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What You Need to Know about the U.S. Mobile Phone System

Provided by campusSIMs, the only mobile service designed for international students.

As you prepare to attend school in the U.S., you probably have a million questions. Let’s be honest though — one of the first questions you’ll have is how you’re going to use your phone. Because really, you need your phone for almost everything – not only do you need it to stay in touch with friends and family, but you need it for all of those social media posts, navigating to new places, streaming music and videos, and so much more.

Unfortunately, the U.S. mobile phone system is complicated. There are many providers with different technical requirements and plans that don’t fit the specific needs of international students. Luckily, we at campusSIMs understand this – in fact, it’s why we were created! To help you navigate the U.S. mobile phone system, we’re offering a guide to choosing a mobile phone service. You’ll want to consider the following:


There are two major networks in the U.S. — Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) — but only GSM networks allow you to use your current mobile phone.

Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA)
Primarily used internationally Primarily used within the US
Compatible with most international phones, so you can use your current phone Compatible with phones from in the US, so you will have to purchase a new phone
Able to move freely among carriers by purchasing a SIM card Restricted to mobile carriers on CDMA network (only within US)
Carriers include campusSIMs (the only carrier designed for international students) Carriers include Verizon, Sprint

You can certainly purchase a phone once you arrive in the U.S. from a CDMA carrier, but if you decide to go that route, you won’t get your phone number until you make that purchase and you’ll need to make sure you are eligible to sign-up with that carrier (which can mean having a U.S. bank account or Social Security Number).

If you decide to select a GSM carrier, you can use your current phone. Because most international phones are unlocked, the phones are not tied to one carrier and any SIM card will work. (If you’re not sure whether your phone is unlocked, call your carrier/phone seller.) GSMs make the most sense, because if you already have an unlocked phone, all you need to do is purchase a SIM card.

You can find SIM cards at mobile service providers’ stores in the U.S., requiring you to go to the physical location, or you can go through a mobile service provider, like campusSIMs, allowing you to order your SIM card in advance. Through campusSIMs, you can have your SIM card shipped directly to you in your home country, sign-up through an easy-to-use app, and immediately receive your U.S. phone number, so that the minute you land in the U.S., you can immediately send that Snapchat to friends and family.


Now, plans are where you need to weigh your budget versus package preferences, and this usually starts with deciding whether to sign a contract or go with a contract-free plan.

Many U.S. carriers try to sell you on postpaid, contract-based plans, usually with a two-year commitment to your carrier and the inability to change without incurring financial penalties. These carriers bill you at the end of the month based on how much data you use, and charge extra fees if your usage exceeds your plan.

No-contract plans tend to be more flexible and budget-friendly. For example, campusSIMs offers plans designed specifically for international students, including offering the ability to “freeze” when you go overseas on school breaks or change your plan depending on your usage, giving you maximum control over your budget and needs. After all, that extra money you save can be used towards far more exciting things like traveling around the U.S..

Customer Support

Another key consideration is customer support. It’s likely that managing a U.S. phone plan will be new to you, so consider whether your mobile service provider offers an accessible and easy-to-contact customer support team. For example, if speaking to someone in your native language is important to you, find out if the support team is multilingual. campusSIMs prides itself in its stellar customer support – ensuring not only that a person will pick up the phone (no annoying automated systems), but a person who can speak to you in English, Chinese (Mandarin), Japanese, Hindi, Spanish, Indonesian, or even Russian. We even are available to speak with our customers on WeChat (id: CampusSIMs), making it even easier to get in touch with us.

Sign up with campusSIMs!

Make choosing a mobile phone service even easier by joining campusSIMs. campusSIMs offers international students SIM cards that are compatible with unlocked GSM phones. Pick up a SIM card at your college or university or order a SIM card to be shipped to you. If you’re not sure whether the SIM cards are available at your school, call (+1 800 746 7087) or email us so we can help! For blog readers, we are offering a special promotion – enter the promo code BLOG16 at checkout and receive free activation (a $9.99 value)!