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Pre-paid Phone Cards    En EspaƱol



Prepaid phone cards providers may advertise a cheap alternative to expensive international calls but be aware!  Hidden fees, and high minutes rates may make it very expensive.

Pre-Paid phone cards allow you to pay for telephone calls, domestic or international, in advance. Prepaid telephone calls are usually made by calling a toll-free number and entering a Personal Identification Number (PIN) printed on the card.  The minutes used are then deducted from the card based on country-specific call rates set by the prepaid phone card provider. 

This may be very convenient and might even save you money but are you getting what you paid for? Some cards charge connection fees, have minimum charge fees or other miscellaneous fees that will cause the phone card to run out of minutes before expected. Before selecting a phone card, make sure you know what you should consider. Use the following information as a checklist before making a purchase.


  • Check the card's package or in-store advertising for domestic and international rates. If you cannot find the rate, consider buying a different card.  If possible, document any posted rates by taking a cell phone picture of the posted rates.
  • Some providers post rates on their website, but many do not, and you must call customer service or listen to the “minutes available” announcement at the start of a call.
  • Compare rates.  Very low rates, particularly for international calls, may be a warning sign that the card will not deliver the number of advertised minutes.
  • Providers may charge different rates for calls to/from mobile phones and can even base rates on the cellular supplier.  For example, a call to Dominican Republic is $0.04 per minute, the same call to Dominical Republic Cellular is $0.15 per minute.
  • International rates may be different based on the destination of the call within a country.  For example, one provider lists a rate of $0.01 for a call to Lima, Peru, and $0.33 for a call to Rural Peru.
  • When comparing rates, be aware of Rounding which is how a prepaid phone card vendor counts minutes.  Some vendors round off calls to a full minute, and other charge your card in six second or ten second intervals. The shorting the billing interval, the better for not losing value on your card.


  • Surcharge/Connection Fee – A per call surcharge is often added.  This fee may be charged even when a call is not answered.  One provider charges a $0.99 fee for each call placed from a public phone.
  • Maintenance Fee – Some providers charge a maintenance fee that can begin when you first use a card, even to check the rates.  Fees can be charged daily, weekly or monthly.  A typical weekly fee is $1.00.  A $3-$5 card would quickly reach a zero balance without placing a call.
  • Other Fees – Check for fees to dial the access number, call a mobile number or even a fee to end a call.  One provider was found to have a 15% “Communication Fee.”  These fees are generally taxes and government surcharges.

Other Factors

  • Make sure the card comes in a sealed envelope or that the PIN is not visible. Otherwise, anyone can copy the PIN and use your telephone minutes.
  • Ask the retailer about the return policy if the card does not deliver the number of minutes advertised.  Make sure that the policy is in writing. Take a cell phone picture of the policy if it is displayed in the store.
  • Make sure you can understand the instructions on the card. Know how to use the card when calling from a mobile device.  Many consumers are faced with a huge cellular phone bill when trying to use a prepaid phone card on their cell phone.
  • Check expiration dates, if you do not use all the minutes before the expiration date, you may lose them.
  • As much as possible, use a reputable company based on referrals from people that you trust.  Common complaints about prepaid phone cards are, access numbers that are always busy, poor quality calls, and card issuers going out of business.
   For more information on prepaid phone cards