We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Advice on mobile phone use whilst in the US

Kent
posts: 27
Advice on mobile phone use whilst in the US

Hi,

We're in the UK and are doing a 2 week US West Coast road trip in a month's time. I would like the flexibility to use my iPhone 5 whilst we're out there (calls & data) but the roaming charges are crazy. I was thinking of getting my iPhone unlocked and getting a US SIM for the 2 week duration, assuming this is cheaper. Can anyone advise if this is the case and what are the best options?

Thanks,

Neil

Park City, Utah
Destination Expert
for Utah, Winter Sports
posts: 10,792
reviews: 205
1. Re: Advice on mobile phone use whilst in the US

As long as you can get your phone unlocked, yes, it would be cheaper. You can get prepaid SIMs from T-Mobile and AT&T. You can also just as cheaply pickup a prepaid phone at pretty much any major electronics retail store in America very easily if you can't get your iPhone unlocked.

Also note that free WiFi for data is relatively plentiful in the USA at coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, retail stores, etc. You can turn off cellular data roaming and just use WiFi if you wish.

Good luck.

Lewes, United...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 9,247
reviews: 40
2. Re: Advice on mobile phone use whilst in the US

Hi

I don't claim to be an expert on this, all I can tell you is what we do.

Our iPhones are locked, and getting them unlocked would invalidate the warranty, and the unlocking process itself, when I last investigated, this was not that cheap. So, we take our locked iPhone and leave roaming off most of the time, so we can still receive texts from the UK without problems (plus calls, most of which we don't answer - and weactually turn the phones off at night to avoid being disturbed as that's when UK contacts not knowing you're away will call). Texting back to the UK isn't too expensive, and we only turn roaming on when we are in a location to get free wifi to access that for whatever purpose.

Separately, we have also bought a cheap US mobile/cell phone. We got one (not a smart phone) from Walmart (but there are other sources) for $10, and paid a further $5 for a phone package with SIM card for what we thought was enough minutes/texts for the trip. We hadn't quite used up our phone time or text allowance by the time we left nearly a month later. We used the USA based phone to making restaurant reservations, contact our friends within the country and local stuff like that, and it worked out cheaper than unlock the iPhones and buying a miniSIM with call time. The additionally billed stuff for our small iPhone usage over and above our calling plans also wasn't high, but we were happy to be careful about how and when we used our UK based iPhones.

We still have the USA phone ready for our next trip, having now used it more than once, each time just buying a new SIM on arrival.

SWT

Wednesbury, UK
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 9,033
3. Re: Advice on mobile phone use whilst in the US

Hi.

Now we have an iPhone that's what we are going to do, get a US burner on arrival. Our previous tariff was ok abroad on our Blackberry including data, but the iPhone packages and data roaming are hideous in comparison.

Text only instructions to our UK contacts, emergencies accepted, we can always Skype if we need to talk when we have wifi.

Lewes, United...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 9,247
reviews: 40
4. Re: Advice on mobile phone use whilst in the US

Yes, forgot to mention Skyping for free. We always use that for the chat!

SWT

NC
posts: 507
reviews: 104
5. Re: Advice on mobile phone use whilst in the US

Just a suggestion----check the cell phone laws for all the states you will be traveling through. We have more and more states implementing laws against talking and/or texting on their cell phone will driving. Some states have some pretty hefty fines.

Have a wonderful trip!

Lewes, United...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 9,247
reviews: 40
6. Re: Advice on mobile phone use whilst in the US

I assumed the OP wanted to use the phone for general purposes, not while driving.

We have had no mobile phone usage while driving laws across the whole of the UK here for several years!

SWT

Oregon Coast
Destination Expert
for Crescent City, Oregon Coast, Oregon, Redwood National Park
posts: 37,189
reviews: 795
7. Re: Advice on mobile phone use whilst in the US

Oh yes, the UK was far, far ahead of any US state in implementing restrictions on cell/mobile phone use whilst driving. Good thing too or the population would have plummeted, given the speed that "y'all" drive, LOL!

And with all those CCTV cameras *everywhere* your drivers get caught!

Edited: 6:18 pm, September 06, 2013
Lewes, United...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 9,247
reviews: 40
8. Re: Advice on mobile phone use whilst in the US

h-B - fewer drivers get caught than you might expect, from what I've read, but there are prosecutions. However, it seems many if not all new cars, for several years now, often come with hands free or Bluetooth kit so you can talk without effective using the phone, and that's legal over here.

Reverting more closely to the OP, general advice for folk with smartphones is, before boarding your plane, or once seated before take off, don't just switch the phone to airplane mode or off, but turn off your roaming there and then. That way, it's off when you land anywhere overseas where you will be stung for high roaming charges. Folk automatically tend to turn their phones on as soon as you land and are allowed by the airline to do so. If your roaming is still on and active, the first thing your phone will do is receive all the emails, texts and messages that were left while you were in the air and the phone turned off. You will then immediately have a high bill for all this incoming traffic!

SWT

Aubrey, Texas
posts: 8,663
reviews: 144
9. Re: Advice on mobile phone use whilst in the US

My iphone contract with AT&T ends in three weeks so I've been researching alternative services. So far the best deal I've found is Straight Talk at Walmart after I get it unlocked. Here's the link www.straighttalk.com/wps/portal/home/h/about

Kent
posts: 27
10. Re: Advice on mobile phone use whilst in the US

Thanks for all your replies.

I did a bit more research and have now arranged for my iPhone to be unlocked. (Although I still have a year on my contract to run my UK provider will do this for a small fee.)

I've bought a Red Pocket nano SIM on eBay and have activated it. I've also located a couple of UK-based sellers that could provide a Red Pocket top-up card that should provide me with enough call/text/data credit for the trip. This seemed to me the best way to go.

Neil