The prepaid SIM card is an option for those who would not prefer to make a commitment to a carrier network. Not only that but a prepaid SIM card is perfect for those with mediocre or below credit or who don't want to pay a hefty postpaid plan deposit.
So you may be a little confused as to what a prepaid SIM card is in comparison to a subscription-based SIM card. Well, we're here to explain that to you.
We're also here to compare prepaid SIM cards. Inside this guide, you'll find information on not only the definition of a prepay SIM card, but also what prepaid SIM cards are compatible with the Apple iPhones, Android phones, and Samsung Galaxy devices. We'll also show you a step-by-step guide on how to activate a SIM card, and SIM cards in relation to the Internet of Things.
Table of Contents
What Is a SIM Card?
A SIM card, or subscriber identity module card, contains your profile and other information, including text messages, contacts, and more. Not only does a subscriber identity module card features your unique identity, but it also allows you to use a tower specific to the carrier you are with. Without a SIM card, you won't be able to operate your phone with the carrier.
There are also various forms of SIM cards - for instance, the global SIM card or the local SIM card.
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With a prepaid individual or monthly plan, the SIM card records all the details regarding said prepaid plan and helps the carrier and consumer adhere to the prepaid agreement. For instance, if more minutes than what are agree upon are exceeded, then the SIM card sends the message to the carrier to stop the service.
As a result, if a consumer wants to continue service, then they need to purchase more cell phone minutes, known as buying more air time or topping up minutes. The SIM card then registers the new amount of minutes and tells the carrier's computer servers to turn the cell phone back on.
Nowadays, there are several prepaid carriers and prepay plans complete with SIM-only service, allowing you to purchase a SIM card for your phone, pop in said SIM card, and activate service without a second thought.
Related: SIM Card Size Guide
Prepaid SIM Cards Across Devices
Below, you'll find what SIM Cards are compatible with Apple iPhones, Android phones, and Samsung Galaxy phones:
All of the latest iPhones - between the Apple iPhone 6 and Apple iPhone SE - sport the Nano SIM card size. Check out Apple iPhone SIM cards here.
Many recent Android models - like the Google Pixel, Google Pixel XL, LG G5, LG G5 SE, LG G6, LG V10, and LG V20 - sport a Nano SIM card slot. However, some models still retain the Standard SIM card size.
One such model happens to be the HTC Desire. Not only that, but it is important to note that entry-based or mid-range phones are likelier to feature the Micro-SIM card size.
To learn more, go to our guide on Android SIM cards.
Samsung Galaxy Series
Some Samsung Galaxy series phones sport the Micro-SIM card (Micro-SIM is the third generation of SIM cards), while others feature the Nano SIM.
For instance, the 2016 version of the Samsung Galaxy J3 and the 2016 version of the Samsung Galaxy J7 both host Micro-SIM card slots, but the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, Note 7, Note Edge, S6, S6 Edge, S6 edge+, S7, S7 edge, S8, and S8+ all have a Nano SIM card tray.
To see the entire table of Samsung phones and their compatible SIM cards, go to our Samsung Galaxy SIM card guide.
Prepaid SIM Cards Across Carriers
Here is where you'll find the prepaid SIM cards offered by a few prepaid carriers.
This no-contract cell phone carrier features a prepay SIM card for purchase.
All you need to do is bring your own device - that way, you'll skip the credit check. Not only will you keep your existing phone number, be able to use your device with any prepaid plan, and retain your existing apps and contacts, but you won't have any commitments whatsoever with the T-Mobile network.
What you need to do is check your device's compatibility with the T-Mobile network, buy a SIM card, which will be shipped to you, and then insert the SIM card into your phone. The SIM card will then activate a starter Pay As You Go cell phone plan, complete with 30 minutes of talk or 30 texts (or any combination of the two that adds up to 30). If you dislike the plan, you can always compare prepay plans and instead adopt a prepay plan with unlimited talk and unlimited text.
With Straight Talk, you can bring your own phone and receive a SIM card activation kit, complete with a monthly plan featuring unlimited talk, unlimited text, and unlimited 2G data, though the first 8GB of data will be for high-speed mobile internet. Better yet is that the Straight Talk cell phone plan is rather cheap.
Sprint network does not offer a prepaid plan for bringing your own phone. In other words, the mobile phone carrier doesn't offer prepaid SIM cards.
Virgin Mobile does not currently support prepaid SIM cards. It's unfortunate, but Virgin Mobile has also undergone a huge overhaul involving their newest plans and iPhones.
How to Activate a SIM Card
While the process may differ slightly when activating your SIM card, overall it's very much the same, no matter which carrier you decide to go to.
- After receiving your SIM card, remove the slot from your no-contract cell phone. On a GSM phone, the card tray is normally located near the battery. It's another story for CDMA phones. For instance, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 SIM card slot is located on top of the mobile phone.
- Head over to the activation page provided by your carrier's site. You may also dial the carrier's phone number to have a representative walk you through.
- Typically, you input the SIM Card ID and the Device ID into the boxes.
- Then follow the instructions for activation.
- Et voila! Your phone should be activated!
How Much Does a SIM Card Cost?
A SIM card isn't even that expensive. A SIM card can run you anywhere between free of charge and - if you buy one with a plan attached to the SIM card - $45. In other words, you're hardly paying anything for the SIM card itself. If you're looking for a carrier that provides free SIM cards, you should check out our comparison guide to free SIM card carriers.
Pay As You Go SIM Cards
Unfortunately, there aren't many US carriers who sell Pay As You Go SIM cards. One such carrier that does, however, is T-Mobile. As I've mentioned in an earlier section, if you buy a prepaid SIM card, you'll have access to the Pay As You Go Plan, which grants you 30 minutes or 30 texts (or a combination of both). However, you can always top off your plan if you've run out of minutes and/or texts.
SIM Cards and the Internet of Things
SIM cards have increasingly become more valuable with time. Not only are they part of the mobile phone, but they have made their homes in data-only devices like smart watches, tablets, alarm systems, GPS trackers, and more. In other words, SIM cards have only become more integrated into your life.
Related: What is the Internet of Things?
Specialty SIM Cards
There are some SIM cards that are designed for specific devices or functions. Many of these special SIMs I mentioned above, but there are a few more.
- 4G LTE: The 4G LTE SIM card is designed to give you talk, text, data, and any other feature of your cell phone plan but at the fastest possible speeds of our current technological generation. Unless specified, a SIM card you purchase may not be 4G LTE.
- Data Only: The Data Only SIM card is pretty self-explanatory. Because this type of SIM card only gives you an Internet connection and an allotment of data, you won't get any minutes or texts. This isn't a nail in the coffin, however, as they are plenty of free, third-party apps that allow for WiFi calling and texting.
- Micro SIM Cards: The Micro SIM card is simply a smaller version of its standard predecessor. Although the regular SIM card is quickly becoming obsolete, the micro variant is still in use, albeit in older generation phones and connected devices.
- Nano SIM Cards: The Nano SIM card is the smallest iteration yet. Many of the latest smartphones and devices use these.
While the prepaid SIM card isn't as popular in the states as it is in the United Kingdom, it has begun making its home, with many people opting for the service - for instance, Straight Talk offers prepaid SIM cards, complete with high-speed mobile internet, and there have been a few people who have opted into it.
Hopefully, with time, the service will grow to where it is a more commonplace option (the international SIM card is in the same boat), even when compared to postpaid SIM cards.
SIM cards are used for a plethora of connected devices. For more guides, reviews, and comparisons check out our connected devices directory!
If you're in the market for a cheap cell phone to pair with your SIM card, take a look at our prepaid smartphones directory.