Expat Life: USA Cell Phone Plans Are SO Expensive!

In the UK I had been with the same phone company ever since I was 11 years old…roughly 15 years!  It may have changed hands several times (One-to-One, T-Mobile, EE) but I was always happy with the service I received.  I’ve been in America for 5 months and I’m already onto my 2nd phone company.  Before I emigrated, I had bought an iPhone, just thinking that it’d be simple, I’d get to America and just put in an American Sim Card and away I go!  If only it was that simple!

It turns out the majority of phones sold in the UK and Europe use GSM software…America, liking to be different, uses CDMA software and I didn’t know this!  All the big carriers: US Cellular (with the best small town coverage), Verizon, Sprint, only support handsets that use CDMA.  Me, with my GSM device was then destined to be with AT&T or fork out the money for another iPhone, the newer models apparently support both GSM and CDMA.  The signal was poor and I had the privilege of paying twice as much for the same plan that I had back in the UK.  My biggest worry was that if I had a problem while driving between towns, such as my car breaking down or ending up in the ditch when driving in the snow, if I couldn’t get a signal to contact anyone, I’d have no idea how long it’d be before another car would come past and see me.  I wasn’t happy with the service I was receiving from AT&T but I just carried on paying for it.  UNTIL…

…my health insurance plan went up by $150 A MONTH.  Needless to say I’ll be taking the risk and dropping down to a ‘cheaper’ health insurance plan, that’s still MORE expensive than the one I was currently on and means that I’ll be more out of pocket if ever I do have anything wrong with me.  It was at this point that I realised I’d have to start shopping around for a more reasonable phone bill.  I just seemed to be throwing money away.

There’s no AT&T store in Dubuque.  I originally got my ‘contract’ at BestBuy.  However, when it comes to switching plans and all that fun, apparently they are unable to do it and the nearest proper AT&T store is 60 miles away…another joyful thing about living in the middle of nowhere!

I then discovered iWireless.  An affiliate of my beloved T-Mobile and therefore a company that would use the GSM software.  They combined with Iowa Network Services and are apparently the fastest 4G LTE provider in Iowa.  They might have the fastest connection but I’m yet to find out the true reach of their coverage, so there’s a high possibility that the faster speeds are only in the bigger cities and towns!

I couldn’t help but feel like the whole thing could be a bit of a scam, I walked out of the shop with a free phone, a free iWireless beer can koozie and a month of unlimited talk, text and data for bringing my number to them from another network.  All I paid was $0.79 for a Sim card.  They had none of my bank details and no form of upfront payment.  It’s T-Mobile?!  I trust them so surely it can’t be a scam?!  I opted for a pre paid no contract plan, a bit like a monthly top up phone.  When the first month was up the contract was then $30 a month for the same plan I had with AT&T.  Being in a small town, I still may not get a great signal but I’d rather be paying $30 for it, than being mugged off by paying $60.

When it comes to travelling out of America I also get no phone coverage at all now.  Which worries me slightly.  My British phone service worked EVERYWHERE.  I liked landing in a country knowing that if there were any problems I’d at least have my phone for emergencies.  On my last visit back to England, I even picked up a pay as you go sim card.  Text messaging is 40p per message, it costs to receive calls but at least I do have that point of contact.  To keep the sim activated I have to send at least 1 message every 6 months and I’ll have to get my Mum to top it up from the UK (don’t worry I left her some money!)…I only have £5 on it, it’s literally for emergencies.

I’ve found living in America has made me very aware of my spending and budgeting, it’s almost become an obsession!  I still want to travel and it’s becoming a struggle with the cost of living and the lack of employment opportunities that understand the work/life balance.  I took a low paid job to get the time off for travel but then it means I’m having to be really on top of what I’m spending!

What are some of the ways that you monitor your budgeting and spending?

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