Avoid high roaming costs and stay connected when traveling to the USA! It sounds easier than it actually is as the prepaid sim card market in the USA is not as advanced as in Europe, Asia or in other parts of the world. But don’t worry, it isn’t that complicated either, rather just expensive.
Buying a prepaid sim card or ordering an e-sim card for the USA is the best way to get data on your phone when traveling to the USA. This is a complete guide with everything you need to know: where to buy a USA sim card, up to date prices as per February 2024, the best 4G/5G network in the USA, my recommendation, a vlog with my experiences buying a sim card in the USA, the best e-sim cards for the USA, info about international sim cards for the USA and more.
Don’t expect to have a lot of options! In world’s most famous country there are only 3 mobile internet providers that sell prepaid sim cards for tourists.
Very much recommended are international sim cards that cover the USA, more about that later. But the cheapest and easiest way to stay connected when traveling to the United States is an e-sim card for the USA, more about e-sims later.
As a full time nomadic world traveler for more than 10 years who is also trying to visit every country in the world and visited more than 155 countries as of February 2024 I can tell you that buying a local prepaid sim card in the country you are visiting is often the cheapest way to get a lot of data on your phone. The network coverage will be the best, the data speed maximum and locals calls are included and often unlimited.
However, that said when traveling to the USA in 2024 definitely check out e-sim cards as for less than $15 USD you already get 10 GB data. The last 3 times I visited the USA I used an e-sim card.
Since I like to document all my travel tips you can already find more than 200 sim card guides on Traveltomtom from all around the world: Canada, Mexico, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, United Kingdom, Israel, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Turkey, Thailand, Vietnam, Panama, South Africa, Europe, Saudi Arabia, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Colombia, Bali, Singapore, Dubai and many more.
So next time you are planning your trip abroad come check out Traveltomtom for the latest prepaid sim card and e-sim card advice for your next destination. Bookmark me!
Prepaid sim card prices in the USA are NOT competitive, for cheaper USA sim card deals check out international prepaid sim cards with data or e-sims card for the USA to stay connected when traveling in the USA in 2024.
Why buying 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 as well 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. If you buy a sim card in a store in the USA you put it 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 if buying a prepaid sim card on arrival in the USA. T-Mobile has a very extensive 5G network all over the USA and for $50 USD you get unlimited data for 30 days, it is cheaper than AT&T and Verizon.
However, my recommendation is to order a sim card for traveling in the USA on the internet, not on arrival in the USA. The best USA sim card deals for tourists in 2024 can be found online. Why? It is simply easier and cheaper!
Unfortunately buying a prepaid sim card at any international airport in the USA is pretty much a disaster. Some airports don't even have sim card shops like at JFK Airport in New York or you can only find extremely overpriced sim card in a vending machine. Or what about a $82 USD sim card with 15 GB data at LAX?
So what does Traveltomtom recommends? The best, cheapest and easiest way to get a sim card with data for traveling to the USA in 2024 is an e-sim card. You can already get 20 GB data for $21 USD.
There are also international physical prepaid sim cards with global network coverage for those that don't have an e-sim compatible phone. In the link you will find a review and comparison of the best international sim cards for traveling in 2024. You order one online before your trip to the US and get them delivered to your home address. Plug and Play!
Make sure your phone is unlocked, before buying a sim card for the USA. International, e-sim cards and local prepaid sim cards for the USA only work in unlocked phones. If you are not sure if your phone is locked/unlocked ask your provider in your home country before your trip to the USA.
Best e-sim cards for the USA
The most convenient and easiest way to stay connected when traveling to the USA in 2024 is an e-sim card. You can easily order them online within just a couple clicks.
You order an e-sim card for the USA on the internet, you receive a QR code, scan it, follow the simple steps and within less than 2 minutes you have a USA e-sim card installed on your phone.
Upon arrival in the US it automatically connects you to an available network and you enjoy data on your phone pretty much when the plane lands.
Make sure your phone is e-sim compatible before ordering an e-sim card for USA. For a much more detailed guide and an answer to all FAQ's about using e-sim cards check out my guide with everything you need to know before ordering an e-sim card for the USA in 2024.
Airalo is a reputed and trusted e-sim provider and Traveltomtom has used Airalo in more than 50 countries around the world. Check out the Airalo e-sim card deals for the USA in 2024:
- 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 NOW ONLY $13 USD
- 20 GB data for 30 days = $42 USD NOW ONLY $21 USD
Click here for more info or to order an Airalo e-sim card for the USA directly online.
If you are fast there is now a 50% discount until February 29th 2024 on these Airalo e-sim cards for the USA! That means you can get 20 GB data for just $21 USD.
The above Change e-sim cards are valid only in the USA and they operate on the 4G/LTE/5G network of Verizon and T-Mobile. Yes, the Airalo e-sim cards for the USA supports 5G.
These e-sims are provided by Airalo and are the only 5G ready e-sim cards for the USA available and therefore also Traveltomtom's pick and recommended e-sim card for traveling to USA.
SimOptions is another e-sim card provider that sells USA e-sim cards. Traveltomtom has been using SimOptions e-sims and physical sim cards for more than 5 years.
They offer international e-sim cards for the USA that are valid in multiple countries:
- 10 GB data for 30 days = $24.90 USD
- 20 GB data for 30 days = $34.90 USD
The Three HK international e-sim cards are valid in 6 countries: New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, United Kingdom and USA. These are the only USA e-sim cards that come with a phone number and technically they support incoming phone calls and sms.
SimOptions also has the following e-sim cards for the USA:
- 1 GB data for 30 days = $4.90 USD
- 6 GB data for 10 days = $17.90 USD
- 10 GB data for 15 days = $19.90 USD
Click here for more info or to order an e-sim card for the USA via SimOptions.
Nomad is another great e-sim card provider and they actually have the best USA e-sim card deal.
- 1 GB data for 7 days = $7 USD
- 3 GB data for 30 days = $9 USD
- 5 GB data for 30 days = $14 USD
- 10 GB data for 30 days = $20 USD
- 20 GB data for 30 days = $32 USD
Click here for more info or to order an e-sim card for USA from Nomad.
The Nomad e-sim with 20 GB data for $32 USD is only $1.6 USD per Gigabyte.
Very important is that before buying an e-sim card for the USA make sure your phone is e-sim card compatible. There are more USA e-sim card providers like Holafly and many others, but those offer e-sim cards for the USA with unlimited data. Traveltomtom does NOT recommend e-sim cards with unlimited data.
For more tips and tricks and info about USA e-sim cards click on the link to read my complete guide for buying an e-sim card for the USA in 2024, including a comparison of the best e-sim cards for traveling to 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. The newest addition is my guide for buying a sim card at Miami Airport and my Los Angeles Airport sim card guide.
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 there are literally no sim card shops or phone stores. Even more reasons for you to order a sim card for traveling to the USA on the internet.
Official retail stores
The best place to buy a prepaid sim card for the USA is at an official retail store. The staff 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. But I will later show you the prepaid sim card prices and you will see that e-sim cards are much cheaper.
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 tourist sim cards at convenience stores like 7-Eleven, CVS and of course at Walmart. They are mostly located behind the counter and gathering information about the data packages is a little challenging. Don’t expect the staff to know exactly what these tourist sim cards are about. It is not Traveltomtoms first recommendation to buy a sim card in the USA at a convenience or grocery store.
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. These tourist sim cards are not cheap either and 7 GB data will already cost you $29 USD + tax.
Keep in mind that there are already e-sim cards for the USA with 20 GB data for just $15 USD.
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 and Traveltomtom recommends ordering an e-sim card for the USA via either SimOptions, Airalo or Nomad.
If your phone is not e-sim compatible you can also order physical prepaid sim cards on the internet via SimOptions. Check out my article about the best international sim cards for travelers in 2024, it has some really good alternatives and you can order directly online.
The downside of the sim cards for the USA you order online is that they are data-only. Sim cards you buy in a store in the USA including data, text and talk.
Mobile internet operators in the USA
In a country with more than 300 million people it is almost unimaginable that there are only 3 main mobile internet operators:
On top of that there are many MVNO's in the USA, so called Mobile Virtual Network Operators. What they basically do is use the network of one of the above main internet providers to offer their mobile services. Well known MVNO's in the USA are Sprint, Mint Mobile, Lycamobile and Boost. You can buy their sim cards in shops like Walmart, etc.
Verizon did not use to sell prepaid sim cards for tourists for many years, but the tables have turned and also Verizon now offers prepaid plans for tourists that can be bought in their Verizon stores.
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 physical prepaid USA sim card online and get one delivered to your home address before your trip or order an e-sim card for the USA. For these sim cards there is no form of ID verification needed, only your email address.
Prices prepaid sim cards USA in 2024
Prices below are in United States Dollar and info and prices are updated as per February 2024. E-sim cards are available for an extra fee, but only in the official stores of T-Mobile, AT&T or Verizon. You can not buy an e-sim card on the international airports in the USA on arrival.
Officially T-Mobile USA charges a $10 USD activation fee for a prepaid sim card for tourists 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. Ask for it in store!
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 USD 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.
T-Mobile offers e-sim cards for tourists in their T-Mobile stores for an extra fee of $4.99 USD. So if you want to have a T-Mobile e-sim card with unlimited data for the USA that will cost you a minimum of $55 USD and if you are unlucky they will also charge you the activation fee of $10 USD.
These are the latest T-Mobile prepaid sim card deals as per February 2024, for more info check the T-Mobile USA website.
The activation fee for an AT&T USA prepaid sim is $15 USD, 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!
E-sim cards are available but you pay an extra fee of $4.99 USD.
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
- 15 GB data = $40 USD
- Unlimited calls/sms and data = $65 USD
The $65 USD deal is only $50 USD 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!
These are the latest AT&T prepaid sim card deals as per February 2024, check the AT&T USA website for more info.
When traveling to Canada on the same trip is better to buy an international sim card for North America.
Verizon charges a staggering $35 USD activation fee, so therefore already I would not recommend buying a prepaid sim card of Verizon. However, on the Unlimited plans they wave away the activation fee.
All the prepaid plans from Verizon are valid for 1 month and are 5G ready. They also include unlimited calling and teting:
- 15 GB data = $45 USD
- Unlimited data + 5 GB data for hotspot = $60 USD
- Unlimited data + 25 GB data for hotspot = $70 USD
For more info check the Verizon website. Verizon offers physical prepaid sim cards as well as e-sim cards for tourists.
When we look at the comparison of the USA prepaid sim cards the conclusion is simple: AT&T and Verizon are more expensive than T-Mobile. So based on the price I am definitely recommending a T-Mobile USA sim card over an AT&T or Verizon sim card.
But summarising all the above prizes means that if you want an AT&T e-sim card with unlimited data for 1 month you pay $70 USD at Verizon you pay $60 USD (if activation feee is waived) and at T-Mobile you pay $50 USD.
Therefore, once again showing you that it is much cheaper and easier to buy an e-sim card for the USA on the internet.
Best 4G/5G network in the USA in 2024
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!
An exception are the Airalo e-sim cards for the USA, these e-sims are 5G ready!
Let's compare the 4G/5G network of T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T and find the best mobile data network in the USA in 2024.
AT&T 4G/5G network coverage map
T-Mobile 4G/5G network coverage map
Verizon 4G/5G network coverage map
Although the above mobile data network coverage maps are updated for 2024 they are not 100% accurate. However, they are a great reference to compare the 4G/5G networks of the mobile internet providers in the USA in 2024.
All the main mobile internet providers in the USA have an excellent 4G/5G mobile data network across the country and cover pretty much every tourist destination in the USA.
From the above USA mobile network coverage maps we can clearly see 2 things:
- AT&T and Verizon have better coverage in remote areas
- T-Mobile has the best 5G network
After comparing the mobile data network coverage maps of Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile Traveltomtom comes to the conclusion that all in all Verizon has the best mobile data network in the USA in 2024.
What is the best prepaid sim card for the USA in 2024
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 2024. They offer the best prepaid sim card deals for tourists and also have the best 5G network in the country.
However, in 2024 we also take the online sim cards into consideration and then Traveltomtom concludes that ordering a sim card on the internet is cheaper than buying a sim card in the USA on arrival.
E-sim cards are the cheapest way to get a lot of data on your phone. For $21 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.
Check out Traveltomtom's guide with a comparison of the best e-sim cards for the USA in 2024 for more info about USA e-sim cards.
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! If you want an e-sim card instead of a physical prepaid sim card then add another $5 USD.
This sim card is valid for 1 month and T-Mobile has the biggest 5G network in the country.
When I took a road trip from Las Vegas to New York and I bought a T-Mobile sim card in Las Vegas and traveled around the US for about 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 done so fast and is so easy and convenient. I only needed 5 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 rather than order a sim card for the USA on the internet.
If that sounds like too much hassle then order an e-sim card for the USA. Another reminder that e-sim cards for the USA are actually CHEAPER! Through Airalo you can find e-sim cards with 3 GB data for just $11 USD. SimOptions offers a USA e-sim card plan with 10 GB for $24.90 USD and Nomad has USA e-sim cards with 20 GB data for $32 USD.
Or if you want a physical sim card then check out my article about the best prepaid global sim cards in 2024 including free roaming in the USA.
Buy a prepaid sim card for the USA online
You can only buy the above mentioned USA prepaid sim cards from T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T on arrival in the USA. But if you rather arrive prepared you can order a sim card on the internet. If your phone is not e-sim compatible then look into the following.
Arrive prepared in USA with an international prepaid sim card. You order them online and a physical prepaid sim card will be delivered to your home address. You put this sim card in your phone and it automatically connects to an available network upon arrival in the US, basically when the plane lands you are instantly online.
SimOptions is the only sim card provider that sells physical prepaid sim cards for the United States:
1. Three Data Pack - $24.90
- 10 GB data
- Valid 30 days
- Valid in 55 countries
- Incoming/outgoing calls not supported
- 10 GB data
- Valid 14 days
- Valid in 197 countries
- Incoming/outgoing calls not supported
Click here for more info or to order an international physical prepaid sim card for the USA via SimOptions.
Comparing the above international prepaid sim cards for the USA then personally I would recommend the sim card with 10 GB data for $24.90 USD. But you have seen that e-sim cards were cheaper.
However, buying a sim card for the USA on the internet 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. Especially since buying sim cards at airport in the USA is a nightmare.
By now you know that Traveltomtom recommends e-sim cards for traveling to the United States for those who have e-sim card compatible phones. You can buy them through Airalo, SimOptions or through Nomad.
E-sim cards are also the cheapest way to stay connected when traveling to the USA. Go to my guide for finding the best e-sim cards for traveling to the USA in 2024.
On my recent trip to the USA I also recorded a vlog about buying a prepaid sim card in the USA, check it out below.
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!
If you have any more questions please leave me a comment below, 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 February 2024 I have been to more than 155 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 absolutely no extra cost to you!