Cheapo pre-paid USA SIM?

We’ve got a trip to the USA planned and coming up soon.  My somewhat nifty smartphone offers one feature most others don’t:  dual SIM cards (one for work, one for personal use).

I’d like pre-paid flat rate GSM service for about 10 days in June in a densely populated urban area in the middle of the USA.  It would be nice if that option included the possibility to retain unused credits and a phone number for use months later when visiting other parts of the country.

I’ll do my own homework too, of course, but I figure plenty of tech savvy expatriate continent-hoppers must have already found the optimum solution.

I seem to recall that AT&T and T-Mobile USA are the only big-name GSM operators in the USA.  Is that still true?

What are my options here?  What (and when) did you try that worked / didn’t work for you on a trip back to the USA with a German-issued smartphone?  (Other than disconnecting my life from the internet, of course…)

11 thoughts on “Cheapo pre-paid USA SIM?”

  1. TravelingServiceMan

    Check this link out:

    Those rates seem reasonable (compared to the €0.75 and up that the DE companies would charge) seems to pop up most often. They would probably have some sort of data plan as well.I will be interested to hear how it turns out for you as I am in the process of getting a second mobile for private calls abroad (work switched from Vodafone to Telekom so we will be getting a much higher bill for my phone calls abroad and I don’t want to be faced with my boss listing out to the second how many calls were between my wife/daughter and I. He’s not a bad guy, just Schwabian).

    1. cliff1976

      Ah, see, I think we’re talking about two different things here.

      You need to be able to phone home to Germany while abroad on your business trips.

      I’m looking to be able to get my email and use my apps to stay connected while outside of my in-laws’ WLAN.

      You want (primarily?) voice service for calls to Germany from abroad, and I want (primarily) data service to everywhere.

      I put a lot of thought into the separation of personal and business telephone communications and billing and availability. Our company has been grandfathered into Telekom’s TwinBill service: one SIM card, two numbers, with separate billing. So in theory, I don’t even need my nifty dual SIM smartphone — except for cases like this, when I think I can do better with a local provider than Telekom while traveling.

      The billiger-telefonieren link you provided links to for AT&T service in the USA. I see there that a $25/month plan is available with an add-on option for $15/200MB/30-day. So, minimum $40 (I’m not sure if 200MB would last me long enough for the 10 days in question).

      That’s why I’m looking more closely at this T-Mobile SIM-only kit for use with a 1.5 GB pre-paid data plan. More data, but no telephony. I suppose that’s what Skype is for in those cases.

      1. TravelingServiceMan

        Not that it will be a problem, but that SIM only kit will probably require a US address (which your in-laws or more immediate relatives could obviously supply). That looks quite interesting, though. If you do end up with that, let me know how it works out for you.What I really do not understand is why telecoms do not do this for us automatically. I am certain that T-mobile DE is not paying T-mobile USA the €1.50 or more that I would be charged per minute, or the king’s ransom I would be charged for data! It is really annoying to be charged as much as they are charging us.

        1. cliff1976

          C’mon TSM. You know why.


  2. Mandy

    Last I checked, you are right, AT&T and T-Mobile were the only ones on GSM. Honestly? I´d just rent a pre paid phone at the airport (US side).
    Faaaar too often I´ve had friends who got phones on this side that WERE to work in the US…..for that express purpose…and they didn´t. (and vice versa, like my Dad when he just came over for a visit).
    Alternatively, and cheaper, see if your friends have an old phone you could use, and just activate it pre paid.

    1. cliff1976

      Thanks Mandy, that’s what we’ve done in the past. Back when I used the phone for talking to people. But now I want the mobile data and the apps and all that on my own device.

  3. Scott

    I sent this link to Snooker when she asked awhile back:
    Otherwise the new T-Mobile plans you mentioned:

    I of course have used none myself and want to learn from research.
    Looking at all these it really seems like the US carriers charge too much.

    1. cliff1976

      Ready SIM looks intriguing. I like that they have a 14-day package including voice and 1GB of data. That’s perfect for our trip.

      Their reviews on are mixed, but I suspect some of those might be ID-10T errors.

      Thanks Scott!

    2. cliff1976

      Ready SIM worked out okay, I guess. The EDGE coverage was fine, but that’s the fastest it ever got. Maybe that’s because we were in Kansas City, the headquarters of Sprint. Pretty sure the network provider in the area Ready SIM was using was T-Mobile USA. I was hoping for 3G service at least some of the time, but we never got it.

  4. Yelli

    Just an FYI: we had tracfone before we got on a phone plan when we moved back to the US. It was AWFUL. It seemed like our phone was ringing every 10 min with ads and there seemed to be all sorts of hidden fees. Avoid if you can.

    1. cliff1976

      Yuck! Thanks Yelli. That certainly won’t apply to us, since we’re bringing our own devices on this trip. But good to know that they do that.

      I’m giving Ready SIM a try for this trip and will report back how it goes.

      I’m going to need (well…”want” is more accurate) something similar for our upcoming trip to the Shetlands. I don’t think the house we’ve rented includes internet service, and I’m wary of having to visit an internet shop or café offering WiFi to stay in touch while we’re out exploring.

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