The best prepaid cell phone plans in 2023: the 7 best ones

5G logo on the Motorola Edge (2022).
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

There was once a time when prepaid cell phone plans meant getting only basic calling features and limited data. Thankfully, that’s changed. Many of today’s prepaid plans offer many of the same core features of the best cell postpaid phone plans, including high-speed 5G data, unlimited calling and texting, and even international roaming — all without the need to commit to a contract.

Not only that, but you can often find prepaid plans at far lower prices, even if you’re only setting up a single line. While traditional carrier plans give their best discounts for families and other groups, many prepaid plans lead with their best price right out of the gate.

Plus, since today’s prepaid plans run on the big three carrier networks, you’ll enjoy the same great coverage and reliability as if you signed up directly with T-Mobile, Verizon, or AT&T. The only catch is that your speeds may sometimes be throttled to give right-to-way to those carriers’ own customers. However, with the capacity offered by modern 5G networks, that happens a lot less often than you might think in most places.

Nevertheless, with so many prepaid plans out there, it can be a challenge to figure out which is the best for your needs. We’ve rounded up a few of the best choices and highlighted what each offers to help you decide. Let’s dive in.

Best overall value and experience

Ultra Mobile

Ultra Mobile lifestyle image woman sharing phone sponsored
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Ultra Mobile allows you to stay connected with what matters most, thanks to free unlimited talk and text to over 90 international destinations. That way, if you have family in another country, you can still catch them up on everything happening in your life and check up on them whenever you want. Single and multi-month plans are available with free nationwide coverage, access to ultra-fast 5G networks, and high-speed 5G and 4G LTE data. Wi-Fi calling, texting, and free mobile hotspot access are also available.

They also operate on a buy more, save more principle, which means the more you spend with Ultra Mobile, the more you’ll save in the long run. For example, 1-month plans start at $15 per month, billed monthly, but if you pay for 12 months, that goes down to $10 per month, billed annually, saving you 33% off. There are similar discounts for all of Ultra’s other plans, including their Unlimited option. Single-month plans are also eligible for auto-renewal discounts, which net you roughly 10% off a monthly plan with auto-renewal.

Ultra Mobile is everything you need to keep in touch with friends, family, and communities, no matter how far. While most carriers limit your out-of-country communications or charge a hefty price, Ultra Mobile does not. You’ll even get free talk and text in Mexico and Canada, something that’s not available through most competitors.

All of this is available with no contracts or no term commitments. You’re free to come and go as you please. You can bring your own device or phone number if you would like, and Ultra has a best-in-class multi-lingual care team ready to help you through the sign-up process. Of course, account management is super easy and can always be done through the Ultra Mobile app or online. It’s one of the most affordable, international-friendly wireless carriers out there.

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Best value prepaid phone plan

Mint Mobile Unlimited

A Mint Mobile sim card placed at an angle.
Mint Mobile

Since it runs on T-Mobile’s 5G Ultra Capacity network, Mint Mobile is one of the fastest and most reliable prepaid 5G plans available. However, it’s also one of those ironic situations where you’ll only get the best deal by making a longer-term commitment.

Unlike most prepaid plans, Mint Mobile doesn’t run month-to-month; instead, you prepay for a three-, six-, or 12-month package, and the longer the subscription, the greater the savings.

While you’ll need to shell out $360 for a year of service to get the best monthly price of $30/month for its Unlimited plan, new customers can also sign up for a three-month trial at that rate, paying only $90/month up-front. If you don’t want to commit to a whole year after that, you can sign up for three months for $120 ($40/month) or six months for $210 ($35/month). Mint Mobile also often has promos where you can lock in a few months at even lower rates — sometimes as low as $15/month.

Mint Mobile also makes it really easy to get up and running if you’re sporting a smartphone that uses an eSIM, such as a Samsung Galaxy S23, iPhone 15, or Google Pixel 8, as you can sign up entirely online and have your plan active on your phone within minutes. However, even if you need a traditional SIM, Mint Mobile will send you one at no extra charge — you’ll just need to wait for it to arrive.

The Mint Mobile Unlimited plan still has a 40GB data cap, which means you’ll experience slower speeds if you use more than that in a month. The same is true for its 5GB, 15GB, or 20GB plans, so you can save a bit more money if you know you won’t need as much high-speed data on a regular basis. Mobile hotspot access is also included on all plans, although the Unlimited plan caps that at 10GB, which is odd considering that the 15GB and 20GB plans don’t have a separate mobile hotspot limit, so you may want to consider opting for one of those if you plan to tether a lot.

Best budget prepaid phone plan

Visible

Visible wireless phones and plans featured
Visible

One of the great things about Visible is its focus on providing simple, no-nonsense plans to get you online with no hidden fees and a minimum of fuss. Choosing a plan on Visible is easy, as the prepaid carrier only offers two options: Visible and Visible+, both of which run on Verizon’s 5G network.

If you’re on a budget, Visible is the one to get. You’ll pay only $25 per month for 5G access, truly unlimited data, and no long-term commitment. It even includes light mobile hotspot capabilities and unlimited talking and texting to the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

However, it’s worth noting that the standard Visible plan will only give you access to Verizon’s slower 5G Nationwide network, so you won’t get the fastest 5G speeds available. Don’t be scared away by that, though, as you should still be able to get up to 56Mbps — which is more than enough for surfing, streaming, and hanging out on social media.

Unlike most carriers, Visible doesn’t have a specific threshold where it will slow down your data speeds. Although mobile hotspot speeds are capped at 5Mbps and only allow for a single connected device, surfing from your smartphone will always operate at the fastest 5G speeds available on Verizon’s 5G Nationwide network. However, you may sometimes experience slowdowns during busier times of the day to make way for Verizon customers.

If you do want faster speeds, the $45/month Visible+ plan will give you access to Verizon’s faster 5G Ultra Wideband network, with 50GB of “premium” data at the fastest possible speeds each month, plus unlimited talk, text, and data roaming in Canada and Mexico.

Best prepaid phone plan for perks

Metro by T-Mobile Unlimited

Metro by T-Mobile announcement.
T-Mobile

As you can probably guess from the name, Metro by T-Mobile is the prepaid branch of the well-known “uncarrier.” This means you’re operating on T-Mobile’s expansive and fast 5G network, so you can rest assured that coverage won’t be a problem; T-Mobile recently announced that its 5G Ultra Capacity network now covers over 300 million people — that’s 90% of the U.S. population.

However, Metro isn’t the only prepaid carrier that uses the T-Mobile network, so what you’re really getting here over competing options is many of the same perks that T-Mobile postpaid customers can enjoy. For $50/month (with AutoPay discount), you get unlimited high-speed 5G data, 8GB of lower-priority mobile hotspot data, a 100GB Google One membership, and a one-year subscription to Vix Premium. Unlike most prepaid carriers, this price also drops if you sign up for multiple lines.

Metro by T-Mobile also still offers some “Heritage” plans that may be worth checking out if you’re looking for other perks, including one that includes an Amazon Prime membership. However, you’ll have to contact customer service or visit a store to sign up for these.

While Metro prepaid customers will have to make way for T-Mobile users, which could result in slowdowns during peak periods, that’s unlikely to be a problem in most places; there’s a reason why T-Mobile calls its fastest 5G network Ultra Capacity.

Best prepaid phone plan for families

Cricket Unlimited

Cricket Wireless Logo
Cricket

Much like Visible is to Verizon and Metro is to T-Mobile, Cricket Wireless is AT&T’s prepaid subsidiary, and while it’s traditionally been a bit behind the curve with its data caps, it’s been catching up with the others. Its plans are particularly attractive for those who want good 5G speeds for the whole family.

At $50 with an AutoPay discount, the single-line unlimited plan isn’t anything to write home about. However, this drops to $80 for two lines ($40/line) or $100 for four ($25/line). You also get unlimited data on AT&T’s 5G+ network with no throttling other than the usual network prioritization for actual AT&T customers, plus free texting and calling to and roaming in Canada and Mexico.

As Cricket says, this is a “no-frills” plan, so you won’t get a mobile hotspot without paying for an extra add-on, but it does include unlimited texting to 37 countries and 2GB of cloud storage for your photos. You can also step up to the next tier for an extra $5/month for a single line or $30/month more for four lines to get 15GB of mobile hotspot data, 150GB of cloud storage, and a bundled Max with Ads subscription.

The biggest downside to Cricket Wireless is that you’re running on AT&T’s network, where you’ll get expansive but slow low-band 5G coverage but are much less likely to find yourself taking advantage of its fastest 5G+ service. This could make throttling a bigger problem, depending on where you live and how many AT&T customers are online at any given time.

Best prepaid phone plan for light users

Tello

Tello x Digital Trends featured image with prepaid cards.
Tello

Tello can save you a bundle if you’re looking for a very affordable plan and only need basic connectivity for calls and light data usage. For only $10/month, you can get a basic plan that provides 1GB of data and unlimited calling and texting to over 60 countries.

While that’s not a lot of data, it’s enough to ensure you can receive emails and messages while you’re out and about and even engage in some light music streaming, and you won’t need much more than that if you spend most of your time on Wi-Fi. Like most carriers, you won’t get cut off or charged more if you go over your allotment; things just slow down to “2G” speeds, which is enough to keep you connected to email and messaging services.

Since Tello’s plans are customizable and there are no contracts, you can also easily switch things up from month to month as your needs change. $14/month will get you 2GB of data, while you can go unlimited for $29/month. That higher tier isn’t necessarily competitive with the other options on our list, but it has the advantage that you can move up to that for a single month if you know you’re going to be out and about a lot in the summer and then step back down to the $10/month plan when you’re hunkering down at home base for the winter.

Tello also uses T-Mobile’s network, so you’ll get great 5G coverage nearly everywhere in the county. However, it goes without saying that you’ll be playing second-fiddle to T-Mobile’s higher-priority customers, so don’t expect the same mind-blowing speeds.

Best prepaid phone plan for travelers

Google Fi Wireless Unlimited

Google Fi Unlimited Plus banner showing woman talking on Pixel phone.
Google

One of the best prepaid plans out there comes from an unlikely corner. Google, the company best known for things like search and Gmail, got into the mobile carrier business a few years ago, and it offers one of the best plans you can get if you’re a serious world traveler.

Google Fi’s Unlimited Plus plan runs on T-Mobile’s network in the U.S., which means you’ll get the best 5G speeds and coverage available on just about any other prepaid carrier. However, where it really distinguishes itself is in its roaming arrangements. Unlike most carriers, which will charge you more if you stray outside of North American coverage, Google Fi offers unlimited data in over 200 countries and regions around the world.

That means you’ll be able to get online almost anywhere you land without the hassle of switching out your SIM or adding a new eSIM. The unlimited data allotment is also the same across the board; you’ll merely be throttled to slower speeds after you’ve used 50GB in a given month, whether you’re using that data at home or abroad.

You also get unlimited standard cellular calls and texts in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, Wi-Fi calling back to North America while traveling, 100GB of Google Drive storage and VPN service with Google One, and a year of YouTube Premium thrown in.

In addition to mobile hotspot data that allows for up to 10 Wi-Fi devices to join in, there’s full connectivity for your Google or Samsung smartwatch, such as the Google Pixel Watch 2 or Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 (as long as you’re using it with an Android device, of course), and the ability to share your data bucket with up to four tablets or other devices that use data-only SIMs at no extra charge.

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