Stay connected when traveling to the USA! It sounds easier than it actually is as the American prepaid sim card market isn’t as advanced as in Europe or in other parts of the world. But don’t worry, it isn’t that complicated either, just expensive actually! Buying a sim card for the USA is the best way to get online and avoid high roaming costs. In this guide I will show you everything you need to know: where to buy a USA sim card, up to date prices as per April 2023, the best 4G/5G network in the USA, my recommendation and even info about international and e-sim cards for the USA.
Don’t expect to have a lot of options! In world’s most famous country there are only 2 mobile internet providers that sell prepaid sim cards for tourists. YES you read that right… TWO OPERATORS ONLY!
Very much recommended are international sim cards that cover the USA, more about that later. But the cheapest way to stay connected when traveling to the States is an e-sim card for the USA, more about those below.
As a full time world traveler trying to visit every country in the world and visited more than 150 countries as of April 2023 let me tell you that buying a local prepaid sim card in the country you are visiting is the cheapest way to have data on your phone. The network coverage will be the best, the data speed maximum and locals calls are included and often unlimited.
In total I wrote more than 200 local prepaid sim card guides for places and countries like: Canada, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Israel, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Turkey, Thailand, Vietnam, Panama, South Africa, Europe, Saudi Arabia, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Colombia and so on.
Prepaid USA sim card prices are NOT competitive, for cheaper USA sim card deals check out international prepaid sim cards with data to stay connected when traveling in the USA or e-sims card for the USA.
Why buy a sim card in the USA
WiFi is everywhere these days, but when traveling in the USA, I am sure you want to be connected on the road and not only in your hotel room. Think about ordering a taxi through an app, finding nearby recommended restaurants, using Google Maps for directions and simply staying in touch or for checking social media apps and emails, being connected to your bank apps, etc.
Being connected the internet makes traveling so much easier and also safer! Don't get stuck somewhere because you don't have a data connection on your phone.
Buying a sim card for the USA is easy, it takes just a couple minutes and you are connected straight away, it is like plug and play. You put the sim card in your phone and it instantly works. However, you have to make sure your phone is unlocked if you want to use a prepaid sim card or an e-sim card abroad.
Also don't rely on public WiFi. There is never a guarantee and internet speed varies often. Also keep in mind that surfing the web on public WiFi is through an UNSECURED connection. The use of a VPN is recommended in these cases.
Traveltomtom recommends a T-Mobile sim card for the USA. It has a very extensive 5G network and for $50 you get unlimited data for 30 days, it is cheaper than AT&T. However, the best USA sim card deals can be found online, see below.
There are international sim cards with global network coverage in 2023 that we recommend. In the link you will find a review and comparison of the best international sim cards for traveling in 2023. You you can order online before your trip to the US and get them shipped to your home address.
But you want it even easier AND CHEAPER? The best way to get data on your phone when traveling to the USA in 2023? Get an e-sim card for the USA! You can already get 10 GB data for $24.9 USD.
Make sure your phone is unlocked, before buying a sim card for the USA. Foreign sim cards only work in unlocked phones. If you are not sure about this ask your provider in your home country before your trip, this also counts for e-sim cards.
E-sim card for traveling in the USA
The most convenient and easiest way to stay connected when traveling to the USA is getting an e-sim card that works in the USA. You can easily order them online within less than a minute. You will then receive a code on your current mobile phone, you enter it and your e-sim card is activated. Check out these amazing e-sim card deals for the USA:
- 1 GB data for 7 days = $4.5 USD
- 2 GB data for 15 days = $8 USD
- 3 GB data for 30 days = $11 USD
- 5 GB data for 30 days = $16 USD
- 10 GB data for 30 days = $26 USD
- 20 GB data for 30 days = $42 USD
Click here to order one of the above USA e-sim cards directly or find more info about it.
On another website I also found international e-sim cards that are valid in more than 70 countries including the USA:
- 6 GB data for 10 days = $17.9 USD
- 10 GB data for 30 days = $24.9 USD
- 20 GB data for 30 days = $34.9 USD
As you can see the last option is the best e-sim card deal for the USA for those using a lot of data.
Click here to order this e-sim card for the USA.
Where to buy a USA sim card
International airport on arrival
Unlike any other country around the world it is NOT easy to find sim card shops or resellers at international arrivals in most of the airports in the USA. I still can't get my head around this! Like for real America? At Houston Airport the guy from the information desk was like, uh what... a prepaid sim card?
That said, I am determined to continue writing sim card guides for USA airports and already started with the Big Apple. Flying to New York? Check out my guides for buying a sim card at New York JFK Airport or buying a sim card at Newark Airport in New Jersey. Many more coming in 2023. The newest addition is my guide for buying a sim card at Miami Airport.
I have written uncountable sim card guides for international airports: Paris, London, Rome, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Madrid, Dublin, Johannesburg, Dubai, Riyadh, Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Cairo, Panama City, Bangkok, Bali, etc. At every international airport worldwide you will find sim card shops next to car rental companies and money exchangers, unfortunately not in the USA! In the last years I landed in Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas/Forth Worth, New York JFK, Newark, Miami and it was a disaster.
Official retail stores
The best place to buy a sim card for the USA is at an official retail store. The staff in here will give you the best advice on your needs and everything will be set up quickly and within just a couple minutes. You will walk out of the store with a working data connection on your phone.
Best way to find the nearest phone shop is to go to Google Maps and type in for example: t-mobile. Google Maps suggest: 'T-Mobile (see locations)'. Click on it and find the nearest store. The bigger shopping malls in big cities mostly all have mobile phone provider stores.
Yes, it is possible to buy USA sim cards at convenience stores like 7Eleven, CVS and of course at Walmart. They are mostly located behind the counter and gathering information about the packages is a pain. Don’t expect the staff to know anything about these prepaid USA sim cards. Not recommended! But if you want to get connected and are in a hurry this is an option. You have to active these sim cards yourself by uploading your passport to the mentioned website on the sim card package.
In the bigger cities like New York, Chicago, San Fransisco you can sometimes find sim card kiosks at the bigger train stations, like the above photo from Penn Station in New York. These sim card shops are resellers of MVNO sim cards. MVNO stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator, a well known example is Lycamobile.
A Lycamobile sim card operates on the T-Mobile network in the USA and they sell the above data plans and packages including unlimited calls/text. They are not cheap either and 7 GB data will already cost you $29 USD + tax.
Buy a sim card for the USA online
As mentioned before an e-sim card is the cheapest but also the easiest way to get data on your phone when traveling to the USA, but you can also order physical prepaid sim cards online that work in the USA. Check out my article about the best international sim cards for travelers in 2023, it has some really good alternatives and you can order directly online.
Online you will find many options for sim cards to use in America. These prepaid sim cards will be send to your home address and are automatically activated from its first use. Click here for more than 10 prepaid sim cards with data for traveling in the USA. It is a little more expensive, but very convenient and easy.
Mobile internet operators in the USA
In a country with more than 300 million people it is almost unimaginable that there are only 4 main mobile internet operators:
- Sprint (bought by T-Mobile)
If you are looking to buy a sim card for the USA you can already forget about Verizon and Sprint. These two USA mobile internet operators use a different technology than the rest of the world: CDMA. Which basically means that they don’t use a sim card and that international phones are not compatible with their networks.
Although I knew about this I just wanted to make sure and visited this Verizon shop in Atlanta, Georgia to get the latest information. VERIZON does NOT offer prepaid USA sim cards for tourists. There is a way around though, a little complicated, but possible. Click here to buy the Verizon sim card for the USA offer on Amazon. This is just a prepaid sim card, no data, calls, text included!
Basically too much effort if you ask me, because the next step is adding credit, then another step activating a (data) package.
For tourists visiting the USA that means there are only 2 options left: a prepaid sim card from T-Mobile or from AT&T.
The registration process for prepaid sim cards in the USA is very standard. When buying a sim card you will need to bring your passport. In the store a copy of your passport or a photo will be taken and will be attached to your registration. Your new US sim card and number will be registered on your name and passport number.
To avoid this you can order a prepaid USA sim card online and get one shipped to your home address before your trip or get yourself an e-sim card for the USA.
Prices prepaid sim cards USA in 2023
T-Mobile USA charges a $10 activation fee for a prepaid sim card in stores around the USA, but in most cases this activation fee is waived if you buy one of the above prepaid sim card plans.
They offer 3 different sim card packages, see the above photo. All of the prepaid sim card deals come with UNLIMITED CALLING & TEXTING in the USA, the use of max data speed at 5G network and are valid for 1 month.
- 10 GB data = $40 USD
- Unlimited data + 3G hotspot = $50 USD
- Unlimited data + 10 GB 4G hotspot = $60 USD
The data is only for use in the USA, you pay $5 extra for max 5 GB data to use in Canada and/or Mexico. But when you travel to Mexico as well I recommend buying a sim card for Mexico instead.
These are the latest T-Mobile prepaid sim card deals as per April 2023, for more info check the T-Mobile USA website.
The activation fee for an AT&T USA prepaid sim is $15, but also waived when in most cases when buying one of the above prepaid sim card plans. AT&T offers 2 prepaid USA sim card plans for tourists, don't get fooled by the sim card deals above. The middle column is a prepaid offer for 12 months!
Both prepaid sim card deals include unlimited calls/sms in the USA, max data speed on 5G and are valid for 1 month:
- 5 GB data = $30 USD
- Unlimited calls/sms and data = $65 USD
The $65 deal is only $50 if you renew automatically every month, so for tourists not applicable. Also it says unlimited calling, text and data in Mexico and Canada, but on 2G speed. That means an E signal on which you can barely check your email or use WhatsApp. Totally useless! When traveling to Canada on the same trip is better to buy an international sim card for North America.
These are the latest AT&T prepaid sim card deals as per April 2023, check the AT&T USA website for more info.
When we look at the comparison of the prepaid sim cards USA the conclusion is simple: AT&T USA IS MORE EXPENSIVE THAN T-MOBILE USA! Based on the price I am definitely recommending a T-Mobile USA sim card over an AT&T sim card.
Best 4G/5G network in the USA in 2023
Whether you are traveling to the USA as a tourist or for business the chances of not having a phone signal are very small. The network in the USA is countrywide pretty good and yes there is of course 5G in the United States. Prepaid sim cards that you buy in the USA support 5G, international sim cards and e-sim cards for the USA do NOT support 5G!
Let's compare the 4G/5G network of T-Mobile and AT&T and find the best mobile data network in the USA in 2023.
AT&T 4G/5G network coverage map
T-Mobile 4G/5G network coverage map
Both T-Mobile and AT&T have a very extensive mobile data network and cover ALL tourist areas in the USA! That said, from the above USA mobile network coverage maps updated for 2023 we can clearly see 2 things:
- AT&T has better coverage in remote areas
- T-Mobile has a much better 5G network
Click here for the official network coverage of T-Mobile and AT&T, according to their websites.
What is the best prepaid sim card in the USA in 2023
When comparing all the prepaid sim cards for the USA we can come to the very simple conclusion that T-Mobile is the best prepaid sim card in the USA in 2023! They offer the best prepaid sim card deals and also have the best 5G network in the country. However, in 2023 we also take the online sim cards into consideration and then we come to the conclusion that these are the best USA sim card deals.
E-sim cards are the cheapest way to get a lot of data on your phone. For $34.9 USD you get 20 GB data and you can arrange everything online within just a couple minutes. Keep in mind that e-sim cards are data only sim cards and calls are NOT supported.
But if you want the fastest data speed and a sim card that supports 5G on your trip to the USA then you have to buy a prepaid sim card on arrival in the USA. In that case Traveltomtom recommends a USA sim card with unlimited data from T-Mobile. You will pay $10 activation fee + $50 plan = $60 (+tax), but you are sorted for the rest of your trip! This sim card is valid for 1 month and T-Mobile has the biggest 5G network in the country.
On my trip to Las Vegas and New York I bought a T-Mobile sim card in Las Vegas and traveled around the US for 3 weeks. I never had a problem connecting and the T-Mobile 5G network experience was amazingly FAST! Even in some of the National Parks that I visited there was either a 5G or 4G signal: Zion in Utah, Grand Canyon in Arizona, Shenandoah in Virginia, everywhere I had an excellent signal throughout my journey with a T-Mobile sim card.
However, on my last trip to the USA just recently I bought an e-sim card for the USA. It is so easy and convenient and I only needed like 3 GB data anyway as I was in the USA for only 5 days.
At Times Square New York you will find a T-Mobile store and a AT&T store within 100 meter from each other. You can walk in, buy a prepaid sim card and you are connected within 5 minutes, but yeah it will cost some time and energy to get connected if you decide to buy a prepaid sim card in the USA.
If that sounds like too much hassle than also get an e-sim card for the USA. Also another reminder that e-sim cards are actually CHEAPER! Click on the link to find 3 GB data for just $11 USD. Or check my article about the best global sim cards in 2023 including free roaming in the USA.
Buy a USA sim card online
On top of the USA prepaid sim cards from T-Mobile and AT&T mentioned above you can also buy an international sim card for the USA online. These sim cards will be shipped to your home address before your trip and are pre-activated. So whenever you land you put them in your phone and it is plug and play.
1. Lycamobile UNL Talk Text
- UNLIMITED (international) calls*
- UNLIMITED (international) text*
- 1 GB
- valid for 1 month
- Price: $14.99
You can order this sim card from Amazon but value for money is bad. I would not recommend this sim Lycamobile sim card for the USA and it makes sense when you think that an e-sim card for the USA with 1 GB data costs only $4.5 USD. Check below for much better options.
2. Three Data Pack 8 GB - $24.90
- 8 GB data for 30 days
3. Three Data Pack 12 GB - $29.90
- 12 GB data for 30 days
4. Three PAYG MBB 12GB - $59.90
- 12 GB data for 1 year
5. Three PAYG MBB 24GB - $79.90
- 24 GB data for 2 years
Click here to order any of the above international sim cards for traveling in the USA directly online.
Comparing all the above international sim cards for the USA then personally I would recommend the sim card with 12 GB data for $29.90 USD.
As you can see buying a sim card for the USA online is even cheaper than buying a sim card on arrival in the USA. Plus you save the hassle of going to a mobile phone shop when arriving in the USA.
However, by now you know that Traveltomtom recommends e-sim cards for the USA. You can buy them through Airalo or through SimOptions. E-sim cards are also the cheapest way to stay connected when traveling to the USA.
On my very recent trip to the USA I also recorded a vlog about buying a prepaid sim card in the USA, check it out below.
Here are some more North America sim cards for traveling to the USA. Sim cards for Canada and sim cards for Mexico also work in the USA. As said before I DO NOT RECOMMEND global sim cards, but check out my article to find the best international sim cards for traveling the world. Even some of the best Europe sim cards have free roaming in the USA included. Check them out in the link above.
Order your USA sim card online before your trip, get it delivered to your home address… Switch the sim card in the plane and enjoy a data connection as soon as you land!
May you have any more questions please leave me a comment, Im happy to help. Looking for some serious wanderlust inspiration than head to my Instagram @traveltomtom and follow along my journey to visit every country in the world. As per April 2023 I have been to more than 150 countries, so still a long way to go.
Enjoy your trip to the USA!
Some links in this article about the best ways to stay connected when traveling to the USA are affiliate links. If you buy any of the products after using an affiliate link in this article I earn a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you!