One of the most common questions I get from future participants in both the Disney ICP and the Disney CRP is what should they do about getting a cheap deal on using a mobile or cell phone while in Orlando. On both of my programs I did a lot of research into working out what was the best solution and I have recently done the same for my upcoming CRP. Below is what I believe are the best options.
A few important things to bear in mind; In the USA you pay to receive calls and texts as well as sending them and phone charges are generally more expensive than in Europe, especially data charges which can be ridiculous!
As far as I can see there are 3 kinds of people when it comes to phones:
- I just need a basic phone – calls, texts, nothing else
- Blackberry please – gotta have my BBM
- iPhone – Apple Fanboys rejoice
Each of these have slightly different best choices.
If you just want to call and text you have a couple of choices. You can either take an unlocked mobile phone from home and buy a SIM card to put into it or you can buy a cheap mobile in the USA. It is worth bearing in mind that most US cell phones don’t let you take out the SIM Card so you cannot transfer it from one phone to another.
If you are taking a phone from the UK by far the cheapest option for calls is the SIMple Calling SIM Card from Telestial. This costs $19 which included $10 of initial credit. It uses AT&T, T-Mobile and Rogers networks which means you have amazing coverage. They charge 59¢ for this first minute of every day and then 9¢ for every additional minute. Texts are 15¢ to send and 10¢ to receive. The best part about this SIM is for calling home – rates to the UK are only 9¢ per minute and you also get a UK mobile number which friends and family can ring at the same rate as if you were in the UK (basically free for most people) and you just pay 9¢ per minute to receive the call. You can top up the credit online or over a free phone number, you can top-up as little as $5 at a time. This is a great option if you mostly call and don’t text and you intend to ring home fairly often. It is also good if you don’t want to have to commit to a large monthly amount which you will have to pay in one go. This is the options I used for both of my ICPs.
If you don’t mind getting a new, basic phone take a look at AT&T GoPhone from Walmart which costs less than $10 to buy the phone. You have the option of a number of plans – you can either pay 10¢ a minute for every minute you use, $2 for every day that you use the phone (unlimited calls and texts), $25 a month for 250 minutes and unlimited texts or $50 a month for unlimited calls and texts. Which package you choose will depend how you use your phone, if you use it every day it is worth looking at the $25 or $50 packages although with the $50 package you can get better deals elsewhere.
Net10, another phone company, have always been a popular choice with ICPs. They offer similarly cheap phones (less than $20) and currently charge $20 for 200 minutes, $30 for 400 minutes or $40 for 800 minutes. For $50 a month you can get unlimited calls and texts.
Whichever of these options (or any other) you choose I would be extremely careful about taking the advice of the guys at the Walmart Cell Phone counter. In the past ICPs have got really bad advice and ended up paying a lot more than they needed to. Have a quick look on the internet before you go so you have a basic idea of what you want.
My best suggestion here is SIMPLE mobile (not to be confused with SIMple calling above) who offer unlimited everything for $50 a month. They only do SIM cards so you need to already own the phone. They only send SIM cards to the USA but MrSimCard, a SIM card dealer, will send one to the UK for you – while the shipping is a bit pricey it means you can start using it as soon as you get to Orlando instead of waiting a couple of weeks for it to arrive. SIMPLE mobile also offer very cheap international calls back to the UK at around 1¢ per minute.
The other Blackberry option is to take a contract with a US cell phone provider. This is complicated as you often need a social security number which you will not have for a few weeks when you arrive. They are also often 2 years in length which means you will still be paying long after you get back home, far from ideal. I would not recommend this option, even if it seems cheap now it will be very expensive in the long-term.
This is where things get a little tricky. The iPhone 4 and the new iPhone 4S use micro-SIMs which are smaller than traditional SIM Cards. The good news is that they are actually the same thing, all that is different is that the mico version has some of the plastic cut away. What this means in practice is that you can simply cut a normal SIM Card to fit, you can even buy a cutter on ebay that will do it perfectly for you for less than £5. This means you can buy almost any SIM card and make it work.
If you don’t care about getting mobile data on your iPhone I would recommend the SIMple Calling SIM Card from Telestial I recommended above. After you cut this down it will fit perfectly and give you great call rates, the Wi-Fi will still work fine for use in you apartment or at work but you won’t get data on the move. Lots of people used this solution in 2009 and they managed to live without permanent access to Facebook.
The next option is SIMPLE mobile again but this where things get really complicated. SIMPLE mobile works on the T-Mobile USA network which does not currently offer the iPhone. It uses 3G internet on a frequency that the iPhone cannot access so using an iPhone on SIMPLE mobile will only give you EDGE speeds rather than 3G, these are fast enough for Facebook and internet browsing but will not be good enough for watching youtube or things like that. They charge $40 a month for unlimited calls, texts and data and offer good international rates. Again you will need to cut down the SIM but if you buy from MrSimCard they will cut it for you.
If you really need 3G speed then take a look at H20 Wireless and Stargate Mobile. H20 do unlimited calls and texts plus 250mb of data for $50 a month and unlimited everything for $60. Stargate do $40 a month for 250Mb and $50 for unlimited everything. All their cards and plans are also available from MrSimCard.
Taking an iPhone contract from a US company is also not recommended. While the phones are cheaper you will have to take a 2 year contract which will not be worth it in the long-run.
I hope that is helpful. Whatever you decide to do make sure you work out how much it is going to cost you in the long-term. Don’t end up paying a contract for a year after you get home!
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