Telephone

Voice Over IP

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Skype is the cheapest choice if you want to make international calls from the US to your country. Remember that you can always call from free from your computer to another computer with Skype, and this should be you main choice when you want to call home. Moreover, there are some useful additional services that are not for free, but still very cheap:

  • Skype Out: buying some credit (by credit card or PayPal) you can call from your computer to any cell phone or landline phone in the world. The price depends on where is the receiver, not on where are you calling from. This prices are very very low, especially for landline phones. This way, you can call home at a very reasonable price or, for example, call US numbers while you are on campus. Unless you have a flat cell phone plan, it's cheaper to call from Skype than from your cellphone. There are also some special offers: for a certain period of time it was free to call to any US number (both landline and cellphones!), now I think you can pay a fixed annual fee to have this flat service. Check on Skype website.
  • Skype In: for a fixed annual price, you can receive a US number that people can call to contact you. You'll receive the call on your computer, if you are online, or a VoiceMail will answer for you if you're offline. The sound quality of both SkypeIn and SkypeOut is excellent if you're using an high speed connection like the one on campus or in most of the apartments.
  • Skype Hardware: instead of bringing all your stuff from home (earphones, microphone, webcam, etc.) you can buy them at a very reasonable price directly form Skype. They also sell Skype phones and some gadgets.

Cell phones

If you want to bring you cell phone in the US, you have to be sure that

  • is a quadriband device
  • its AC adapter works at 110 Volts / 60 Hz

If your telephone is not satisfying this prerequisites, you can think about purchasing a new one. Remember that if you subscribe a plan in the US (advised if you stay more than one quarter, see below) then they will probably offer you a basic telephone for free and some nicer models at reduced prices.

General information about cell phone plans

In the United States is much more common to have a phone plan than having a prepaid. The difference is that once you purchase a plan you generally have a certain amount of free minutes every month. You will receive a monthly bill charging you a fixed amount plus the extra minutes you used, if any, plus any extra services (SMS, international calls, etc…). You can generally pay your bill by check or by credit card.

With a prepaid, instead, you have to recharge your credit before using it. There is no fixed monthly fee, you only pay the minutes you use. Sometimes it's very difficult to obtain a prepaid SIM card from phone companies representatives, but this option always exists and they know it.

The prepaid is the right choice only if you're planning to use way less minutes than the amount of free minutes you have with the cheapest plan. As you usually don't have a landline, the plan is usually the best choice for international students. This is even more true if you need a phone, as plans usually include a free phone.

Remember that most of the phones they give you with a plan are SIM-locked, that is they can only work with the SIM of the operator that gave you the phone. Ask before purchasing which is the procedure to unlock the phone, it's usually just a unlocking code they can give you after some months of contract.

Remember that, differently from other countries in the world, both who calls and who receive the call are charged in the US, and both who send and who receive a text message too. Moreover, for the caller charging starts when you dial the number, not when the receiver picks up.

Cell phone plans and companies

Tmobile

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Tmobile offers both a prepaid option and a series of plans. All the plans offer an amount of free minutes you can use and they generally have some extra free calls (for example free Nights and Weekends, or free calls to some numbers - Faves-, etc…). They say that you have free calls when both the caller and the receiver are Tmobile, but this is actually true only when you're both Tmobile and you're both covered by Tmobile network, that never happens; don't rely on this when estimating the amount of free minutes you need per month.

Usually 300-500 minutes are more than enough for a person, especially if you live on campus and meeting people makes more sense than calling them. If you leave off campus or if you use the phone a lot, you can think about a higher limit. There is another option: you can have a plan together with another person. You share the free minutes with this person and they are usually cheaper than two separate plans. Check on the website for family plans because the commercial name of this options keep changing. In 2006/07 the regular offer was 35 USD for one line, 1000 minutes, or 50 USD (25 USD each) for two lines, 1000 minutes to share. Plus taxes.

You can pay your bills (monthly) by credit card on the website, by check or going to a Tmobile shop.

Starting a plan requires a 35 USD fee. Closing the plan before 1 year costs a lot, 200 dollars. To have this early closing fee waived, you have to prove that you're leaving the country, actually that you are forced to leave the country. They usually require a copy of you're expiring visa and some prove that you're staying abroad for a while (for example a renting contract abroad, a bill - phone land line, electricity, etc… -). Sometimes a foreign ID with your home address on it is enough. Remember that if you have a family plan and you want to close it when the first of you two leaves the country, he or she has to be the owner of the plan. Otherwise you'll be forced to keep the contract (paying for both) until the second one leaves!

AT&T

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ATTENTION UCSD STUDENTS: Att offers a special plan for UCSD students specific plans for UCSD students. Check the link for more details. The same offer is reported at the UCSD Bookstore too.
For non-UCSD students, please check if your campus have the same agreement with AT&T. If it does, please post it here! Otherwise, you can get more info about available plans at the AT&T website.

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