Getting a US data plan for my foreign cell phone
January 29, 2014 1:15 PM   Subscribe

I am travelling to Chicago in two weeks and want to use my smartphone whilst I am there (and away from WiFi). Importantly though I am not actually bothered about making phone calls. DATA is what I crave. What are my best sim card options?

I have a factory unlocked Nexus 5 phone. I bought and use it in the UK, so it runs on GSM (and LTE) networks.

I have seen pay-as-you-go cards in SevenElevens and so forth, but never taken the plunge. What's the best bang for my buck, considering that it is DATA I most want to use?

I will only be in Chicago for a week, so I shouldn't need more than 1GB of data on the plan. Is that going to cost me a lot? Could I buy the sim card now and have it shipped to the UK? Would that make sense?

Many thanks
posted by 0bvious to Technology (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I did the same thing last month (Chicago even) and I just went to the first T-Mobile store once I crossed the border and bought a pay-as-you-go SIM with unlimited data for a few bucks a day.
posted by Jairus at 1:20 PM on January 29, 2014

You have the "international edition" Nexus 5, which means you don't have the same LTE bands available as the North American edition. (More discussion here.) That limits you to 3G. You'll also find that the PAYG options have some kind of throttling (T-Mob's $3/day plan throttles after the first 200MB).

There's not really an equivalent to UK carriers' voice-light, data-heavy options other than the T-Mobile $30/month plan, and that plan is only offered if you activate online.
posted by holgate at 1:47 PM on January 29, 2014

You could go to a T-Mobile store (or kiosk in a mall, Radio Shack store, something like that), get a T-Mobile prepaid SIM and $30 worth of T-Mobile top-up cards (I pay with a credit card but not sure if non-US credit cards will work), then activate it online for the $30/month plan, I think. I think that would be your best bet.
posted by mskyle at 1:50 PM on January 29, 2014

I literally just did this earlier this month for a visiting friend. T-Mobile is far and away your best bet--unlimited data, $30/mo, or $2/day. The SIM will either be free (in some stores, but not all) or will cost about $10. Using a non-US credit card to activate online doesn't work--you'll probably have to go into a store and activate in person.

The only other real option is, I believe, AT&T, which is more expensive and has a data cap of...not a lot. Maybe 1.5G? It wasn't worth it.
posted by MeghanC at 2:26 PM on January 29, 2014

You can also activate the T-Mobile $30 plan in person at Wal-Mart, otherwise it has to be done online.
posted by wierdo at 3:43 PM on January 29, 2014

You can try ReadySIM.
posted by neushoorn at 2:17 AM on January 30, 2014

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