Phone Plans for International Students

Hey everyone! It is almost impossible to keep up with life in NYC without a phone if you’re a student. However, it is sometimes confusing for international students when it comes to decide what plans to get and what’s the most affordable way to stay connected to the world with your little device.


Data plans and phone contracts can be very costly for internationals without social security number and credit score, but there are other options and costs to consider. Here’s a small recap that may make things easier:

  • Typical anual contracts

These usually require at least a two-year commitment. I am going to use one of the most popular carriers used in NY with a plan for an iPhone (5S.) You can expect to pay somewhere between $100 and $140 a month depending on the data plan you choose and how many extras you consume. With this type of plan you can get the phone for about $200, which may seem cheap for a new iPhone, however you’re actually paying the rest of the smartphone’s cost through your monthly bills.

For an international student, this is a complicated option. In order to get one of those plans you need to “qualify.” Which means they’ll run a credit check. If you’re on an F1 visa, chances are you don’t have credit score yet, and that you don’t even have a social security number. Without that, they’ll ask for a deposit of $500 that will be given back to you after 12 months. Not cool.

I did that the first time I arrived here, and I wouldn’t do it again. The good thing is that service for AT&T was great, I usually had signal everywhere when other carriers don’t… But was it worth the $120 I was paying a month? Considering the following option, NO.

  • Prepaid plans (no anual contract)

This is the type of plan I changed to, and I’m happy about it. Let me use T-Mobile as an example. This is how they work: you pay the cost ($50-$60) at the beginning of the month, and then you can use unlimited call and text, and whatever data plan you chose for the whole month. If you don’t pay, it stops working, but you’re not committed to any contract whatsoever. These plans are VERY easy to get. You just need to bring an unlocked phone, and that’s it.


After my two-year contract with AT&T finished, I brought my iPhone 4 to T-Mobile and changed to a new plan. I went from paying $120 with AT&T to pay only $50 with T-Mobile and I knew I could cancel it anytime if I wanted. The drawback is that the service is not as good. With the $50 plan, you only get 500MB of data at high speed, but it is unlimited data for lower speeds. Nevertheless, I recently upgraded to an iPhone 5S and got a new plan which is $60 a month and I get 2.5GB of high speed data a month. That’s a great deal, and one that AT&T can’t beat.

  • “Pay as you go” cards

If you’re not going to be here for a long time, you can get a card where you just load money and it consumes dollars by minutes, number of texts and MB of data used. Not a good option for long stays, though. It ends up getting expensive, but it’s a nice option for visitors!

Finally, let me talk about the price of smartphones. It can be very confusing. Why are some plans selling an iPhone for $199 when the retail price is $640? Well, part of what you will end up paying monthly is going towards the full price of the phone, which is why you’re required to stick to the plan for two years. For example T-Mobile offers a plan for iPhone 5S where you pay about $160 for the phone and then you have to add $20 a month for two years… Yes, it ends up summing up to about the same as paying the full price in advance.


Overall, my recommendation for international students is to stay away from two-year plans and paying deposits… it’s just not worth it. I recommend paying the phone in advance and then getting a prepaid plan (like the one I had.) It is an initial “investment” to pay the phone… but then the monthly bills are much MUCH better.

The most popular carriers you can check out are: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint. I hope it helps! Thanks for reading and see you soon!


One thought on “Phone Plans for International Students

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