Chances are you will want a cellular phone upon arrival in the U.S. You might even choose to skip the land line phone and have only a cell phone, which is what the majority of young Americans do. However, today's American cell phone market poses several hurdles for a new international student.

Most companies require you to have a contract. Your type of contract with the cell phone carrier is called a "plan", and there are two main types:

Prepaid Plans

“Prepaid” monthly plans allow you to pay one rate per month and do not require a contract. Prepaid plans provide options for unlimited talk, text, and data, and generally run from $35 to $75 per month, depending on your plan and carrier. These plans are IDEAL for international students and scholars! You won't get a free phone but you will save lots of money and hassle. If you are bringing an UNLOCKED phone from home, you can also just purchase a SIM card upon arriving in the US to set up your plan.

The pros to a prepaid plan are that there is no credit check, no deposit required, and no contract. Plans are affordable and often unlimited so you won’t have any surprises on your bill. The cons are that they’re not the most affordable if you need multiple lines (as a family Plan) and you are ineligible for discounted handsets.

Contract Plans

Contract plans are a good option for students and scholars if they will be in the U.S. longer than 2 years since that is typically the amount of time a mobile contract. With a contract plan you will most likely get a HIGHLY discounted or even free phone when you sign-up with the company so that is a great perk if you are planning to use the same company for two years or more anyway.

Keep in mind though that most contract plans require that you have a Social Security Number (SSN). If you don’t have a SSN then your cell phone provider might let you open an account but will likely require a LARGE deposit (~$500) which they return at the end of your contract. They will also likely charge you an early cancellation fee (~$250) if you go back home before the end of your two-year contract and need to cancel service.


  • Plans have a set monthly rate (~$35-$75) for unlimited talking, texting and data.
  • NO contracts, NO credit history required, NO deposits, NO Cancellation Fees
  • You have to buy a phone that is compatible with their company but it's yours to keep
  • Refill your credit anytime with cash or debit card
  • Purchase a SIM card and use your UNLOCKED phone from home
  • Signal is not as strong as with contract plans but in Los Angeles it generally works just fine. 4G coverage in available areas.

Important Note: Make sure you always pay your bill on time because if the company does not receive payment they will shut off your service the next day. For example: if your bill is due on the 4th of every month and you do not pay on time then your service will be shut off on the 5th and you will lose your phone number. You will then have to go into the store, reactivate your service and change your phone number.

Also, NOT ALL pre-paid plans are unlimited, although many are. Double-check all the details of your plan before you purchase one: number of minutes, texts, picture messaging, data, etc.


  • Ability to use your unlocked device
  • Large data package offerings
  • Pay for either a certain amount of minutes/month, or unlimited, ranging from $40-$70.
  • Does offer free nights and weekend minutes (check what time "night" starts/ends)
  • Large variety of phones to select from with attractive sales. Typically several FREE options when you open an account (however, usually you still must pay tax)
  • Signal tends to be stronger
  • Most plans require a 2-year agreement/contract with at least a $300 early cancellation fee.
  • Credit history required for phone which means having a U.S. credit card for at least 6 months. Otherwise credit deposit required around $500.
  • Each service is normally charged separately. So if you would like unlimited talk, text, and data, similar to that of a prepaid plan, it would cost you approximately $90 + tax/fees each month.

Important Note: Monthly charges do not include taxes or additional services charges – please refer to your plan details or speak with a wireless representative for additional information.


Our sponsor campusSIMs is the only mobile phone service designed for international students studying in the U.S. They offer no-contract plans on a robust 4G LTE GSM network. If you are a new incoming international student, you should be receiving a FREE SIM card in the mail before you leave your home country. You can register your SIM card with your current phone from home and acquire a U.S. phone number immediately to give to your friends and family. Then, activate your phone, for as low as $25 per month, immediately upon arrival to the U.S. so that you're never without service! Didn't get it in the mail or are a returning student? Don't worry, the Dashew Center will have FREE SIM cards available to pick up at our center.