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What are Prepaid Phone Cards?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 17, 2024
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Prepaid phone cards can refer to two different things. First, one might purchase a cell phone that only accepts prepaid minutes, and does not have a monthly service fee or contract -- that would require the purchase of a prepaid phone card to "load up" the minutes onto the phone. Most commonly, however, prepaid phone cards refer to cards that allow the user to make long distance calls without signing up for long distance service with a telephone company.

Prepaid phone cards are convenient for travelers, students, or people who frequently make long distance or international calls. They are sold virtually everywhere, and can be purchased online or in most stores, including gas stations and convenience stores. They are sold in various increments, so you can choose the amount of time you need without having to worry about running up a big long distance bill.

Do not purchase a prepaid calling card in a larger amount than you need. Most have expiration dates, so they will become invalid after a certain date. Some may also have inactivity fees, so even if they do not expire, the amount of time on the card will slowly decrease over time even if you are not using it. Most prepaid phone cards will need to be activated when purchased, by calling a number on the back of the card and entering a personalized identification number (PIN). The PIN is usually scratched off once the card is purchased; do not purchase a calling card where the PIN is already visible.

Some prepaid phone cards might have hidden fees, so read the fine print before buying. These hidden fees might include a connection fee, even if the call does not complete. Some users complain of poor call quality or frequent busy phone lines when using prepaid minutes, so you may want to experiment with a few different carriers to see which provides the best service. Some prepaid phone cards can be continuously reloaded with minutes.

Prepaid phone cards can be a great way to save money or to stick to a long distance budget. If you are calling a specific country, you may be able to shop around for the best rates because there are so many different calling cards available. Some businesses also use these phone cards when traveling frequently. It is also a good idea for parents to buy their kids prepaid phone cards while they are away at college to encourage them to call home more frequently.

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Discussion Comments
By anon351783 — On Oct 16, 2013

That's true. I don't see a reason not to use international phone cards, because when you call from your phone directly to other country it's too expensive. When I call another country, I use phone cards online or voip, which is the same thing. If you use a phone card online, you get it in your email box.

Some sites offer low rates for long distance calls and you can refill your AT&T or Verizon cell phone with discounts. I don't think you get any discounts if you buy phone cards at the grocery store, but online you get discounts. So I think the best way is buying online.

By anon332670 — On Apr 30, 2013

In my personal opinion, I think it is better to have a prepaid phone card, because you pay for how long you talk. In my case I have an account with Distance Calling because I can use that card from anywhere in the world as if I were calling from the US. The rates are really low!

By drtroubles — On Jan 10, 2012

Later this year I am going to be doing quite a bit of traveling and am wondering if I should buy some international prepaid phone cards in advance or buy them from the countries I visit?

I am not sure if prepaid phone calling cards can be used from anywhere or only from the country you are currently in. I suppose if all else fails I can try some of the prepaid calling services available online. I am just worried that in some of the places I go that Internet services will be limited and I need to stay in touch with my employer and family while I travel.

By manykitties2 — On Jan 10, 2012

@animegal - You sound a lot like me when it comes to using your cell phone. I hate having a phone on me because when I am out I want to be left to my own devices.

For myself I prefer using cheap prepaid phone cards so that I don't have to worry about a bill for things I don't use. If you are a casual cell phone user you can find prepaid cards with carryover minutes so you don't lose your time if you don't use it all. I would just shop around for the text messaging charges. Some providers have better deals than others and you might be able to find a service that matches what you want exactly.

By animegal — On Jan 09, 2012

Do you think that it is a better to go with prepaid cell phone cards or to have a plan?

I don't use a cell phones very much and when I do it is mostly just for text messaging and touching base with friends when we are meeting up in a busy place. I actually borrow my mom's cell phone when I go out but she is insisting that I should get my own so she doesn't have to field unexpected calls from my friends. I've told them to not to do it but I guess they don't listen that well. What can I say I never got into the whole cell phone craze.

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