Can I use the cell phone that I bought abroad in the US?
June 29, 2014 2:41 PM   Subscribe

I just came back to the US from living in Europe. I have a very basic Samsung phone that I bought cheaply over there. I brought it back with me, and am wondering if I can change the sim card and have a prepaid plan in the US.

I tried doing a web search on this and I found plenty of sites about using your American phone in Europe, but nothing about using your European phone in the US. I have a very basic phone that I bought for something like 20 dollars over there which served me well. Should it be possible just to switch out the sim card with another sim card in the US? I mainly want the phone for the purposes of getting in touch with people when we are meeting up or really short phone conversations. I might want to use it for job interviews as well, depending on various factors (side question: do prepaid plans in the US usually let you receive calls for free?). The past couple of years, my expenditure on my phone bill was next to nothing, since internet is everywhere and I can pretty much just communicate with people on facebook. Would like to continue this situation.

Thanks for any help!
posted by thesnowyslaps to Technology (4 answers total)
Most likely. We'd need to know the model number for sure but, these days, even the most basic of phones support a worldwide set of frequencies. You could also just swing by a T-Mobile or AT&T store and ask to try out a SIM.

As for inbound calls, no, all calls, regardless of direction, are charged against your plan minutes.
posted by fireoyster at 2:48 PM on June 29, 2014

You also need to make sure that the phone you bought is unlocked so it can accept SIM cards from carriers other than the one you used in Europe.
posted by dcjd at 2:51 PM on June 29, 2014

In the US, all calls and texts are billed the same way, regardless of if it's incoming or outgoing. No free calls.

Most US carriers don't use SIM cards. The two that do are AT&T and T-Mobile, and though my experience is with people coming over from Australia/New Zealand, I've yet to find a phone that doesn't work on those networks.

My experience is that T-Mobile is consistently cheaper than AT&T, but it'll depend on how you use your phone. Information about T-Mo's prepay stuff is here. Information about AT&T's is here. If you're ok having a contract, for $40 a month, T-Mobile has an unlimited talk/unlimited text/500mb data plan discussed here.
posted by MeghanC at 6:25 PM on June 29, 2014

Given it has a SIM, and is a cheap phone; it will be GSM (likely with no LTE aka 4G support), as opposed to CDMA, the other common US standard. It will need to be tri or quad band, or it won't support the US frequencies; specifically, 850 and 1900 MHz, whereas 900/1800 Mhz are the bands used in Europe (and much of the rest of the world). Most, but not all, are at least tri-band these days, which will support voice and texting, though coverage may be an issue in some areas if it only supports one US frequency. If it's only dual-band, you're out of luck.

If the phone was pay-as-you go (pre-paid) in Europe, it may well be locked to that carrier, and you'll need to get it unlocked before it can be used. It should notify you that the SIM is unsupported when you put a different carrier SIM in it, so definitely test it on an working SIM if you can.

The two national carriers that use GSM are AT&T and T-mobile. If you're staying largely in one state, a regional carrier might be cheaper; wikipedia has a pretty comprehensive list, sort by Voice Technology to get all the GSM ones; they often have roaming agreements with other networks to at least get voice/text support outside your area.

Depending upon what your carrier supports, and the phone supports, and what frequencies you have available, you might be able to get EDGE (2G), UMTS (3G) or HSPA+ (3.5G) data connections; however mobile data support better than EDGE is where you're most likely to experience issues, compared to basic voice use, particularly if it's only tri-band.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:32 PM on June 30, 2014

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