What’s the Best Deal on a Temporary SIM for the USA?

best temporary usa sim

For those travelling temporarily to the United States and looking for a local mobile number (to avoid those atrocious Canadian roaming charges!), Mr. Thrifty has done the research for you and recommends T-Mobile as the best deal on a temporary SIM for the USA.

T-Mobile Service for Canadians

T-Mobile is the 3rd largest carrier in the US with more than 80 million customers. Its largest shareholder is Deutsche Telekom, the dominant telecom company in Germany. In 2017, T-Mobile was ranked #1 in Customer Service Satisfaction by Nielsen.

T-Mobile SIM Starter Kit

If you have an unlocked GSM mobile phone, simply buy this SIM Starter Kit online at Amazon.ca before your trip:

Unlocked, GSM-capable phones that support Band II (1900 MHz) or IV (1700/2100 MHz) are compatible with T-Mobile’s network.

This T-Mobile SIM Starter Kit only includes the SIM itself and no starter credit. You need to activate it by calling T-Mobile and adding funds.

According to Canadian user reports, it’s not a good idea to try and activate it online. Better to call T-Mobile and speak to an agent.

Once activated, automated top-ups can be done by buying a T-Mobile card at any of their stores or sold through any of their agents like corner stores or even Walmart. Or, you can always call into their service centre and provide your credit card details over the phone.

Another bonus with the T-Mobile SIM is that it can be used in Canada, although you’ll be subject to their roaming rates. And if you want to keep the number valid, you’ll have to pay the minimum US$3 monthly fee.

T-Mobile’s Pay As You Go Features

Here are the main features of T-Mobile’s “Pay As You Go” plan:

  • Recurring monthly fee of US$3 per month.
  • You get a combined total of 30 minutes of calls, 30 texts, or any combination of minutes and texts that add up to 30
  • Additional outgoing/incoming calls or texts are US$0.10 each.
  • Includes nationwide roaming and nationwide long distance while on the T-Mobile network.
  • You can also add optional data passes:
    • 1-day 500 MB data pass for US$5
    • 1-week 1 GB data pass for US$10
      (this pass is good for 7 days)

Pay As You Go is based on a 30-day cycle, regardless of how many days are in each month. Therefore, a new cycle may not necessarily start on the same date each month.

For full terms and conditions, check the T-Mobile site. These may change at any time in the future, so always check with T-Mobile’s site before confirming your purchase of the T-Mobile SIM Starter Kit.

T-Mobile Tourist Plan SIM

Apart from the Starter Kit, T-Mobile also offers a special “Tourist Plan” SIM package that is valid for only 21 days. It is not renewable or refillable. It can be useful especially if you’re planning a driving vacation and would want to stay connected to GPS. Alternatively, it can be useful for business travellers who depend more on data than talk.

Here are the main features of T-Mobile’s Tourist Plan:

  • Unlimited data, with up to 2 GB 4G LTE data on your smartphone.
  • Unlimited domestic and international texting in the US to 140+ countries and destinations.
  • 1,000 minutes of domestic talk within the US.
  • Free SIM card for your unlocked phone.

The following are also included:

  • Smartphone Mobile HotSpot (SMHS): Lets you share your phone’s internet connection with up to 10 Wi-Fi-enabled devices.
  • Data Maximizer: Optimizes all detectable video streaming to DVD-quality (typically 480p or better).
  • Domestic data roaming: You get 50 MB for when you travel outside of T-Mobile’s network coverage, using wireless data from another carrier.

For full terms and conditions of the Tourist Plan, check the T-Mobile site. These may change at any time in the future, so always check with T-Mobile’s site before confirming your purchase of the Tourist Plan SIM.

The current price of the T-Mobile Tourist Plan is US$30 + taxes and fees. You can buy it from T-Mobile’s site here.

Which of the two options is the best deal on a temporary SIM for the USA?

It depends on how you intend to use it.

If you’re a frequent visitor to the USA, there’s some merit in maintaining the same mobile number to keep in touch with friends, etc. Keeping it active for US$3/month doesn’t seem excessive and it can be used in Canada.

On the other hand, US$30 for 21 days of unlimited use is a pretty good deal if you need to be constantly connected. These days with ubiquitous public wi-fi, it only really makes sense if you’re a business user or if you’re going to be driving long distances and won’t have access to public wi-fi.

Other Strategies to Cut Your Phone Bill

A local SIM is one of many strategies to save money on phone bills.

We’re particularly keen on Pokefi, a device & service that lets you use your mobile phone seamlessly in most major countries. The device itself costs around $200 so it’s not best if all you need is a short-term SIM for the US. And while it doesn’t give you a mobile phone number, it’s best use case is if the majority of your phone usage is via messenger apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, Skype, etc.

For more savings suggestions, check out our article, How to Cut Your Phone Bill While Travelling.

And where will you use your fancy new US SIM?

Check out some of Mr. Thrifty’s travel recommendations:

Mr. Thrifty Takes Miami – Tips for Saving Money while Enjoying Miami’s Best

Navigating NYC’s Latest Craze: The $1 Oyster Happy Hour

Introducing Industry Night, NYC’s Little-Known Deal

Mr. Thrifty Takes a Road Trip: Finding Quality and Value in Mid Coast Maine

Mr. Thrifty’s Favourite Summer Travel Gear

Mr. Thrifty’s Proven Strategies to Save Money on Air Travel

How to Save Money When Exchanging Currency

Pokefi: The Secret to Saving Money on Mobile Data Charges in Canada and Abroad