The best USA SIM card for travellers to the United States

By Chris Chamberlin, January 28 2016
The best USA SIM card for travellers to the United States

While the costs of international roaming continue to fall, pre-paid mobile phone SIM cards still have their advantages – whether that’s having a local number for clients to call in the same country or even for longer trips or periods of heavy usage where roaming fees become impractical.

One of the best options in the United States is T-Mobile’s range of Simple Choice Prepaid SIM plans.

It works like this: you either visit a T-Mobile store to grab your SIM card and choose your pre-paid plan after arriving in the USA, or can pick up your USA SIM at the airport or online before leaving Australia through retailer SimCorner.

The latter proves the best value with A$59 getting you a T-Mobile SIM card connected to the standard Simple Choice Prepaid 2GB plan, which lasts for up to 30 days.

Buying the same from a T-Mobile store costs US$65 (A$92.50) being US$15 for the SIM and US$50 for the pre-paid plan, so plan ahead to save more than 35% on the usual sticker price.

Either way you’ll get unlimited calling to numbers in the USA, Canada and Mexico; unlimited texts to any number (including to Australia) and unlimited data, although only the first 2GB is delivered at 4G speeds, with any more throttled back to 2G (although that's still enough for emails on the go or ordering an Uber).

Add to that: free and unlimited inflight SMS within North America on all Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta and Virgin America aircraft fitted with Gogo connectivity.

Calls back to Australia do clock in at US$1.99/minute unless buying an additional pack, so you may find better value in using your Australian mobile for these, particularly with the sluggish exchange rate.

Local SIM vs roaming

Compare that to the roaming charges of the Australian networks and you’ll almost certainly come out ahead for anything more than a quick trip.

Telstra for instance charges $105 for a seven-day ‘international travel pass’ but which includes only 525MB of data.

The same week-long trip on Optus sets you back $70 in ‘travel pack’ fees but with just 350MB of data Included, while Vodafone’s $5/day roaming – which uses your Australian plan's data, voice and text allocation – would come in at $35 for the week.

(Of course, the upside to roaming with your Aussie-based telco – if you can afford it! – is that you can still receive calls and text messages on your regular mobile number.)

When you do return home, stash your T-Mobile SIM in a safe place for use when you next visit the United States, where a simple recharge – or ‘refill’, in American vernacular – gets you going where you left off.

Also read: Using iPhone’s 'do not disturb' feature on your next trip

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Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

I love being able to use my mobile phone (calls and data) for only $5 a day in the USA with Vodafone.  Pretty cheap if you're there for shorter holiday of a week or 2.  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Sep 2013

Total posts 15

When you do return home, stash your T-Mobile SIM in a safe place for use when you next visit the United States, where a simple recharge – or ‘refill’, in American vernacular – gets you going where you left off.

I bought a T-Mobile sim when I visited in June 2014 for 1 month. When I returned 6 months later I went to a T-Mobile store to recharge the same sim card but was told that the number had been recycled due to not being used. Not too sure how long they wait to recycle the number though...

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

29 Jan 2011

Total posts 159

I have a T-Mobile SIM card that I use when I travel to the USA twice a year.

In order to keep the SIM active I use it here in Australia once a month and that keeps it going.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 526

I aslo have had a T-Mobile sim (and the same US tel number) since 2012, which  have always been very happy with.

Rather than use your number once a month from Australia, there is a quick trick that will save the expense.

When you're sitting at the airport ready to fly back to Australia, simply give T-Mobile a call and ask them to 'switch' your account back to 'Pay As You Go'. You don't need to maintain a balance (for the months that you are home in Australia) .. and when you return to the USA, you simply switch back to the $50 / 70 / 80 per month Simple plan, which includes unlimited talk, SMS and data. $50 is limited to 3G, $70 is all 4G within US, and $80 allows 4G everywhere incl international service.

Your number is reserved for a 13 month period of non-use, so it allows you to maintain a constant and permanent US cell number.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

29 Jan 2011

Total posts 159

I am already on a Pay as you Go, I'm on a $2 a day plan which originally only gave me a 2G service but the last few times I've used it I now get 4G. I don't think they offer this plan any more.

The other thing, the top-up balance only has a 90 day use-by  date.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 526

Ah, that explains it. I'd suggest, next time you're in the US, pop into a T-Mobile Store or retail mall pop-up and (re)new for a monthly Simple Choice plan. You'll get a new SIM with a permanent number. Then, at the end of your trip, do the switch to PAYG. T-Mobile will move any existing credit on the Simple Choice & convert it to PAYG.

By doing this, you will have the option to do recharges from Australia via your T-Mobile account via internet access (pre-travel) OR you will have instant access (on arrival to the USA) of being able to call the recharge number (611 or *ADD).

09 Nov 2011

Total posts 10

They do indeed offer something similar. I regularly travel to the US and I am on the $3 a day plan, which gives unlimited talk, text and data, although 4G speeds cut out after 200MB per day. It's a great deal! In order to keep the number you just need to make sure your balance has expired. The expiration date can be 90 days but if you select a higher refill amount then I believe it can be up to 6 months. Another convenience is that I lost my T-mobile SIM when my wallet was stolen. The next time I was back in the US I stopped into a store and for $15 they were able to give me a new SIM with my balance restored. I've also used AT&T and from my experience T-Mobile is by far the better deal.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

06 Apr 2012

Total posts 103

Does the T-Mobile sim allow for connection tethering ?  (ie. If you have a T-Mobile sim card in your iPhone and wish to create a 'personal hotspot' for your iPad/laptop connectivity). 

Yes, tethering is allowed on Simple Choice plans – any data consumed just comes out of your plan inclusions.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

16 Dec 2015

Total posts 41

In-flight SMS requires a T-Mobile branded device or iPhone last I checked, so that's a non-feature for many travelers. 

Hi Chris, there's no mention of this requirement on the T-Mobile website, simply that some devices may need a software update to use inflight texting, and a few steps to complete before you're ready to go.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

16 Dec 2015

Total posts 41

Interesting – even that same page says two different things. In one place it says "Have a Gogo-ready device" while in another place it says "Have a compatible T-Mobile branded phone and are on the most recent software version, (see chart below)."

Then the chart of Gogo-ready devices doesn't mention that they have to have T-Mobile branding...

In that case, the plan we've written about still allows it, but if users experience any issues they can always revert to sending and receiving iMessages on Apple via the inflight WiFi, or via the various messaging apps available for both iOS and Android.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 526

Whoops .. left out one important word ... "compatible T-Mobile branded device".

I've had no problem using a high-end Nokia Lumia Windows or an HTC Android handset (both purchased in Australia) on this service. As the web link indiicates, it's important to have appropriate updates installed.

Chris (Ricks) - could it be that you had not previously made a WIFI call with your handset - or that your T-Mobile account was not set with a 911 reference?

14 Apr 2014

Total posts 47

Hi Chris,

Please would you mind doing another article on international SIM cards in Europe?

Thanks

QFF

19 Sep 2013

Total posts 164

If you have to go to a store in the U.S. to purchase a SIM, may have to make two trips - first to book an appointment as they are very busy, then the second trip to purchase the SIM. A real painful process.

19 Jan 2016

Total posts 7

The only problem with T-Mobile in the USA is coverage. Similar to VodaPhone in Australia.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Jan 2016

Total posts 9

I spent three months in the US and I picked up an AT&T prepaid SIM over there for $60/month (or $55/month with discount): https://www.att.com/shop/wireless/gophone-plans.html

It served me beautifully and, because I use a lot of data (especially finding my way around), the 5GB option was better for me. I came and went over the course of about a year and the number remained active despite the periods of several months when I wasn't adding credit.

I had also been warned about T-mobile's coverage but, since I didn't use it, I can't attest to that. I didn't have any issues with AT&T's coverage, though I did mainly spend my time in Hawaii, NYC and Boston.

19 Jan 2016

Total posts 7

I decided that next USA visit I also will use AT&T. I wonder how T-Mobile get this advertisment in the editorial pages?

Hi Chris, as we have already communicated to you in response to your direct email, this isn't an 'advertisement' or any form of sponsored content – if so it would be clearly marked as such.

For the benefit of other readers, we'll be running a number of these stories for many relevant countries with what we find to a great value SIM card for travellers in each local market.

19 Jan 2016

Total posts 7

Hi Chris,

I still think your readers should be given a more balanced article showing the advantages and disadvantages of T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon.

Thanks for your feedback. In this case, the article isn't "the best USA SIM card plus others that aren't bad", it's simply "The best USA SIM card for travellers to the United States" to highlight what we believe to be the best deal.

If you have any further concerns about how AusBT's editorial is being presented, you can contact our editor David Flynn directly at [email protected] as outlined in our published comment policy.

19 Jan 2016

Total posts 7

Thanks, but it only "best" on being cheap. It would be equivalent to saying the VodaPhone was the best network for visitors to Australia, simply because it is cheapest. Coverage has to be a major consideration. I would never recommend VodaPhone to people visiting Australia unless they were not leaving the metropolitan area. When you get into Europe T-Mobile is very good, but not cheap.

Hi again Chris. As advised above, please feel free to email our editor (or myself) with any further concerns you may have regarding our editorial content.

Under our comment policy (linked above), any further "comments which become overly hung up with criticising the way an AusBT article has been written or presented" will be removed – your views have been noted, and to be fair, we've given ample opportunity now for those views to be expressed here.

27 Sep 2011

Total posts 34

You can buy the same T-Mobile SIM with the unlimited plan on Amazon a lot cheaper. Depending on which sellers have it on sale etc I've bought it for as low as $18 US with free delivery to my hotel, where I've collected it on arrival.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2012

Total posts 5

seems like a good deal with paying $59aud.for 39 days

I find it attractive as i will be having 8 day in canada.  from ready simple choice prepay plan (from website)

But im not clear if statement below covers basic simple choice plan, or indeed requires additional fee? 

COVERAGE IN MEXICO AND CANADA

USE YOUR PHONE JUST LIKE AT HOME WITH UNLIMITED CALLS TO AND FROM MEXICO AND CANADA, INCLUDING MOBILE NUMBERS, PLUS ACCESS TO YOUR HIGH-SPEED DATA, AT NO ADDITIONAL CHARGE

(canadian coverage might be an issue for some (but seems to cover my destinations)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2012

Total posts 5

sent off a note to simcorner and got quick reply as per below.  no reply from t-mobile as of yet. 

"It does include the Canada roaming feature however we don’t endorse that aspect of the product. It’s just the feedback has been mixed where some have said it worked perfectly, others said it worked for a bit and then stopped and then some saying it didn’t work at all.

T-Mobile note on their website that the initial connection of the sim must occur in the USA and that majority of the usage must occur in the USA. T-Mobile reserve the right to cancel, suspend or terminate the service. So this is why we don’t endorse it as we don’t want to be refunding customers if the above occurs so we only promote it as a USA sim only. You can buy it and use it in Canada if you like but we can’t provide you a refund if it doesn’t work as we state to only use it in USA."

 

21 Oct 2015

Total posts 27

Heading to the states for ~3 weeks next month and I bought the SIM online locally in prep for the trip. Given the exchange rate, I got a 5GB T-mo sim for ~45 USD (~61 AUD delivered), unlimited calls and such. It is a better deal than buying in US right now. Not going to link as I'm not affiliated with the site, but you can google around. It's a better deal than what was linked above. It's also better deal than equivalent SIMs from US MVNOs like Straight Talk.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Aug 2015

Total posts 18

All that effort to save another sim cost when you return ? Just burn and turn.. if your holiday comes down to $10 maybe you shouldnd go.. and if it is buisness well the tax man or your employer can cop the cost...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Jul 2014

Total posts 100

I used AT&T in the states lasy July for a month long trip and the coverage was excellent, there were only a few  places in the middle of nowhere when i was on Amtrak that didnt have coverage.

Juat went to an AT&T company store and all it took was five minutes with their Go Phone options. .

4G all the way but the speeds tended to vary a tad, still i would use the service again without any hestiation

19 Jan 2016

Total posts 7

I agree about AT&T. [Deleted by admin.]

Hi ChrisE, your post above has been edited in line with our published comment policy which has already been highlighted to you.

Any further posts made which conflict with this policy will now be deleted as already advised.

Please also be aware that if your comments continue to conflict with our long-standing rules your ability to post comments on the site may be suspended.

07 Dec 2016

Total posts 1

For what it is worth, we always use SIMcorner when we travel. They are fantastic, friendly, helpful, and a great product. Sadly their Melb store is currently closed bc of terminal renovations so be sure to check out the website. 

10 May 2017

Total posts 1

We recently tried Arieli Mobile and sim card worked out just fine. I think they are reselling the same T-Mobile network which has a very good coverage

04 Mar 2018

Total posts 1

Just found on Simcorner website that their Sydney and Melbourne Airport shops are permanently closed from October 2017 and April 2016.


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