Phone and Computer

When you come to the U.S., you will want to communicate with friends and family at home. You will also want to communicate with new friends you meet here. There are many ways to communicate in the U.S. Most are very easily accessible.


Cell phones
Mobile phones are almost more common in the U.S. than landlines. For many people, the mobile phone is the only one they have or need.

Many of the same companies that provide landlines also sell mobile phones. There are two ways to buy a mobile phone.

  1. Calling plan or contract.  You might want to sign a contract for your mobile phone use. A contract is usually required when you buy smartphones (Blackberry, iPhone, Droid, etc.). When you sign a mobile phone contract, you commit to one wireless phone company for a year or more.
    Some people prefer contracts because they provide more services for less money each month. You will need to speak with a sales representative to find out what is included with your contract, like:

    • Domestic phone calls
    • International phone calls
    • Text messaging (SMS)
    • Mobile Internet and email access
    To purchase a mobile phone contract, you must have a Social Security Number or credit card. The wireless phone company needs this to check your credit and make sure you can pay your bill each month.  If you don’t have a Social Security Number or credit card, you can still buy a prepaid mobile phone.
  1. Prepaid mobile phones. Prepaid mobile phones are similar to calling cards. When you purchase the phone, you also pay in advance for:
    • Phone call minutes (domestic or international)
    • Text messages
    With a prepaid mobile phone, you do not have to pay a bill each month. Instead, you can pay for additional minutes and text messages when what you paid in advance runs out. The sales representative will help you find a prepaid mobile phone has the services you need.
    Many wireless phone companies sell mobile contracts and prepaid phones. Some of these companies are:

    These companies all have stores and boutiques where you can buy your phone. The people who work in these stores can answer any question you have about phones, contracts and other mobile calling options.
  1. Calling cards. Calling cards are an affordable telephone option. These are not the same as credit cards.
    Like a prepaid mobile phone, you pay in advance for a certain amount of minutes that the card will provide. After you buy the card, it will provide you with a toll-free number (a number free to dial from any phone) and an access code to make phone calls. Calling cards come with dialing instructions in many languages.
    Read the card’s packaging carefully before you pay for it. You want to make sure it allows enough minutes. Also make sure you can use it to call the country you need to reach. Most calling cards can also be used for domestic calls.


Computer Use
To send and receive email, you’ll need access to a computer, smart phone or tablet that connects to the Internet. Most U.S. colleges and universities have plenty of public computers for students in libraries and labs. To use these computers you will need your campus email address and password.

You will likely want to buy your own computer. If so, it is recommended that you purchase a laptop. That way, if you need to travel elsewhere (like the library or a café) to get work done, your computer can come with you.

Buying a computer/laptop
You can always purchase a computer online, either new or used.

If you’ve never bought your own computer before, it might be best to buy a new one, in a store. You can avoid certain problems and speak with an expert that way. Before you go into the store, be prepared with information for the sales representatives:

  • What kind of operating system do you prefer?
    • Mac
    • PC
    • If you don’t know, the sales representative can help you decide.
  • What will you be using the computer for?
    • Email
    • Internet research and browsing
    • Word processing
    • Financial analysis
    • Graphic design
    • Games
  • How much space do you need on the computer? Remember, you might be saving files on it like:
    • Written documents
    • Photos
    • Music files
  • Do you need a computer that will last many years?

Many stores specialize in selling computers. Some of them are:

  • Dell
  • Apple

Keeping in touch via email, Skype/video chat and social networks

  1. Email
    There isn’t always time to talk on the phone or write letters. Email is a quick and easy way to keep in touch electronically.
    When you arrive in the U.S., you will have two email options:
    • Campus email address
    • Personal email address
    You can have both a campus email and personal email. In fact, you probably already have a personal email address that you used at home. You can still use it, but for different uses than your campus email.
    Your college or university will provide you with an electronic username and password. This information will give you access to:
    • A campus email address
    • Student Internet services
    • Library services and databases
    Your campus email address can be used for correspondence with:
    • Professors
    • Classmates
    • Campus offices and staff
    Sometimes, you can also use your campus email address to keep in touch with friends and family. Do be careful with personal information in emails. We are never sure how confidential email really is.
  1. Internet phone
    There are certain online services and software that will allow you to make phone calls to anyone, anywhere.
    All of these services require a high-speed Internet connection. They can be used to make phone calls or conduct live video chat via Internet. Some of these services include:
    • Skype – To use Skype, visit their website and download their software, which is free. After the download, create your account – also free- with a username and password.
      The person you wish to call might also have a Skype account. If so, you can conduct Internet phone calls and live video chats for free. But, you can also use Skype to call landline and mobile telephone numbers, for a charge. Skype’s website has plenty of information about these rates.
    • Google Voice – Google Voice is available to anyone with a Gmail email address. You can set up a Gmail email address here. Like Skype, Google Voice provides free Internet phone calls and live video chats between people who both have accounts. But, for a charge, you can also call landline and mobile telephone numbers. Learn more about these rates here