New to the country
If you are new to the country or visit U.S. on short term visas (B1/B2/F1/F2), consider purchasing a prepaid phone plan. Later you can upgrade to a fixed monthly data plan. People on the H1/H4 visa come to the country for a relatively longer time (1-6 years) and can buy a data plan.You must make a purchase decision based on how long you intend to stay in the country.
Contract for post paid plan
If you go in for a post paid plan, you will have to pay a fee for breaking the contract.
Many cell carriers insure the phone. However if you lose the phone, you will get a refurbished replacement. If you do not want to pay the extra cost of insurance (usually $4-$10 a month with $25-$100 as deductible) always keep a spare cheaper phone.Use it till you are able to get a replacement of your choice or qualify for a low-cost phone with the carrier.
Do the math
Never think that you are getting an expensive phone cheaper when you do a contract with a carrier. The reality is that your phone contract is likely to be far more expensive than the cost of the phone and the carrier will end up making more money in the bargain. Do the math before you make a purchase.
Purchase a user friendly phone
Choose a phone that is user friendly. Phones with a good display, keyboard, and battery life are usually rated well by moderate phone users. Heavy phone users look at other capabilities such as web browsing, GPS/navigation, Bluetooth, camera, touch screen, wifi/3G, etc. Ultimately you have to make three choices:
- Which cell phone is right for you?
- Which cell phone features are most important to you?
- What carrier do you want to choose?
Consider buying a smart phone (Iphone/Blackberry/Motorola Droid/Palm Pre) as these cell phones support many sophisticated applications. The cost of these phones is in the range of $60-$300.
Prepaid vs. post paid plan
All major carriers promote the post paid plans as they make more profits. You can also consider buying a prepaid cell phone plan which is less advertised. All you have to do is purchase a simple cell phone and buy a plan or minutes (online or in-store). You must also check out many promotions offering free minutes, free weekend/nighttime calling, in-network minutes, etc. Studies indicate that average cell phone subscribers use 700 minutes a month. Looking at the average of 700 minutes, people usually prefer the AT&T 900 minute plan for $60 a month. What they do not realize is that they can utilize the same talk time with a 450 minute plan costing $40 a month as this plan has about 5000 free night/weekend and in-network minutes. This can potentially save the subscriber about $240.
Choose a cellular service provider on the basis of how much phone you use and what features do you care about most. Then compare the cost of purchasing a data plan. Most cellular carriers have competing monthly data plans and prepaid phone plans. You can get a simple phone with no bells and whistles and get a prepaid card to keep the cost low. You can also get a sophisticated smart phone with many applications to make your life easier. The cost benefit analysis based on the factors discussed in this post will help to make an informed decision.