Travelling to USA with iPhone 4; want local prepay SIM

Discussion in 'iPhone' started by darobsta, Aug 2, 2011.

  1. darobsta, Aug 2, 2011
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2011

    darobsta macrumors newbie

    Aug 1, 2011
    It's remarkably hard to find straight answers on the web about this...

    (Yes, I am aware of , but it hasn't quite answered my question about AT&T blocking iPhones.)

    I have a factory unlocked iPhone 4, purchased through Vodafone New Zealand. I am visiting the USA in a couple of days' time and wish to use my phone with a local SIM on a temporary basis (e.g. AT&T GoPhone or T-Mobile Monthly4G). I do not want to sign a long-term contract.

    My primary interest is data (Maps, Facebook, email) with the occasional text and call. I start my trip in New York City, but I'm also going upstate where reception is not as good.

    1) Can you buy a prepay microsim from an AT&T or T-Mobile store in the USA? (I think the answer is no.)
    2) If I buy a prepay regular SIM from AT&T in the USA, activate it on GoPhone, have it cut to micro size and use it, will AT&T a) detect that there's an unlocked iPhone using their prepay network; b) prevent me from using data on that basis?
    3) If I buy a prepay full-size SIM from T-Mobile in the USA, activate it, have it cut to micro size and use it, will T-Mobile have a problem with that?
    4) Is there a significant difference in data speed between AT&T & T-Mobile? (I understand yes.)

    The most useful sources to date:
    - - doesn't look like a particularly creditable website
    - - the closest to what I'm after, but my Question 2 has divided opinions
    - - AT&T's GoPhone
    - - T-Mobile's Monthly4G
    -$30+credit - had I done my research earlier, I would have bought one of these. Alas, delivery won't reach me before I leave.
  2. 0007776 Suspended


    Jul 11, 2006
    1: I believe you are correct, all the prepaid sims are normal size.
    2: they can detect it, and they used to give people problems. But I believe they have started to allow iPhones on.
    3: T-Mobile will have no problem with it, they used to even jailbreak and unlock iPhones for people.
    4: T-Mobile's data will be much slower. The reason for this is that on AT&T you can use 3G while T-Mobile uses different frequencies for 3G which the iPhone doesn't support, so you'll be stuck on EDGE.
  3. eastercat macrumors 68040


    Mar 3, 2008
    A couple of things to note:
    -Go to either the AT&T or T-Mobile store to buy the sim card. Some people have had issues, because they go to a store and buy a pre-paid phone that comes with a sim. That's a bad idea because the sim is locked to that phone for about six or so months.
    All you do is tell them you want to buy a pre-paid sim and mention you'll be using data. They'll tell you what they have available. Whether you mention your factory unlocked phone is up to you.
    If you search through these forums, there's a post where a user mentioned AT&T allowing pre-paid usage with iphones and his results. IIRC, he was successful, although he had to do a little finagling.
    -I don't have a link, but I remember reading that T-Mobile is offering micro sims for their iphone customers. However, this may only apply to monthly customers. Either way, make sure to bring a sim cutter with you or have lots of practice cutting one yourself.
    -T-mobile tends to have crap service in the boonies, because they're a cheap carrier. However, if you have time, double check with a site like Howard Forums and ask about T-Mobile and AT&T service in the area where you're staying.
  4. nwlondonlad macrumors 6502a


    Sep 20, 2007
    UK London
    This is something I'm really keen on too. I'm from the UK and have been to NY about 3 times using my iPhone and always find it almost near impossible to find a pre paid micro sim with data.

    I have always had to in the end turn of data and use a cheap pre pay phone.

    In the UK all the networks offer some sort of cheap pre paid micro sim. For instance T-Mobile UK have been running a deal where if you buy a micro sim for £10 (£15 if done online) you get 12 months free data (capped at 500mb). You even get to keep the £10 as prepaid credit and don't even need to top up ever again to keep that data. Its what I'm currently using for my iPad.

    Hopefully the telecoms in the States will get their act together instead of being so greedy trying to tie everyone with an iPhone into long contracts.
  5. eman006 macrumors newbie

    Jul 13, 2011
    My recent experience that may help

    I have an IP4 bought in Korea. It was unlocked by the carrier, but as you'll see I ran into some issues after getting the GoPhone SIM from AT&T. If anyone can address my issue, then it may help you if you encounter the same. Let us know how it goes.

    So I tried this when I was visiting the U.S. but ran into problems. Please help based on my experience below:
    1. Since got phone in Korea, had carrier (KT) unlock the phone.
    2. Got unused GoPhone SIM (pre-cut to MicroSIM) via eBay and registered with AT&T with no problem (using IMEI # of all 1's)
    3. Inserted GoPhone SIM into IP4 and it could not find the AT&T signal.
    4. Took out and re-inserted SIM but got "SIM Failure" message.
    5. Repeated every combination of restarting phone, ejecting and inserting SIM but still received same "SIM Failure" message.
    6. Got a replacement SIM at AT&T and cut down to micro-size (using one of the many website instructions). Same "SIM failure" message.

    Was I supposed to sync to iTunes with the GoPhone SIM card inserted?
    Any advice / help would be appreciated.
  6. hNicolas macrumors 6502


    Dec 4, 2008
    Ottawa, ON
    To answer your first question: Yes, you can purchase a micro sim from an AT&T store and use it in your iPhone 4.

    I have been using one for almost a year now. I purchased a $100.00 Pay & Go card (you can purchase $20.00 if you want), the advantage with the $100.00 deal is that I got the micro sim for free, and I get the same US phone number for at least a year (I travel often to the US, so it's a big advantage to keep the same phone number).

    The $100.00 plan is good for a year and I pay only $3.00 per day only if I make or receive a call. I believe that now the charge is only $2.00 per day. I will be able to top up my account this month and go for another year.

    To activate text messaging you purchase a $10.00 block (good for 1 month of texting) I can't remember how many sent messages were included.

    Best of all, I just have to change my sim when I cross the border and I have instant AT&T coverage, and I've had excellent coverage through out the north east all the way down to South Carolina all on 3G.

    Regarding the Data plans, I'm not sure if pay & go plans are available yet.

    Good luck! Oh, and when I got my sim, I just walked into an AT&T store in New York State, and just asked for one, they even installed the micro sin for me, and I was out in 10 minutes.
  7. eman006 macrumors newbie

    Jul 13, 2011
    When I registered my GoPhone card (that doesn't work for me....yet), it did not offer any add-ons such as the data plan. I have read somewhere on another thread that they have done away with being able to add on a data plan to GoPhone plans. Is this true?

    In addition, when I exchanged my SIM at a San Diego store, they told me that they could not replace with a microSIM since GoPhone microSIM was not allowed on the IP4. So I got the regular SIM and cut down myself, but it still did not work. So, it really depends on the store you visit. I did not have the time to try another store, so roll the dice or keep on trying with other stores.
  8. Des Zac macrumors regular

    Jul 20, 2011
    So wait, I could buy an iphone on ebay, and use a prepaid card with a data plan on it? And it's all LEGAL? If so I've been looking for this for years! :D:D
  9. eman006 macrumors newbie

    Jul 13, 2011
    For an unlocked IP4, yes, it has been done. But for some reason, I could not get my SIM to work in mine. Still trying to get some answers here from others. Just search with keyword "GoPhone", and you'll find all the conversations on how to do it. Good luck.
  10. darobsta thread starter macrumors newbie

    Aug 1, 2011
    Original poster now here in NYC:
    - Walked into the AT&T store on 34th St and asked for a prepay SIM for an iPhone 4. They were happy to sell me one but told me I couldn't have prepaid data with an iPhone. Why?, said I. Shoulders were shrugged.
    - Walked into the T-Mobile store a block away and they were happy to fulfil my request and take my money. In and out in 10 mins, but data speed is ****.
  11. nwlondonlad macrumors 6502a


    Sep 20, 2007
    UK London
    Yeah I hear the T mobile 3G data in the US is not compartable with the iPhones and hence you can only get Edge or GPRS. I guess it's better then nothing. Did Tmobile sell you a normal sim card or was it micro?
  12. aziatiklover macrumors 68030


    Jul 12, 2011
    Location: and
    As of today ATT still don't allow prepaid sim with data plan! However, with Tmobile you are good to go and your best bet in the US.
    PS checking FB, emails, and Navi edge is pretty decent u don't need crappy ATT 3G it's something worse than Tmobile edge.
  13. darobsta thread starter macrumors newbie

    Aug 1, 2011
    Data speed on Edge isn't suitable for video streaming or anything, but it's just fine for the basics. Coverage is likewise not too bad - I was in some remoter places in upstate NY without a chance but most of everything else was okay. I did lose data for 36 hours following a train ride from Penn Station to Jersey Shore, but if I'd turned the phone off and on it probably would have come back.

    T-Mobile sold me a regular SIM and cut it in-store. I imagine every shop has a SIM cutter.
  14. Guacamole macrumors regular

    Jun 21, 2011
    How much did you have to pay for the sim and how much is for the data?

    were there any problems registering or was it straight forward with no problems?

    I'm going to the US soon and I need a pre-paid sim with data
  15. darobsta thread starter macrumors newbie

    Aug 1, 2011
    - $10 for the SIM (including $3 balance on the account)
    - $50 for unlimited texts, calls & data for 1 month
    - $5 in tax (NY).

    Did it all in-store, no problems registering. Calls and texts worked straight away; data was going within 3 minutes (although the girl at the counter said in some cases it takes an hour or two).

    To keep it going beyond 1 month you need to top up your account, which you can do online. I was only in the country for 11 days so I never bothered.
  16. dave006 Contributor


    Jul 3, 2008
    Just West of East
    Not exactly.

    AT&T has new GoPhone Micor-SIMs. As an example of the all the steps from a posting on eBay:

    Once you get the prepaid voice plan setup, just add the data plan. There are about 3 ways to top up / refill your account:

    1. Web page - registration required
    2. Phone call
    3. Prepaid top up cards that you can purchase at AT&T or other authorized locations.

    This would not be my first choice to aquire a Micro-SIM but it is a great example of the fact that AT&T has the Micro-SIM for their GoPhone accounts. While they are not directly meant to be used in an iPhone 4, since AT&T does not support the iPhone 4 as prepaid. AT&T will sell them in the retail store at authorized locations.


  17. Guacamole macrumors regular

    Jun 21, 2011
    Thanks !
    I'm only staying for over a week. $50 is a little too much. Do they have any other cheaper options? I couldn't find anything on their website:confused:


    Has anyone used this card successfully? it seems better deal than T-Mobile if it works ok
  18. mazedk macrumors newbie

    Aug 24, 2011
    Hey guys

    Im actually having the same kinda issue, bought the sim precut from ebay and activated it - loaded it with some money.

    Puttin in the sim just returns me with a no service.. Im wondering if the sim needs to get a hold of an at&t transmitter when it first goes online?

    Im in denmark going to the us next sunday so just trying to be upfront with any potential issues..
  19. macingman macrumors 68020


    Jan 2, 2011
    With heaps of free wifi around these days, edge and 2G isn't really that bad. It's ok for a bit of light web browsing using the mobile version of sites. My iPhone 4 broke and so I've been forced to use my original iphone until I find a new phone I like. I am a semi-power user and a combination of wifi and 2g/edge has been fine for me.
  20. dave006 Contributor


    Jul 3, 2008
    Just West of East
    Well if you are in Denmark then you are not going to get AT&T service unless you have international access on that SIM and a sharing agreement in Denmark.

    You will have to wait until you get to the USA to validate the activation was complete and when you power on the iPhone it should show AT&T

  21. mazedk macrumors newbie

    Aug 24, 2011
    Cheers - Thats what I was hoping :)
  22. larock macrumors member

    Jan 23, 2008
    To get data to flow you may need to change your APN. I have an iPhone 3Gs (Jailbroken and Unlocked) on a GoPhone (AT&T prepaid) account and had to switch APN using There are three AT&T APNs listed the wap.cingular is the only one that worked for me.

    Also, the $50 GoPhone plan does not come with unlimited data for smartphones. You have to purchase a data pack $5 for 10 MB, $15 for 100 MB, or $25 for 500 MB.

    If you go with the T Mobile route it's a much more involved process to get data and MMS working and the phone must be jailbroken. I still have the directions some place if you need them.

    Additionally, the GoPhone sim will not work outside North America. They do not have International roaming (except Mexico and Canada). They do have International Calling and Texting (US to where ever).

    Oh and if the AT&T rep won't sell you a sim/account because you don't have a US address, go to Walmart (or Target) and buy a cheap GoPhone package (they are as low as $9.99). Pop the sim into your iPhone (guess you'll have to cut the sim for the iPhone 4) and activate it following the directions in the package for activating from the phone (don't set up with the package phone or the sim will be locked to that phone for 180 days). This route sets up the account without all the extra garbage you have to go through in the store and adds a fictitious address to that account. At least that's what I did.
  23. Guacamole macrumors regular

    Jun 21, 2011
    I've just bought an At&T GoPhone sim from ebay, fingers crossed hoping it'll work.

    My question is, will I get to keep the cell number? does the card expire or everytime I visit the US (normally once a year) will I need to buy a new sim card?
  24. Guacamole macrumors regular

    Jun 21, 2011
    Just to confirm that my AT&T sim card worked like a charm.
    I bought it from ebay and followed the instructions given by the ebay seller.
    I would recommend to wait until you are in the US to activate the sim because a text message with a password will be sent to your new cell number and if you are not in the US you won't get this message. You will have to wait until you are there to resend the password if you activate before you get there.

    Unless you keep topping up, the account will expire in 6 months and lose the number.
    I took the $2 a day plan and added a data package during my stay.

    My friend bought a sim from an AT&T store. Although the sim is free, I wouldn't recommend this if you have an Iphone as they register the account themselves and won't give you data for your iphone.
  25. iphoneclassic macrumors 6502

    Oct 12, 2011
    For ATT make sure you buy a MicroSIM (if available) or compatible 3G SIM. There are some old model SIMs out there which will not work. Activate over ATT web site. Voice should work right away. For Data and E-mail, you can configure manually or use WiFi and an available config web pages. Lot of people using GoPhone pre-paid with ATT locked phones, no need to even unlock.

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