You've spent the time to crunch numbers, check prices and find the phone and plan that fits into your budget.

Everything is going great. No need to eat only rice and beans this month.

Then the first bill rolls in...

What are all these added activation and SIM fees?

Much like bag fees at the airport, activation and SIM fees are often part of the standard (yet unmentioned) cost of phone service.

To make matters worse, they don't just pop up when you start service. If you upgrade phones or add a line to your plan, they're likely to show up on your bill yet again.

While you can sometimes ask your service provide to waive these fees, most won't... you're simply stuck paying.

But what are these fees exactly? 

Activation Fees

Most service providers claim the activation fee covers creating an account, setting up the various features and configuring your phone for accessing their network.

They typically charge between $10 and $45 per device you add to your plan.

Yes... these fees often apply to data-enabled tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots and other "non-phone" devices on your account as well. 

Essentially, you have to pay to become a customer.

Which seems outrageous if you ask us.

Fortunately, costs vary between service providers. Some don't charge at all. So you can possibly avoid this charge if you shop around.

And since they're usually charged per device, avoiding activation fees can save a ton of money--especially if you're on a family or multi-line plan.

SIM Card Costs
This charge is for providing and programming a SIM card to use in your phone.

As a SIM card is a key element of your mobile phone service, no SIM card often means no service.

These little plastic chips only cost a couple bucks each in bulk. It's not like they're expensive new technology.

So wouldn't it make sense to just include them in the cost of service? 

We think so... But some carriers still find a way to charge for it.

To further complicate matters, some carriers charge both fees.

Others have made big announcements that they're cancelling one type of fee only to raise the price of the other by the same amount... if not more.

The bottom line is, you need to keep these costs in mind when comparing cell phone companies.

To help keep track of the various SIM and Activation Fees, we've put together a chart that compares all the major carriers for you without having to jump between an endless list of sites!

CarrierActivation FeesSIM Card Prices

AT&T

$25 for financed devices or Bring Your Own Phone

$40 for select devices with a two-year agreement

$0.99 for prepaid SIMs

Monthly SIMs are free

More info at AT&T

Boost Mobile

Free activation for new phones

$10 activation fee for used phones

$9.99 for SIM kits More info at Boost Mobile
Consumer Cellular

No activation fees
No cost SIM More info at Consumer Cellular
Cricket

$25 activation fee
$9.99 for SIM kits More info at Cricket

MetroPCS

Free activation online

Activation fees at retail locations vary

$10 for SIM kits More info at MetroPCS  
MintSIM

No activation fees
Free SIM included with plan selection More info at Mint SIM
Net10 Wireless

No activation fees
$0.99 for SIM kits More info at Net10
Republic Wireless

No activation fees
$5 for SIM kits More info at Republic Wireless
Sprint

$30 activation fee
SIM kits available through retail - no price listed online More info at Sprint
Straight Talk

No activation fee
$0.99 for SIM kit More info at Straight Talk
T-Mobile

No activation fees

$10 for prepaid SIM kits

$25 for monthly plan SIM kits

Prepaid info at T-Mobile

Monthly Info

Tello

No activation fees
$9 for CDMA SIMs More info at Tello
Ting

No activation fees
$9 for SIM kit More info at Ting
Tracfone

No activation fees
$0.99 for SIM kits More info at Tracfone

US Cellular

No activation fee for Total Plans

$20 activation fee for financed devices

$45 activation fee for subsidized devices

Free SIM kits online through customer care

SIM kit prices at retail locations vary

More info at U.S. Cellular

Verizon Wireless

$35 activation fee on new lines of service

$25 upgrade fee for activating a new device on an existing line of service

$25 for SIM kits More info at Verizon Wireless


As the table shows, avoiding both fees is nearly impossible. But by choosing the right service provider, you can reduce your costs.

Many providers also waive or reduce fees if you complete your purchase and setup online. So be sure to check the carrier website before heading down to your local store.

We hope this chart helps save you money!

Note: We do our best to keep this page current, but fees are subject to change. We'd appreciate you letting us know if you spot any errors. Always confirm any addition fees with your carrier prior to starting a new line of service or making changes to an existing plan to avoid an unexpected expenses.