International students and scholars purchasing cell phones or phone plans in the US will have many options upon arrival. Below is some general information to help guide the process for purchasing a phone plan or phone; however, it’s important to research what is available and choose what will work best for your personal needs.
Using a US-Compatible SIM Card with Your Cell Phone
Before departure, check with the phone service provider you use in your home country to find out if your service will still be accessible in the US. For most international students and scholars, this option can lead to expensive roaming charges. A common alternative is to consider purchasing a SIM card that is compatible for use in the US. To begin, ensure that your phone is unlocked by contacting your service provider. Next, find out what network technology your phone requires and purchase a SIM card compatible with your phone type. (GSM is the most common type of network worldwide.) You’ll then need to find a provider in the US that offers the necessary network technology. Many U-M international students and scholars opt for prepaid plans using SIM cards through companies like Mint Mobile, Tello, or T-Mobile, however, be sure to explore other options and compare plans and pricing.
Choosing a Phone Plan
US cell phone providers offer a variety of prepaid and contract plans. Some cell phone providers may require you to have a Social Security Number in order to purchase a US cell phone and phone plan or require an expensive deposit, however, requirements will vary from company to company. Be sure to review all information and look specifically for international calling rates, possible overage charges, messaging plans, and 3G/4G network fees before signing up for a plan.
Prepaid monthly plans allow you to pay a set rate per month and do not require a contract. Prepaid plans can be used if you purchase a US-compatible SIM card and use your unlocked phone from home. Costs generally range from $35 - 75 per month for unlimited texting, calling, and data. In addition to not being locked into a contract, prepaid plans do not require credit history or cancellation fees. Typically, using a prepaid plan with your existing phone and US-compatible SIM card won’t require a Social Security Number or deposit.
Most contract plans require you to sign a 2-3 year agreement with the phone provider and the cell service tends to be stronger and more widespread than many prepaid service options. Costs generally range from $40 - 80 per month for unlimited texting, calling, and data. Contracted plans often require you to have a Social Security Number – or else pay a deposit (often ranging from $100 - $500) that they will refund at some point, usually after 12 months of good standing. There are a large variety of phones to choose from, and there are often discounts or promotions on phones for those who have contracts. Most contract plans will require you to have a credit history and will charge heavy fees if you cancel your plan before the end of the contract. Common contract plans are offered through companies like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.