Before doing your research about using a cell phone in the US
Take your time to do some research and talk to current students/scholars to decide whether you would need to purchase a new cell phone and/or choose a contract plan.
During the first few days to weeks at W&M, you can connect your existing cell phone to the internet and send texts (SMS) using free WiFi. For example, you can easily connect to the W&M WiFi on campus. Free WiFi is also available in most Williamsburg establishments (e.g., DoG St., Prince George St., Target, etc.).
You can use online apps such as Skype, iMessage, Facetime, WeChat, WhatsApp or Viber to send international messages or make international calls for free.
You do not need a Social Security Number (SSN) to purchase a phone or sign up for a contract plan.
After doing some research on using a cell phone in the US
It may be possible to use a cell phone from your home country if it has a SIM card slot and has been unlocked. You can purchase pre-paid SIM cards at selected stores or online.
If you are staying in the US for a limited amount of time (1 semester or academic year) or if you are looking for a new cell phone, you might consider purchasing a pre-paid cell phone, as the fees to break a cell phone contract (typically several hundred dollars) may be reason enough to avoid signing a contract (see below for chart comparing pre-paid and contract plan).
If you will be staying in the US for an extended period of time
If you will be staying in the US for more than a year, you might consider signing a contract plan (see below for chart comparing pre-paid and contract plan).
Cell phone companies (“carriers”) run on different networks (e.g., CDMA, GSM, etc.). If you would like to use your cell phone internationally, you might want to consider buying a cell phone that will work on different networks.
Once you have made friends at W&M, you can consider joining 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.
Cell Phone Options
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.
You will most probably get lower monthly rates and lower prices for new phones.
A typical contract will last 1-2 years. 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 an SSN, many cell phone providers will require that you pay the large deposit because you have not yet established “credit history” in the US.