Hotspot is unlimited at 3G speeds. If traveling somewhere else you can get 500 MB of LTE data abroad for $5/day. Free stuff on T-Mobile Tuesdays. Price for 1 person is $60 plus tax.
T-Mobile ONE – Unlimited data with 4G LTE, unlimited talk and text within the US. Includes complimentary unlimited service in Canada and Mexico for talk, text and 5GB 4G LTE data. Hotspot is unlimited at 3G speeds. If traveling somewhere else you can get 500 MB of LTE data abroad for $5/day. Free stuff on T-Mobile Tuesdays. Price for 1 person is $70 USD (tax looks to be included).
If you want to add on international calling option with any of the prepaid plans it will cost an additional $15 a month. If you add on Auto Pay to any plans it looks to have a $5 discount per month.
The best plan for a single 1 line plan looks to be the $60 plus tax prepaid plan – as you get everything you need if traveling within the US. If you are planning to travel into Canada or Mexico – upgrade to the $70 plan. But do remember that the coverage is not the best in certain areas – so if you can get an unlimited plan with Verizon for $70 (with Auto Pay) or an unlimited plan with AT&T for $55 (with Auto Pay and not hotspot) – why would you bother going with T-Mobile if the coverage isn’t that great where you will be and the price is comparable? Thus, the decision will come down to a number of factors on whether this is the best deal for you.
T-Mobile Tourist Plan
Alongside the ones listed above, if you aren’t traveling in the US for a month, T-Mobile has a tourist plan that you can access in store once you have arrived. If you choose this plan you can’t upgrade to others. So you will have to go back in store to change it if you end up staying longer etc.
The Tourist Plan is $30 plus tax and gives travelers 1000 minutes of talk, unlimited texts and unlimited data at 4G LTE – although it is capped at 2GB for 4G LTE speeds which would pose a problem if you are traveling more than 1-2 weeks in my opinion, as you would go over this before then and face reduced speeds. Plus there are WAY better deals out there for data – even with T-Mobile’s other plans. You really want the best speeds possible the whole time if you can. I think it is an extra $10 USD to upgrade the data (based on the feedback I have seen on people using this plan.)
If you don’t use your phone much, then this is a decent deal. But again, it will depend on where you are traveling on whether you get the coverage you need.
T-Mobile Multi-Line Discount
If you are looking for a family deal, T-Mobile have a current offer of 4 lines for $35 each. Unlimited plans including Netflix as long as Auto Pay has been activated.
If you have 4 people needing sim cards it will cost you $140 USD or $35 each – if you Auto Pay. Taxes and fees included. This price is around the same as the others, except T-Mobile aren’t 7GB or 8GB plans but unlimited plans instead. Which is great. Overall, their multi-line plan offers a saving of $100 for 4 people. If there are 2 of you, it will be $60 a line, which is a $10 discount than if you purchased the $70 full unlimited plan on your own.
T-Mobile offer some amazing deals. They have something for everyone and have good data allowance. However, their coverage map and the feedback that I have had from some travelers don’t make me want to rely on it should I be unable to access wifi or find free wifi where I am to get me by when I am in no coverage areas. It is also hard to tell which plans have no tax or fees and which ones do. As there is conflicting information within their graphics – though I think the T-Mobile ONE plan is the only one without fees.
Overall, it is up to you to decide based on where you will be traveling on whether the gaps in coverage are going to matter to you. I would prefer to take a 10GB plan or less for a little more money if it meant I was within the top tiers. Based on my use of hotel wifi at night and google maps/social media activity during the day, 8GB is more than enough data for 1 month if you are not streaming/downloading on your phone. Use hotel wifi or Starbucks for those kinds of things if you need to download large files. You don’t need unlimited plans. So T-Mobile for me are just ok.
Sprint Prepaid Sim Plans
Sprint are the lowest of the four companies given the coverage. However, on price they are in line with T-Mobile, offering a cheap and cost effective plan for customers.
Sprint Coverage Map
Data, Talk & Text
Sprint don’t seem to have very many options compared to the others.
It is really hard to even research what plans they have. I had to find other websites from October 2018 which list everything they currently have! This is really concerning from a customer perspective. Having a clear website is step 1 when it comes to selling a service. They don’t have this.
What is on their website is this:
There is no further information one can access online about it which is a shame – even just to see what higher data plans would be. I did manage to find some information about the following prepaid sim card plans with Sprint but be aware they may be different to what you can find in store.
Spirit Forward Unlimited Prepaid Plan
If you purchase this plan, you appear to get unlimited talk and text in the US and unlimited international text for $60 a month plus tax — if you enroll in Auto Pay. The second line will come out to $40 plus tax and every line after that will cost you $20 plus tax if you choose to add more people to it (up to 5 people).
Additionally, if you don’t want to spend as much, you can apparently purchase a 4G Sprint Forward plan — where you can get 4GB of 4G LTE for $45 per person. If you opt for AutoPay, you’ll pay $40 for the first line and $45 for every line after that as there are no further discounts on this plan. Aside from the 4GB of data, you’ll also have unlimited talk and text within the US and unlimited international texting.
I can’t say I am impressed with Sprint at all. But some people use them so they are worth considering. I don’t like that their website is vague with pricing and even showcasing plans. I wish I could actually provide you with solid information on them but this was the best I could find – after 2 days of searching everywhere. Their coverage is not that great if data matters to you, but the pricing is good.
Use Sprint at your own risk.
Sim Corner is a great way for foreigners to purchase a prepaid sim card before you travel. They are far better than any airport kiosk – NEVER ever buy from an airport kiosk – rip off central! I have used similar services in the UK through GiffGaff, a UK phone company; but Sim Corner are a 3rd party company which means they need to make money on their service. They are legit and are based out of Australia – I have not heard a negative word about them and people receiving their sim cards before they depart haven’t seemed to encounter issues. Though some people have been unable to use the sim cards when heading away, but that isn’t Sim Corner’s fault. It happens sometimes. Sim Corner have sim cards for use in many countries, and they sell plans that are available in those countries.
The only downside I can see is the amount they charge for what you can do yourself when you land. And in all honesty? It really isn’t that hard to find a store when you arrive in the city you land in and sort it out yourself. But you do save yourself the trouble of having to locate a phone company – so that is a plus with using companies like this. Especially if you are unable to spend time going in store, getting a sim etc and just want to be able to get on with your holiday.
Pre-paid Plans You Can Buy At Sim Corner
There are no plans with Sim Corner to purchase a Verizon plan. If you want to use Verizon you will need to locate them upon landing in the city you are staying.
In September this year, I found myself at AT&T and walked in around 8pm at night. I had landed at 2pm and got into San Francisco by 4pm as I was staying at the airport for an early flight to Canada the following morning. I walked into AT&T after doing some exploring (without wifi – though I did find some free wifi!) and said to the guy working there that I needed a sim card for around 8GB. I was told if I chose the Auto Pay option I could have a discount from $50 plus tax to $40 plus tax for a 10GB plan – so that is what I did. My sim card cost me $46 USD ($63 USD – at a rate of 0.7198) and I had great coverage everywhere on this trip – including in the Canadian Rockies.
A few days before I left the US, I went into AT&T and had them turn Auto Pay off (i couldn’t log in to my account as i didnt know what zipcode my account was under) and everything was sorted. I actually spent the time it took the guy to activate my phone making a friend with an American girl who enjoyed travel – so all in all the 10 minutes it took me to walk in and do this was not bad at all! I was confident in my purchase, and could see that my sim card worked in my phone. As someone who was driving in 10 plus cities over 2 weeks – I needed wifi to work well on this trip.
(If you forget to turn Auto Pay off – you will likely have to call AT&T from your home country. This is the only way to stop the payments being taken. So just make sure you are turning that feature off if you use Auto Pay!)
An 8G sim card plan with Sim Corner for AT&T will cost you $89 AUD or $64 USD at a rate of 0.7198. Considering I received a 10GB plan for $46 USD or $64 AUD – if you want around 8GB you are actually 2 GB’s worse off, as well as $20-25 AUD worse off buying from Sim Corner. So if you are looking for a 10GB plan or less – my advice is to go in store and get one. $20 is a big enough difference when we want our money to go far – as is the data allowance difference that you will lose – and would benefit from having access to that you miss out on.
The AT&T unlimited plan is $120 AUD or $86 USD at a rate of 0.7198 (don’t forget that includes free coverage in Canada and Mexico) if you purchase with Sim Corner. If you go in store to AT&T, the unlimited plan with hotspot will cost you $65 USD plus tax with auto pay ($90 AUD at a rate of 0.7198). $75 plus tax without Auto Pay ($104 AUD at a rate of 0.7198). The difference with the Sim Corner price is $15-30 AUD depending on if you select to use Auto Pay.
But if you don’t require hotspot access it will be $55 USD plus tax – as long as you use Auto Pay, otherwise it is $65 plus tax. This means you would be paying $76 AUD – $90 AUD if buying either of these in store – but Sim Corner charge $120 AUD which is $30 – 44 AUD difference, so they make money on your purchase – at your expense. Bear in mind the cheaper unlimited plan has no hotspot so it is better to compare the $75 unlimited plan to this one, as the Sim Corner unlimited says it has hotspot. If you’re looking for an unlimited plan with AT&T, going direct seems to be the best option price wise – especially if you aren’t sure if your phone will even work over there!
Please note, if you are traveling for longer than the month you have a valid plan with Sim Corner – you will have to go in store to gain another month. You cannot renew plans online with Sim Corner.
A 6GB T-Mobile plan with T-Mobile retails at $65 AUD which is $46 USD at a rate of 0.7198. 6GB plans actually don’t exist in the US so you can get a 10GB plan in store for $40 USD plus tax ($55 AUD at a rate of 0.7198). Therefore, with Sim Corner – you are actually 4GB worse off than if you waited until you arrived in the US. The price is around $5 more with Sim Corner once tax is added too.
A unlimited T-Mobile plan with Sim Corner however would cost $99 AUD which is $71 USD. Depending on if you purchased the $60 Essential plan ($83 AUD) at a rate of 0.7198 or $70 ONE plan ($97 AUD) at a rate of 0.7198 you would be paying $83-97 AUD if you bought these plans in store. So if you wanted the $70 plan, you would be no better off buying in store than if you purchased it through Sim Corner. But, if you have any issues with your phone and can’t use the sim card, you would lose this money, so I would rather buy there in case my phone didn’t work with it.
Ultimately though, T-Mobile are the 3rd best phone company in the US right now – so are you really getting a good deal being on unlimited with them? There are better deals out there which will give you better coverage. But, if T-Mobile have great coverage in the areas you will be visiting – and you don’t plan to hire a car, then T-Mobile are a fine choice.
There are no plans with Sim Corner to purchase a Sprint plan. If you want to use Sprint you will need to locate them upon landing in the city you are staying.
It is up to you whether you see the value in Sim Corner over other means. Personally, when it comes to issues with activating sim cards – particularly if your phone doesn’t allow another sim card for some reason – you will lose money if you purchase something you can’t actually use. Which can happen. But you won’t know until you are over there that this is an issue.
Additionally, the deals are good in some aspects for travel in the US, but the in-store deals and prices are better (even with conversion) with some phone companies directly, than purchasing with Sim Corner or other 3rd party companies in most instances. Sim Corner doesn’t allow for the purchase of Verizon plans which is a detriment to what they offer, given the reliability and confidence travelers will have using Verizon in the US. But, if you don’t care about the pricing difference, and want an active sim card ready to use in the US when you land – then Sim Corner definitely ticks boxes and most people love the ease of it.
Is There Free Wifi In The USA?
Whether you are shopping in Target, or drinking a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks – free wifi is everywhere. You can access it at McDonald’s, Panera Bread or any shopping mall.
If you have a small data allowance I always recommend you activate the complimentary wifi wherever you are to save your own. But I have never exceeded a plan – and for the 2 weeks I just spent in the US and Canada – I wasn’t even close to using 4GB and I was on Facebook a lot uploading videos, photos and running Live posts; as well as using Google Maps for hours on end! You really need to have a 7GB plan per month – no less, to not run out of data.
You can make your data go very far in the US – unlike Australia. But you really don’t need to have an unlimited plan if you are traveling for only a month and using it for general use.
Why You Don’t Need A Navman When Renting A Car
Lastly, the one question many travelers ask is – what is the best way to have a GPS or Navman when renting a car in the US?
I used to purchase a Navman as I trusted them – plus I always need one to get around. I can’t drive without something guiding me. And over the years sim card options were not always cost effective for travelers. Times have changed. If you own a Navman and it has maps of the US available, you can take it over with you – but it will add to your luggage weight. Additionally, you can also make a Walmart run and buy a GPS that works in the US, but you will need to work out how to get to Walmart as many Walmarts aren’t centrally located.
During the 2 weeks I traveled in the US and Canada, I had my AT&T phone plan which had 10GB of data – and I only noticed it dip out here or there. Usually when I was driving and in a more remote place like the Oregon coast etc. But it was not for long and my Google map itinerary still worked even so (so I knew where I was at all times) and could still get to my destination. What I did notice however was the GPS I had booked for the Canadian Rockies – which saw me in Calgary and driving to Canmore and Banff barely worked. It was really hard to use. It was also taking me on routes that were longer than the Google Maps – as this app updates in real time and notifies you of faster routes. Navman’s don’t seem to do that.
I also purchased a phone holder (which connects to your air conditioning compartment) for $4 at Kmart before I left Australia. This was the best buy I found and my phone was always held secure in it. (Plus it twists if you need to look at it vertical or horizontally.) It does increase in temperature if really hot, and get cold if the AC is directly on it – so it can fritz out. But, you don’t have to use a holder as long as the audio is running.
I will never hire or use a Navman again, at home or when I am overseas because Google Maps does the job well. So as long as I have data – I can use my phone.
I really hope this overview helped you for planning or taking your US travels. Obviously, you don’t have to agree with my recommendations. But as someone who travels to the US yearly, and often for more than 1 month stints, I know value when I see it and I am not afraid to purchase a sim card plan until I arrive. That is my travel style. I have used sim cards in different countries and know when a country has a value for money deal. So the whole purpose of this article is to try and highlight what I see as being good value. There are tons of choices out there. But if you care about price, plans you can access with your phone and the coverage they offer – then I hope you take these things on board before making a decision on which once to purchase.
For my next trip to the US, I will only consider buying prepaid sim cards from AT&T – especially if I am traveling in Canada or Mexico, it will always be AT&T – unless Verizon make that aspect a little more competitive and can be used on Aussie phones.
If you’re traveling to the US in future, or want some travel inspiration for the US make sure you join my growing Facebook group Travel In The USA – Practical Advice For Everyone to connect with those who can help you – including me. And be sure to follow my Facebook page where I post TONS more tips – because writing articles takes a lot of time!
Awesome read! Well researched for us Aussies. I’ll be waiting till I arrive in LA and going to an AT&T store for a sim card to ensure it works in my Aussie phone. Thanks