How to choose a prepaid mobile data plan

Data-only SIM cards can give you freedom from two-year contracts and high-priced smartphone hardware. They’re also great if you’re travelling internationally, or if you have an old smartphone or LTE-enabled tablet that you want to use off-contract.

These seven pre-paid SIM cards will give you plenty of options, whether you’re travelling internationally, looking for talk and text or just want monthly data.

Things to know before you buy

Compatibility can get confusing when you start considering pre-paid SIM cards, but the most important thing you’ll need to know is whether your device is GSM or CDMA. If you aren’t sure what the difference is, this article from DigitalTrends lays it out clearly. Some devices, including newer models of the iPhone, can operate on both GSM and CDMA — but it can get complicated depending on your carrier.

You’ll also need to ensure you have an unlocked device — meaning it’s not tied to a contract with a carrier. Devices can be unlocked by carriers, which was a big win a few years ago when the FCC and CTIA implemented guidelines around the practice — but you can also purchase unlocked devices. If you don’t have an unlocked device, or one that’s compatible with the SIM card or plan you’re interested in, most pre-paid carriers offer discounted, refurbished devices.

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