T-Mobile USA recently started shipping their prepaid SIMs pre-activated. They arrive with a phone number assigned on the $3/month "pay as you go" plan. The SIMs can be used immediately and include a total of 30 free minutes and/or texts. While that sounds good for people who want to get up and running on T-Mobile as quickly as possible, it screws up several common uses of unactivated SIMs.
The biggest gotcha is with T-Mobile's $30/month plan which comes with a generous 5 GB of high speed data along with unlimited messaging and 100 voice minutes. It's a great plan for those of us that communicate mainly with texts and social media and don't make many calls. The winkle with the $30 plan is a joint promotion between T-Mobile and Walmart and is only available with phones or SIMs purchased from Walmart or when activating any T-Mobile SIM online. Because the new SIMs are preactivated it's not possible to activate them online and get the $30 plan. Users here and on Reddit who called T-Mobile customer support reported that were told that they can switch the pre-activated SIMs to any plan except the $30 plan.
The change to pre-activated SIMs doesn't seem very well thought out. I've asked T-Mobile to comment on the issues with $30 plan activation and storing SIMs for future use and will update the post if and when I get some answers.
Update: According to a T-Mobile spokesperson:
- Pre-activated SIMs must be activated within 60 days or they will be permanently deactivated.
- SIMs purchased online or through telesales, can be activated on the $30 plan by calling customer care.
- Customer care can transfer your existing account, phone number, service plan, and prepaid balance to a pre-activated SIM.
If you want a T-Mobile SIM that you can throw in a drawer for up to two years or activate on the $30 plan without calling customer care, unactivated T-mobile Prepaid SIM kits are available at BestBuy, Walmart and Target stores and online from Amazon and eBay.