SIM Cards for the USA
July 4, 2011 4:16 AM   Subscribe

Travelling through the East Coast of the USA, I would like to use my unlocked GSM phone (Nexus One) for data. My UK provider (T-Mobile) charges extortionate rates for this service. Can I buy a pay-as-you-go or other low cost SIM card in the USA which would give me cheap(ish) data on the road?

I am not troubled by changing the number - I'll swap SIM cards around if required. I just want to use my phone for data access whilst travelling. My UK SIM will charge me over $10 per meg, which could mount up quickly.

If this were the other way round - it would be simple, all UK operators will sell a SIM card over-the-counter which you top up with the services you want, and pay for what you use. Is there an equivalent in the USA? The dense formatting of operator websites isn't answering my question, except to suggest that it's all very complicated.

I have a residential address in the USA if that helps. I could probably take out a contract, but I'll only be there for three weeks.
posted by grahamwell to Travel & Transportation around United States (6 answers total)
Try the advice in this thread.
posted by knile at 4:35 AM on July 4, 2011

Just FYI, every McDonald's and Starbucks is a wireless access point, as are a lot of hotels, so if you really want to save and you're willing to limit your access you can get by without ever having to suckle from the AT&Teet.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:03 AM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ironically, T-Mobile USA is likely to be your best choice: they do SIM-only deals and and PAYG plans with data at either $1.49/day or for a monthly lump sum. The APN details are here.
posted by holgate at 11:05 AM on July 4, 2011

And Civil_Disobedient is right that you can probably get by using wi-fi for a lot of your needs -- more so than in the UK, where most wi-fi access is tied to subscriptions -- though you'll want mobile data handy if you're on the road.
posted by holgate at 11:08 AM on July 4, 2011

You can get a SIM inside a T-Mobile USA owned store and pay as you go for data for much less than T-Mobile UK will charge for roaming. That's the good news. The bad news is your Nexus One (the Nexus One sold in the US was for either ATT or T-Mo and the rest of world frequencies) probably doesn't have the 3G frequency T-Mo USA uses so your speeds will be relegated to EDGE speeds. EDGE will do in a pinch when you're not in range of wifi and even though it is cheaper, it isn't cheap so the slower speed may keep you from spending too much money.

You might get a SIM from ATT that will work for your phone's 3G but I can't get their website to show the PAYG plans right now. Last I checked it was more expensive than T-Mo. Again, your best bet is to stop by a company-owned store for help as the authorized cellphone dealers will always want to sell you a new phone on contract.
posted by birdherder at 11:10 AM on July 4, 2011

Here's how to check whether your N1 is compatible with T-Mob's network.

You can get a SIM-only PAYG deal with AT&T (Go Phone) but it's much less prominently advertised -- you'd definitely need to go to one of their shops to get it. If you were toting an iPhone, you'd need to pretend otherwise, but I think you're okay to plonk your N1 on the counter.
posted by holgate at 12:33 PM on July 4, 2011

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