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Mail, Cell Phones and Internet

Mail and FedEx

Caltech Mail Services is a U.S. Post Office (USPS) and Federal Express office. USPS postage can be charged to a student or research account by writing the account number in the place on the envelope where the stamp would go. The Caltech FedEx contract allows you to send packages through Mail Services at drastically reduced prices.

Cell Phones

Phone numbers.  U.S. phone numbers have a three digit area code and a seven digit phone number.  If you are calling within an area code, you can just dial the phone number.  If you calling from one area code to another, you need to dial 1, the area code, and the phone number.   Local area codes include 626 (Pasadena), 818 (La Canada), and 213, 323, or 310 (Los Angeles). 

Most cell phone providers (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T Mobile, etc...) offer many options, including a contract plan or a pre-paid plan, and often require personal identification information and a paid deposit to register for a cell phone plan.  Some advantages and disadvantages are outlined below.

Prepaid Plans.  Prepaid monthly plans allow you to pay one rate per month and do not require a contract.  These plans are ideal for short-term stays of less than two years.

  • Set monthly rate ($35-$75) for unlimited talk, text and data.  Not all pre-paid plans are unlimited.  Read the details of the plan before purchase.
  • No contracts, credit history, deposits, or cancellation fees apply.
  • You must purchase a phone that is compatible with the provider, but it is then yours to keep.  You are ineligible for discounted phones (handsets).
  • Refill your credit anytime with cash or debit card.
  • Purchase a SIM card for use with your unlocked phone when traveling outside of the United States.
  • Signal is not as strong as with contract plans, but it should be fine within the Los Angeles area.  4G coverage is available in some areas.
  • Not the most affordable if you need multiple lines, such as a “family plan.”
  • Make sure you always pay your bill on time each month.  If the company does not receive payment, they will shut off your service the next day.  You must then go into the store to reactivate your service and to change your phone number.
  • Some providers include AT&T Go Phone, Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, and MetroPCS.

Contract Plans.  Contract plans are a good option if you will be in the United States for more than two years, as two years is the typical contract length.  There are penalties for ending a contract early, such as a $300 cancellation fee, and it could damage your credit history if left unpaid.

  • Deposits:
    • If you do not have a Social Security Number (SSN), the provider might allow you to have a contract but will require a large deposit (approximately $500) that will be returned to you at the end of your contract.
    • Often a “credit history” is required.  This means having a U.S. credit card for at least 6 months.  Otherwise, they may require a large deposit.
  • Pay for either a certain amount of minutes per month, or unlimited, ranging from $40 – $70.  Each service is normally charged separately.  If you prefer unlimited talk, text and data (similar to that of a prepaid plan), it will cost approximately $90 + taxes and fees each month.
  • Usually offer free nights and weekend minutes ("night" starts and ends at different times for each provider).
  • Monthly charges do not include taxes or additional services charges.  Please refer to your plan details or speak with a wireless representative for additional information.
  • Large data package offerings.
  • Large selection of phones.  Typically, several free options when you open an account (however, usually you still must pay tax).
  • Ability to use your unlocked device.
  • Signal tends to be stronger.
  • Some providers include AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.

Cell Phone Carriers.  AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

Cell Plan Alternatives.  Some people opt to use alternative means for telecommunication, such as Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and Tango.  Please read their policies closely for costs or fees.


AT&T provides cell phone, TV, internet (DSL) and home phone services.
Spectrum provides internet (cable), TV, and home phone services.


DISCLAIMER:  The information provided on this website is for general information only.  Caltech does not endorse or recommend any of the organizations listed.