How to Use Mobile Phones While Traveling from India to USA?

Hey folks, Mani Karthik here. Traveling from India to the USA can be an exciting adventure, but staying connected during the journey and upon arrival is crucial.

Whether it’s updating family back home, navigating new cities, or just catching up on your favorite shows, your mobile phone is your lifeline.

But how do you ensure seamless connectivity without burning a hole in your pocket?

In this guide, I’m going to share my top tips and tricks for using mobile phones while traveling from India to the USA.

From choosing the right SIM card to understanding international roaming plans, I’ve got you covered.

Let’s make sure you stay connected without any hiccups.

Navigating the Terrain of International Roaming

International roaming, in layman’s terms, is your ticket to using your mobile phone while gallivanting around the globe.

It’s handy, yes, but let me tell you from experience, the luxury comes with a hefty price tag.

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The Three Pathways to Mobile Connectivity in the USA

When it comes to using your mobile phone in the US, there are essentially three routes:

  1. Brace for the high tide with International Roaming on your Indian SIM:
    This path involves using your Indian SIM in the USA. But be prepared – it’s like sailing in high seas with costs skyrocketing for calls, texts, and data.
  2. Opt for a Local US SIM Card:
    My personal favourite, especially for longer stays or data-heavy usage. It’s like shifting gears to a more economical and convenient mode of connectivity.
  3. Go Global with an International Roaming Card or a Global SIM Card:
    If you are a globe-trotter or your travel itinerary includes multiple countries, this is your best bet.

Let’s dive deeper into these options.

Riding the Waves with International Roaming on Your Indian SIM

Many Indian telecom providers, like Airtel, Vodafone-Idea, or Jio, offer international roaming packages for the USA. Here’s a leaf from my book on how to navigate this option:

  1. Initiate a dialogue with your Provider:
    Have a heart-to-heart with your mobile service provider and explore their international roaming packages. Each provider offers varied plans, so opt for one that complements your communication needs in the USA.
  2. Switch on the International Roaming Services:
    Your provider will guide you to activate the service, usually a simple procedure involving an SMS or a call.
  3. Ensure Compatibility:
    The USA primarily uses GSM 850 and 1900 bands, so ensure your phone isn’t going to play spoilsport once you’re there.

Remember, my friend, international roaming is an expensive affair. Make sure to decipher all the charges before opting for this service.

Using your Indian SIM

You can always use your existing Indian SIM card in the United States and make discounted calls from there. What you need to do for this is to contact your service provider and buy an international roaming plan.

DigitBin says, with 265.9 million subscribers, Airtel is the most popular mobile network in India and it provides a variety of international plans, such as:

  • One day validity – This plan costs ₹649 and provides unlimited incoming calls; up to 500 MB of free data; 100 minutes of free calling, local and to India; and 100 free SMSes.
  • Ten days validity – This plan costs ₹2,999 (₹299 per day) and provides unlimited incoming calls; up to 3 GB of free data; 250 minutes of free calling to Indian and local numbers; and 100 free SMSes.
  • Thirty days validity – This plan costs ₹3,999 (₹133 per day) and also provides unlimited incoming calls, along with up to 5 GB of free data; 500 minutes of free calling (local and international) and 100 free SMSes.

You can buy a plan that suits you here.

If you are a frequent traveler, Airtel also provides an Airtel World SIM that can be used conveniently across 190 countries and even recharged online.

Walking the Local Path with a US SIM Card

Buying a local SIM card once you land in the USA is usually lighter on the pocket. Here’s my guide to walking this path:

  1. Unlock the magic box – your Phone:
    For a different SIM card to work, your phone needs to be unlocked. If it’s not, just call your Indian provider and request them to do the magic.
  2. Secure a SIM Card:
    Lookout for providers like AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon once you land in the USA. You can purchase a SIM card at the airport, mobile phone stores, or even some supermarkets or convenience stores.
  3. Choose Your Armor – the Right Plan:
    Pick a plan that fits your communication armor. Most providers offer plans targeting tourists with unlimited calls, texts, and data.

Buying a mobile phone contract or a postpaid plan in the United States requires a credit check, which, in turn, requires you to have a credit history in the country. Therefore, a pay-as-you-go SIM card is the most feasible option for travelers to stay connected when in America.

T Mobile offers a cheap pay-as-you-go plan for tourists.

For $30, it gives you 1,000 minutes of local and STD calling (not ISD), unlimited national and international SMSes; unlimited mobile data, 2GB of LTE data and hotspot enabling at 4GB LTE speed. Use their Store Locator to find out where to get their SIM or you could buy it online.

Using a SIM card is a more convenient way to connect internationally via your mobile phone. However, most places in the United States offer free Wi-Fi, which can be used to access mobile applications for messaging and calling, which are often free or at least cheaper.

Provided you have WiFi, you can use Ringo for calling, WhatsApp for text messaging + calls, and Skype for video and audio calling.

Embracing Globalization with a Global SIM Card or an International Roaming Card

If you are like me, often hopping from one country to another, then Global SIM cards or International Roaming cards are your companions.

  1. Select Your Companion: Numerous Indian and international companies provide these cards. Some popular choices include Matrix and Uniconnect.
  2. Choose Your Armor – the Right Plan: Evaluate their plans for the USA, and pick one that suits your needs.
  3. Insert the new Companion in your Phone: Replace your Indian SIM with the global SIM before you depart or once you land in the USA.

Now that we’ve figured out the routes, here are some tips from my travel diaries to avoid unexpected charges:

Tips From a Seasoned Traveller’s Diary

  1. Befriend Wi-Fi: Free Wi-Fi is pretty common in the USA. Cafes, hotels, and even some public places offer it. Use Wi-Fi to stay connected whenever possible, saving on data usage.
  2. Keep a Check on your Journey – Monitor Your Usage: Regularly monitor your call, text, and data usage to avoid surprises at the end of your trip.
  3. Embrace VoIP Services: I swear by VoIP services like WhatsApp, Skype, or FaceTime to make calls or send texts over the internet. It saves a ton on mobile plans.

In conclusion, my dear traveller, staying connected while travelling from India to the USA can be as smooth as a well-planned journey, provided you understand your options and plan your connectivity needs in advance.

Here’s to your next adventure – may it be filled with memorable connections and zero connectivity hiccups! Safe travels, my friend.

A call from the United States to India could cost you $1.99 per minute. According to the current exchange rate, this translates to about ₹128 per minute!

Given the negative exchange rate, living in the United States is anyway an expensive affair for an Indian and using a mobile phone only adds to the cost of living.

On the other hand, can we any longer imagine life without a mobile phone or Internet connectivity?

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Mani Karthik

About the Author

Mani Karthik

Ex “NRI” and Founder of the “Back to India” movement. I share my experience about immigrating to USA here.

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