Tracfone SIM: International Travelers

TracfoneTracfone is a pay-and-talk service that works in the U.S. only. It’s illegal to try to make it work anywhere else.

Because service time and minutes are purchased on a pay-as-you-go basis, non-U.S. residence and sporadic travel to the U.S. can create problems with the SIM card expiring.

The Tracfone SIM card contains all your network information including your phone number. When your SIM card expires, so does your phone number. You can’t add more minutes to your Tracfone if your SIM card has expired.

The reason Tracfone expires SIM cards is because they want to be able to re-use your phone number if you’re not using it. You have to keep purchasing more minutes for your phone or after a certain amount of time they consider your phone inactive and your SIM card along with it.

First of all, you need a Tracfone. You can buy them in the U.S., at Rite-Aid Drugs, Target, RadioShack, Walmart and various other places. Or you can buy them online. They appear to ship only to U.S. addresses, so if you’re at the point you’re wondering what to do about an expired SIM card, I’m assuming you already have one.

You can buy an Airtime card separately or, initially, in conjunction with the phone. For instance, 30 service days with 30 minutes included, 90 services days with 60 minutes included and on up from there. If you’re in the U.S. you can buy Airtime online, by phone or at a retail outlet.

Maintaining the Airtime you need when you’re living in the U.S. works easily. For occasional travelers to the U.S. who don’t need a constant stream of U.S. phone time it’s do-able but there are some hoops to jump through.

Assuming you already have a Tracfone from a previous visit and you’re traveling in the U.S. regularly, you simply need to keep your phone active by buying more airtime as your time or your minutes expire. You can’t do this online outside the U.S. as they’re not set up to process non-U.S. credit cards. But you can phone them.

To reach an actual person call 1-800-867-7183, press 5, then wait til you hear ‘all other issues’ and press 4.

Tracfone SIM cards

If you travel to the U.S. only occasionally, this is where it gets tricky. If your phone is active but you don’t use it for two months your SIM card will expire and you’ll need a new one.

For instance, if I purchase Airtime of 90 service days with 60 minutes of calling time and I go to the U.S. for 3 days, then come home to Canada and toss the phone in a drawer, two months later everything is de-activated and the SIM card expires.

If I go to the U.S. again 6 months later, I’m starting from scratch. If you need a new Tracfone SIM card, call the above number and request one. They’re free.

The Tracfone Terms & Conditions lay out the issue of expiring SIM cards. They don’t use that language precisely but that’s what they’re talking about.


If you do not purchase and add airtime prior to the Service End Date or Due Date or before your Service Days run out your TRACFONE Service will be deactivated on the Service End Date or Due Date and you will lose your TRACFONE phone number, even if you have minutes remaining. To prevent this from occurring, please keep your TRACFONE Service active by purchasing and adding one or more airtime cards before the Service End Date, Due Date or when no Service Days are left. Notwithstanding the Service End Date, Due Date or Service Days left, as may be displayed on your TRACFONE, TracFone Wireless reserves the right to discontinue service and deactivate any TRACFONE handset for which there is no voice, text or Data Services usage for a period of twelve (12) consecutive months. If your Service is deactivated, your TRACFONE can be reactivated by purchasing and adding any TRACFONE Prepaid Wireless Airtime card. However, once reactivated, your TRACFONE will be assigned a new phone number. Airtime which remained at the time of deactivation will remain on your TRACFONE if it is reactivated within 60 days from the deactivation date. However, airtime which remained at the time of deactivation will be lost if your TRACFONE Service remains deactivated longer than 60 days.

International SIM cards

There is no such thing as an international SIM card for a Tracfone. International SIM’s require an unlocked phone where you can switch SIM cards as you change carriers, or you can get around the issue by having a smart-phone with international roaming.

In order to get a new Tracfone SIM card you have to have one sent to a U.S. address. They will not mail them outside the U.S.

I’ve recently found an address close to the border that can be used for any U.S. mail that I’m willing to drive down and pick up myself. This would obviously be handy for picking up a new SIM card on my way deeper into the U.S.

If you’re having to drive miles and miles to where your new SIM card is being sent that obviously defeats the purpose.

If your Tracfone is de-activated and you get a new SIM card you have one year to re-activate your phone. So, if you’re planning to travel to the U.S. you have lots of time to plan how to get a new Tracfone SIM card. You could possibly have it sent to a friend’s address and have them forward it to you. They say it will arrive at the U.S. address within 3-5 business days.

Re-activating Your Tracfone

Once you have a valid SIM card you can re-activate your Tracfone by adding minutes to it. You can do this while you’re outside the U.S. but only with a U.S. credit card.

My personal experience with this is that I was not able to add minutes online as they don’t process non-U.S. credit cards. But I was able to buy minutes over the phone after sending their support people into a fair bit of confusion and resistance and finally being escalated up the food chain.

If you already have a Tracfone, the other option is to get on a land-line the minute you cross the U.S. border to Tracfone support (1-800-867-7183). They will re-activate your phone through your purchase of Airtime, at which time you should be able to use your non-U.S. credit card because you’re now in the U.S.

You will also be assigned a new phone number which you can find in your Tracfone‘s menu. You cannot choose this number yourself. It’s assigned automatically through the system.

9 thoughts on “Tracfone SIM: International Travelers

  1. beldin

    I am a regular traveller to the USA and have always bought myself a Tracfone on arrival. I have tried other cellphone companies but, for me, Tracfone has been the most reliable, cost effective and a good coverage. I always buy the $20 for 90days card and then get more minutes as I require them. This has been a great service for me and I am most grateful to Tracfone.

  2. Nicholas Staber

    Dear, Mr. Beeken

    If you have time can you please answer this question. My Tracfone’s SIM card is expired. It tells me to contact customer service. Have you ever had this problem. When you called once you were stateside (in the US) were they able to reactivate the phone with your existing SIM card? What did you have to provide them? I am assuming the IMEI and the SIM card number. I am worried that once I arrive they will not be able to activate my old phone when I am talking with customer service. My plan was to have them send a SIM card to my sister-in-law’s address (in the US) just in case the reactivation doesn’t work on with the 1-800 number. This way I would have a new SIM card to try to activate if it doesn’t work with customer service. Great blog by the way.

    1. JL Beeken Post author

      Your question is completely answered in the post, if you’ll please read it again.

      As the post says, if your SIM card is expired you can’t reactivate it. You have to get a new SIM card. When you get a new SIM card (at a U.S. address only) it has to be activated within one year.

      Once I was in the U.S. I called them to activate the new SIM card that I picked up at the hotel. First, they walked me through putting the new SIM card in my phone. And then they activated it. I didn’t have to provide them with anything except payment for minutes. The point is the new SIM card has the number and they know what that is. The old SIM card was irrelevant.

  3. B. Chappell

    As a Canadian living in close proximity to the U.S.A. My wife and I each have a Tracfone with triple minutes. We just purchase one year cards with 400 minutes (1200 minutes with triple minutes) once a year and never have to worry about changing numbers or sim cards. That’s 20 hours of talk time each a year for $100.00 each.
    We love our Tracfones…

    1. JL Beeken Post author

      That sounds like a good plan if you’re traveling regularly, using lots of phone time and $100 is a good deal.

      I only wanted a phone in case of emergency and was crossing the border twice a year. For me, not a good deal. But then the hassle of getting a new SIM card and only being able to get it AFTER I’d arrived at my destination made no sense either. Thankfully, I’m staying home these days.

  4. B. Chappell

    Sorry, I misunderstood. On 5-25-2012 you said you where a regular traveler to the U.S.A.

    1. JL Beeken Post author

      “Regular” could mean anything. And it has, depending on the year. It doesn’t matter. You made a good suggestion for anyone for whom $100/year is a good deal.

  5. Rhonda

    Thanks for this post. I’m an American so course it figures I’d get better in the way of customer service and explanation by going online and reading a post written by a Canadian years ago than I would by calling Tracfone customer service, here in supposedly America, and speaking with them directly in person today.
    Your post explained everything I needed to know and more and all without the usual maze of prompts, being placed on hold and wait times usually associated with calling their tech support. Again thanks so much


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