Beware of Tracfone, Part 2

by JL Beeken on 4-16-2011

TracfoneWhen I left this saga, Tracfone was mailing a SIM card to a hotel in the U.S. Traveling through the U.S. without a phone, and fortunately without need of one, I arrived at said hotel and found the SIM card waiting for me.

The next evening I called Tracfone Customer Care as I was instructed. Following more instructions, phone propped on one shoulder, magnifying glass in the other hand, phone periodically sliding off the desk due to its short cord and smashing onto the floor (you still there?) I got the new SIM card into the phone.

This card will expire in 60 days unless I keep the phone activated by regularly buying minutes. That doesn’t make sense, of course, because I don’t live in the U.S. and I don’t need minutes that go on and on and on. If I don’t keep buying minutes but return to the U.S. after 60 days, I will need a new SIM card again. However, Tracfone cannot mail SIM cards outside the U.S.

This brings up an interesting question and I forgot to ask. Is Tracfone incapable of mailing to addresses outside the U.S. (I’m tempted but I won’t go there) or is this a border issue? Are SIM cards from foreign countries considered serious contraband?

Assuming that this would not violate any International SIM Card Treaties, I could do something like this: Two months* before my next trip, ask Tracfone to mail a SIM card to the U.S. zip code of my choice. Ask the inhabitants of said zip code to forward the SIM card to me at my present address in my foreign country.

*I live about 3 feet north of the U.S. border and it can take a month to get mail from 100 miles away. I think they send it to a sorting center in LA first, then re-route it through Chicago and New York and it enters Canada through Montréal. British Columbia is in the western part of Canada. West, people, west!

It would be considerably quicker if someone could jog it up to the border and pass it across the fence.

I’m not saying this will work. I’m just saying you have to think about this creatively.

New SIM card in the phone, I then tried to activate the phone by buying minutes. After a long round of info-gathering, she said the payment was not accepted and did I have another credit card to try? As a matter of fact, I do have a second credit card but that’s not the issue.

The issue is that Tracfone cannot process payments from non-U.S. credit cards without duress. You’d think all the Tracfone employees would have this down by now, but they don’t. By the time she put through a special request for my international payment to be accepted I would be either home again or dead on the side of the road from some gawd-awful emergency that required a phone when I didn’t have one.

She said I could still buy minutes by going to a store and buying a Minutes Card. I asked, Which store would that be? She said she couldn’t tell me. Which came out sounding like she wasn’t allowed to tell me. While I was mulling over what that could possibly mean, I guess she thought better of it and decided she could tell me. She rattled off a list of stores. I said I’m in a hotel in a strange city and I don’t know where any of those places are.

It was almost dark; I was tired. I thought if go out and buy minutes I won’t need the phone tomorrow. If I don’t go out and buy a Minutes Card I’ll need the phone tomorrow. I dragged myself out to the car, drove around the neighbourhood but didn’t recognize any of the stores she listed. I went back to the hotel thinking maybe I can buy minutes on the road out of town.

But then I’ll need a phone to activate my phone and I don’t see pay phones around much anymore. So, I’d have to flag down a stranger in a parking lot and borrow their cell phone to activate my cell phone. And I thought this is making me think way too much and life just can’t be this cruel.

So I drove back to Canada without a phone. Nothing happened. I just drove home like I’ve done a thousand times before there was such a thing as cellphones.

Just a teensy-weensy suggestion here: In this age when people can go to the Moon or hop a plane about as easily as we’d hop on a bicycle back in my day, isn’t it about time we moved on to border-less cellphones?

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer Crockett 4-16-2011 at 6:18 PM

Do you have anything in Canada called “international roaming” where you can use your usual cell phone? Also, there are “international sims” available. Not being much of a cell phone usere, I have never used them, but know of others who have.

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JL 4-16-2011 at 6:27 PM

If you have one of those fancy expensive cell phones, then Yes.

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Anonymous 5-25-2011 at 8:02 AM

When you use prepaid in the US, they can not reserve a phone number for you forever, because every provider has a limited set of numbers available.

So when you use prepaid and take long breaks, somebody else will get your phone number.

You have different options to deal with this:

A) The easiest but most annoying method: You get always a new number and tell your people always the new number.

B) You try to get Google Voice or another Phone Provider where you can redirect phone calls the phone number you have at the moment. But when you call people they will see the number you are using, so you have to tell them the Google Voice number.

C) You get an android phone with unlimited web like the Samsung Prevail from Boost Mobile. There you can install the Google Voice App or apps from other VoIP Providers directly. This allows you to receive and make calls from your VoIP or Google Voice number.

If I would be you, I would try to get a Google Voice number. This gives you the most freedom and the numbers are free.

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mike 12-14-2011 at 7:35 AM

Tracfone still offers CDMA (verizon towers) phones in zip codes where GSM service is poor. Don’t recall any particular ones right off hand but an internet search will get them for you. If you give one of those zip codes as the activation areas they will sell you a CDMA phone. That way you don’t have to putz around with the stupid SIM card. Just reactivate in a CDMA zip code each time you need it.

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JL 12-14-2011 at 11:17 AM

Are they for sale outside the U.S.?

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Mark 7-16-2013 at 11:52 AM

Simple solution – go to the US, stop at first Walmart you see (only slightly fewer Walmarts than Starbucks), buy phone and card for number of minutes you plan to use on trip, ask staff to activate it for you, call whoever you want in North America (read instructions for calling to Canada).

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JL Beeken 7-16-2013 at 4:23 PM

You obviously didn’t read the part about traveling 100 miles or more through bush before arriving at anywhere there could possibly be a Walmart.

The issue is not how to call Canada. It’s how to have a functioning Tracfone as soon as I cross the border into the U.S.

But, thanks for making it all so ‘simple’.

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Elisabeth 9-11-2013 at 11:14 AM

I tried to get Tracfone to send me a new simcard as mine was last active some 6 months ago. Called them like you said from outside the US that is, hoping they could send a new card to my hotel. The representative said I needed to buy airtime first. I do have a US credit card but he started talking about ‘your SIM card might be defective’. There was no suggestion given about resolving this, terrible customer service (or actually: I am now not a customer anymore obviously). I don’t have time to mess with this if I am in the US for a week. It is very strange how they make calling so difficult in the US, last year in New York I found there was no way to call collect anymore, or to use payphones for calling to Europe, or to buy minutes for the Tmobile account I used to have. Finally found tracfone after a week, but as it appears now, this too is not very ideal.

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JL Beeken 9-11-2013 at 1:04 PM

Was your SIM card expired or was 6 months still within range? Maybe the support person misunderstand. Or maybe they just didn’t have a clue. When I think I know what I’m talking about and tech support doesn’t I ask for another person or hang up and try again and hope to get someone else.

You can’t BUY more minutes unless your SIM card is functional because the SIM is what gives the phone its phone number. You can’t buy minutes for a phone number that doesn’t exist.

I talked to the ‘higher ups’ about the difficulty of getting a Tracfone ready for crossing into the U.S., and they seemed sympathetic to what I was saying, but that was a couple years ago and I never heard another word about it or noticed any changes. I guess they’re making so much money with the U.S. market that they don’t care about the business they’re throwing away.

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Elisabeth 9-12-2013 at 1:19 AM

Thanks. Yes it is expired and I just wanted a new SIM so I could add minutes on it then. Maybe I should have asked for another person, I am usually just stunned by bad representatives and listen in wonder at their silences. Thanks however for writing this guide to tracfone.

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JL Beeken 9-12-2013 at 9:03 AM

I suspect there’s a high turnover in these types of jobs so you could be talking to someone who’s working their first day. They think they know everything they need to know and then someone like you throws them a curve ball. I think the appropriate response from them would be, Please hold while I ask someone else.

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