You don’t need to have a monthly contract to get an iPhone these days, but which carrier should you bring your phone to?
Taking your iPhone to a pre-paid plan can save you quite a bit of cash and if you live in the United States, there are quite a few options these days. Whether you’re a talker, texter or web surfer, there’s something to be had for everyone when it comes to moving to a prepaid plan. Some may require tweaking a few settings to get things like picture messaging fully up and running, but if you need to save some cash or just don’t fancy signing contracts, pre-paid is a great option.
Let’s take a closer look at some options across all the major iPhone compatible pre-paid carriers in the United States.
Check for coverage
The most important aspect of choosing a carrier, prepaid or not, is whether or not there’s good coverage in your area. We’d suggest checking coverage maps for each respective carrier so you can eliminate ones that are sub-par or non-existent where you spend most of your time. That’ll ultimately make the decision a lot easier.
T-Mobile Coverage Map – Link
Straight Talk Coverage Map – Link
Mint SIM Coverage Map – Link
Virgin Mobile Coverage Map – Link
Boost Mobile Coverage Map – Link
Cricket Coverage Map – Link
AT&T Prepaid (GoPhone) Coverage Map – Link
Once you’ve decided which carriers actually have good coverage in your area and which ones you can immediately rule out, you can start looking at what plans are actually available to you.
AT&T Prepaid (formerly GoPhone)
AT&T Prepaid is the new name for the GoPhone brand, with the same great AT&T coverage. The entry-level plan starts at $35 a month and includes 1GB high-speed data. A $45 plan with 6GB is also available, as is an unlimited plan for $65 each month. All three plans offer unlimited talk and text in the U.S. and unlimited texting to over 100 different countries. the $65 plan and the $45 plan also offer unlimited talk and text between and within Mexico and Canada.
Signing up for Auto Refill will save you $5 a month any of the AT&T Prepaid plans.
Shop plans at AT&T
Boost Mobile is a CDMA carrier that utilizes Sprint’s network. The carrier offers twodifferent data options for customers, with pricing starting as low as $30 when you sign up for auto-refill. With the base plan, you get 3GB of LTE data each month.
The next step up would be $50 a month for unlimited LTE data. All of the plans include unlimited talk and text, as well as the ability to use your phone as a hotspot, and unlimited music streaming without using your monthly data allotment.
Shop plans at Boost Mobile
Cricket is small, but well-known, carrier that offers a few different low-cost options to get you started. The entry-level plan offers 1GB of data for $30. They also offer a $40 plan with 4GB of high-speed data, a $50 plan with 8GB of high-speed data and two unlimited plans: a $55 dollar option that caps your data speeds at 3MB/second and a $60 plan that doesn’t. All plans except the basic $30 option are $5 cheaper if you use Auto Pay.
All of the plans include unlimited talk and text. The 8GB option, as well as both unlimited plans, come with unlimited international texting and unlimited calls and texts to and from Mexico and Canada. The 8GB option also offers free tethering.
Shop plans at Cricket
Mint SIM is a T-Mobile MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) that offers cheap data when you buy in bulk. You can pay for 3 months, 6 months or 12 months in advance and get service as low as $15 per month for 2GB of high-speed data each month. If you want the convenience of paying for the whole year in one shot, a 2GB per month plan still comes out at just $15 a month. The value scales well, too: 10GB per month plans are just $25 per month.
All plans include unlimited talk and text, and Mint SIM is super iPhone friendly — activate your account, put in the SIM card, turn on your phone and it just works.
Shop plans at Mint SIM
Straight Talk is a MVNO that piggybacks on AT&T’s network to provide great coverage at an affordable cost. Plans start at just $30 a month with 1500 minutes and 100MB of data, which likely won’t meet the needs of most. For an extra $5, you jump up to unlimited talk and text and 2GB of high-speed data. For the data hungry, Straight Talk offers a $55 plan that has 12GB of data and a $60 plan plan that offers 8GB and unlimited talk and text to mobile numbers in Canada, China, India, and Mexico.
With Straight Talk you can pay for 30 days, 3 months, 6 months or even a full year at once. For some this, is a great advantage, as you just pay once and then know your phone will work for the year.
Shop plans at Straight Talk
T-Mobile has grown in popularity since it ditched contracts, but the company offers pre-paid plans that are quite a steal as well.
You have several options for pre-paid service starting at $45 per month for 4GB of LTE data. There is also a $55 plan that offers 6GB, as well as the T-Mobile One Prepay plan that gives you unlimited LTE data for $75 per month.
All plans include unlimited talk and text and unlimited streaming through most services with T-Mobile’s Binge On feature. The T-Mobile One pre-paid plan works throughout North America, not just the U.S., so if you’re traveling to Canada, Mexico or Latin America you won’t have any problems.
Shop plans at T-Mobile
Virgin Mobile is another MVNO that operates on Sprint’s network. Since early 2017 they have specialized their service just for iPhone users with what they call their “Inner Circle” service.
If you bring your own iPhone, $50 per month gets you unlimited talk, text, and data, but there’s a catch — only the first 4GB of data are high-speed LTE. There are also several other Inner Circle perks like discounts through Virgin Wines, a free companion ticket for trans-Atlantic Virgin Atlantic flights and a free extra night at Virgin Hotels.
The bigger deal for iPhone users is 12 months of Inner Circle service for just $1 when you buy your new iphone through Virgin.
Shop plans at Virgin Mobile
Buying an unlocked iPhone
There are a number of places that you can grab an unlocked iPhone from these days. Apple is now offering its own financing plan, so if you want to buy the latest and greatest right from Apple, you can now stretch the payments over 24 months. If you don’t need the latest, and are looking to save a few bucks on the phone, there are a few other places to shop for a phone.
Online sites such as eBay, Amazon, and Swappa allow you to shop used phones, and find something that better meets your budget needs. Most pre-paid carriers offer the option to purchase an iPhone from them, but most will require you to pay the full cost of the phone upfront.
iPhone Buyers Guide
The bottom line
When it comes to choosing a prepaid carrier, all of the above have their advantages and disadvantages. For most of us, carriers that piggyback on At&t or T-Mobile’s network will have the best coverage, but if you live in an area where Sprint has you covered, carriers like Boost or Virgin offer some nice plans — don’t rule them out!.
If you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck with the best coverage, we’d recommend AT&T Prepaid or T-Mobile. They offer moderately priced unlimited plans and have nationwide LTE coverage. If you don;t need a lot of data, you can save a lot of money by going with Mint SIM and buying three months of 2GB LTE data at once for $15 each month ($45 total).
The best part is that there are plenty of options. You’ll be able to find one that works for you!
If you use your iPhone with prepaid, what carrier do you use and which ones would you recommend?