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How do I get a cell phone when I arrive in the U.S.?

Choosing a cell phone plan in United States is somewhat different from other countries. In the United States there are three types of cell phone plans: prepaid plan, individual plan, and family plan.

1). Prepaid plan

For a prepaid plan, you have to buy a prepaid cell phone card. A social security number (SSN) is not required to apply for it, and there is no monthly fee. However, prepaid plans are generally more expensive than other plans.

2). Individual plan

Individual plans cover only you and no one else.  The plan may include cell phones at a reduced price or even for free.  Individual plans require a SSN.  If you do not have a SSN, a deposit is usually required.


3). Family Plan

Family plans cover multiple people in one household. The cellphones are included, and just like an Individual plan, they are usually at a reduced price or free.  Family plans require a SSN. If you do not have an SSN, a deposit is usually required.


In the United States, there are more than 150 carriers that offer different types of cell phone plans.  The largest and most popular carriers include: Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint.  Smaller carriers include: Cricket Wireless, MetroPCS, Boost Wireless.


Each carrier has their strengths and weaknesses.  Bigger carriers tend to be more expensive, while smaller carriers may have weaker cell phone services.  Bigger carriers may also offer additional services such as bundling (for example, combining cell phone and home internet services).  Smaller carriers might have better prices for their plans. Before deciding on a plan, make sure you read through the contract to avoid surprise charges and fees.

If you do not want to get a new cell phone, you can get a new SIM card for your phone. Learn everything you ever wanted to know about SIM cards, carriers, brands, and types here. You can also head to one of the following nearby stores to get more information and have a SIM card installed in your phone.

Person Checking the Phone
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