Restocking your mobile minutes to a prepaid phone when you’re abroad can be easy — and cheap.
Communication is important, especially when you’re away from home. While most of us in the US subscribe to monthly cell phone plans that lock us into minutes and rates, others around the world enjoy pay-as-you-go plans with major, second-tier and third-party providers that can save money and time when crossing borders.
A prepaid phone could be to your advantage while traveling — but how do you go about refilling one on the go?
How do prepaid phones work?
Unlike your typical cell phone “locked” to a specific carrier to which you pay a monthly fee on a contract, a prepaid phone can be used with any compatible carrier worldwide. Because it is “unlocked” to a carrier, you can switch to a different carrier simply by swapping out the current SIM card for another that’s compatible with your carrier of choice.
Once you’ve activated your cell phone and paid for your minutes, it’s ready for use.
What is a SIM card?
A SIM (short for Subscriber Identity Module) card is a “smart” card inside every mobile phone that includes a unique ID and stores your data. In the US, many phones are “locked” to a carrier — meaning you’re discouraged from tampering or replacing the SIM card under threat of voiding your contract or warranty.
How can I “refill” or reload a prepaid phone?
When you first activate your prepaid phone, you’ll received a PIN associated with your account. That pin allows you to pay through a variety of methods that include:
- Automatic credit or debit card payments
- Instant top-up cards purchased at retail shops
- Electronic reloading
- Money transfer top-ups
Some US carriers, like T-Mobile and Verizon, offer international prepaid tourist plans that allow you to stay connected while on your adventures abroad. But these plans may be more expensive than purchasing and refilling an unlocked phone at your destination.
Reloading your phone with a money transfer
While the idea of adding minutes to a prepaid phone can sound foreign to North Americans, people all over the world send and receive prepaid minutes to and from friends and family.
Many companies that we use for money transfers in the States offer “reload” services for prepaid credit cards and mobile plans that make it easy to convert cash into communication — often within minutes.
A few to consider:
|WorldRemit||WorldRemit offers a fully online process to easily and cheaply add instant airtime to a mobile number of your choice, receiving confirmation by email or SMS.|
|Xoom||For about $1 a reload, you can pay for or gift minutes online with Xoom to phones in some 30 countries worldwide.|
|Ria||With Ria, it’s easy to buy minutes for prepaid phones — both online and at authorized agent locations around the world.|
|Western Union Reload+||With Reload+, you can visit any participating agent location worldwide, pay a small fee and receive your minutes instantly. And depending on the country, you may be able to do it all online.|
|MoneyGram Mobile Recharge||For a small fee, you can visit an agent location or go online to top-up services with more than 350 mobile carriers.|
International prepay checklist
Before boarding that flight or selecting your unlocked phone, ask these important questions to avoid any pitfalls that come with prepaid:
- How much will I pay for an initial deposit or SIM card?
- What are the per-minute rates for calls outside the US?
- Do I have to wait before I can start making calls or is the phone ready immediately use?
- Will I have access to voice and text, or are there limitations?
- If data is included, what speed will I get as part of my plan?
- What are the ways that I can check my balance — online, phone, text?
- Will I be notified as I get close to running out of minutes?
There’s no need to worry about how you’ll communicate and take important calls while enjoying your adventures. With a prepaid phone, you’ll be all set to load and refill your minutes to keep the conversation going while abroad.