View Full Version : UK caller - Help with getting a pre-paid sim card / cell phone with refill cards

03-06-2014, 09:22
Hey there.

I am looking into getting a prepaid sim card for my iphone. I have read that AT&T, Verizon and T-mobile are all good network providers for the AT. I would like to sort out a pre-paid sim before I leave, but I am currenly in the UK and don't know how to go about doing so.

I have also read that one can pick up a phone from Walmart / Radioshack for $15 and just get refill cards as another option. Apparantely I will need a valid address and telephone number in the US to do so.

Has anyone form the UK found a solution to this problem. Or if anyone else can kindly recommend a solution I would be very grateful.

Many Thanks,


Odd Man Out
03-06-2014, 10:27
I presume you have an unlocked phone. In the US, most phones are locked to one particular network. Better make sure that a SIM card from Verizon, etc... would work on an unlocked phone. Also, most of the world uses GSM phones but most US mobile service uses CDMA phones. If your phone only uses GSM, then you won't have access to Sprint or Verizon servie. T-Mobile and AT&T use GSM networks. My wife has a newer smart phone (not I-phone) that does both so she could use it in Europe, but had to have the GSM service activated. I'm not sure how that might work for people going the other way. I had a hard time sorting this all out. Getting info from stores in the US is a crap shoot as the people working there know little or nothing about international service or phones. In big cities, there are stores that specialize is providing cheap phone service for ex pats. They would be a good source of info. That is what all my international student friends do.

Damn Yankee
03-06-2014, 11:51
When I was in Iraq, my wife got a global phone from Verizon I believe. I also believe it was only rented so you might be able to rent a global phone for the few months your on the AT.

03-06-2014, 12:12
Phones don't actually uses "SIM" cards. Back in the dark ages a chip had to be programmed and plugged into the phone, but that is long gone. Your phone is either activated remotely through the network or via a cable at a store.

I would first talk to your local provider about activating the phone for use in the US or find out if that is at all possible.

Otherwise just pick up a cheap disposable phone when you get here. The cheap Trackfone I have did not require me to tell them who I was to activate it. The least expensive phones are just that - a phone. If you want all the functions your iPhone does and internet access, that will cost quite a bit more.

Odd Man Out
03-06-2014, 13:33
Phones don't actually uses "SIM" cards. ...

In the rest of the world they do use SIM cards. Frankly I think it is the US that is in the dark ages. I bought a cheap "candy bar" unlocked quad band GSM phone to use for international travel. It has two SIM card slots. One holds a World SIM card that gives me a UK phone number that works in most countries (but at a higher cost per minute). Last year, I forgot to turn my phone off during the flight and when I got to Istanbul, I saw that I had received a Text Message from every country I flew over, giving me the rates for their service (welcome to Iceland.... Welcome to Finland... Welcome to Ukraine.... Welcome to Bulgaria... etc...). Or you can stop at almost any convenience store and buy a SIM card for a few bucks, plug it in the other slot, and have a local cell phone with better local rates.

I was just at the shopping mall and the guy at the T-Mobile kiosk said that they do have SIM cards that will work on unlocked GSM phones. You can get either pay-as-you-go plans or fixed rate per month plans. Phone and text rates will be lower than ones that also include data. It depends on what you want to use your phone for. The US GSM networks use the 850/1900 frequencies. Europe uses 900/1800. The T-Mobile guy said that international I-Phones were probably quad band phones and they should work.

Many report that Verizon gives better coverage on the AT. Not sure how you might tap into their CDMA network, but you could look into that if you wanted to possibly get better service.

English Stu
03-06-2014, 15:53
I am in the UK.In 2010 I bought a tracphone over there I think for $19.99. It worked I believe on Verizon. It was a ball ache to activate as you have to put loads of numbers in and I seem to recall a credit card number, it took hours as the system struggled with a UK credit card to load up. I did have use of a friends US base whilst this was going on. I hope to get on the trail later this year so I will check how this little phone can be reactivated or may just get my regular phone activated for use in the US. Alternatively I might just not take one. In 2004 I bought a prepaid US phone card and made calls home on that. Not sure if that how available that service is now.Of course you have to find a public phone but that was not hard.

03-06-2014, 16:21
Thanks for the info. I have read that yes you need to get your phone unlocked first. I was then hoping to just slam in a pre-paid sim. Job done.
If anyone has had any success here I would be interested to hear.
Or as suggested I could just buy a cheap cell phone. But do you have to have an address and telephone number to do so? Or have to enter a whole host of credit card details.

If I was to buy a prepaid phone card are there phone boothes in trail towns to make calls back to the UK. Also what about when it comes to ordering pizza on the trail / phoning ahead to arrange a lift / accommodation. Surely it's better to have a cell phone?


03-06-2014, 19:52

These days in the US, phone booths are about as rare as hen's teeth. If you want to call England, you'll really want to use your mobile. Given the long distance charges, for the majority of your calls, it would probably be better to wait until you get to town where there's often free wifi so that you can use FaceTime or Skype or some other app to call your family. However, it's nice to have mobile service so that you can send a quickie text message back home (remember, it'll often be 2am in England by the time you remember to contact family, so a text message is less of a disturbance than a phone call :rolleyes: ). And, as you noted, it is really convenient to have a cell phone to call hotels, shuttle providers, etc.

While CDMA has better coverage, since you already have an Iphone, you'll just want a SIM that you can plug into your existing phone. The following link describes some of the pay-as-you-go packages that the various providers offer:


AirVoice is about the cheapest. Basically, AirVoice uses AT&T's network, but is able to offer better prices. For your particular purposes, a text message back to England appears to cost about 20 cents, so that's a pretty reasonable way of informing your family that all is well.

03-06-2014, 20:46
I bought a phone and a 30 day card at the Dollar General in Damascus for about $50.

03-07-2014, 08:53
Thanks for your advice Stubble jumper. Definitely the best advice I have received. I will check out your link later.

I have checked and my iphone is a GSM model.
Do you know that if I get a pre-pad sim + I make sure my phone is unlocked. Then I will be assigned a new cell phone number??

03-07-2014, 10:01
We bought an unlocked GSM phone for my daughter when she was getting ready to go overseas. To make sure it worked, we bought a pre-paid T Mobile SIM card and put 20 bucks on it so she could call or text while still in the US. These SIM cards are available at Wal Mart and the like, or at a T Mobile store.

The T Mobile network isn't all that great, however. You may be better off just buying a cheap pre-paid phone at WalMart or Target that uses the Verizon network.

03-07-2014, 10:03
Yes, the SIM card has the phone number. You should be able to call your current provider and ask them to unlock your phone for overseas travel.

English Stu
03-07-2014, 10:49
I find it is as well to condition your family not to expect regular calls and not to promise to ring at specific times/ dates. If the call does not come it increases anxiety.
On the JMT it was impossible to have any contact. I did not have the time to call from San Fransisco before left so I asked a hiker who was going off the trail if he would mind e-mailing my wife that he had seen me and he did.
An English AT thru hiker I met in 2010 kept in touch by using Facebook in towns. Sign in at shelter registers and those at crossing points as they are evidence of your progress.