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Topping up mobile phone in USA

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MaryWitzl

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This will seem like a dumb question: how do you top up a mobile phone in the States? I've only done it in the U.K. and Cyprus, and I wonder if it's the same in America. Can you do pay as you go? Also, can you top up at a corner store, say? I hope so. My protagonist needs to top up, and I'm hoping she can do this in a mom-and-pop corner shop in San Francisco, but I thought I'd better check here first just in case the system is totally different.

I've exhausted my internet research on this. Everything I can find in the U.K. about mobile phone top ups in the U.S.  presumes that I'm British, wanting to use my mobile in the States. So annoying!

#1 - May 13, 2012, 07:22 AM
« Last Edit: May 13, 2012, 07:36 AM by MaryWitzl »

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To my knowledge, the only company in the states that uses the term "top up" is Virgin Mobile -- when i was a broke college student I had one of their "pay as you go" phones and what you did was, either you had a credit card on file and you could just text to add more minutes, or you could buy a card someplace and call the number on the back of it and add more that way I believe. (I always did it the first way).  HOWEVER, perusing their website,  I think they are phasing out that kind of plan.

AT&T has something similar, "GoPhone" - they call it "refilling" -- info on how to refill at the bottom of page:
http://www.wireless.att.com/cell-phone-service/cell-phone-plans/pyg-cell-phone-plans.jsp?wtSlotClick=1-007FTV-0-2
#2 - May 13, 2012, 07:33 AM
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I used to use a cheap Virgin Mobile pre-pay phone before I got my current phone and you could top up with a Top-Up card (which could easily be sold in the mom-and-pop shop, but we used to buy at a Target or chain drug store like Walgreens). 

You could also top up directly from your phone if you'd hooked up a credit card or bank debit card to your phone (but I didn't like to do this).  There was actually a "top up" button on the phone that would connect you to the company. 

You could also go online to your account and top up that way, which is mostly what I did.

#3 - May 13, 2012, 07:34 AM

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I also used to have a Virgin pay-as-you-go phone in the US! There are other companies but obviously Virgin and their top-up terminology and methodology is familiar to some of us.
#4 - May 13, 2012, 07:37 AM
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MaryWitzl

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THANK you, Literaticat, Jaina, and kell--that's exactly what I needed to know. A top-up card it is (once I find out the American term for it) and fingers crossed that if this story gets published, that concept won't be entirely out of living memory. Umm...what DO they call 'topping up' in America? I'd just assumed we called it the same thing they call it here.  How insidious these British terms for new things are...
#5 - May 13, 2012, 07:42 AM

If you're a Virgin Mobile user, you'd probably call it "topping up" because they do.  If you use one of these other pre-pay companies, you'd probably call it "adding minutes."

But I'd guess the vast majority of cell phone users have phones with contracts--even young people.  The costs for doing pre-pay by the minute are just outrageous, so it's best avoided, if you can.

Mostly, the "go phone" type phones seem to be marketed to--I hate to put it this way, but--illegal aliens who have a reason to not want to register with any kind of company or who don't have a credit record of any sort, so can't get the contract phone.  I gather they pay outrageous prices for brief calls back home because you see a lot of "$ a minute to Mexico" type posters up on the walls in cheaper mom-and-pop shops or convenience stores (what would be called a newsagent in the UK, I guess).
#6 - May 13, 2012, 07:49 AM

MaryWitzl

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Thank you, Susan--I'll change 'top up' to 'add minutes'. Or give my protagonist a different reason to go to the store . . .
#7 - May 13, 2012, 07:57 AM

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Yes, 'add minutes' sounds like a more accurate term. Um...and Virgin isn't the only one that does that. We have Tracfones at our house--they are the cheapest model of cell phone you can buy in the US, and you prepay. They have no apps, no photo capability, nothing. Well, maybe a calendar and an alarm clock. But they are pretty basic. You CAN get a contract plan if you want, but you can also get a card with a code you enter in (or just buy minutes on line) for as low as 60 minutes/3 months of calling time. Most people have "real" phones, though. :)

(And for the record, while I have been a resident alien plenty of times in other countries, I have always been legal--and am a US citizen. :) )
#8 - May 13, 2012, 08:14 AM

Hee Hee. I knew I was going to get in trouble for that!  My apologies. I had a pre-pay phone for years and I am legal until they outlaw weirdos, at least.
#9 - May 13, 2012, 08:16 AM

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Thank you, Olmue--good to know this. A Tracfone sounds perfect for this girl. And me, too. I've got a mobile that's smarter than me and I hate it.

I'm legal here too, and a US citizen to boot--though every time I have to ask questions about stuff like this, I feel a little bit more like Rip van Winkle.
I am legal until they outlaw weirdos, at least.
I live in fear they'll really do this some day.  :ha
#10 - May 13, 2012, 08:26 AM

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We have inexpensive Tracfones for our high school daughters--if they get lost or stolen, no big deal.  Whether they have texting or photo capabilities depends on the phone you buy--they have a variety of phones available.  When they graduate next year, they'll get put on our regular phone plan.  The rabbit rescue group I volunteer for just started renting a facility to use as a shelter, and they're planning on just using Tracfones rather than getting a landline.
#11 - May 13, 2012, 08:34 AM
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Hee Hee. I knew I was going to get in trouble for that!  My apologies. I had a pre-pay phone for years and I am legal until they outlaw weirdos, at least.

He he he. I wish this thread had been here four years ago when I arrived in the US! I've been using ATT on a pre-pay system (GoPhone, as literaticat mentioned) the whole time. And I pay more to do this!?! I had no idea... I assumed a monthly phone plan would be more because it usually worked out to be more in the UK. Hmmm... maybe I should have investigated before assuming.

And yes, I'm also legal. But I can see why someone who doesn't have lots of paperwork might want one too!
#12 - May 13, 2012, 08:59 AM

I've got a Virgin pay as you go plan! Also, I worked in wireless for years and agree that it's always "Add minutes" when you, well, add minutes to your prepaid plan. Most carriers have (or had) a prepaid plan...
oh my, my ads are for cell phones now! I love Big Brother... I mean Google...
#13 - May 13, 2012, 09:30 AM
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I use a t-mobile prepay because I use my mobile so little. I can add minutes on the phone or at their website.
#14 - May 13, 2012, 09:39 AM
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Yay Robin! I'm not the only person who actually has the Virgin pay-as-you-go plan, lol. They do call it topping up, but I agree that "add minutes" is probably more general. My phone actually just tops up automatically if my minutes get low. That might've been something I set up, but I don't even really know. I do know that it makes an obnoxious sound when it does, a sound it once made while I was sitting in the free seats at the ALA awards, and people around me looked at me, and I wanted to die; I so rarely carry a cell phone that I tend to forget to turn it off during something important. *cringes* *hates cell phones*
#15 - May 13, 2012, 12:26 PM
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We still have a landline and the four of us have four pre-paid phones. My phone is a bare-bones Virgin Mobile flip phone I've had for about 10 years -- the cost works out to about $7.50 a month. I carry it all the time but use it maybe five or six times a month, not counting texts to and from the sons. My husband's cell is a bare-bones US Cellular prepaid costs about $2.50/month because he rarely uses it; I top it up every 55-60 days or when the balance drops below $10 by punching a few buttons. Younger Son also has a US Cellular prepaid, but his came with a camera; I think he has it set up to refill at a certain level. Older Son has a TracFone after dropping his Verizon contract because he didn't use it that much. I don't remember if his does tricks or not.
#16 - May 13, 2012, 02:10 PM

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AnneB, I think you and I must have the same phone! I'm also on a Virgin Mobile pre-pay with a flip phone I've had for ages. I don't use it often. I'll probably switch (or at least get a new phone) soon, though. For some reason, my phone no longer has the capability to top up from the phone itself and I have to use my computer to do it.
#17 - May 20, 2012, 05:34 PM
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Carrie, I have mine set to top up automatically every two months or when the balance reaches a certain level, so I never have to worry about it. It always has been tricky to recharge, though; the plug has to make contact with the pin inside just so, and it's tricky doing that in the car because the slightest bump in the road jiggles it out of place! Eventually the pin will get bent and then I'll probably go for the local cell service, since I'm not traveling so much anymore.
#18 - May 21, 2012, 09:47 AM

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"add minutes" or "load more minutes" or "buy a new pre-paid card" or "reload" sounds about right. (They sell Virgin and Tracfone and Verizon Wireless pre-paid cards, that look a bit like plastic gift cards, at grocery stores and drug stores).

I've never heard of "top up," although "topping it off" is something you might do to, say, an ice cream sundae.

Take this with a grain of salt. I've not used a pre-paid phone, although my brother has. The only time I went over my minutes on my Verizon plan was three years ago, just before my wedding, when I was calling vendors and my fiance left and right. :) In that case, I called Verizon, talked to a customer service rep, and back-dated an upgrade to my minutes.

Sounds like everyone else gave more useful info, but hope this helps!
#19 - May 21, 2012, 08:58 PM
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