Mobile phones are essential for various purposes in your daily life at St. Olaf, including verifying 2-step security for your social accounts and email, contacting your employers, friends, or more importantly, making emergency calls. Though some students survive without phone plans, thanks to the wifi provided widely on-campus, it can be very helpful to have a phone when you’re not able to connect to wifi.
There are 4 main U.S. mobile service providers (“carriers”) in Northfield*:
A quick fact: Verizon has the best coverage, Sprint is the cheapest, and T-Mobile and AT&T are the in-betweens for price and coverage.
*There are other carriers like Boost Mobile, Ting, Cricket, etc. that have cheaper mobile phone plans, but may not have good (or any) coverage in Northfield. Whether you are choosing a smaller company or a large one, be sure to check the coverage map for zip code 55057 (Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T work the best in Northfield).
Another great opportunity for those who wish to use cheaper plans: US Mobile!!! This is a great carrier for anyone who prefers cheaper/more customizable plans. You can pick the amount of minutes/texts/data you want to spend monthly for usage with a significantly cheaper cost and fair connection. All processes are online, so no hassle to go to an official carrier store. Also as a student, you can get the starter-kit with sim-cards for free if you use your St Olaf email!
Bringing a phone:
If you bring a phone with you from home, CHECK COMPATIBILITY WITH EACH CARRIER! Most probably you would be able to use your own phone unless it’s locked (some smartphones are locked by local carriers). Also, some phones might not be able to connect 4G LTE networks because of the radio waves bandwidth in the US, so don’t forget to check with your carrier!
Getting a phone:
There are two options for getting a phone:
- Buy a phone with a contract, which can be cheaper
- Buy an unlocked phone, which can also be used to connect to different carriers (if you plan on switching carriers) ⇒ can be used OUTSIDE OF THE U.S.
There are not many unlocked phones sold in retail stores and they’re usually more expensive than contract ones. If you consider an unlocked iPhone/, please check any local Apple Store or its website for authenticity.
Purchasing a phone online can be tricky, so make sure you verify the phone can be used in the U.S.
(i.e. Look up the IMEI # in your iPhones’ settings to verify the model)
Consider these locations for getting authentic phones:
- Target (electronics section);
- Apple Store;
- Major carriers stores (AT&T, T-mobile, Verizon, Sprint) — usually do not sell UNLOCKED PHONES.
Two types of phone lines:
There are two types of mobile phone plans you can get in the US:
- Prepaid: By paying a small amount, you have a certain amount of minutes or texts monthly (typically 30 minutes/30 texts for T-mobile). You’ll have to pay extra if you wish to call/text pass the limited amount. Your prepaid account is simply like a debit card account so you can add money to it. You won’t be able to receive calls/texts if you don’t have enough money in your account. NOTE: RECEIVING TEXTS/CALLS ALSO COUNTS! (i.e. if you have a total of 30 messages/month. You text one message and receive one text from your friend, you will have 28 texts left for the month.)
- Monthly plan: gives you a specific amount of calls, texts, and data for monthly depends on your plan. You can look at both types in all four main providers and choose what suits you best.
Two considerations for setting up a phone plan:
- Minutes: most contract plans will give you unlimited minutes. Think about how much you might call or text your friends when setting up your phone plan.
- Data: Allow you to connect to the internet network when you’re outside and cannot connect to wifi. It can get quite expensive! Keep in mind that St. Olaf and many cafes off-campus offer free wi-fi, so you may not need to purchase a data plan. Most students get between 1 to 2 GB of Data for the phone plan
Other things to keep in mind when shopping for cellphones:
- Price: Plan out your monthly budget for buying necessary things first, and then see if you have enough money left to pay for smartphone service every month. There will also be other taxes and fees applied each month, and those taxes may change every month (usually higher). Keep this in mind when choosing a plan, for example, a plan that says it will cost $24, might actually cost $37 with the tax. You may also need to pay an activation fee when you first get your phone (so be prepared for more payment in the first month).
- International texting and calling: Many carriers also feature “international” texting and calling. While this may seem appealing, check which countries are included in the international plan. There are also many apps that you can download to your computer or smartphone so you can talk with friends and family back home for free using wi-fi (Viber, What’s App, Line, Kakao Talk, Facebook Messenger, Skype, etc.).
- Coverage: Also, check mobile phone coverage for zip (postal) code 55057 in Northfield. You’ll want to make sure that you can even use your phone and data plan, if that is what you are purchasing!
Where to find the best plan for your needs?
Checkout Whistleout, which gives the user the option of finding the cheapest plan for their needs. Although choosing cheaper plans from cheaper carriers might seem appealing, their signals for regular calls can get very weak, let alone the Internet connection. Sometimes smaller carriers (such as Tello) say that they get their connection from Sprint, but that does not mean that they’re going to get the quality of the connection that Sprint offers for its own services (they usually do not).
- Bring your ID (passport) and/or social security number (SSN) as they may be required to buy a phone/get a sim card.
PLEASE reach out to any Counselors or The Taylor Center Staff (i.e. Megan Carmes) for further advice and support if you’re not clear what to choose.