Travelling with a Samsung Galaxy III to the US
June 8, 2012 5:33 PM   Subscribe

I am travelling to the US in August and want to be able to use my smartphone for web browsing while I'm there without paying exorbitant fees from my local carrier (Telstra in Australia). Can you all help me figure how to do this?

I have a new Samsung Galaxy III phone. I guess I need to get a SIM while I'm in the US, so I need to know where and what the best deals are. I also guess it needs to be unlocked, but I don't know how to do that.

I feel like this should be easier than it apparently is, but I figure the hivemind of AskMe can talk me through this.


(Note: last time I was in the US, I took advantage of Wifi networks to web browse on my iPod Touch. I'd prefer to be able to web browse anywhere, though. It's helpful with maps - and I don't want to have to find a Wifi network if I'm already lost ;)
posted by crossoverman to Technology (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My suggestion is to get a SIM from StraightTalk, which is a pay-per-month carrier that piggybacks on AT&T's network in the States. A month of "unlimited" data (really 2GB of data) and voice will set you back $45. But unlike most US carriers, you don't need to sign up for a 2-year contract. (
posted by dis_integration at 5:48 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I went to NY a month ago, I got a prepaid SIM from T-Mobile. I think it was $60, and unlimited calls/texts/data. No contract, no credit card necessary.

Your phone does need to be unlocked. I don't know how that works in Australia, but have you tried calling your carrier?
posted by xmts at 7:48 PM on June 8, 2012

Once your phone is unlocked, it's actually pretty easy to do: just walk into the first mobile phone store you see when you get here, and get a prepaid SIM. I don't think the costs vary significantly between carriers, but you could shop around if you really want the cheapest deal (for whatever reason, these stores always seem to open up near each other; it's even easier if you can find a mall).

But yeah, the unlocking may be the trickiest bit, if you're on some sort of plan with Telstra. If Telstra says your contract locks you in for X months, you can probably get it done "illegally" (ask around, someone will know a place), but you'll probably void your warranty or some such.
posted by retrograde at 8:01 PM on June 8, 2012

Once your phone is unlocked, it's actually pretty easy to do: just walk into the first mobile phone store you see when you get here, and get a prepaid SIM.

No. This is wrong. In the US, most mobile phone companies don't deploy SIMs because they're CDMA based. No Australian GS3 will work on any network except for ATT and T-Mobile. You cannot walk into a Verizon, Sprint, US Cellular, or the vast majority of US carriers' shops and ask for a prepaid SIM. They simply do not exist.

Moreover, if you get a prepaid SIM from T-Mo, which to my recollection is the only US company to offer such with prepaid data, you'll be stuck with EDGE data speeds because T-Mo USA uses the AWS data bands (these aren't used anywhere in Australia and unless your S3 is pentaband, which I doubt it is as very few phones are, then you don't have an AWS radio in it). I don't think that you can get prepaid data with ATT.

Basically the US absolutely positively sucks ass for foreign visitors when it comes to this issue.

More bad advice from retrograde- unlocking a Samsung is no challenge at all. Get your code and instructions from a site like and after maybe $10 Bob's your uncle. It's dead easy.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:44 PM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Huh, color me corrected. The first store I walked in to was T-Mobile. I was sure others had told me of success with other carriers, but I guess I/they were mistaken.

Anyway, I used T with EDGE for months when I moved here. It's not amazing, but it's perfectly adequate.

I didn't say unlocking was hard, just that it might cause warranty issues.
posted by retrograde at 9:04 PM on June 8, 2012

check to see if your phone will work on t-mobile's network at 3/4g speeds, if it does, t-mobile offers pretty great deals for pay as you go. Even if you can't get 3g, 2g isn't so bad if you're just e-mailing and checking text sights. But it kind of sucks for maps, so consider that.

If t-mobile is a no-go, you actually have quite a few options these days for a GSM phone. Straighttalk, mentioned above by dis-integration, seems to be the best deal out there right now. It's an AT&T MVNO, basically a company that rents out bandwidth from a larger carrier and resells to consumers. You'll get essentially the same coverage as through AT&T, just no roaming.
posted by skewed at 9:13 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1). Unlock the phone
2). walk into an AT&T store on arrival, and ask for *just the sim card* on an AT&T Go-Phone account. They'll probably need to be told what the sim is, and that yoamazingly already own a phone. Nod and smile at their answers, just get the sim.
3). BTW don;t say it's a Galaxy 3 or show it. Just say you've a cheap ass Samsung back at the hotel. For some reason they say Go-phone data is for mobile phones, not smartphones.
4). you'll get $25 credit. That's enough to get 1GB of data. Then top up, $2/day will give you unlimited calls and texts. FYI if you top up $100 you have the number and service for a year.
posted by ewan at 2:57 AM on June 9, 2012

well colour me corrected too- that's what I get for snarking retrograde. I tried to get a SIM at an ATT store in Hawaii and they talked as if they had no idea what I was asking for.

One thing ewan- is this the sort of thing you need a US credit card for?

FWIW for travel in the US I use a wind (Canada) SIM in a Nokia Lumia 710- this phone like many Nokia models is pentaband and so it get 3.5G data on AWS on both wind and on T-Mo USA. I got a $5 a month US roaming add-on that is a ridiculous deal- data is even less than at home; with regular wind prepaid in Canada data is a dollar a mb; with this add-on it's 50cents mb in the US. Incredible, by Canadian standards. Calls and text are very cheap too.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:31 AM on June 9, 2012

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