How do I obtain a cellphone for an area code I don't yet live in?
July 7, 2004 1:08 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way to obtain a cell phone for an area code where I do not live (yet)?

Basically, I am moving across the country in a couple months. I would love (LOVE!) to be able to obtain my new cell phone number in new area code before I move; this way I could give the new contact info to people like UPS who are helping me move all of my worldly goods.

Salesdroid at the Verizon store said he could not do this, but "maybe" their website could. I could not find any information on the website about this.

Has anyone done this before? Do I need a billing address located in the new area code? Shipping address? Or is this just not possible for no good reason?
posted by falconred to Technology (27 answers total)
I don't know about the States, but in Canada, I've always been asked what area code I want the cell phone for when getting a new one. Maybe a different (nationwide) provider is in order?
posted by loquax at 1:12 PM on July 7, 2004

Response by poster: loquax - Verizon is (currently) the largest provider in the US (something like 35 million users), and is most definately nationwide. But you are not allowed to pick your area code in the store, you can only have a local one.
posted by falconred at 1:22 PM on July 7, 2004

I'm pretty sure T-Mobile will let you do this.
posted by reverendX at 1:25 PM on July 7, 2004

While at college, the parents of a friend of mine got her a cell phone from their home in Massachusetts, but they gave it the Ohio area code we were in. So, Sprint PCS, at least, used to do that. And I would talk to Verizon, if that's what you want, to make sure they won't.
posted by skynxnex at 1:54 PM on July 7, 2004

I was living in Maryland and got one from Verizon before I moved to Massachusetts. Just call and tell them what you need.
posted by bitpart at 2:01 PM on July 7, 2004

I just did this - got lots of flack (bad or false info) from salesdroids. I got a Cingular phone/plan, so I could use the phone while in Seattle, while on the road driving cross-country to Boston, and while in Boston. Apparently the last step I have to take is to go to a Cingular store here now, and have them swap a card in my phone to change it from a 206 number to a 978 number. I haven't gotten around to it yet, but will soon. I know that doesn't help much - I think the billing address on the credit card or point of sale needs to match the area code, generally (for no apparent reason).

I hate Cell Phone services, Salesdroids, and the concept of paying tons of money for something I rarely use - but when I need it, I need it, you know.
posted by kokogiak at 2:01 PM on July 7, 2004

I did it in 2001 through SprintPCS by using a friend in San Francisco's address as my billing address - I lived in Massachusetts at the time.
posted by bendy at 2:14 PM on July 7, 2004

I tried this when I moved to Seattle from wisconsin, a number to give everyone, prospective jobs, movers, friends. But I was never able to do it without a local address.

But when I was in Seattle, I was able to choose my area code from the 3 area codes of seattle (206,253,360), regardless of where I actually lived, so go figure.
posted by patrickje at 2:22 PM on July 7, 2004

I remember when I switched area codes on my cell phone I just called up customer service and there was no hassle at all. This was when I was on Sprint PCS.
posted by gyc at 3:01 PM on July 7, 2004

If calling Verizon doesn't solve the problem, perhaps you could let us know where you're moving--some MeFite in that area might, for example, be willing to provide a temporary mailing address.
posted by Acetylene at 3:03 PM on July 7, 2004

I haven't tried this, but you might try calling one of the local storefronts for your desired cellular carrier in the location you're moving to, and say "I'm not there yet, but I'm moving there soon. Please just set me up and mail me the phone." It might work.
posted by adamrice at 3:16 PM on July 7, 2004

Are you starting new service or do you already have a phone in your current area code? Wireless companies are required by law to obtain your primary usage address, which can differ from your mailing address. The primary usage address determines the taxes they collect from you, and, usually, the area code they assign. However, as area codes boundaries and tax jurisdictions do not always coincide, people frequently end up with incorrect or inconvenient area codes and call up to request a new number. There should be no charge. Long story short: Call them up and give them your new address (or friend's address, the rep won't likely care), and they should be able to help you out, with the following caveats: (1) Carriers can only assign numbers in area codes where they do business (obviously), and (2) They reserve the right to reassign you to a different area code if the majority of your usage over a period of time is in an area other than your specified primary usage area. In my experience, this is only really likely if your usage is primarily on another carrier's network and costing your carrier lots of money in roaming fees.
posted by cdavis at 3:30 PM on July 7, 2004

Response by poster: I already have an address I am moving to (in New York), however I don't want to tie it to my credit card just yet, lest the current resident start recieving my financial details. So it's not a billing address. And it's not a mailing address because I want the phone sent to me here (in Seattle). *whew*

Anyway, thanks everyone. I was just wondering if this was in fact possible before I called customer service. I think I will just call around until some company hooks me up. You'd think they'd have automated tools for this situation, but I guess it just isn't common enough.

On Preview: cdavis - yes that "primary usage address" is exactly the term I'm looking for!
posted by falconred at 3:35 PM on July 7, 2004

Virgin Mobile lets you do it. I'm from the UK and I bought a phone to use while in Los Angeles for a month. When I 'activated' it, they asked what ZIP code I was in.. and duly issued me with the local 818 code.. I could have said I was in New York, however, and got a 212, or whatever. Virgin is a good deal too, no monthly fee, although a minimum top up of $20 every 3 months is required I believe.
posted by wackybrit at 3:46 PM on July 7, 2004

Response by poster: Unfortunately the cellphone will be my only phone (no landline) once I move, so the pricing on the pay-as-you-go phones is not attractive.
posted by falconred at 4:03 PM on July 7, 2004

Your "cell" phones' area codes match the area code for where you live? Odd. Here in crazy England, mobile phones have their very own area codes (starting with 07) -- the phone isn't tied to an area, after all, so why should it have an area code?
posted by reklaw at 4:08 PM on July 7, 2004

Your "cell" phones' area codes match the area code for where you live? Odd. Here in crazy England, mobile phones have their very own area codes (starting with 07) -- the phone isn't tied to an area, after all, so why should it have an area code?

Well, you want your mobile to have an area code that's in the same general area as the people who will be caling it the most. Otherwise they have to pay for the call, because it's long-distance.
posted by kindall at 5:12 PM on July 7, 2004

kindall: Well, they deal with that problem by giving mobiles their own price band, seperate from local/long-distance schemes. It's generally expensive to call mobiles from landlines (or landlines from mobiles), but cheap to call mobile-to-mobile, and even cheaper if both mobiles use the same network operator (that being the equivalent of a "local call", I guess).
posted by reklaw at 6:08 PM on July 7, 2004

If you call Verizon and they won't do it for you, drop me an email (in my profile). I know a high-level customer support person at Verizon, so I can ask him.
posted by gokart4xmas at 6:24 PM on July 7, 2004

I've always been asked what area code I'd like to use when entering into a cell phone contract. I assume it's because there are quite a few area codes covering a single metropolitain area here -- I work with people in a single office who have 925, 650, 415, 408, 916, 707 and 510 numbers -- so I don't know if they'd grouse if I asked for something out of LATA. It's possible they could just fulfill the order with whatever area code you'd like, but maybe they can only offer in-LATA numbers.
posted by majick at 6:57 PM on July 7, 2004

I bought my DC area-code phone in Miami via Sprint (at Best Buy). I just said I'd be moving there soon and they had no problem with it. I did already have an address in housing and a copy of my orders. That may have helped, but I don't think it's unusual to get this done.
posted by tetsuo at 6:58 PM on July 7, 2004

AT&T Wireless, when I was living in NY State but going to school in Mass, gave me no problem about having a 508 (Mass.) area code even though I did not want to get my bills or anything else there, and was in a NY store. This was a few years ago though, so I don't know if they are still so accomodating. I believe they asked me what area code I wanted, at the time too.
posted by catfood at 3:09 AM on July 8, 2004

reklaw: I'm sure our yankee cousins can correct me if necessary, but don't both parties to a cellphone call in the States have to pay? [In the UK, guys, only the initiator of a call pays a fee.] Maybe there's some reason there for 'local area codes'.
posted by dash_slot- at 5:49 AM on July 8, 2004

In the US, many--if not most--landline customers pay one flat fee for unlimited calling within their "local calling area," regardless of whether the calls are made to landlines or mobiles within that area. There are various Byzantine schemes that the phone companies use to determine what your local calling area is, but the area codes figure prominently. Anything outside your local calling area is a long-distance call which incurs charges (sometimes exorbitant charges, if you're not careful about the way you set up your long distance plan). Hence, you want to make your mobile phone's area code correspond to the local calling area of those who call you the most.

Also, US mobile users pay for receiving calls as well as for making them. Not so for landlines.
posted by Tholian at 7:07 AM on July 8, 2004

dash_slot: No. That's not quite how it works. For the call initator on a landline, the billing rules are identical regardless of what kind of device is on the other end of a dialed number.

If the number of the cell phone is a local call from a landline, it costs nothing to dial it (as all other local calls). This correlates somewhat to area code, but not entirely: within a given area code, some numbers will be considered "local" for billing purposes, and some not. In fact, some numbers in other area codes may be considered "local" in dense urban areas.

If a number is in a nearby area but not free, it's probably what's called a "toll call." Rates for these are inexplicably quite a bit higher than most long distance calls, which would be calls to any number outside that "toll call" radius. For example, from where I live there are certain parts of the city of San Francisco which are free to call, but other areas cost several cents per minute.

It sounds ridiculously complicated but it boils down to a pretty simple rule: unless you're dialing a distant area code, it's probably either free or somewhat expensive. Otherwise it's only somewhat expensive.
posted by majick at 7:12 AM on July 8, 2004

Oh, and to actually address the original question: I had some trouble getting a cell phone when I was moving from Baltimore to Philly, despite personally going into the Philly stores and explaining my situation. But the AT&T Wireless store in Willow Grove did it for me, no problem, no questions asked. So maybe it depends on who you talk to....
posted by Tholian at 7:15 AM on July 8, 2004

To clarify a touch on Majick's comment:

If you're calling from a mobile, the call is toll if it is to a place *physically* distant from where you are right now -- even if that place is your home town, and *you* are on the road.

Dialling and rating aren't necessarily tied on a cellphone: in that situation, you'd call your home with 7 digits, but *still* pay LD for it (if your plan doesn't include it), whereas calls to the place you are require the Area Code, but bill as local airtime.

And, again, for our overseas friends, all airtime on US mobile phones bills to the mobile, which is why they aren't distinguished by a special area code: the caller needn't know because they aren't paying for it.

And while opinions differ, this is sensible to me: *I'm* the one who wanted the convenience of mobility; people calling me shouldn't be asked to a) pay for it or b) even worry about it.
posted by baylink at 9:11 AM on July 8, 2004

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