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Reliable means of communication is a must when living in a foreign country. Navigating internet and cell-phone providers in the U.S. may be very different from the way you interact with these services in your home country.

Cell phones Heading link

In the U.S., mobile phones or devices (frequently called smartphones or cell phones) are a primary mode of communication. The variety of cell phone companies, also called “carriers” or “providers” in the U.S. is extensive. With a little research, you should be able to find the right cell phone and service that meet your needs and budget. Whether you intend to use the phone you brought with you from home or purchase a new phone in the U.S., consider researching options that have the best (reliable) coverage in the Chicago area.

Using your phone from home

Some international students and scholars prefer to keep their current phone from home and insert a U.S. SIM card (a Subscriber Identity Module “smart card” that stores data for GSM cell phone users). SIM cards may be purchased from US cell phone companies like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and many more. Just a reminder to make sure you obtain any needed codes to use your phone while abroad.

Purchasing a U.S. cell phone

Some international students and scholars decide to purchase a phone once they arrive in the U.S. Research on companies and available types of cell phone plans is highly recommended before you commit to purchasing a phone or a service plan.

Types of cell phone services plans – calling and data

The way in which you pay for your cell phone usage may vary in the U.S. There are a few different plan structures that include a monthly contract or service plan and a pay-as-you-go or pre-paid plan. With monthly contract plans, you pay a monthly base fee for and are provided with a fixed amount of minutes and data usage a month (specifics vary by carrier). For a pay-as-you-go or pre-paid plan, you pay for the service upfront and as-needed. Be sure to confirm coverage details directly with the cell phone provider. Both options may indicate a level of ‘data’ service. Having data service allows you to access the internet and web-based apps while not connected to Wi-Fi.

Tips when considering cell phone companies

Do your research! While there are many popular choices, be sure to check all details before committing to a company. Some helpful questions you may want to consider asking before purchasing are:

  • Can I use my current phone?
  • Do you charge for incoming and outgoing calls and texts?
  • Will my phone be compatible with GSM or CDMA international networks?
  • Is a deposit required? Will it be returned in full at the end of my contract?
  • Is there a monthly fee?
  • If there is a contract, is there a penalty for early termination?

Internet Heading link

Free Internet and/or Wi-Fi access is not universal in the U.S. Many businesses offer complimentary Wi-Fi access for paying customers and many universities and libraries also offer internet access for their students and patrons.

Access to internet/Wi-Fi on campus

Current students, faculty, and staff can utilize UIC Wi-Fi (use your UIC netID and login credentials to access the network) across campus. Visit Technology Solutions for a map of campus Wi-Fi hotspots.

Visitors to UIC may be eligible to use UIC-Guest or eduroam.

Access to internet/Wi-Fi In UIC Housing

If you are living on campus in UIC Housing, check out the UIC Housing website for details on how to connect.

Access to Internet/Wi-Fi Off-Campus

In the U.S., internet connectivity/access is considered a housing utility, just like gas, electricity, water, and cable TV. Setting up internet access in a residential setting may mean you will need to contact an internet provider directly. If you are living off-campus and renting an apartment or flat, check with your landlord to see if your unit is already connected and who your internet provider is so you can make arrangements to pay for service and learn how to access your network. Commuter and Off-Campus Life maintains a listing of utilities and amenities providers, including internet.