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You’ve made the decision to study at an American university. You’ve already paid your deposit, registered for classes, and started thinking about how you want to decorate your dorm room. You’re almost ready to come to the United States, but you’ve got one more question: how are you going to communicate with your family and friends? You know you are going to need a cellphone in the United States, but you have no idea how to get one. Don’t worry! Here is our international student’s guide to getting an American cellphone.

Decide what to do with your current cellphone

Chances are that you already have a cellphone from your home country. If you do, you may not need to get an American cellphone. Rather than buying a new phone, you may be able to get a new service plan. Check to see whether your current phone is unlocked. An unlocked cellphone is one that can be used on any service provider’s mobile network. All you have to do is get an American SIM card through a mobile service provider.

If your phone is locked, then you will not be able to connect it to a new network in the United States. In this case, you will have to purchase a new phone.

Pick a service provider

Regardless of whether you already have an unlocked phone, you will need to pick a service provider. In the United States, the four primary mobile service providers are Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. These are the largest and most popular mobile service providers in the United States, but there are also others.

While deciding on a service provider, consider a number of important factors. The most important factor is probably coverage. The term “coverage” refers to the different areas where a company provides mobile signals. Different service providers offer coverage in different parts of the country. The four main service providers named above generally offer pretty good coverage across the entire country, but they are also among the most expensive options. There are other providers that offer coverage in fewer places, but these tend to be more affordable.

You should also consider what types of international coverage each service provider offers. If you want to call or text family and friends who live outside the United States, this could cost extra. Every service provider has a different policy for dealing with international calls, so be sure to look into this when researching which provider you want to use.

If you are unsure which service provider to pick, looking up their coverage maps and comparing their pricing options is usually a good place to start.

Choose which plan is best for you

After you pick a mobile service provider, the next step is to pick a mobile plan. Each service provider offers its own unique plans with its own unique pricing.

Do you want unlimited calling, texting, and data? This will cost a lot of money.

Alternatively, if you already know how much data you plan to use, you could choose a middle-tiered price plan. For example, a service provider might offer 2 gigabytes of data per month for a set price.

If you are looking to save money, your best bet might be a pay-as-you-go plan. These plans allow you to purchase prepaid cards that carry a set number of minutes. Once you use up your service, you can reload the card for an additional charge.

Buy a new phone

If your phone is locked, you will have no choice but to purchase a new phone. If you purchase a phone directly from a service provider, then that phone will work on that provider’s network, but you will not be able to switch the phone to a different network in your home country after school is over. For example, if you purchase a phone from Verizon, chances are that it will be locked to the Verizon network. If you want to be able to switch to a different service provider’s network when you return to your home country, it might make more sense to purchase an unlocked phone. These are found in many electronics retail stores such as Best Buy, Target, and Walmart, as well as online marketplaces such as Amazon.


Connect with friends

Now that you’ve successfully picked a service provider, selected a plan, and perhaps bought a new phone, the last step is to enjoy using your new device to get connected! You will be making many new friends as an international student in the United States, and American college students love using their cellphones to interact with each other. Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are some of the most popular apps among American college students. Make a profile and have fun using social media! And don’t forget to like U.S. News Global Education on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!