How should I get connected in the U.S. again?
December 18, 2007 4:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm probably moving back to the U.S. in August or September. I'm visiting this week and again in late March/early April. I already have a UK tri-band GSM phone. What should I do to get mobile phone coverage in the U.S.?

Is there a cheap SIM I can get where my balance won't expire? Is there any point in trying to pave the way for an eventual monthly plan? Which carrier is least scammy?

Not particularly interested in a new phone. If I had to have one, it doesn't need to have any frills and would prefer a non-clamshell Nokia.
posted by grouse to Technology (8 answers total)
You can walk into an ATT store and get a cheap GSM based pre-paid phone and subscribe to the Pay As You Go plan with one type of plan costing 25 cents/minute. A $25 prepaid refill card lasts 90 days at which point the unused balance gets zeroed out. They may even give/sell just the SIM card to you for use in your own phone.
posted by jaimev at 4:26 PM on December 18, 2007

I was in this position and found that selling SIMs was considered a shadier thing over here than in the U.K.

In the end, I picked up the cheapest PAYG phone from Cingular (now AT&T) and spent $100 dollars on minutes -- the phone was free as a result. There may be similar deals now there or with other carriers.

I'm still using that phone, a year later. Since I didn't have a credit history when I got here, I had little choice but to have a PAYG phone.
posted by galaksit at 5:16 PM on December 18, 2007

Your UK tri-band phone is 1800/1900/900 and the US uses 1800/1900/850. ATT uses 850 a lot more frequently than T-mobile does. My Sony Ericsson K800i was for Europe and I never found a dead area using T-mobile in the US.

So you may want to get a T-mobile prepaid SIM account.
posted by birdherder at 5:26 PM on December 18, 2007

Best answer: Depends on where you go in the US; some areas, in particular the western US, do not have good GSM coverage in rural areas. That being said, for GSM, you would want to buy a T-Mobile To Go prepaid wireless phone. You can get a basic Nokia with a fair bit of features for $30-40 at Wal-Mart or Target. Then you buy the $100 airtime card. That places you on their "Gold Rewards" level, which gives you 1000 minutes (and also upgrades your $15 airtime that you get with the phone to 10 cents per minute) for a total of 1150 minutes. The airtime does not expire for a year, and you can pay $10 before the year is up to buy another card - it will only get you 35 minutes but it will keep your balance alive for another year. Keep in mind that the 850mhz coverage area does not work for T-Mobile's prepaid customers.

If you find yourself needing CDMA coverage due to inadeqaute GSM coverage, Page Plus is the way to go. They operate on the Verizon network. Minutes are good for 120 days and you can get time for as little as 5.7 cents per minute. You will need a Verizon Wireless phone, or you can get a phone from Page Plus ( or one of their dealers. They give you 100 minutes when you activate.

Hope this helps. The people at are a treasure trove for this kind of information.
posted by azpenguin at 8:42 PM on December 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great responses, thanks guys. Looks like there is no benefit to already having my own low-end phone, because I can probably get a new low-end phone for less than getting a T-Mobile activation kit.
posted by grouse at 2:55 AM on December 19, 2007

Response by poster: The FAQs and Wiki at HowardForums are full of useful information, although the site can be a bit difficult to navigate. I asked my question again here. Thanks again, azpenguin.
posted by grouse at 3:34 AM on December 19, 2007

Response by poster: I went to Target and bought a Nokia 2610, which was free with the purchase of a $100 refill, which extended the expiration date by a year as azpenguin pointed out. Works great so far.
posted by grouse at 7:14 AM on December 31, 2007

Response by poster: GrandCentral is great for people who are only in the U.S. periodically, since you can get one number that will ring your U.S. mobile phone as well as the Gizmo Project softphone, so you can still get calls cheaply when you're abroad.
posted by grouse at 9:15 AM on January 22, 2008

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