Nothing is more annoying than arriving at your travel destination and realizing you have no data plan, or worse, putting on your data and facing a huge phone bill upon your return. Yes, only one minute of using Google Maps has already cost me €40!
Therefore it’s super important to have a data plan BEFORE you go abroad. The one exception is when you’re an EU citizen traveling to another EU country. In all other cases, you better come prepared!
But how do you get a SIM card beforehand? Where do you get it? And what’s actually the best SIM card provider for the USA? Don’t worry, in this blog post I’ll be answering all these questions!
Spoiler: read on to find a discount code ;).
Before writing this blog post, I received a Holafly SIM card to test out during my travels to the USA. All the opinions in this post are mine, and I hope to give you an as honest review as possible! This post also contains affiliate links. When you purchase through one of my links I get a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Read more in my Disclosure Policy.
What is a prepaid SIM card?
Prepaid means that you buy a SIM card with a fixed amount of data before you can use it. When you call, text, or use data, you use the money/data credits you’ve loaded onto your card until you’ve used everything. Then you either buy a new SIM card or top it up.
In practice, this means that you don’t have a subscription running. For example, you can buy a prepaid SIM card with X GB of data and X calling minutes for X euros during a specific period of time. When you’ve used everything, your SIM card is empty.
Since you’ll only be staying for a limited amount of time abroad to travel (I suppose), a prepaid SIM card is perfect to use because you only pay for what you need and you don’t have to worry about canceling a subscription.
Where can you buy a prepaid SIM card?
Many telecommunication companies offer prepaid sim cards. If you land in the USA and make your way to any network provider’s shop, you can buy a prepaid SIM card on the spot. Think about the stores of AT&T, T-Mobile, etc. However, this is definitely not the most convenient and most affordable option.
SIM card providers at the airport will charge you ridiculous prices and then you still need some time to install the SIM card before you can actually access your data. I mean, how do you make your way to a physical SIM card provider if you don’t have data?
A second, and most preferred option, is to buy your SIM card online in advance. At least, that’s what I did when I traveled to San Francisco! Then, you can install your SIM card before your flight (when you have time) and it will be ready to use as soon as you land in the USA. This saves you the hassle of looking for a SIM card during your holiday. Convenient right?
The best thing about today’s SIM cards is that the newest generations of phones don’t even require a physical SIM card. This is where the eSIM comes in. With an “embedded” or virtual SIM card, you can attach a data plan to your phone by just scanning a QR code that you receive by email. This makes it even easier to set it up! Plus, you don’t have another phone number to deal with and you save plastic, which is better for the environment!
For my 2-week trip to San Francisco, I got a Holafly SIM card that I received well in advance so I could install it upfront. This made me have data as soon as I landed! Overall, my experience with their service was very positive and therefore I highly recommend ordering a physical or virtual SIM card through Holafly! In what follows I’ll discuss my experience with them in-depth as well as some other options you might want to look into.
Pros & cons of Holafly
The advantages of using Holafly
Here are some of the advantages I experienced when using my Holafly SIM card that gave me a great experience:
Super easy & straightforward to order
The website of Holafly is very straightforward which makes ordering a SIM card or eSIM a piece of cake. You just choose a plan according to the number of days you’re traveling which has unlimited data attached to it for the period you need it! What’s more, they are actually the first data providers with unlimited data for eSIMs!
After you’ve placed your order, the physical SIM card gets sent to your home address, or the eSIM gets sent to your email address. For me, the physical SIM card arrived in just a few days. However, an eSIM even arrives within seconds since you get it via email. So I would definitely recommend buying an eSIM if your phone is compatible (mine wasn’t at that time, unfortunately).
Amazing customer support
When I had an issue with my SIM card I could immediately reach customer support via a chat function (and email). Within a few minutes I had an answer and my problem was resolved. You can’t get better customer service than this!
High-speed data connection
Probably the most important advantage of using Holafly was that I had reliable high-speed data connections wherever I went! Even in a National Park where I was warned not to have any data connection, I had the same service as usual, which was super convenient!
The disadvantages of using Holafly
No data provider is flawless, here are some disadvantages I experienced but overall I would still highly recommend them!
A little confusing to set up
When I received my physical SIM card, I also received a little paper with instructions to set it up. However, the instructions seemed a little bit different than those I received via email so I was a little confused. But I decided to follow the email’s instructions and had no problem setting it up. I’m sure installing an eSIM is much more convenient!
One time during my holiday I noticed that I suddenly didn’t have any data service anymore, which I thought was very strange in the middle of a city. After restarting my phone (which didn’t help), I reached out to Holafly’s customer support. They immediately knew what the problem was, reset my data plan (or something else technical) and I had my connection back.
So although this was a minor inconvenience, I’m very happy that they managed to resolve it immediately!
Considering all the pros and cons I just listed above, I still think that Holafly’s (e)SIM cards are a great option if you’re looking for a travel SIM card for the USA. Not only is it very convenient to set up before your trip, but you also have amazing customer support if anything goes wrong during your trip which I think is worth a lot!
That’s why I look back at my experience with Holafly on a positive note, and I can’t wait to order my first eSIM with them now that I have a new phone!
TIP: If you’d like to get yourself a Holafly prepaid SIM card for the USA, use the code EMMASROADMAP at checkout for a 5% discount ;).
Other prepaid sim cards for the USA
If you’re anything like me then you probably want to consider some other USA SIM card options before buying yours. I totally get that! That’s why I’m giving you some other suggestions below.
T-Mobile is the US’ largest telecommunications provider and therefore a logical choice if you need to buy a prepaid SIM card for the USA as a tourist. They have stores everywhere where you can walk in to get a physical SIM card and an app that you can download where you can buy an eSIM.
However, T-Mobile is rather on the expensive side compared to other alternatives. So T-Mobile is a great option if you need a SIM card on the spot in the USA but otherwise, I suggest ordering a Holafly SIM or eSIM beforehand.
AT&T is just like T-Mobile a large US telecommunications provider with stores you can find everywhere. However, the same arguments hold as for T-Mobile. It is rather expensive and I find their website utterly confusing. If you need to choose between AT&T and T-Mobile, I would go for T-Mobile.
Airalo is an eSIM provider that gives you convenient options for buying an eSIM to go abroad through their smartphone app. However, if your smartphone isn’t compatible, this means that you can’t use their services. Plus, they offer way fewer options than Holafly, don’t have unlimited data and are thus less flexible in their data plans.
How much does a prepaid SIM card for the USA cost?
This depends on how long you want to stay and how much data you need. It can start from as little as €10 (but then you don’t really have a lot of data) and go to prices over €100. In general, the longer you’ll stay, the more expensive it will be because of the more data you need. For a 2 week trip, I used a SIM card worth €34 with 8 GB and this was enough for me.
Of course, when you get an (e)SIM with unlimited data, you don’t ever have to worry about running out of data!
Does a prepaid SIM card come with a phone number?
It depends. Physical SIM cards do come with a phone number but you can still keep your usual Whatsapp number. ESIM cards don’t have a phone number (only data) so you can just keep your local phone number and don’t have the hassle of managing two numbers. I think the latter is much more convenient.
Which phones are compatible with eSIM?
Not all phones are compatible with eSIMs but the newer models usually are. IPhone is compatible as from the X version, Samsung from Galaxy S20, Google from Pixel 2… For a full list I will refer you to the Holafly website!
Now that I have a phone that is compatible with eSIM, I’m definitely going to be using this for all my upcoming travels since it’s so much more convenient to use than a physical SIM card! I hope that I gave you a good idea of how to get your hands on a prepaid SIM card for the USA and I wish you a lovely trip!