Using a mobile phone abroad can be horrifically expensive if you continue to use your regular SIM card. Global roaming charges are astronomical and it can be very expensive to download emails and other data. One way around the problem is simply not to use your mobile phone, but if you anticipate making or receiving calls while you are away, this is not practical. However there is another solution to the problem: take advantage of a cost-effective SIM only deal.
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UK Mobiles in the US
Most new mobile phones (and all smartphones) will work in America, but if you own an older handset, check it is quad-band compatible before you travel. As in the UK, there is more than one mobile network in operation, but UK mobile phones are only compatible with AT&T or T-Mobile.
Once you have established that your mobile phone works OK in the US, it is time to figure out the best SIM only deal for your needs. Luckily there are several options to choose from.
Using a UK SIM Card in the US
When you first arrive in the US, your mobile phone should automatically join one of the networks if you are still using a UK SIM card. UK networks have agreements in place with T-Mobile and AT&T to allow UK mobile users to piggyback on the local network. Unfortunately the cost of roaming on a US network is high and you can expect to pay a minimum £1 per minute for making and receiving calls, 40p for sending a text message, and up to £6 per MB of data. These charges will soon add up if you are using your mobile phone a lot, so look for a more cost effective deal.
Three’s ‘Feel at Home’ Deal
Three has a great deal for users travelling to the US. They have scrapped global roaming charges to selected countries, including the US, and all of the normal UK call, text and data allowances can be used. If you are not currently a pay monthly customer with Three, that’s OK because you can purchase a SIM only deal and still benefit from the ‘feel at home’ offer, although you will need to buy an ‘all in one’ bundle to get the best out of the deal. If you use up the allowances included with your SIM only bundle, you will still benefit from lower rates for text messages, calls and data. There are some restrictions, however, so do read the small print before you sign up.
Purchase a Local SIM
Another option if you are planning on spending a bit of time in the US is to purchase a local SIM card. Opting for a local SIM only deal from a US provider means you can take advantage of local price tariffs. Look for pre-paid, no contract SIM only deals and shop around for the best prices. You will be given a choice of pay as you go or unlimited plans for a set period of time (typically a month). PAYG is good for users who don’t plan on using their phone a great deal, but if you are the type of person that lives on Facebook, go for an unlimited deal because data is cheaper.
The only thing you need to be aware of is that your mobile phone will need to be unlocked before you travel to the US. If it isn’t, a SIM card from a different network provider won’t work. US SIM cards can be purchased from any grocery store or Walmart. Alternatively look out for an AT&T or T-Mobile retail store.
Prepaid International SIM
Prepaid international SIM cards can save you a load of cash when you go abroad. Calls, texts and data are billed at a much lower rate than anything offered by UK providers and you can expect to save 85% on current global roaming charges. International SIM cards are easy to set up and there no hidden fees. You can also use them in other countries, not just the US.
Prepaid US SIM Card
The beauty of this type of a US prepaid SIM only deal is that you can relax on your travels with prepaid unlimited calls and data, so no nasty bills when you return home with nice memories and (hopefully) a great suntan. You can also continue to receive calls to your own telephone number. Different tariffs are available, depending on the length of your trip, but for short trips, expect to pay around £39.99 for ten days.
All of the above are good value for money, but for sheer simplicity, the Three ‘Feel at Home’ deal is probably the best for occasional trips to the US. However, if you are a frequent visitor to the US, consider buying a local SIM card, as this will give you more for your money.