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raul.carmo

About mobile plans for international students

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Hey all,

I am moving from Brazil to Buffalo-NY in August to start my PhD and I was wondering what options I have for mobile phone plans as a non-citizen. I lived in the US before as an exchange student and I also have a social security number, but by that time I had those pre-paid phones which you can buy on walmart and have no contract, but they have very limited access to the internet and additional data packages are very expensive. As I will spend much more time in the states this time (around 5 years), I would like to have one of those monthly plans that have far more benefits than a prepaid one. What are the possibilities for an international student like me, (non-citizen, without a credit history but holding a social security number)? Will it be possible to enroll in any of these popular carriers (AT&T, Verizon, TMobile) by the time I arrive in the US?

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I enrolled on a monthly plan with T-Mobile when I first entered the USA. They asked for proof of F-1 or J-1 status (I-20 or DS-2019, respectively) and used that to open an account for me even with no credit history in the US. No credit is not that bad....for things like cell phone and utilities, bad credit is what they're looking for. 

However, for internet with AT&T and my city's water & power (utilities), they asked for a several hundred dollar deposit. In AT&T's case, it was applied against my first few bills (so you just have to pay a bit up front) but for the city's utilities the deposit was only refunded when I finally closed my account (without interest either boo! ? )

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You might want to look into different companies, including the smaller ones that use the big carries' networks. Sometimes their terms and conditions vary quite a lot. I personally got a prepaid phone to get started, but I know it's possible to get a plan, sometimes by putting down some deposit. Once you're in town, try and see if your university has an arrangement with one or more carrier, or try to visit a branch near the university to find out more. The ones near a university are usually better at dealing with international students than other random branches. This is also true for banks and other places where not having a SSN might cause some inconvenience. 

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I was wondering about this to so looked into it and found a company called US Mobile that lets you pick exactly what you want from a monthly phone contract (i.e. no. of minutes, texts and amount of data), and you can bring your own device to use with their contract. Also just as fuzzylogician said, the company uses two of the big four carrier networks so looks like it gets pretty good service around the country. It doesn't look like you have to pay a deposit either, and the company actually has a partnership with some US universities which means that if you're a student there, you can pick up a SIM card from the International Office when you arrive for free (or get it shipped if your university isn't on their list of partners). It sounds pretty good to me, and I think that's the option I will go for :)

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I got a plan strong on data because of all the WhatsApp texting/calling/video calling. Some companies give you an international text plan, but I have never used that because no one in my home country uses text anymore. 

When I got back from the field, I got a SIM card at the airport and months later I migrated to another company because that one was not giving me good coverage. Before then, I had bought a (blocked) phone in target with a $35 plan (now I pay $40). 

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Thanks for the information guys!

By the way, have you heard of Google's Project Fi? I found it while doing some research on mobile plans and it really caught my attention because you pay a max of 80USD/month and have unlimited data and minutes. I'm not sure about the coverage map though (how it compares to other companies). If someone had any experience with this "carrier" please let me know what were your insights.

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@imagical that sounds a good deal, I will take a look... When I lived in the US many people told me that I was not allowed to have a contract phone because I didn't have a SSN, but then I got mine and forgot to check what were the options for me (I was about to leave the states so I didn't care).

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35 minutes ago, raul.carmo said:

Thanks for the information guys!

By the way, have you heard of Google's Project Fi? I found it while doing some research on mobile plans and it really caught my attention because you pay a max of 80USD/month and have unlimited data and minutes. I'm not sure about the coverage map though (how it compares to other companies). If someone had any experience with this "carrier" please let me know what were your insights.

I had Google's Project Fi while I was in the USA and I loved it!! It was hands-down the best phone plan ever for me and my usage.

The coverage uses the same towers as T-Mobile and Sprint. I had switched from T-Mobile to Project Fi so it was zero difference for me. I lived in Southern California and got coverage everywhere. But you can check the coverage maps of these two companies to see how it will be for you. -->Actually I did a check and it seems like they added a 3rd company. Here's their coverage map: https://fi.google.com/coverage

My partner and I only paid about $55 total per month for both of our plans. It's $20 for the first line (unlimited talk/text in USA) and $15 for family lines. Then we use about 1GB of data each per month ($10 each). I love how you pay for exactly how much you use, e.g. some months it's 800 MB so it's $8 and others it's 1.12GB so it's $11.20.

In addition, the international perks of Project Fi is great. In most countries, you get data at no extra charge, even when roaming. So it's still $10 per GB everywhere I went. Voice calls in another country cost around 20 cents per minute, but it depends where you go. Free text messages, I think, in most countries. Wi-fi calling is also free internationally. Finally, I had much faster internet data speeds while traveling (with T-Mobile, I was often limited to 2G or 3G, but on Project Fi I sometimes had full speed).

The only catch is that you have to be using a few specific Google devices. When I joined Project Fi, the Nexus 5X was still available and very affordable at $350. But I don't think Google makes a phone for this market any more....everything else is now higher priced like an iPhone or Galaxy.

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@TakeruK paying only what you use is a great feature and I also like how google is very straightforward and professional in their services, so I believe I won't have to wait for hours in line to have a problem fixed (it happens here where I live sometimes). I want a Google Pixel 2 phone and it can be bought with the plan and paid in installments, I am just not sure if I need an American credit card to enroll in Project Fi or if paying by check or other payment method is fine. In their website they mention you need a credit check, so I believe I won't qualify for this plan.

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11 hours ago, raul.carmo said:

@TakeruK paying only what you use is a great feature and I also like how google is very straightforward and professional in their services, so I believe I won't have to wait for hours in line to have a problem fixed (it happens here where I live sometimes). I want a Google Pixel 2 phone and it can be bought with the plan and paid in installments, I am just not sure if I need an American credit card to enroll in Project Fi or if paying by check or other payment method is fine. In their website they mention you need a credit check, so I believe I won't qualify for this plan.

You don't need a credit card to pay for Project Fi. See their help page: https://support.google.com/fi/answer/6061907?hl=en

You can just use a bank debit card (which you don't need credit to obtain). I am not sure how it works where you are from, but in the USA, Debit cards have Mastercard and Visa branding too, allowing them to be used online. Canada now has this but when I first moved to the USA, this was very new and confusing to me. 

Every phone provider will require a credit check. Having no credit does not mean you will fail the credit check. Most phone companies only care if you have bad credit. This is not as big of a deal as something like a loan or mortgage. As others said above, some companies are more understanding of students than others, so one downside of Project Fi is that they might not see you face to face and be able to make an approval.

You can minimize the risk by buying the phone outright instead of on a payment plan. If you can't pass Project Fi's credit check for a phone payment plan, you might not pass it at other places either. If you purchase the phone in full from Google and sign up for Project Fi, I think you'll have a much better shot. My friend just moved to the USA a few months ago and got on Project Fi with the Pixel 2 and they were approved without issues. 

So, if you are interested in the phone and the plan, you should just try and see what happens. Have a document proving income ready and you might need to send it to them.

Customer service for Project Fi is amazing. I almost always get instant responses via text message or google chat.

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Bringing your own unlocked phone or buying an unlocked phone and then getting a third party carrier (MVNO) is definitely the way to go. I use Ting (on T-Mobile network) because I wanted to be able to hotspot without paying extra and with a Google Voice number to keep calling and texting costs down. Project Fi is good as well if you're into using/buying Google phones. AT&T Go also has a $40/month unlimited calls and texts, 6 GB data plan that is a good value. Look into Red Pocket mobile as well. There are so many choices out there.

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