How to get a US phone number as an international student

Prodigy finance Logo

Prodigy Finance - May, 01 2024

5 min read

About the author

At Prodigy Finance, we're committed to helping international talent to achieve their education dreams. We offer international student loans to qualified individuals attending top master's programmes in the US.

Are you an international student about to study in the United States? One of the first things you'll need to do upon arrival is to get a US phone number.

Having a local number will not only make communication easier but will also open up a world of opportunities for staying connected and accessing essential services: it’s easier to stay in touch with classmates, lecturers, and local services, but most importantly, it’s a lot cheaper to make local calls than being charged international call and data rates.

Here's a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the US phone system smoothly.

Understanding your options

Prepaid versus postpaid plans

Before selecting a plan, it's a good idea to understand the difference between prepaid and postpaid plans.

Prepaid mobile plans are mobile services that you pay for in advance, usually on a monthly basis, offering flexibility and control over your spending. Packages available comprise an agreed amount of airtime, text messages, and data. The advantages include no credit check requirement, you control how much you spend on services, and often, prepaid plans are more flexible. However, most prepaid plans offer fewer features, such as limited international calling options and some mobile networks restrict the types of devices that can be used with prepaid plans. Additionally, you’ll need to pay for your device in full upfront as there are no instalment plans available.

Postpaid mobile plans or contracts require a credit check and typically involve signing a contract for a specific period, usually one or two years. You’re billed at the end of each month for the services used during that period. Most postpaid plans offer international calling, premium content, and faster data speeds, as well as financing options that allow you to pay for your phone in instalments as opposed to upfront.

The choice between prepaid and postpaid plans depends on your preferences and needs.

Major US carriers and MVNOs

The major carriers in the US are Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint (now part of T-Mobile). However, you might want to consider the Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), which as alternative carriers, operate on the infrastructure of the major carriers and offer more affordable plans with similar coverage.

Some of the popular MVNOs include: Cricket Wireless, Boost Mobile, Metro by T-Mobile, Mint Mobile, and Straight Talk.

Preparing before you leave

Researching plans

Researching mobile plans before arriving in the US can save you time and money. Here are some tips:

First off, check your phone compatibility to see if it's compatible with US networks. You may need to unlock your phone or purchase a new one upon arrival.

  • Review your current plan: evaluate your current mobile plan and international roaming options to see if your current provider offers any benefits or discounts for international usage.
  • Explore carrier websites: visit the websites of major US carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint to compare plans and pricing.
  • Read reviews: look for reviews and recommendations from other international students who have experience with US mobile carriers.
  • Consider MVNOs: explore Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) that offer competitive rates and flexible plans.

International offers

Some US carriers offer special deals or discounts for international students. Here's how to take advantage of them:
Check carrier websites for any exclusive offers for international students.

  • Contact customer service representatives to inquire about student discounts or promotions.
  • Connect with student organisations or university services that may have partnerships with mobile carriers offering student discounts...

Obtaining a phone number on arrival

Buying a Phone

You can purchase a phone from various retailers or online stores. Many smartphones are sold unlocked, allowing you to use them with any carrier.

Buying a SIM card

Purchase a SIM card from a carrier store, authorised retailer, or online. Popular carriers have stores located in malls, airports, and city centres.

Necessary documentation

Don’t forget to take along essential documentation such as your passport, visa information, and proof of address (if required) to complete the activation process.

Choosing the right plan

Assessing your needs

Assess your communication needs and compare plans to find the best fit by estimating your usage requirements for data, calls, and texts, based on your lifestyle and budget.

Consider factors such as how much data you typically use per month, whether you frequently make international calls, and if you need features like mobile hotspot or international roaming. Choose a plan that aligns with your usage patterns to avoid overpaying for unused services.

Comparing plans

Comparing mobile plans from different carriers or Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) can be a daunting task, but here are some of the best ways to compare plans:

  • Online Comparison Tools: many websites and mobile apps offer comparison tools that allow you to input your usage preferences and see a side-by-side comparison of plans from various carriers and MVNOs.
  • **Carrier websites: **most carriers provide detailed information about their plans, including coverage maps, data speeds, and international roaming options.
  • Independent reviews and forums: find independent reviews and forums where consumers share their experiences with different carriers and plans. Websites like Consumer Reports, Wirecutter, and Reddit's r/NoContract subreddit can provide valuable insights into the quality of service, customer support, and overall satisfaction with specific carriers and MVNOs.
  • Consider coverage and network quality: before selecting a plan, consider the coverage and network quality offered by each carrier or MVNO.

Setting up your phone

Activation process

Insert the SIM card into your phone and follow the instructions provided by the carrier to activate your service.

Troubleshooting common issues

If you encounter any issues during activation, contact customer support for assistance. Common issues may include network settings or compatibility problems.

Managing your mobile plan

Stay on top of your mobile plan to avoid surprises and extra charges:

  • Keeping track of your usage: monitor your data, call, and text usage regularly to avoid exceeding plan limits. Set up automatic payments or reminders to ensure timely bill payments.

  • Ensure timely payment of your monthly bill to avoid service interruptions and late fees.

  • Plan upgrades: as your needs change over time, consider adjusting or upgrading your plan to better suit your usage patterns and budget.

Additional considerations

International calling and roaming

Explore options for international calling and roaming if you plan to travel back home or visit other countries during your studies.

Online alternatives

Consider using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services or messaging apps for international communication to save on costs.


By following these steps and tips, you'll be well-equipped to acquire a US phone number, choose the right plan, and manage your mobile services effectively as an international student in the United States.

Sources and additional resources

Here are some useful links to carrier websites, comparison tools for mobile plans, and forums for international students seeking advice and experiences:

Carrier Websites

Comparison Tools for Mobile Plans

Forums for International Students

Image of webinar host

Talk to us

Wednesday & Friday 12 pm (GMT) | 5:30 pm (IST)
Hosts: Charndre and team

Join webinar
Download our mobile app

© Prodigy Finance Limited 2007 - 2024. All Rights Reserved. Prodigy Finance Limited is incorporated in the United Kingdom (Company Number 05912562) with its registered address at 85 Great Portland Street, London, W1W 7LT and registered with the Office of the Information Commissioner (Reg. No. Z9851854). Prodigy Finance is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (firm registration number 709641) for certain consumer credit activities. Prodigy Finance loans are offered to eligible borrowers and these loans are governed by English law. Prodigy Finance Servicing, LLC is incorporated in the state of Delaware, USA, is an affiliate of Prodigy Finance Limited and conducts the business of servicing of loans for residents of certain US states. NMLS # 2155440 (Prodigy Finance Servicing, LLC) and NMLS #1611590 (Prodigy Finance Limited) ( View Prodigy Finance's lending, servicing and collection licenses.