Stay connected when traveling to the USA! It sounds easier than it actually is as the American 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! Buying a sim card in 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 one, up to date prices, the best 4G/5G network, e-sim cards, my recommendation and more.
This article is updated with the latest prices and information as per November 2022.
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 the USA for tourists. YES you read that right… TWO OPERATORS!
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, of course also covered in this article.
As a full time world traveler trying to visit every country in the world and visited more than 140 countries as of November 2022 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 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, Cairo, Paris, London, Johannesburg, Thailand, Vietnam, Panama, South Africa, Europe, Saudi Arabia and so on.
Prepaid USA sim card prices are NOT competitive, so I recommend you to use an international prepaid sim card with data to stay connected when traveling in the USA or an e-sim 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 check social media apps and email.
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.
Also don't rely on public WiFi. There is no guarantee and the internet speed can vary. 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 2022 that we recommend. In the link you will find a review and comparison of the best international sim cards for traveling in 2022. You you can order online before your trip to the US and get them shipped to your home address. For $39.90 USD you will get a sim card with 12 GB data in the USA.
But you want it even easier AND CHEAPER? The best way to get data on your phone when traveling abroad in 2022? Get an e-sim card for the USA! You can already get 10 GB data for $26 USD.
Make sure your phone is unlocked, before buying a sim card in 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.
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
- 3 GB data for 30 days = $11 USD
- 5 GB data for 30 days = $16 USD
- 10 GB data for 30 days = $26 USD
Click here to order one of the above USA e-sim cards directly or find more info about it.
I also found another e-sim card for the USA that gives you 6 GB data for 10 days for $17.90 USD or 20 GB data for $34.90 USD. Isn't that a great deal? Probably even one of the best sim card deals for the USA!
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 2022.
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, Dominican Republic, 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 minutes you will walk out of the store with a working data connection on your phone.
Best way to find the nearest 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 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!
Buy a sim card for the USA online
If buying a US prepaid sim card on arrival is too much hassle then check out my article about the best international sim cards for travelers in 2022, it has some really good alternatives which you can directly order 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.
Prices prepaid sim cards USA in 2022
T-Mobile USA charges a $10 activation fee for a prepaid sim card. They offer 3 different sim card packages, see the above photo. All of them come with UNLIMITED CALLING & TEXTING and are valid for 1 month.
- $40 = 10 GB data
- $50 = Unlimited data + 3G hotspot
- $60 = Unlimited data + 10 GB 4G hotspot
The data is only for use in the USA, you pay $5 extra for max 5GB to use in Canada and/or Mexico.
These are the latest T-Mobile prepaid sim card deals as per November 2022, for more info check the T-Mobile USA website.
The activation fee for an AT&T USA prepaid sim is $15. They also offer 3 different USA prepaid sim card packages with UNLIMITED CALLING & TEXTING and are also valid for 1 month.
- $30 = 5 GB data
- $40 = 15 GB data
- $50 = Unlimited data (speed reduce if network is busy)
- $75 = Unlimited data (speed reduce after 22 GB if network is busy)
You can use an AT&T USA prepaid sim card for free in Mexico and Canada. You can use data roaming at no extra costs, which is a cool advantage may you also travel to Canada. However, there are a lot of disadvantages about AT&T. May reduce speed if network is busy? Hell no, I would never want that! Also on its website it says no access to 5G for the $30, $40 and $50 plan.
These are the latest AT&T prepaid sim card deals as per November 2022, 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 2022
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.
AT&T 4G/5G network coverage map
T-Mobile 4G/5G network coverage map
Both T-Mobile and AT&T have an extensive network coverage and cover ALL tourist areas in the USA! That said, from the above USA mobile network coverage maps updated for 2022 we can clearly see 2 things:
- AT&T has better coverage in remote areas
- T-Mobile has a much better 5G network
What is the best prepaid sim card in the USA in 2022
When comparing the US prepaid sim cards we can come to the very simple conclusion that T-Mobile is the best sim card in the USA in 2022! They offer the best prepaid sim card deals and also have the best 5G network in the country.
For a trip to the USA I would recommend 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.
I also 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 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.
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 if buying a sim card in the USA on arrival is too much hassle than I have a great solution for you. Get your USA sim card online or get an e-sim card for the USA. An e-sim card is also MUCH CHEAPER! Click on the link to find 10 GB data for just $26 USD. Or check my article about the best global sim cards in 2022 including free roaming in the USA.
Buy a USA sim card online
On top of the USA prepaid sim cards form T-Mobile and AT&T mentioned above you can also buy one of the following international sim cards online and they will work for traveling in the USA. Here is a list of the best 8 international sim cards for the USA:
- UNLIMITED (international) calls*
- UNLIMITED (international) text*
- 1 GB
- valid for 1 month
- Price: $14.99
Click on the link above to order this sim card from Amazon. I would not recommend this sim Lycamobile sim card for the USA. Value for money is NOT good! Check below for much better options. You can order any of the following international sim cards for the USA directly online through this link!
2. Three UK PAYG AIO15 - $29.90
- NO calls/sms
- 10 GB data
- valid for 30 days
3. Three UK PAYG AIO20 - $39.90
- NO calls/sms
- 12 GB data
- valid for 30 days
4. Three UK PAYG MBB 12GB - $59.90
- NO calls/sms
- 12 GB data
- valid for 1 year!
5. Three UK PAYG MBB 24GB - $79.90
- NO calls/sms
- 24 GB data
- valid for 2 years!
6. Orange Holiday World - $49.90
- NO calls/sms
- 10 GB data
- valid for 14 days
Comparing all the above international sim cards for the USA then personally I would recommend sim card with 10 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. But by now you know that I simply recommend an e-sim card for traveling in the USA, they also have the cheapest offers for staying connected in 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 November 2022 I have been to more than 140 countries, so still a long way to go.
Enjoy your trip to the USA!