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Cell (Mobile) Phones

Using a Cell Phone From Your Home Country

If you would like to use a cell phone that you purchased in your home country, AT&T and T-Mobile are some of the only U.S. providers where you can purchase SIM cards (Verizon does not offer this option). Your cell phone should be unlocked, and otherwise compatible for use in the U.S. with another cell phone provider. There is no guarantee that you will be able to use a cell phone from your home country in the U.S., and if you are not able to and wish to have a phone, you will need to purchase a new phone.

For more information about using your home country’s cell phone with a U.S. provider, read this article that explains the difference between CDMA and GSM.


Buying a Cell Phone in the U.S.

If you want to purchase a cell phone, you have two options:

1)      You can purchase a “Pre-Paid” or “Pay-As-You-Go or cell phone (you will not pay a monthly bill).

2)      You can purchase a cell phone with a “monthly plan” (you will pay a monthly bill).

 

Pre-paid/Pay-As-You-Go

 

Monthly Plan

  • No contracts or monthly payments—

you purchase a phone and a specific number of minutes. When those minutes run out, you simply buy more. 

  • No deposit or SSN required.
  • Depending on your usage, a pre-paid phone can be more expensive than paying a monthly bill for a plan.
  • Phones are cheaper but generally only offer basic features such as calling and text messaging (SMS).

 

  • Required to sign a contract (1-2 years) and pay a monthly rate for your plan for the duration of the contract. If you cancel your contract, there is usually a heavy penalty.
  • Have to pay a large deposit without SSN (typically several hundred dollars). Even if you have a SSN, many cell phone providers will require that you pay the large deposit because you have not yet established “credit history” in the U.S.
  • Phones are more expensive but offer more features (e.g., video, camera, internet access, etc.).
  • Will need to select a cell phone plan/package (i.e., voice calling, SMS/text messaging, internet usage, international calling, etc.). 
  • The bill will include local and state taxes, surcharges, etc. therefore, ask for an estimate of what your total bill will be before signing a contract.

 

 


Cell Phone Providers

There are there major cell phone providers in the Williamsburg area. You can reach all of these stores using the Red Line bus (free with your student ID).

AT&T

5226 Monticello Avenue, Suite F-100, Williamsburg, VA, 23188

(757) 565-2858

Sprint

Monticello Marketplace, 4615 Monticello Ave, Suite B, Williamsburg, VA  23188
(757) 564-8922

*Verizon

Monticello Marketplace, 4950 Monticello Ave. #11A, Williamsburg, VA 23185

(757) 221-0955

* Verizon has the best coverage in the Williamsburg area, but is often the most expensive.


Pre-paid Phone Providers

You can buy pre-paid phones at most retail stores such as Target or Walmart. The following cell phone providers offer pre-paid cell phones. Please reference their websites for detailed information about pricing and available plans. 

AT&T

Boost Mobile

Straight Talk Wireless (through Walmart)

T-Mobile

TracFone

Verizon

Virgin Mobile

As a general rule, if you are staying in the U.S. for an extended period of time:  

  • It is probably best to pay the deposit, and purchase a cell phone with a monthly plan OR
  • You might consider purchasing a pre-paid phone for the interim period until you make friends with students in your program, and then consider purchasing a “family share plan.”  All cell phone carriers offer “family share plans,” which offer discounted rates for families and/or a group of individuals on a shared plan.

As a general rule, if you are staying in the U.S. for a limited amount of time, a semester or one academic year:

  • It is probably best to purchase a “Pay-As-You-Go” cell phone, as the fees to break an annual contact (fees range from $100-200) may be reason enough to avoid signing a contract. 

Necessary Documents

You should always call the cell phone company before you visit them in-person, to ask what documents you will need to bring with you to purchase a cell phone. Most companies ask for:

  • Passport and I-20/DS-2019
  • Government Issued Photo ID (Drivers License or VA ID card)
  • Student ID
  • Social Security Number (if applicable)

Helpful Hints
  • It always costs more to call overseas than it does to call within the U.S. Be sure to ask the cell phone company how much it will cost to call your home country.
  • Be careful of how many minutes you use per month. If you go over the allotted number of minutes in your contract, you will be charged heavy penalties (roughly $0.45/minute or more).
  • Even though cell phones are convenient, it is almost always cheaper to purchase a calling card for international calls and use it on a “land line” in your office, dorm room, or apartment.
  • Want to recycle a phone? Consider donating your working cell phone and charger to another student by dropping it off at the Reves Center. The Swem Library and the Sadler Center’s post office also accept used cell phones.