General Travel

Get cheap calling and data when travelling the USA

The Idea


The Details

A common issue everyone faces when travelling overseas is how they can get cheap, affordable data and calls. Since most of my travel is to the US, I’ve extensively researched the options available and believe I’ve come upon the best solution-VMNOs

VMNOs are virtual mobile network operators. They don’t own any of the physical infrastructure that a telco uses- instead they buy airtime and bandwidth in bulk from established network operators and resell that to customers in the form of their own service plans. For a period there was such an arrangement in Singapore- anyone remember Virgin Mobile? Their business model was to buy airtime from Singtel and then resell it. They folded in 2002 after barely a year of operations.

Fortunately in the USA VMNOs are alive and well, and offering much, much more competitive packages than the traditional incumbents like T-Mobile and AT&T.

I’ve used Simple Mobile numerous times in the past. Look at these plans and tell me that’s not ridiculously good value

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Yes, for US$40 I can get 2 GB of local 4G data, unlimited local calls and texts and unlimited international texts. It gets better. For a US$10 supplement, I get unlimited international calling. I can call back home to Singapore as much as I like, for 30 days, for US$10!

However, Simple Mobile runs on the T-Mobile network and has some coverage gaps, especially around the Big Sur Highway 1 area. Therefore I started looking for an alternative provider using the AT&T network, which has stronger coverage in that area. My new favourite is H20 wireless, which has plans which are just as good value. US$40 gets you 1GB of data, unlimited local calls and texts and unlimited calling to Singapore (versus Simple Mobile where you get 2GB of data but need to top up US$10 for international calling)

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How to buy and load these cards

The actual sim cards are sold on amazon for 1 cent each, very often with free domestic shipping (however, with some merchants, if you order more than 1 they start charging you for shipping. Weird, but there are many different merchants so just order 1 from each). Why so cheap? The entire industry is extremely low margin- they sell you the sim card cheap and hope that you buy top up cards from them, which at least allows them to make some small margin.


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You can get the cards delivered to the hotel you’ll be staying at. Just let them know beforehand

Alternatively, I buy these in bulk every time I head to the states, so let me know if you need one and I’ll see whether I have any spares in my inventory. Always nice to have a sim card from the moment you step off the plane.

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Loading these cards can be an issue, as the official websites only accept US-issued credit cards, for anti fraud reasons

You have 2 options to overcome this

  1. Get a UOB Virtual AMEX
    • UOB Virtual Amex works like a US issued credit card and comes with a US billing address. US websites will recognize this card- you just pay you balance at the end of the month like you would any other card
    • EDIT: I’ve just been informed that UOB is currently not accepting new signups for this card. I’ll keep you informed if this changes
  2. Buy from a 3rd party like callingmart

Some people have asked about Singtel’s Dataroam. Dataroam is still much more expensive than getting a local sim card.For the USA, Dataroam will be S$30 per day, and only includes data, no calls, no texts.

I love how Singtel created the term “Roamaphobe” to use in their marketing campaign and tries to light heartedly poke fun at people who are paranoid about finding Wifi and not consuming any data when travelling. Well Singtel, the reason people are “Roamaphobes” is because telcos like you charge us ridiculous rates for overseas data. People are right to be scared.

Get these sim cards and you won’t need to bother with Singtel when overseas.

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