This is a purely informative post. Of late, I have received emails from some of you who have made it to a grad school in the US. First, congratulations to all of you !!!! Second, as you all requested, I have decided to write a few posts on life here. Feedback from students who are already here and would like to add more in the comments section are most welcome. This post is based on the way the telephone system works here. Of course things may vary from place to place, and many of you might already know whatever I have written here. Nevertheless, I hope this information is useful to some of you.
In the first few days that you come here, you will be looking for good plans. There are a few providers here like Verizon, T-Mobile, Cingular, etc. and each have their own plans to choose from. Applying for a credit card may take a while, so if you have a good friend who is willing to help, you can get a phone in his/her name and keep paying the bills every month.
I was not aware of the many options by providers, and I was more confused than ever. However, G helped me out in all this. Now, I have a mobile connection that allows me 600 minutes of free talk time a month. Weekends are free. Let me explain to you what this means.
The US is a huge country. Naturally, the states fall here under 5 time zones. The eastern coast is ahead of the western coast by 3 hours. That means while your friend in the eastern coast would be eating lunch, you would still wonder what to make for breakfast.
According to my plan (that is, the option I have chosen for my cell phone), no matter which time zone I am in, 9pm to 7am and weekends are free for me. That means during this time, I can call up anyone in the US in any time zone and that would be free for me. Of course I pay an amount for this at the end of every month. Unlike in India where we buy cards worth money, here we buy plans worth time. So I get 600 minutes of talk time free. This means that anytime on weekdays 7am to 9pm I call someone, minutes will be deducted. The pulse is per minute. Once your 600 minutes are exhausted, you pay extra. If you pay more while choosing your plan, you can choose from more number of talk times. I especially like the system here because the free timings ensure that you usually keep all your phone calls for the night after you are done with work, and whatever calls you make during work time are short, important conversations.
Most universities have student rooms or computer labs with their own phones. So if you want to make local calls, it is best to use the university phone. Anywhere you need to call within the campus, you just need to punch in the last 5 digits of the phone number.
Most phone numbers are a 10 digit number where the first 3 digits are the area code. Some states might have more than one area code.
Usually, the cell phone comes free with the plan. And these are cool sets with camera and other stuff.
Sending and receiving texts both cost you.
Calling and receiving calls both use up your minutes. So even receiving calls (except from 9pm to 7am and in the weekends) is not free.
There is something called a family plan where you can include a number when you choose your plan. So you might live in Oregon while your husband/boyfriend lives in New Jersey. Including him in the family plan will ensure that all calls made at any time of the day are free.
I have been using the Reliance calling card (where you can but cards worth $5, $10, $25, $50, $100, or $200) and get talking minutes accordingly. However there are other calling cards too, and you must make some market research before you choose a particular card. You keep on recharging on the net once your talk time gets over.
There is another option called the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone. You need to install a phone in India, pay some $40 for having it installed, have broadband net connection back in India, and then make unlimited calls at home @ approximately $10 a month. Your folks pay nothing. If there are more than one phone numbers you regularly call in India, you must install more than one phone.
That in general is how the telephone system works here. However, it is always better to do your own research before you choose a plan. Any feedback or further information on whatever I might have missed out is most welcome.