Travel to USA - how to handle SIM for iPhone?

Seeking some guidance from those who live in or perhaps have travelled to the United States. My wife and I will be visiting for the first time later this year to do a road trip from San Francisco to Seattle.

My question is around a USA-local SIM card for our iPhones (Xs and 12 Pro) while there. Can I expect to find outlets for the major mobile networks in the airport at San Francisco as has been my experience travelling to Europe? I find it the easiest to just buy a prepaid SIM on arrival.

If that is not a viable option, I’d have to use one of these services that ship you an activated SIM card. Trouble is that most ship via post office and in South Africa (where I am) our postal service is broken – more often than not you never receive your mail. The ones I found with large/unlimited data allowances also tend to be valid for 28 days from activation, which allows no mailing time since our planned trip is about that long.

Lastly, suggestions on which mobile networks to consider for this trip are welcome.

Others can comment about SIM availability. Frankly, I have no relevant experience as I stopped using them many years ago.

But food for thought: what happens if you don’t get one of those? Turn off Data Roaming and don’t answer any incoming phone calls. On your voice mail message, tell people you are travelling and if important “email me”. Use your South African SIM judiciously.

On the American West Coast (and throughout the country) I think you will find free WiFi is easily available and you might be able to exist, and do it economically, without a local SIM. With WiFi you can do voice calls via Skype, FaceTime, Whatsapp, and so many other methods. And of course email will work. Apple iMessage works if your correspondent in that ecosystem.

That’s how I roll these days when in a “foreign” country.

Thanks for the reply. Sure, I expect wifi to be widely available, but we’re not out to save every last cent at the expense of convenience. Mobile data on our phones are required for convenience, especially for using features like maps/navigation while driving and so on.

I am also investigating roaming with my South African network.

take a look at something like Airalo for an eSIM while travelling


I have found the following resource helpful when travelling. Note that as this is a community effort it may not be always fully up-to-date as it’s quite extensive, but I’m sharing the link as it’s been useful in the past, so it may come in handy to others as well.

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Seems like a good option, thanks!

It sounds like all your phones require physical SIMs. Is that correct?

My iPhone (14) only takes e-Sim. In that scenario it’s super easy to install an e-Sim just before you leave your home country. I personally use Ubigi … but there are likely other good options out there.

I live in the San Francisco area, but I don’t recall Sim cards being sold at the airport these days. At one point physical SIMs were, but the switch over to eSims plus cost of running a small store at the airport, may have eliminated that service. … oh, but it looks like I’m wrong … check out this link:

I recently used Airalo for an eSim while traveling from the US to Madagascar and was happy with the service. I have an iPhone Xs.

Enjoy your trip!

Ah, I forgot that divergence in more recent iPhone models. The “international” version of the iPhone we get here and in Europe takes both physical and eSIM.

Had a look at Ubigi (thanks!) but Airalo seems to offer better deals at this time.

Thank you for the Airalo review. At this stage I will probably go with them.

I’m sure we will enjoy the trip, thanks. Spending some time in Redwoods along the way and really looking forward to that.


I was using Airalo when going to China last year. Worked well. However, next time I will also consider using Nomad because they are cheaper.

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Yes, Airalo does seem to have better prices to the U.S. I forgot. I’m typically going to Europe and/or Asia where Ubigi is cheaper (at least in Singapore and South Korea). With either company the prices are very good.

Of course, it’s not that great if you get cheaper prices and worse service! But since @MevetS has provided a solid reference you should be comfortable using Airalo.

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esims are the way to go. Have used both Airalo and Airsim before and the experience was good.

Alosim has frequent offers via Stacksocial. Get credit for 50% off.

Check this and eSimDB for esim comparison and make sure you install the the releant apps on your iPhone

Where are you going to be traveling? SF to San Francisco covers a lot of ground. Are you staying on the major highway or venturing our on the side roads?

Most cities will have ATT, T-Mobile and Verizon. So if you are staying in a city area any will work. Rural west T-Mobile or ATT.

Generally lots of free wifi available but they are unsecured so beware.

Where I live the only usually good cell service is T-Mobile, ATT is a distant second and there is zero Verizon service. Quite a few folks that need to have as much access as possible (vets, paramedics, doctors) carry both an ATT and a T-Mobile phone with them.

That’s so dependent on the area of the US you’re in. I’ve often had service with Verizon in places people using ATT and especially T-Mobile couldn’t pick up a signal. But the US is obviously a big country.

Thank you for all the advice!

Based on what I learned I’ll get an eSIM from Airalo which will work on T-Mobile and Verizon. They have a 20GB plan, valid for 30 days, for $21. That should be fine but allows for top-up if required.

Our planned route is roughly San Francisco → Eureka → Crescent City → Portland → Seattle
About 890 miles of driving in a month (August), with most time spent in the Seattle area. Really excited for this one.


Welcome in advance. Hope you have a great time!

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Thanks for this discussion, I’m heading to San Fran on Saturday so this was very helpful.