US Sim Card – How To Get One On Your U.S.A. Trip

On a recent trip to San Francisco I considered my options on getting a sim card for use while over there. Basically I wanted to be able to take photos and upload them to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and so forth. I also wanted to be able to browse the web for places to eat, attraction and events as well as to use maps to navigate around California. So it was pretty important for me to have a fairly robust data package for my journey.

The options I considered

  • Roaming with Vodacom
  • Maxroam
  • Flyconnected
  • Buying from the kiosk at the airport

I decided against roaming with Vodacom as the data charges are astronomical at R128 per MB, so I began considering some other options. Some friends warned me against getting a sim card here in SA as they found it to be cheaper buying a card over there.

San Francisco Airport Sim Card Kiosk

A colleague had done some research before her trip to San Francisco and had found out that there was a kiosk at the airport there where you could buy a sim card, at the arrivals exit hall. She couldn’t remember the price she paid, but I thought I would chance it and get the card at the airport. The kiosk was easy to find, as you come out of the arrivals doors past immigration and customs, just before you leave the building, the kiosk is on your right.

The costs, I must say seemed really steep. The card was through Lycamobile, they operate in many countries all over the world and specialise in sim cards for travellers. My sim card had unlimited data, unlimited local calls and texts and $10 international call credit loaded onto it. All good and well, but it cost a whopping $85 for a 14 day validity card. The system also piggy-backed off of T-Mobile USA which, to say the least, had some pretty dismal 3G and 4G coverage in California. At one point, my phone went from showing a 3G signal, to simply “G” for GSM, which harkens back to the prehistoric times of my Nokia 1610 “brick” phone which doubled as a self-defence weapon.

I suppose I could probably have waited  until the next morning to consider my options and bought a card from a store in the city, but I’m a nervous traveller and wanted it all sorted, as soon as I arrived.

Comparison with other providers

If I’m looking at the rates for some of the providers I mentioned in the options I considered, they don’t compare very well in terms of costing though. With Maxroam it was 49 Euro for 100MB data bundle (that’s over R700 for 100MB compared to a local rate of under R50 here in South Africa – not comparing apples with apples here, but this is for perspective’s sake).  With Flyconnected it was a bit cheaper with a rate of around R700 for a similar unlimited package as I purchased at the airport, however they no longer seem to offer the option to purchase this on their website.

What does seem to be the case though is that mobile data in the USA is just plain expensive, ranking at one of the most expensive countries in the world at $85 on average for 500MB data, as this chart on Androidcentral details:

My Verdict

I thought I was getting ripped off by all providers I checked out, but in retrospect, none, except for Vodacom, might have been a bad deal. Important to note though, that the situation with Vodacom may change at some point, we reported that they’ve started rolling out a R2 per MB deal to many countries, just not to the USA (yet?). I just wished that the connectivity was better, I ended up using WiFi a great deal at coffee shops (and WiFi is prolific in the States), so who knows, maybe that’s the best option after all!

Our Readers Comments

  1. I got a Sim Card in the USA from T-Mobile in Times Square, because I was a foreigner they checked that I didn’t have a locked phone. I paid $2 a day for unlimited texts, calls and data. Best value for money. All in all it cost me $15 for the time I was in NYC. Otherwise for my other two weeks in the US and Canada I just used wifi at hotels and restaurants.

    • Wow! That’s a great deal Shaina! When was your trip? Family of mine in the States have told me that operators are phasing out the unlimited cards, so it would be good to know if you can still get them 🙂

  2. It was 18 months ago, I hope they don’t because it made staying in touch a lot easier. :/ although I still maintain wifi also great.

  3. My trip was 18 months ago, I really hope they don’t phase them out completely sinceit was a great way to stay in contact since my hostel in NYC did not have free wifi.

  4. Heading to San Francisco in August for a week before heading up to Seattle area for 2 weeks with a friend. Would you suggest a sim for calls and texts and piggyback off wifi at establishments for other things instead if the outrageous costs of sim data?

    • Hi Andrea,

      I see one of our other reader wrote, “I got a Sim Card in the USA from T-Mobile in Times Square, because I was a foreigner they checked that I didn’t have a locked phone. I paid $2 a day for unlimited texts, calls and data. Best value for money. All in all it cost me $15 for the time I was in NYC. Otherwise for my other two weeks in the US and Canada I just used wifi at hotels and restaurants.” However this was also posted last year January and they could be phasing this out but check it out as this seems like a great deal.

      The sim for calls and texts which was mentioned in the Blog does seem pretty pricey and would have increased since as this was posted over a year ago.

      When I was in the States this past December, I piggybacked off establishments wifi. There was a Starbucks on every corner sometime two!!! And all of them have wifi. I didn’t feel the need to call or text and this worked perfectly for me while there for the month.

  5. Where can i buy usa sim card in south africa.Are there any shops or kiosks that sell those number.Help please am travelling soon and would like to be in touch with my family in califonia before my travel date.Thank you

    • Hi Rashid,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      You can use your South African SIM her in SA to get in touch with your family in the States.

      Once you arrive in the USA you can purchase a local SIM card that side.

  6. I will be landing at JFK in New York in August ’16 and will need to call Uber for a ride to a hotel in New York City. I will still, in all probabilty, not yet have purchased a USA pay as you go simcard. Is there some way of doing this without incurring roaming charges on my RSA simcard? Please reply directly to my e-mail

  7. I am travelling to the US next week Monday and am considering getting pocket wifi. The cheapest rate I can find is R126 a day! Is that normal?

    I have used pocket wifi last year in England and the year before in Japan, and found it to be the best method; certainly not as expensive as the rates i see for the US!

    Can you recommend a more cost effective way to gt unlimited data access for 15 days of travel in California?

  8. Hi,
    I read your full blog.It is informative blog that you mentioned above.This sim card is very useful and helpful to me and i need this sim.
    Thanks for providing such information to all..

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