Coming to America and Getting a SIM

by Colin Berkshire

Colin Here.  I  travel a lot. Half my life is spent on the road, usually traveling throughout Asia but pretty much anywhere. I meet a lot of business travelers and tourists. I ask them not only for tips on visiting their home country but also their reactions to visiting the USA.

By far the most frequent comment I hear is how difficult it is to get a SIM for cell phone service when arriving in America.

When you arrive at the airport of pretty much every country there are rows of booths staffed with people hungry to sell you a SIM. I just arrived in Kuala Lumpur for the first time and as I exited customs there they were, waiting for me. I bought a Tone Talk SIM for US$12. The nice woman in a shawl put the SIM in and set everything up, even clearing the usage counter on my iPhone. It took a minute and was a non-event.

For my $12 I got two months of service, 1.5 GB of high speed data, and 60 minutes of free calling within Malaysia or back to the United States. Oh, and incoming hone calls are free.

I thanked her and remarked how easy it was to get set up compared with the USA.

She indicated that her sister had visited America and how difficult it was to just get phone service. There were no kiosks in the airports. Her sister went to several 7-Eleven stores and they didn’t carry SIMs. She then went to several retail stores looking for prepaid service but you had to buy a “compatible” phone from them to use it. Finally, after a day or work she ended up at a cell phone store where they charged her a sign-up fee, tried to get her to enter into a 2-year contract, and then they wanted almost $100 for a month of service including the sim and one-time fees.

Yes, it is true. Getting cell phone service in the US is unlike anywhere else in the world. The norm is that cell phone service is a commodity that is sold everywhere cheaply. I’m concerned about the trend I see where the US is increasingly difficult to work with and in. The world is truly becoming global, and people are accepting of others and it is ever easier to do things like travel. But not in the US.