Cheap cellphone + travel = family not freaking out = profit!
September 15, 2010 10:43 AM   Subscribe

What are the cheapest options for pre-paid cellphones for a traveler in the US and UK?

What's the best choice? I don't really care if I have to buy a CDMA phone in each country so long as it's cheap, can make international calls and airtime won't make me bleed from my wallet. Sim cards would be best, because there'd be less waste and I already have a quad-band GSM, but I'm most interested in cheap.

Ideally, this would be something I could just pick up right off the bat with no fuss - if I'll need to provide an address to purchase the sim/phone, is the address of a local hostel going to cut it? If I'll need ID, is a passport going to be OK or do I need another piece?

(Bonus question: are there any big, easy-to-find retailers like Best Buy or the UK equal that participate in cellphone recycling if CDMA phones are the cheapest option?)
posted by zennish to Travel & Transportation (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I just got back from a trip to the UK where I bought a SIM for my existing quad-band phone. They're sold at every little newstand and grocery store, over the counter, with no registration or ID required. I got off the Gatwick Express and went to a shop in Victoria Station and, a few pounds later, had a working SIM card installed in my phone.
Also, you can check online with the various companies to determine what the best tariff is for you. I went with T Mobile because they had a good deal on international calls -- you just text a code to their help number to get the free International Pass, which dropped the cost of calls home (the US) to 5p. a minute. Other carriers have similar plans, so you can figure out what's the best option for you.
posted by katemonster at 11:18 AM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: I'd wholeheartedly recommend Tracfone in the US. I have had this service for about 7-8 years now. Plans are cheap and the service is excellent. I could get reception in remote areas where friends' "big provider" plans failed miserably. You can pick these phones up at any electronics retailer and big store: Best Buy, Walmart, Target etc. At the moment, you can get an LG flip-phone, 60 minutes of call time and 90 days of service for $19.99.

In the UK, pick up a prepaid Orange phone from a supermarket like Asda or Tesco. Last time I visited, I got a phone for £8, including about 60 minutes of call time (as far as I remember - may have been more) and a year of service. Avoid the specialist cellphone stores (including Orange shops). The supermarket deals are way better. I think they may be £10 now ... :-)

Tracfone are CDMA or GSM, depending on the local area where it is bought (they provide a phone that works with the local provider whose service they are reselling). However, you can't add a Tracfone SIM - you need to buy the phone. Orange are GSM (I have successfully used the Orange phone in Greece - you can reactivate it and add minutes in advance of your trip online). You can buy a SIM for Orange, but for some inexplicable reason, this seems to be more expensive than buying a phone with service. Both need activation before you can use them - this can be done online or by phone.

You can recycle cellphones at any WholeFoods Market store (supermarkets, found across the USA).
posted by Susurration at 11:22 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

PS - Tracfone roaming rate is the same as local area rate for most phones. Read the description carefully: some phones use 2 units per minute for roaming, but most have a single call-rate across the USA. The LG phone deal that I mentioned has a single local, roaming, and international call rate, which seems a very good deal.
posted by Susurration at 11:26 AM on September 15, 2010

Response by poster: You guys are awesome - thank you!
posted by zennish at 9:09 AM on September 17, 2010

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