Disposable cell phone
June 15, 2010 1:53 PM   Subscribe

I'm a Canadian planning a trip to the Disney World this fall. My current cell phone has ridiculous roaming rates, so I won't be bringing it with me. I live very close to the border, and thought I would go over the border and buy a cheap prepaid phone a few weeks before my trip, so that I can activate it, and give the number out to people before I go. Is this a good idea?

How do these things work? Once I purchase the phone, do I then have to purchase minutes too, or will the phone come with some small amount of minutes? Will I have any trouble activating the phone by virtue of not having a US address? Will I be required to give a credit card number to activate the phone?

Any other things I should beware of, or stuff I need to know?
posted by MagicEightBall to Shopping (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Some Cdn providers allow you to buy a block of US roaming minutes for a fixed price, like 100 min for $40 or some such. It's an OK deal and saves the hassle of having a separate phone.

As for buying a prepaid phone it's dead easy and you don't need a credit card # to activate one. Just buy cards with minutes at a store and you're good to go.
posted by GuyZero at 1:58 PM on June 15, 2010

For $20 US you can get a phone already loaded with a few minutes. As of right now, you don't need to show ID or a US address for the phone, but some in Congress wish to change that (war on terror and all that). When you buy the phone you can buy a card for more minutes at the same time and if you run out, you can get more at a store in Florida. A credit card would make it easier to top off minutes without stopping into a retail outlet.

Note your US prepaid phone will have a number in whatever bordertown you buy it in, and with some plans using the phone in Florida may constitute "roaming" but it will still be much cheaper than whatever international roaming your Canadian company charges.

When I did the reverse (bought a Fido SIM to use my phone in Canada...I've also done the same in Mexico) I was able to top off minutes using my debit card from a US bank. I don't know if the US carriers would restrict buying minutes online with a credit card on a non-US bank but that could be an option.
posted by birdherder at 2:09 PM on June 15, 2010

I'm Canadian, I spend some time in NYC here and there, so I picked up a $20 prepaid phone from T-Mobile and put Pay-As-You-Go minutes on it. See here. They don't ask for a credit card or an address or anything like that. I just paid for the phone, bought some minutes and they activated it in the store for me.

As GuyZero said, you can also buy a roaming pack for the US, which can be a decent deal and very little hassle depending on your provider. I do this too (on Fido) and $40 gets me 70 minutes within a month of purchase. If I go over the 70 minutes within that month, I still only pay 57cents/min, instead of $2 or whatever the roaming charge is.
posted by meerkatty at 2:09 PM on June 15, 2010

Why don't you just get a prepaid phone in Orlando?
posted by dfriedman at 2:14 PM on June 15, 2010

buy a tracfone (or whatever kind of pay as you go phone) once you get into the States. During the time you're away, change the voice mail on your Canadian phone to say "call my on my burner, 407-xxx-xxxx." you can get a phone with minutes for very cheap, no roaming charge, and about $.10/minute for top-offs (substantially less if you buy a big card, and/or a double minutes card).

I hear what others are saying about the trouble and waste of buying a burner, but honestly you will spend more on snacks in your first half day at Disney than you will on a phone and 200 minutes. plus if you ever come back you can always just activate the phone again. or give/lend it to somebody else. PAYG phones cost less than you pay for cigarettes up there, I bet.
posted by toodleydoodley at 2:24 PM on June 15, 2010

Seems like a good idea to me.
posted by deadweightloss at 3:13 PM on June 15, 2010

I have Virgin Mobile and did not have to show any ID when I bought it. That may be different when you buy one from a border town. Basically you get a phone and you then buy a minute pack. It was all done in cash.

A 200 minute pack is $20 US. If you buy larger amounts of time, the cost goes down per minute.
posted by lampshade at 3:34 PM on June 15, 2010

I recommend Tracfone primarily because I get much better reception with them than anyone else I've tried (including lots of enclosed spaces at Disneyland, where most of my friends had no reception at all.) It's mind-bogglingly simple to set up; they have phones for about $10, and you can get the cards everywhere.

Where you live makes no difference when you're activating these things, incidentally. You put in the ZIP code of the place you're going to use the phone the most, and they assign the number accordingly.
posted by SMPA at 4:21 PM on June 15, 2010

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