Buying a Prepaid SIM Card for the USA in 2023

by Jon Miksis
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Staying in touch with your loved ones while traveling is tricky. Even worse, it can be expensive. Roaming charges often come with hefty price tags, potentially doubling or even tripling your mobile phone bill. Fortunately, prepaid SIM cards are a great way to save money while traveling. If you’re planning to visit the United States sometime soon, don’t fret. Here is everything you need to know about buying a prepaid SIM card for the USA.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from traveling the world is the importance of maintaining connections with the people most important to you. That’s why, when I’m planning a trip, I always factor the cost of communication into my travel expenses. Prepaid SIM cards make it easy and affordable to stay connected, no matter what part of the world I’m in.

There’s no shortage of unique places to visit in the US. Whether you’re planning a road trip through New England or a sunny vacation at a California beach resort, you’re sure to have a good time. Buying a prepaid SIM card for the USA makes sharing your good time with others a snap. So stop worrying about finding free Wi-Fi or adding up roaming charges. It’s never been easier to enjoy a getaway in the USA while keeping in touch with friends and family!

> Don’t have time to read the full guide? Here’s my top pick for a SIM Card in the US: SimOptions

This article on buying a SIM card for the USA contains affiliate links where I may earn a commission at no cost to you.

Benefits of buying a prepaid SIM card for the USA

SIM cards in the USA offer all the same benefits as SIM cards in Ireland, France, Australia, etc. Prepaid SIM cards are available in just about every part of the world, and it’s a good thing, too. Using a prepaid SIM card can help you avoid getting locked into a mobile network contact you don’t want or need, while also avoiding exorbitant fees.

Here are some of the biggest reasons why you should consider buying a prepaid SIM card for the USA.

Cost-effective communication

Prepaid SIM cards offer an affordable way to stay connected while traveling in the USA. Unlike traditional phone plans with fixed monthly fees, prepaid options allow you to pay only for the services you need. You may require data for navigation, calls to make reservations, or texts to keep in touch with loved ones. Whatever the case, with a SIM card, you can control your expenses and avoid unpleasant surprises on your phone bill.

No contract hassles

When buying a prepaid SIM card for the USA, there are no binding contracts or credit checks required. You have the freedom to choose the duration of your plan and switch carriers whenever you wish. This flexibility is ideal for travelers who might be visiting the USA for a short period. It’s also useful those who want to try different service providers during their stay.

Easy availability

Prepaid SIM cards are widely available in the USA. You can purchase them at airports, convenience stores, electronic retailers, or online. Websites like SimOptions or even good ol’ Amazon make it SIMple (get it?) to find the best prepaid SIM cards around. This accessibility ensures you can get connected as soon as you land in the country, without wasting precious time searching for a suitable plan.

Keep your phone number

If you prefer to keep your current phone number, in most cases, buying a prepaid SIM card in the USA allows you to port your existing number easily. This way, you can maintain seamless communication with friends and family without the need for them to remember a new contact number.

Data for maps and Internet usage

Navigating a new country can be challenging without access to maps and the internet. A prepaid SIM card will enable you to use GPS services, explore online travel guides, find nearby attractions, and share your adventures on social media. Having data at your fingertips empowers you to make the most of your trip.

Control and balance management

Prepaid SIM cards provide you with complete control over your usage and balance. You can monitor your data, call, and text usage in real-time and easily top up your credit when needed. This level of control ensures you won’t exceed your budget and can plan accordingly for the rest of your journey.

Instant connectivity

As soon as you insert your prepaid SIM card into your unlocked phone, you’re ready to connect. There’s no need to go through the process of activation or wait for installation appointments. You can start making calls, sending messages, and accessing the internet right away.

Where to buy a prepaid SIM Card for the USA

As noted above, one of the biggest advantages of buying a prepaid SIM card for the USA is how easy it is to do. When it comes to availability and accessibility, there are a wide variety of options. These include brick-and-mortar locations and digital storefronts. You can even buy directly from the phone company itself.

Here’s a quick rundown of where you can buy a prepaid SIM card for the USA.

A woman using an airport kiosk to buy a prepaid SIM card for the USA
Airport kiosks are one of several ways tourists can go about buying prepaid SIM cards for the USA.

Airports

One of the most convenient places to buy a prepaid SIM card is at major airports across the US. As soon as you arrive in the country, head to the airport’s arrival hall or designated kiosks. You’ll find a variety of reliable carriers offering prepaid plans tailored to suit different needs and budgets.

Buying at the airport ensures you can get connected immediately. This allows you to navigate your way around, communicate with your contacts, and share your travel experiences effortlessly. That said, prices may be inflated when compared to other purchasing options.

Mobile carrier stores

Major cities and tourist destinations in the USA boast numerous mobile carrier stores. Carriers like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and others have their retail outlets where you can purchase prepaid SIM cards.

On the negative side, buying at a mobile carrier store will limit you to buying SIM cards from that carrier. On the positive side, visiting a physical store gives you the advantage of speaking to a real, live, human representative. These representatives can help you choose the best plan based on your data, call, and text requirements. They can also assist with setting up your SIM card and answering any questions you may have.

Electronics and department stores

If you prefer a wider selection of options, consider visiting electronic retailers and department stores. Stores like Best Buy, Walmart, and Target often stock prepaid SIM cards from various carriers.

This way, you can compare plans and choose the one that aligns perfectly with your travel needs. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that even the biggest and best of these stores will still be limited compared to online retailers.

Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs)

Apart from major carriers, several MVNOs operate in the USA, offering prepaid SIM cards at competitive prices. MVNOs are smaller carriers that use the infrastructure of larger networks. They often provide more budget-friendly options without compromising on network coverage. Look for names like Mint Mobile, Cricket Wireless, or Lycamobile to explore what they have to offer.

Again, though, much like buying from a carrier store, buying from MVNOs will limit you to SIM cards from one specific operator. This is why it’s extremely important to do research ahead of time.

Online retailers

For travelers who prefer to plan ahead, buying a prepaid SIM card online is a great option. Many carriers offer online purchase options. You can then have the SIM card delivered to your home or hotel before your departure. Online buying is also useful if you want to research different carriers and plans in-depth to make an informed decision.

Among the very best places online to buy a prepaid SIM card for the USA is SimOptions. SimOptions carries both prepaid SIM cards and eSIMs, both for the US and a wide array of other countries. If you’re a frequent traveler like me, it’s the perfect one-stop shop for all your SIM card needs. For those interested in buying prepaid SIM cards for the USA, SimOptions carries options from AT&T, Three, TrueMove, AIS, Orange, and more.

The 5 best prepaid SIM cards for the USA

America is a big place with lots to see and do. Buying a prepaid SIM card for the USA means that you can share every sight, sound, activity, and attraction with your friends. Looking for the best of the best? Here are my picks for the best prepaid SIM cards for the USA.

1. T-Mobile USA Canada Mexico

A graphic outlining the features of the T-Mobile USA Canada Mexico SIM Card
A T-Mobile SIM card provides users access to one of the largest networks in North America.

With more than 230 million subscribers globally, T-Mobile is one of the biggest mobile phone carriers in the world. What’s more, it has one of the largest and most reliable networks in the country. No surprise then, that many Mexican and Canadian tourists interested in buying a prepaid SIM card in the USA turn to the T-Mobile USA Canada Mexico Card.

As the name suggests, the T-Mobile USA Canada Mexico Card provides users with unlimited talk and text capabilities when traveling through the USA, Canada, and Mexico. It also offers unlimited High speed 4G LTE data in the USA and up to 5GB of Data in Canada and Mexico. Though this SIM card does not allow for international calls outside of North America, it’s a great pick for tourists visiting from South of the Border or The Great White North.

2. Orange Holiday World

A screenshot from SimOptions, a popular website people use for buying prepaid SIM cards for the USA, showing the features of the Orange Holiday World Card
The Orange Holiday World card provides superior coverage, connecting users to nearly every country worldwide.

For travelers looking for something with more versatility than the T-Mobile USA Canada Mexico Card, there’s no better choice than the Orange Holiday World Card. Like the aforementioned T-Mobile card, it’s a 3-in-1 card, meaning it can accommodate phones that use standard, micro, or nano SIM cards. Unlike the T-Mobile card, though, it doesn’t just allow you to connect with users in the USA, Canada, and Mexico. It also connects you to virtually every country on Earth!

This kind of functionality comes with a significant price increase, but if you’re a serial traveler, it definitely pays off. The Orange Holiday World Card divides the planet into four different “zones,” each having its data limits. Notably, Zone 1 encompasses 66 countries including the USA, Mexico, Canada, and most of Europe and Asia. It tops out at 10GB, providing plenty of freedom for globetrotters.

3. Change eSIM from Airalo

A screenshot from Airalo, a provider of prepaid eSIMs for the USA, showing variants of their Change Card
When buying a prepaid SIM card for the USA, Airalo’s versatility is second to none.

For those less interested in buying a prepaid SIM card for the USA and more inclined towards eSIM, there’s the Change eSIM from Airalo. As with all of its eSIM offerings, the Change card is highly flexible, available in multiple variations to satisfy the diverse needs of many different kinds of travelers.

For example, if you’re only going to be visiting the United States for a short time, Airalo offers a 7-day Change card with up to 1GB of data. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are multiple 30-day Change cards with data limits starting at 3GB and going as high as 10GB. Best of all, if you run out before your stay is over, Airalo makes it easy and affordable to “top up” by adding more days/gigs as needed.

4. Lycamobile Prepaid SIM

A photo of a Lycamobile Prepaid SIM Card
Lycamobile offers reliable prepaid SIM cards with worldwide coverage at a fraction of the price.

Widely considered one of the best MVNOs around, Lycamobile distinguishes itself not just for its exceptional value, but also by being one of just a few MVNOs that operate worldwide. Harnessing the power of T-Mobile’s network, the Lycamobile Prepaid SIM Card is a great low-cost option for bargain hunters.

Despite its budget price, the Lycamobile Prepaid SIM Card offers surprisingly robust connectivity. Talk, text, and data within the US are unlimited. International talk and text from the US to around 60 countries is also unlimited. It may not have the nearly global reach of Orange or Airalo, but it’s still powerful enough to keep you connected without breaking the bank.

5. Three PAYG Data Pack 10GB

A screenshot from SimOptions, a popular website people use for buying SIM cards for the USA, showing the features of the Three PAYG Data Pack 10GB Card
For Europeans interested in buying a prepaid SIM card for the USA, Three is an excellent choice.

UK-based company Three is famous for offering some of the best SIM cards for tourists in Europe. However, did you know that options like the Three PAYG Data Pack 10GB Card can also be useful for travelers interested in buying a prepaid SIM card for the USA? It’s true; Three’s coverage area is vast, encompassing not only most of Europe but also the United States and Puerto Rico, as well as parts of Asia and South America.

Of course, talk and text are more limited in the US than in most European countries. Nevertheless, incoming calls and texts from outside the US are free. That makes it ideal if you’re more concerned about receiving calls than making them. Likewise, if you’re a resident of Europe (or someone planning to travel there before or after visiting the US), the Three PAYG Data Pack 10GB Card will allow you to use the same SIM card in both regions. It’s a “two for the price of one” special.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about buying a prepaid SIM card for the USA

If you’re new to the wonderful world of prepaid SIM cards, this can all be a little overwhelming. Don’t worry; that’s why I’m here to help. In the next section, I’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about buying a prepaid SIM card for the USA.

What do I need to buy a prepaid SIM card for the USA?

To buy a prepaid SIM card for the USA, you will need the following:

Unlocked GSM Device: Ensure that your mobile phone or device is GSM-compatible and unlocked. GSM is the standard network technology used by most carriers in the USA. If your device is locked to a specific carrier, you will need to contact your home carrier to unlock it before using a US prepaid SIM card.

Valid Passport or Identification: As a foreign visitor, you will typically need to present a valid passport or other acceptable forms of identification, such as a driver’s license, to purchase a prepaid SIM card. The carrier may require this identification for registration purposes.

Address Information: Some carriers may ask for a local address in the USA during the SIM card registration process. If you’re staying in a hotel, you can provide the hotel address.

Payment Method: You will need a valid payment method to pay for the prepaid SIM card and any plan or credit you wish to add. Carriers generally accept credit cards, debit cards, and sometimes cash.

Knowledge of Your Mobile Needs: Have an idea of your communication needs during your stay in the USA. Consider how much data, talk time, and text messages you will require. This will help you choose the most suitable prepaid plan for your usage.

Once you have these essentials ready, you can purchase a prepaid SIM card from various locations, such as airports, mobile carrier stores, electronics retailers, and online platforms. The process of buying a prepaid SIM card is typically straightforward and does not require US citizenship or residency.

A traveler checking flight times on their mobile phone
Buying a prepaid SIM card for the USA can help you save money when using mobile phone data.

How much is a SIM card rate for the USA?

The cost of a SIM card for the USA can vary depending on several factors, including the carrier, the type of plan, and the services offered. Generally, the price for a basic prepaid SIM card without any additional credit or plan can range from $5 to $20.

Prepaid SIM card packages may come with different inclusions, such as data, talk time, and text messages. The prices for these packages can range from $20 to $50 or more, depending on the amount of data and minutes included. Some plans might also include international calling or roaming options at an additional cost.

Apart from the initial SIM card cost and plan package, additional charges might apply for services like international calls, roaming, or data add-ons. It’s essential to carefully review the details of the prepaid plan to understand the specific rates and charges.

Can I buy a prepaid SIM card for the USA without a plan?

Yes, you can buy a prepaid SIM card for the USA without a plan. Many mobile carriers and retailers offer standalone prepaid SIM cards that don’t come with a bundled plan. These SIM cards typically have a one-time cost, which can vary depending on the carrier and type of SIM card (standard, micro, or nano).

When you purchase a prepaid SIM card without a plan, it means that you won’t have any included data, talk time, or text messages. Instead, you’ll need to separately purchase credit or top-up cards to add funds to the SIM card. Once you have credit on your SIM card, you can use it to pay for calls, texts, and data usage on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Buying a prepaid SIM card without a plan can be a suitable option if you don’t require a specific package or if you prefer to have more control over your usage and expenses. It’s especially useful for travelers who might have varying communication needs during their stay in the USA and want to avoid long-term contracts or fixed monthly fees.

Keep in mind that the rates for calls, texts, and data usage will be based on the carrier’s standard pay-as-you-go rates, which may be higher than bundled plan rates. If you plan to use your phone frequently, it might be more cost-effective to consider purchasing a prepaid plan with a package that matches your expected usage patterns. However, if you prefer the flexibility of topping up credit as needed, buying a prepaid SIM card for the USA without a plan can be a convenient choice.

Close-up of a tourist taking photos of the Times Square using his mobile phone
Uploading travel photos is easy with the help of a cost-saving prepaid SIM card.

Do SIM cards for the USA expire?

Yes, prepaid SIM cards for the USA can expire if they are not used within a specific period. The expiration period varies among carriers and plans, but it typically ranges from 30 days to 365 days from the last time the SIM card was recharged or used for any activity like making a call, sending a text, or using data.

If a prepaid SIM card reaches its expiration date without any activity or recharge, the carrier may deactivate the SIM card, and you may lose the phone number associated with it. In such cases, you’ll need to purchase a new prepaid SIM card and obtain a new phone number.

To keep a prepaid SIM card active and prevent it from expiring, you can typically do one of the following:

Recharge the SIM Card: Keep the SIM card active by regularly recharging it with credit or purchasing a prepaid plan. Each time you recharge, the expiration period is usually extended based on the amount you add.

Use the SIM Card: Simply making a call, sending a text, or using data within the carrier’s specified time frame can also reset the expiration clock and keep the SIM card active.

Check Expiration Policies: Familiarize yourself with the specific expiration policy of the carrier and plan you choose to ensure you understand the requirements for keeping the prepaid SIM card active.

It’s essential to review the terms and conditions provided by the carrier to understand the specific rules regarding the expiration of prepaid SIM cards. By staying aware of the expiration date and taking appropriate actions, you can continue to use the prepaid SIM card without any interruptions during your stay in the USA.

Can a foreigner buy a prepaid SIM card for the USA?

Yes, foreigners can buy prepaid SIM cards for the USA. Prepaid SIM cards are available to anyone, including tourists and international travelers. The process of purchasing a prepaid SIM card is straightforward and does not typically require US citizenship or residency.

Foreign visitors can buy prepaid SIM cards at various locations. As noted earlier, these include airports, mobile carrier stores, electronics retailers, and online platforms. Many major carriers offer prepaid plans suitable for short-term stays, allowing travelers to stay connected during their trip.

To buy a prepaid SIM card, foreigners usually need to present a valid passport or other forms of identification. The exact requirements differ from carrier to carrier. Some carriers might also ask for a local address, which can be a hotel address if you are a tourist.

It’s essential to ensure that your device is unlocked and compatible with the US mobile networks (GSM or CDMA) to use a prepaid SIM card. If your phone is locked to a specific carrier, you might need to contact your home carrier to unlock it.

Using a prepaid SIM card allows foreign travelers to enjoy cost-effective communication, as well as access to data for maps and internet usage. It also provides them more flexibility to control their expenses, sidestepping long-term contracts andexpensive roaming charges.

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