If you’re travelling to the United States, having the right SIM card can save you a lot of money. We review the best value SIM cards for using your phone in the USA.

USA Flag

Each year, almost 4 million Brits visit the USA. Whether you’re travelling to New York to do some shopping, touring California to enjoy the beautiful scenery, or visiting Florida to enjoy the theme parks with your family, you’ll probably want to use your mobile phone whilst you’re there.

Having a smartphone in America can make it a lot easier to stay in touch with friends and family who are back home in the UK. It can also be useful for staying in touch with each other on your travels and for getting around (e.g. finding nearby restaurants and attractions on Google Maps).

The good news is it’s now really easy to take a UK smartphone and to use it in the US. You can either roam on your UK SIM card or you can buy a local US SIM card upon your arrival in the States. In this article, we’ll review and compare the best SIM cards for using your smartphone in the US. We’ll also discuss network compatibility with your UK handset.

Best USA SIM Card: Lebara Mobile (UK-based SIM)
Recommended Plan: £10 for 8 days usage in the USA
(up to 2GB data, 200 minutes & 100 texts)
Inclusive Features:
  • Set up & activate your SIM card in the UK, before you depart.
  • Choose from two roaming add-ons: £10 for 8 days or £20 for 15 days.
  • Use your roaming add-on in the USA, Canada & more.
  • No contract & no credit check required.
Network Coverage: 99% US population coverage
Compatibility: Works with most unlocked smartphones (including iPhone & Android)
Free SIM Card: Get a Lebara Pay As You Go SIM card →
(enter KEN3 as your promo code at checkout for 3 months half price)
eSIM Alternative: US$11 (~£8.70) for 3GB data on Airalo
(data only plan, valid for 30 days, requires an eSIM-ready phone)

Using Your Mobile Phone In The USA

If you’re planning a trip to the USA, there are three ways to use your mobile phone when you’re there:

  • You can roam on a UK-based SIM card. This is the easiest and most convenient way to use your mobile phone in the USA. You’ll have a UK-based phone number (+44) and you’ll pay your UK mobile network for your usage.
  • You can buy a US-based SIM card on arrival. If you’re a frequent traveller to the US or if you need a US-based phone number (+1), you can get a local SIM from one of the US networks. However, this is typically a more expensive option unless you regularly travel for an extended amount of time.
  • You can buy a data-only eSIM for the USA. You can get a data-only USA eSIM from Airalo. This will give you a low-cost allowance of mobile data. However, you’ll need to use your regular SIM card for calling and texting (for which your standard roaming rates will apply).

The following table shows a side-by-side comparison of the three options:

Roaming on your UK SIM card Buying a US SIM card on arrival Buying a data eSIM for the US
Best for one-off or occasional trips to the US.
Best for frequent travellers to the US. Best if you’re departing soon and want an eSIM quickly.
You’ll have a UK-based number (beginning with +44). You’ll have a US-based number (beginning with +1). Data-only service. Use your normal SIM for calls (roaming fees apply).
We recommend Lebara’s Pay As You Go SIM. Get a US roaming add-on from £10 before you depart. Choose a SIM from AT&T or T-Mobile USA. Prices start from $30/month (£26), plus tax and activation fees. Get an eSIM from Airalo. Prices start from $11/month (~£8.70) for a data-only service.
You’ll need to set up & activate your UK SIM card before you depart. You’ll need to buy & activate your US SIM card on arrival (e.g. at a grocery or phone store). You can set up and activate your plan on any compatible eSIM-ready phone.
You can continue using your SIM card in the UK after the end of your trip. Your US SIM card will expire after 60-90 days unless you top it up again during this time. Your eSIM plan will expire at the end of the validity period.

For most people, we’d normally recommend roaming on a UK-based SIM card. This is likely to give you the best overall value, especially when you account for the cost of calling and texting. For instance, Lebara Mobile offers USA roaming add-ons such £10 for 8 days usage (2GB data & 200 minutes), or £20 for 15 days usage (5GB data & 400 minutes). You can activate your SIM card with a UK plan from just £2.50 and there’s no contract and no credit check required.

If you have an eSIM-ready phone (including the iPhone 11, Galaxy S20, Pixel 3 and newer devices), a data-only eSIM from Airalo is also worth considering. If you only need data when you’re abroad, it’s slightly cheaper than roaming on a UK-based SIM card. However, you’ll need to take into account the cost of calls and texts on your regular SIM card. This is because the eSIM will only cover your data usage.

Roaming On Your UK SIM

Inclusive Roaming Deals

  • EE
  • O2
  • Three
  • Vodafone

The simplest way to use your mobile phone in the USA is through international roaming on your UK-based SIM card.

As a first step, you should check to see whether your existing provider allows you to roam at no extra cost in the USA:

  • EE: If you’re an EE Pay Monthly customer with the Roam Abroad Pass, you can use your plan allowances at no extra cost when you’re travelling in the USA (up to a maximum of 50GB per month). This is available as a Smart Benefit or as a chargeable add-on costing £25 per month.
  • O2: If you’re an O2 Pay Monthly customer with the O2 Travel Inclusive Zone Bolt-On, you’ll be able to roam at no extra cost in the USA. This is available on selected O2 Pay Monthly plans and also when you join Virgin Media as a Volt customer. For everyone else, there’s a fee of £6 per day to use your phone in the USA.
  • Three: If you’re a Three Pay Monthly customer, it might be possible to roam at no extra cost. If you’re on a Plus or Premium plan (taken since the 30th January 2023), you’ll get a certain number of Daily Go Roam passes to use during your contract period. Inclusive roaming is also available on Pay Monthly plans taken before the 30th September 2021. On all other plans, there’s a £5 daily fee for roaming in the USA.
  • Vodafone: If you’re a Vodafone Pay Monthly customer with Global Roaming Plus, you’ll be able to use your mobile phone at no extra cost when you travel in the USA. Otherwise, it will cost you an extra £6 per day.

Best USA Roaming Deals

If your mobile network does not give you inclusive US roaming, we’d recommend getting a Lebara Mobile Pay As You Go SIM card.

On Lebara, you’ll be able to buy one of the following roaming add-ons for use in the USA:

Network Minutes Texts Data Bundle
Cost
Lebara Mobile 200 100 2GB £10.00
valid for 8 days
Lebara Mobile 400 200 5GB £20.00
valid for 15 days

You’ll be able to use your inclusive minutes for calling home to the UK, and for calling within the US (e.g. calling hotels, restaurants, taxis, etc). You’re also able to call friends and family who are travelling abroad with you.

Lebara’s roaming add-ons are a one-off purchase so they won’t renew automatically after the 8-day or 15-day period (you can see the full terms and conditions on their website). If you like, you can always buy another add-on as required (e.g. for a longer trip away or to renew your data allowance).

If you’re not currently a Lebara Mobile customer, you can order a SIM card online. You can choose any of their contract-free UK plans, using the KEN3 voucher code at checkout to get 3 months half price. You’ll then pay for your roaming add-on on top of this. For instance, you could pay £2.50 for Lebara's 5GB UK plan, plus £10 for the 8-day USA roaming add-on (giving you 200 minutes, 100 texts and 2GB data to use in the USA). In total, you’d pay £12.50 for both your UK and US plans.

There’s no contract and no credit check on Lebara Mobile. Although you’re able to continue using the SIM card when you get back to the UK, there’s no commitment and you can pause or cancel your plan at any time.

Get Lebara SIM Card (from £2.50 top-up) →
(use KEN3 voucher code for 3 months half price)

If you’re looking for an alternative provider, VOXI offers a range of Global Roaming Extras for their customers. On VOXI, you’ll pay £15 for an 8-day Global Roaming Extra (with 100 minutes, 100 texts and 2GB data) and £25 for a 15-day Global Roaming Extra (with 200 minutes, 200 texts and 4GB data). You can get a VOXI Pay As You Go SIM card from £10.

Standard Roaming Rates

If your current provider does not offer inclusive roaming in the USA, the following table shows the standard roaming rates you can expect to pay:

Network Making a Phone Call Receiving a Phone Call Sending a Text Accessing the Internet
EE £1.54/minute £1.54/minute 76p/text £6.26/day for 500MB
giffgaff £1.00/minute £1.00/minute 30p/text 20p/MB
O2 £2.00/minute £2.00/minute 50p/text £7.20/MB
iD Mobile £1.68/minute £1.50/minute 42p/text 30p/MB
Lebara Mobile 49p/minute 49p/minute 49p/text 9p/MB
Lyca Mobile £2.10/minute 96p/minute 48p/text £2/MB
SMARTY 50p/minute 5p/minute 20p/text 10p/MB
Sky Mobile £2/day to use your UK allowance of minutes, texts & data
Tesco Mobile £1.29/minute 89p/minute 40p/text £5/MB
Three £5/day to use your UK allowances of minutes, texts & data
Vodafone £6/day to use your UK allowance of minutes, texts & data
VOXI 60p/minute 36p/minute 8p/text 12p/MB

Comparison of roaming charges when using your UK-based SIM card in the US. The costs shown are for calling the UK and sending a text message to the UK. It’s always free to receive a text message wherever you are in the world.

Unless you have a suitable deal for roaming, the costs of international roaming in the USA can add up very quickly. This is because the average smartphone user can easily consume more than 100MB of data per day.

Buying A US SIM Card On Arrival

If you regularly travel to the United States for an extended amount of time, it might be worth getting a local SIM card from one of the US mobile networks. If you have an unlocked UK smartphone, you’ll have the option of using a SIM card from either AT&T or T-Mobile USA. Unfortunately, a Verizon SIM card will not work on most UK-purchased phones.

You can buy a US SIM card upon your arrival in the States from retailers like 7-Eleven, CVS, Target, Walgreens and Walmart. Alternatively, you can get a SIM card from an AT&T or T-Mobile retail store. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to buy a US SIM card in advance as the US mobile networks will not ship their SIM cards to the UK.

AT&T

AT&T LogoIn the US, AT&T currently operates the largest mobile network. Their network covers 99% of the US population with 4G coverage. They also offer 5G coverage in some areas.

On AT&T, it’s possible to get a prepaid plan from $30 per month (approximately £23.90) plus tax. This will get you 5GB of data and unlimited US minutes. There are also unlimited international texts included (to the US, the UK and more than 200 other countries).

If you’re looking for more data, there’s 15GB data for $40 per month (approx £31.90) plus tax, and unlimited data from $50 per month (approx £39.80) plus tax.

The following table shows the Pay As You Go plans available on AT&T:

Network Minutes Texts Data Monthly
Cost
AT&T Unlimited
to US
Unlimited
intl.
5GB US$30.00
(~£23.90)
plus tax
AT&T Unlimited
to US
Unlimited
intl.
8GB US$33.00
(~£26.30)
plus tax
AT&T Unlimited
to US
Unlimited
intl.
15GB US$40.00
(~£31.90)
plus tax
AT&T Unlimited
to US
Unlimited
intl.
Unlimited†
(speed limits)
US$50.00
(~£39.80)
plus tax
AT&T Unlimited
to US
Unlimited
intl.
Unlimited US$65.00
(~£51.80)
plus tax

† On AT&T’s $50/month Unlimited plan, you’ll get speeds of up to 3Mbps on the first 30GB data per month. After that, speeds are slowed down to a maximum of 1.5Mbps. The use of tethering and personal hotspot is not included on this plan. The $65/month plan comes with faster speeds and 5GB of personal hotspot data.

The exact price you pay will depend on local tax rates (see a list of wireless tax rates for each US state). In addition, there’s normally a $15 activation fee for a new AT&T SIM card (however, this can vary depending on where you get your SIM).

A discount may be available on the prices listed above if you pay for 12 months usage in advance or if you set up AutoPay on your account. However, this isn’t suitable for short-term visitors to the USA as your plan will be renewed automatically every month, even after you’ve left the USA.

On AT&T, phone calls back home to the UK will cost you $3/minute (plus tax). This is unless you pay an extra $10/month (plus tax) for the international calling add-on. This gives you 250 international minutes for calling back the UK. There’s also a $15/month International Plus add-on which gives you unlimited international minutes for calling home to the UK.

You can get an AT&T prepaid SIM card from your nearest AT&T store. Before you do this, it’s worth checking the coverage available at places you’ll regularly visit in the USA (see AT&T’s online coverage map).

Finally, it’s worth being aware that your AT&T prepaid SIM card will be deactivated automatically if you don’t top it up again within 60 days of your previous bundle expiring. For this reason, it will only be possible to re-use the SIM card on a subsequent trip if you plan to visit the US again within a 60-day period.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile USAT-Mobile is the USA’s third-largest mobile network. It’s totally separate from the network that was previously known as T-Mobile in the UK (now a part of EE), and the two networks shouldn’t be confused with each other.

On T-Mobile, you can get a prepaid plan from $40/month (plus tax). This gives you 10GB data, along with unlimited minutes and unlimited texts within the USA. You can upgrade this to an unlimited data plan from $50/month (plus tax).

The following table shows the prepaid plans from T-Mobile USA:

Network Minutes Texts Internet Monthly
Cost
T-Mobile USA Unlimited
to US
Unlimited
to US
10GB US$40.00
(~£31.90)
plus tax
T-Mobile USA Unlimited
to US
Unlimited
to US
Unlimited† US$50.00
(~£39.80)
plus tax
T-Mobile USA Unlimited
to US
Unlimited
to US
Unlimited†† US$60.00
(~£47.80)
plus tax

† On the $50/month Prepaid Unlimited plan, tethering and personal hotspot usage is limited to 3G speeds.
†† On the $60/month Prepaid Unlimited Plus plan, you’ll get 10GB of high speed tethering and personal hotspot. After this, tethering and personal hotspot usage is restricted to 3G speeds.

You can get a T-Mobile “prepaid starter kit” for a fee of $10 (approx £8) plus tax at any T-Mobile retail store in the USA. The starter kit consists of a new prepaid SIM card, along with an instruction leaflet on how to get set up. You’ll need to pay for your one-month plan on top of this.

To activate and use a T-Mobile SIM card, your device will need to be capable of supporting VoLTE technology on the T-Mobile network (more commonly known as 4G Calling in the UK). To check this, you can enter your device details on the T-Mobile website.

Before getting a T-Mobile USA SIM card, it’s also worth checking the coverage available in places where you’re staying.

There’s a minimum charge of $3/month on all T-Mobile prepaid SIM cards. In addition, the SIM card is only valid for 90 days since the date of the last top-up. For this reason, it will only be possible to re-use your SIM card on a future trip if you keep it active by topping up at least once every 90 days.

eSIMs For The United States

If you have one of the latest smartphones with support for eSIM technology, you can order a data-only eSIM from Airalo. Offered under the ‘Change Mobile’ brand, Airalo’s US eSIM can be used in an iPhone 11, Galaxy S20, Pixel 3 and newer devices.

The main benefit of getting an eSIM plan is the fact it’s available straight away as an over-the-air download. There’s no need to wait for a SIM card to arrive in the post or to get a SIM card from the shop when you arrive. It’s also a lower-cost option if you don’t need the ability to call or text when you’re in the USA.

Technically speaking, your Change Mobile eSIM is based outside the USA. This means you’re able to avoid local US taxes and fees, which would otherwise apply if you were getting a SIM card from AT&T or T-Mobile USA.

The main disadvantage of an eSIM plan is the fact you’re getting a data-only service. If you need to make or receive phone calls and text messages whilst you’re in the USA, you’ll need to use your regular SIM card for that instead. You’ll then incur additional international roaming fees (this can easily add up to £5 for a three-minute call). For that reason, we’d only recommend getting an eSIM if you don’t envision yourself needing to make or receive phone calls in the USA.

The following table shows the eSIM plans that are available from Airalo (Change Mobile):

ProviderMinutesTextsDataPlan
Cost
AiraloNoneNone1GBUS$4.50
(~£3.60)
valid for 7 days
AiraloNoneNone2GBUS$8.00
(~£6.40)
valid for 15 days
AiraloNoneNone3GBUS$11.00
(~£8.70)
valid for 30 days
AiraloNoneNone5GBUS$16.00
(~£12.70)
valid for 30 days
AiraloNoneNone10GBUS$26.00
(~£20.70)
valid for 30 days
AiraloNoneNone20GBUS$42.00
(~£33.40)
valid for 30 days

As a special offer for May 2024, you can get a 10% discount on your Change Mobile eSIM. If you’re new to Airalo, you’ll be able to enter the KEN10 voucher code at checkout to get 10% off. Alternatively, if you’re an existing Airalo customer, there’s a 5% discount available with the KEN5 voucher code.

See all USA eSIM deals →

If you’re using an eSIM from Airalo, you’ll get access to the T-Mobile and Verizon US mobile networks. Your eSIM plan will not work outside the USA (e.g. in Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean).

Handset & Network Compatibility

It’s now strongly recommended that you use a mobile phone that’s compatible with 4G Calling (VoLTE) technology in the USA. In most areas of the US, VoLTE technology is now a prerequisite if you want to make or receive phone calls (all of their remaining 2G and 3G networks will be closed down before April 2024).

If you’re using a 4G-capable smartphone that lacks support for 4G Calling technology, it should still be possible to access the internet when you’re in the USA. You’ll also be able to use voice-over-IP apps such as WhatsApp, FaceTime and Skype to make phone calls. However, you won’t be able to make or receive phone calls on your normal UK phone number without support for 4G Calling.

If you’re using a fairly old handset, or if your smartphone was purchased outside the UK, you should double-check to make sure your handset will work on the US networks. Your phone will need to support at least one of the following frequencies for it to work in the US:

Network Provider 5G Bands 4G Bands 3G Bands 2G Bands
AT&T NR bands n2, n5
LTE bands 2, 4, 5, 12, 14, 17, 29, 30, 66
T-Mobile NR bands n41, n71, n258, n260, n261 LTE bands 2, 4, 5, 12, 66, 71 GSM 900

You can check your handset manufacturer’s spec sheet to see a list of bands supported by your phone. You can also enter your IMEI on the T-Mobile website to see whether your handset is compatible with their network.

It isn’t normally possible to use a UK smartphone on Verizon Wireless. Although you can technically use it on Verizon, they make it difficult to activate their SIM cards if you’re using a smartphone from the UK.

Other Top Tips For Travelling To The US

Portable Battery Pack

When travelling to the US, it’s also worth bearing the following things in mind:

  1. You’ll need an ESTA to fly to the US. If you’re travelling to the US by air or by sea (even if you’re only transiting through the US to another country), you’ll need to complete an online ESTA form (from the US Electronic System for Travel Authorisation). It costs US$21 per person (approximately £17) and lasts for two years. There’s more information about this on GOV.UK and on Money Saving Expert. You should always apply for your ESTA on the official website run by the US Department of Homeland Security.
  2. Make sure your electronic devices have power before boarding. There are extra security measures for travellers to the US. All electronic devices being carried in your hand luggage will need to have sufficient amounts of power for you to be able to turn them on. This includes your smartphone, tablet, laptop and e-book reader. You could be asked to switch on the device and to demonstrate its function when passing through airport security. As there are only limited charging points available at the airport, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a portable charger (prices start from around £20).
  3. Make sure you have the relevant adapters for charging your electronics. You’ll need a UK-to-US plug adapter for charging your electronic devices. Besides your mobile phone, consider whether you might need additional adapters for your laptop, hairdryer, shaver, etc.
  4. Use TSA approved locks for securing your baggage. If you’re using a lock to secure your baggage, it needs to be TSA approved (see Amazon.co.uk for a list of TSA approved baggage locks). If you use a non-TSA approved lock, the security teams at the airport may take a bolt cutter to your lock.

If you’re also planning to visit Canada along with the USA, see our guide on the best SIM cards for Canada.

Your Comments 426 so far

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 426 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  • This is such an amazing article and so helpful, thank you! If i go for the data only airalo, i know you said I wont have my UK number, but how does that work with my watsapp as that is linked to my uk phone number? Thanks!

    • Hi Lorna,
      Thanks for your comment. WhatsApp will continue to work as normal on your eSIM from Airalo. Even though it’s initially set up using your UK phone number, it works over any data connection (including wi-fi, a eSIM, etc).
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  • Hi Ken, thank you so much for this useful information! Going to USA this summer. I have a Pixel 6 phone and I’m currently pay monthly with Tesco mobile. If I use a 3 PAYG SIM in USA, will I still have access to all the apps already installed in my phone with my Tesco mobile number? Would I be better to get an eSIM so I can switch between numbers as required? I’m finding all this tech talk a tad confusing…. Thanks!

    • Hi Jo,
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, you’ll still have access to all of your apps, photos, etc after changing the SIM 🙂 However, you won’t have access to your Tesco Mobile number – you’ll need to use your 3 PAYG number for the duration of your trip abroad.
      Hope this helps!
      Ken

  • David Hughes said:

    Hi Ken, thanks for this info, it’s extremely helpful. I’m travelling to the US for 8 days, so the VOXI option looks like a good option. Sorry to ask what I think will be a simple question, when I register the sim card with VOXI, can I use my current UK number? And when I return to the UK, will I be able to then re-insert and use my normal UK sim card? Thanks again, David

    • Hi David,
      Thanks for your comment. The best thing to do would be to set up call forwarding from your normal SIM card to your VOXI SIM card. Just make sure to leave your normal SIM card at home, or if you bring it, make sure that SIM card doesn’t connect to the US network or you’ll be charged the international rates for calling forwarding.
      If you like, it’s possible to transfer your phone number to VOXI but this will automatically close the account on your old network. For that reason, it isn’t recommended unless you plan to switch to VOXI long-term.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

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