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Pay and stay ahead with a prepaid cell phone

How do prepaid phones work?

When you have a prepaid phone, you’re making no promises or commitments. A prepaid phone plan is different from a monthly plan in that you haven’t signed a term contract with a carrier, nor agreed to a post-paid plan off-contract.

Rather than pay for service at the end of the monthly pay period, you pay in advance for a capped amount of talk, text and data. Since you have to stay within those limits, there are no overage charges because you can’t talk, text or use data beyond the caps imposed by your prepaid plan. When you exceed the caps or the month is up, you have to top up by prepaying for another period of access.

Prepaid plans may also have other restrictions. There may be no option to make international phone calls or texts, or roam into a foreign country using the same service. These are often features associated with monthly post-paid plans carriers offer.

Who are prepaid plans suited for?

Prepaid plans can suit certain people better than committing to something monthly. Seniors and young children who don’t need much airtime or data could be two examples. Parents can manage how much their teens use their phones this way. Anyone who considers themselves occasional users may also prefer paying as they go.

If you lack a credit history or have bad credit stemming from debt, prepaid plans are a good workaround to gain access to service. There is no credit check because payment is always up front, so students and adults who may be looking for something accessible and affordable could go the prepaid route.

Going prepaid is also another way to try out a carrier’s service without committing to anything. Carriers offer prepaid plans, sometimes with affordable devices available at a low cost, where you can test out their service and reception for a month or longer before going further.

What prepaid phones are available?

In most cases, any phone can function as a prepaid phone, but it’s usually more affordable models that carriers promote as options. These can include both low-cost smartphones and flip phones, the latter of which may be good choices for users who don’t need more than simply having a way to talk.

If you have an unlocked cell phone, you could use it with a prepaid plan, assuming there is no technical incompatibility. This could be a good way to reuse an older handset or give it to a family member or friend seeking coverage without committing to a regular monthly bill.

While there may be no roaming option with your prepaid plan, you could take your phone and swap out the SIM card for one with a local carrier in that country. Carriers across the globe offer prepaid plans, including special packages for travellers visiting for a short time. Most countries support the GSM network globally, as do most cell phones, though it’s best to do a little research before travelling to be sure your device is compatible.

Check out some of our resources on the Best Buy blog:

How to buy a cell phone