Options for on-the-go Internet access for a foreigner visiting the U.S.?
August 17, 2011 2:25 AM   Subscribe

Recommendations for accessing the Internet during a two-week U.S. vacation. Can I buy a suitable 'pay you go' (non-contract) SIM card in the U.S. for this purpose?

I will be coming from the Netherlands.

I have an unlocked HTC Desire.

I will be travelling in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California (Seattle to SF road trip).
posted by fakelvis to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There aren't really very many good options for prepaid / pay-as-you-go data in the US, this link about AT&T's GoPhone plan from this previous thread might help.
posted by polexa at 2:47 AM on August 17, 2011

Free wi-fi isn't exactly ubiquitous, but it's getting pretty close. Many hotels offer it now, and just about every coffee shop does. Your phone may not work with mobile data networks, but it'll sure work at hotspots.
posted by valkyryn at 2:53 AM on August 17, 2011

T-Mobile has one for 50 bucks.
posted by devnull at 3:31 AM on August 17, 2011

To expand valkyryn's suggestion about wifi:

Starbucks offers free wifi -- and Starbucks is pretty much everywhere (try playing around with their store locator). So do many McDonald's. Between the two, I'll bet you have almost every exit between Seattle and SF covered.
posted by GPF at 3:31 AM on August 17, 2011

Seconding GoPhone. All told a SIM card, bunch of minutes and 100MB of data (usually enough for me between wifi hotspots, which are really common on the west coast) will be about $50. It's not great, but it's definitely serviceable.

Bonus: use Google Voice for any phone calls, especially overseas.
posted by t_dubs at 3:40 AM on August 17, 2011

HTC Desire doesn't listen to T-Mob's 3G frequency, so AT&T is your only option for high-speed mobile data. Wi-Fi is a good supplement to prepaid data, but probably not a replacement.
posted by holgate at 3:43 AM on August 17, 2011

Seattle to SF road trip is absolutely one of the worlds most gorgeous landscapes. That said, much of it is extremely remote and you will be hard pressed to find Internet of any kind along hundreds of km of it. (I drove hwy 1/101 from SF to Eureka/Arcata last year)

Here's the ATT Coverage Map for that region.

Here's the Google Map of Starbucks Locations along your route.
posted by j03 at 4:06 AM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

You could also check boingo locations, and get a one month wi-fi sub if there are enough locations covered.
posted by motdiem2 at 7:11 AM on August 17, 2011

I am doing the exact same road trip in early September! If you are going after that, I will be happy to let you know where we find wifi; memail me because I will probably forget to check this thread again. My impression is that there is not a lot of cell service on the coast.
posted by desjardins at 8:48 AM on August 17, 2011

I know this is crazy talk, but I would consider being completely off-line during your vacation. I have started doing this and it is an amazingly refreshing experience.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 1:01 PM on August 17, 2011

By a T-mobile Pre-paid SIM and then buy a T-mobile Data Daypass every day (1.49$ each).
posted by gmarceau at 3:29 PM on August 17, 2011

gmarceau has the correct answer, at least on price. $35 will do it, if you have to buy the SIM in a store. It appears to be free on T-Mobile's website at the moment.
posted by wierdo at 4:10 PM on August 17, 2011

But to reiterate, the Euro-spec Desire, like most phones not made explicitly for T-Mobile USA, won't support the 1700MHz frequency that T-Mobile uses for its 3G uplink. It'll handle data, but at EDGE speeds only.
posted by holgate at 5:53 PM on August 17, 2011

Response by poster: The AT&T and T-Mobile options look promising, but with the poor AT&T coverage in the area and with my Desire not being able to support T-Mobile USA 3G speeds… well, I guess I'll have to give up on the idea of having an always-on / on-the-go connection.

Boingo doesn't seem to offer much more choice than Starbucks along large stretches of our route, so it seems that Starbucks will have to suffice in case of "emergencies".

That, in combination with a Kindle 3G, should provide for our modest needs. Thanks for the suggestions.
posted by fakelvis at 5:50 AM on August 18, 2011

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