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.