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T-Mobile USA: how to keep a SIM card active if you visit the USA infrequently

Posted by jpluimers on 2014/02/17

Last time when I was in the USA, I got myself a new T-Mobile USA SIM card with a local phone number so I could call and have data.

There are a few pre-paid T-Mobile USA plans interesting, depending on how long you visit the USA:


  • Pay by the day USD 3/day for Unlimited Talk/Text/Data with the first 200 megabyte of data at 4G speed and the rest at 2G speed.
  • Pay by the day USD 2/day for Unlimited Talk/Text/Data with the data at 2G speed. 2G speed is maxed at 128 kilobit/second.
  • USD 50/month for 0.5 gigabyte of high-speed data and the rest at 2G speed. (works better for > 25 days of USD2/day).
  • USD 60/month for 2.5 gigabyte of high-speed data and the rest at 2G speed. (works better for > 20 days of USD3/day).
  • USD 70/month for unlimited high-speed data. (works better for > 23 days of USD2/day)

Data only:

  • 0.5/1.0/2.5 gigabyte per day for USD 10/15/30.
  • 0.5/2.5/4.5/6.5/8.5/10.5/12.5 gigabyte per month for USD 20/30/40/50/60/70/80.

Note: If you are in the USA very often, and also travel a lot, you also might want to look in one of the the post-paid T-Mobile USA “Simple Choice” plans.

The SIM cards do not expire as long as the plan is active, and the plans get you voice roaming at very low prices and free text and data roaming (data at 2G speeds) in many countries (both Olaf Monien and Danny Thorpe attended me on this, thanks guys!):

  • for individuals with 0.5 or 2.5 gigabyte high-speed, or unlimited data at USD 50, 60 or 70  / month for 365 days a year (I wonder what happens in leap years).
  • for families of 2, 3, 4 or 5 people, with 0.5 or 2.5 gigabyte high-speed , or unlimited data for the first family member and 0.5 gigabyte for each other family member. The math is simple: the prices varies by data amount for the first family member. The second member plays USD 30/month for 0.5 gigabyte/month, the third, fourth or fifth family member pay USD 10/month for 0.5 gigabyte/month.
  • for for internet-only with 0,5, 2.5, 4.5, 6.5, 8.5 or 10.5 gigabyte high-speed data: start at USD 20/month, each step adds USD 20/month (12.5 gigabyte is also available, but not on-line).

Note that these plans to not include texting and calling internationally.

All the Simple Choice plans actually have more data, but when you reach the plan limit, your speed goes back from high speed data to 2G data see the fine print at the bottom:

Once you have used all the high speed data allotted on your data option, your data speed will automatically convert to up to 2G web speeds for the remainder of your billing cycle.

Anyway, lets get back to the core of the post: how to keep a PrePaid SIM active.

Keeping a PrePaid SIM card active

A really interesting chat with April P (thanks!) from T-Mobile helped me to keep my SIM number in a very easy way. It presumes you have an on-line account for your SIM card.

Having such an account allows you to switch plans, and add funding to your account balance.

When you create an on-line account for your SIM (make sure it is in a phone, as it requires one SMS message to confirm the creation of an account).

The trick is that

  1. When you are outside the USA, and do not use it for calling or sending SMS messages, you can have a “Pay as you go” plan (also called “Pay by the minute”) and add funds for it every 90 days (that’s USD per 90 days, so about USD 40 per year).
  2. The funds will stay in your account, since you do not use them.
  3. When inside the USA, you switch to a plan that fits best with the duration of your stay (now your phone gets used, so the SIM stays active)

This is what she wrote:

The best plan that we can offer is the pay as you go plan. As you will just need to add or refill $10 in order for the account to remain active. The $10 is good for 90 days. And you will not loose the $10 on the account. It will just stay there and you can use this once your back in US

Data only solution?

There might be a really cheap data-only solution. But that requries all voice calls to be made using VOIP.

I need to research the Unlocked Tablets | Tablets with Free Mobile Internet Data | BYOD | T-Mobile page. It looks like this free plan is limited to 200 megabyte per month when you Bring Your Own Device (gee, I have plenty of them). 200 megabyte is OK for a few days of stay.

SIM cards without PIN code

One final remark: T-Mobile USA ships SIM cards without a PIN-code set. This means they have no PIN-code. Which is different from the default 0000 PIN-code that lots of European providers ship their SIM cards with.

I wasn’t even aware that you could have a SIM card with no PIN-code. Knowing this, it makes sense, for instance for headless devices that run in an unattended environment where it can be impossible to set a PIN. An example is like the Alarm system of LUDA elektronik:

The SIM card you are intending to use in the GSM Alarmer must have the PIN code disabled.

To disable the PIN code on the SIM card you will need to use a mobile phone.

There they also explain How to remove the PIN code from the SIM card, as it requires a mobile phone, and the steps depend on the brand and model of your mobile phone.

Customer care from abroad

From the T-mobile web-site:

You can reach T-Mobile Customer Care by dialing the plus sign (+) followed by 1-505-998-3793 from your mobile phone—it’s a free call.


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