Need options for short-term US cell phone for travel.
November 16, 2014 4:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm traveling from the UK to the US in 2 days, and need a cell phone with a US number for roughly a week. I have an unlocked GSM smartphone with dual SIM slots. Any options to get a short-term US SIM card quickly (and, ideally, cheaply!)?

I ordered a ReadySIM brand card several weeks ago, but it has yet to arrive. So, unless it comes in the post tomorrow, I need another plan. I will only be in the US for roughly a week, so ReadySIM seemed a great option--7 days service, local number, activated by text on arrival. Perfect. The shipping time, though, has proven to be an issue.

I also have my old US pay as you go phone from Virgin Mobile US. And I think I can activate it online for a single month. However, it'd be nicer to have my smartphone with a US number for the week, instead of my dinky old dumbphone.

I won't have time to buy anything in London before I leave, unless it's at Heathrow. Does anyone have ideas for solutions available either:
-online, that can be shipped in a day (so, basically, Amazon Prime UK eligible items, which amazingly arrive about 12 hours after ordering)
-at Heathrow (I feel like the kiosks and machines there only generally sell UK SIMS?)
-at San Francisco International. Are there stores there hocking pay as you go SIMS suitable for short-term use for a decent rate?

Or is that a fool's errand, and should I just reactivate my Virgin phone and suffer the indignities of using a crappy old flip phone?

posted by still bill to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You can go to any T-Mobile store and pick up a SIM for $10. Then you can get unlimited phone calls and text, and 200 MB of 4G data for $3/day (Pay As You Go Phone Plans, T-Mobile). I doubt there is one in the airport but it should be easy to find one outside.

See United States on Pay as You Go Sim with Data Wiki for other options.
posted by grouse at 5:19 AM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This seems like a potentially perfect solution, grouse. There is a T-Mobile store on Powell St. which is quite close to the BART stop I will be using, so that should work!

Any other solutions anyone might think of, I'm happy to hear them!
posted by still bill at 5:45 AM on November 16, 2014

I'd bring the Virgin phone and activate it if you can't find a SIM easily. Do you need the phone while you're at the airport or are you just going somewhere where you don't think you'd be able to find a regular cell phone store?
posted by mskyle at 5:45 AM on November 16, 2014

Response by poster: I don't particularly need it at the airport. It would be handy, but not at all necessary. Either way, I will be bringing the Virgin phone just so I have options. I'm attending a conference in SF, and just need to be able to talk and text while there.

One concern looking over T-Mobile's SIM options: I am not sure my current smartphone has the correct band support to work on their network. It's a BLU Life One, unlocked for international use. The specs for the phone are listed as follows:

2G: GSM 850/900/1800/1900
3G: HSDPA 850/1900/2100

T-Mobile, according to their website, requires that devices support 1700/2100 Mhz frequencies. The BLU phone seems to support 2100, but not 1700. Does it need to support both? I know nothing about any of this, sorry!
posted by still bill at 6:00 AM on November 16, 2014

Best answer: Pretty sure you're ok as long as you have one of the supported bands, though you may have more dead spots than if you had both.
posted by mskyle at 6:41 AM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A lot of major cities, including anywhere BART would cover, have been refarmed for 1900mhz.

It's hard to find a map anymore of where is and isn't, but yea. It's definitely most of the area around sf/the bay.

Also, you WILL get 2g data and voice where it's not refarmed. But seriously, you have to drive out into the boonies to run into that anymore. Anywhere they have LTE is refarmed is what I've heard, so look at their LTE map. Last time I looked it was basically "the west coast near any major cities or i5/other big highways".
posted by emptythought at 11:31 AM on November 16, 2014

Best answer: Came to recommend the T-Mobile solution. I do this whenever I travel to the US from the UK. My phone has the same band profile as yours, i.e. I get 1700 only in LTE, not 2G or 3G.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:02 PM on November 16, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, All! T-Mobile it is, unless the ReadySIM arrives in the post tomorrow morning. In fact, after reading (after purchase d'oh!) some ReadySIM reviews, it seems I might find myself in T-Mobile anyway, since the ReadySIM cards appear to have some issues.

I can rest easy now knowing I won't miss out on any pointless 'were in the loby bar come habe a drinks!1!' conference texts.
posted by still bill at 1:39 PM on November 16, 2014

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