We get a lot of emails and Facebook messages here at News of St. John, and many of the most commonly asked questions has to do with cell service on island. The two main ones are:
- Will my cell phone work on island?
- What kind of charges can I expect to get?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve accidently racked up some pretty hefty bills over the years by inadvertently using my cell while connected to a BVI tower. I also know how frustrating it can be when you need to make a call, send a text or use the internet and your cell simply will not work due to your location on island. So we decided to do some very unofficial research and this is what we found…
First off, the best cell carrier on island (in my opinion) is AT&T. If you have an AT&T phone up in the States, yes it will work on island. Verizon works on island too, at times. There are a few pretty big differences between the two though. (I’ve heard Sprint works ok, but I have zero experience with Sprint, nor do I know anyone who has it.)
First off, AT&T includes the Virgin Islands in its domestic rates. That means that you can call, text and use data like you would in the States as long as you aren’t picking up a tower from the British Virgin Islands. (More on that shortly.) Verizon, however, only includes text messages and data in its domestic rates. Voice calls are $1.99 a minute. Those calls can add up pretty quickly.
But just because Verizon says you can text and use data for free doesn’t mean you will be able to. Verizon uses CDMA technology whereas AT&T uses GSM. (Both are acronyms for the radio systems used by cell phone carriers.) The Virgin Islands is on GSM which is why AT&T works so much better.
But again, this doesn’t mean that your cell is going to work everywhere. There are several dead spots around the island. There are also spots where you will inevitably pick up towers from the BVIs. Here’s where our unofficial research comes in…
To make it a bit easier for you, we created the nifty little Google Map to show you where AT&T cell phones work and where they do not.
(Click here to view the map on Google and to add your own markers.)
The green markers indicate that service is great; yellow means it’s pretty good and red means service stinks. Black means that we couldn’t get service even after several attempts. The purple markers indicate where we’ve consistently picked up BVI towers.
Speaking of the BVIs…
If you see the words LIME or Digicell on your cell phone, it means you’re connected to a tower in the BVIs. It doesn’t matter which carrier you have, if you are connected to a BVI tower, you’re going to rack up charges.
There are two ways to prevent this. 1. You can turn off the data roaming on your phone. 2. You can add a global package to your service. Most carriers will allow you to add global for the time you are on island and then remove it as soon as you return home.
So what happens if you get charged international fees? If it’s your first time, your cell carrier will likely remove them although it isn’t guaranteed. Just call them up and explain that you picked up a BVI tower. Typically they understand and remove the charges. But they’ll only do this once or twice … and yes, I’m speaking from experience. 🙂
So what else can you do to get service on St. John? You can always buy an AT&T Go Phone. These are prepaid phones that work just like a regular AT&T phone would on St. John. You only have to pay for the time you want to use it (in monthly increments), so it’s a very good alternative for those of you who do not have AT&T. Click here for more information on GoPhones.
You can simply turn off that cell phone and relax because you’re on St. John, and therefore you shouldn’t have a care in the world.
Feel free to send us locations and cell performance and we’ll update the map as needed. You can email your info to [email protected]
19 thoughts on “Cell Service on St. John”
I have T-Mobile and have never had a problem with cell service when on St. John. Both in-coming and out-going calls to the U.S. have always been free.
On Ajax Peak, sometimes ATT GoPhone works fine, other times, like today, I get a Not Registered on Network message and can’t make or receive calls. Any idea what that means?
I have an unlimited text plan with Verizon and have always chosen to use that over making phone calls. If you need to make a reservation or call somewhere on the island, do it at your villa before you head out. Otherwise, my friends and I will just text each other to avoid any fees. Besides, Verizon is $1.99/minute so in the event, you do need to call on island, that’s a few bucks. No big deal. I was sure to take the roaming off my phone though. Don’t want to have to worry about that mess.
We have an ATT cell phone booster in Rendezvous/Klein Bay and it works great! We also provide unlimited long distance to the mainland at our villa. It’s only $29 per month and the guests really appreciate it.
Sprint service on St. John and around the islands is dismally spotty ESPECIALLY Coral Bay…..If you are at Haulover….you are close to a BVI cell service and Sprint bills you for international roaming without warning you…
Choice is a CDMA network which Verision roams off off. They have better coverage than AT&T and you can also pick up Go phones for around $10 and add money as needed. For frequent visitors they have pre-paid packages that have no contracts or disconnect fees and also offer portable wifi devices for internet. Check it out and tell them Matt from Surf Da Web sent ya.
nice ad for Surf de Web….
We live in an area that would normally have good service but our service has been spotty at home lately. Our neighbor called ATT and was told that the cell tower on Bordeaux is “seriously damaged” and should be repaired by July 31. We’ll see about that. We also were told by another technician that a new tower would be built at Bellevue. Can you tell we make a lot of calls to ATT to report service problems.
Cell phone issues for tourist are just a minor inconvenience for a week or so. Those that live here deal with lack of service on a regular basis. It is particularly bad during high season because there aren’t enough cells to handle all the calls. We get dropped calls regularly.
Just another inconvenience of living in paradise.
We’re on island now and have had dismal reliability here on Contant Point
with AT&T. We stay here every year and have always had great service. Don’t know why it’s different this year.
Do it old school. Forget the phones. Walk or hop in your jeep and pay them a visit. Won’t take you long…small island!
If you have an emergency….like a flat tire….or illness….or car accident…you need emergency cell signal that is reliable…tough to drive if you can’t…
After our first charge for using BVI service, (I googled the cannel bay number for some people at trunk bay and was charged almost $40, whoops,) we got them to drop the charge. The second time, AT&T said that one of our phones made contact with a St. Lucia tower, but neither of us have been to St. Lucia. We explained to them that we live down here and constantly pick up international service. While we had turned off the data roaming, we realized that you could still receive texts on BVI towers and be charged. At&T was actually able to prevent our phones from picking up international towers. I don’t know what they did but we don’t have to worry along the north shore anymore.
On the topic of hitting BVI towers, we make a call to ATT before each trip to confirm the scope of their service on STJ. They tell us that calls and texts are free under our plan, and, more importantly, they make a note in their file that we called. When we get a charge, we call them back. We review the previous call and they give us a credit for the calls. We don’t abuse the situation by making calls from JVD (we shut off our phones when we board the boat and turn them back on after US Customs) or using the phones on the north shore beaches.
We live over on St Thomas and were picking up the BVI towers regularly. AT&T says the tower a mile away is almost totally degraded and continues to be that way. Also the BVI has increased their tower signal strength which does not help us here. After calling AT&T International, they completely turned off our international roaming ability. Now we no longer worry about picking up the BVI towers and the steep charges! A unplanned, but welcomed side effect from turning off the international roaming is that when in some places in the BVI’s, (by boat) our phones only seek the St John or St Thomas towers making it easy to use your phone without worry while out on a boating excursion. It is nice to have no worries when you are always turning your phone on and off to take pictures etc. I would highly recommend calling AT&T International to turn off the international roaming completely to save yourself the monthly phonecall to reverse inadvertent charges and improve your experience.
Matt (who commented earlier) and I work together and recently we have both driven to just about every spot you could can think of on St. John gathering data at customer locations whom are getting upgraded LTE service from Choice Wireless sometime later this year. I also did a drive around the entire island with CDMA testing equipment in 2010 with a representative from one of the largest cell phone tower equipment producers in the world. From my experience here’s the breakdown….
AT&T (GSM) offers good service, LTE in Cruz Bay since last year even. International roaming feature needs to be turned off if you are visiting though. Otherwise you pay dearly when you go past Caneel and beyond the North Shore. There is no FCC in the British Virgin Islands so they crank up the signal as much as they want. Turn off your phone or turn off international roaming.
Sprint (CDMA) has LTE service in Cruz Bay area only and limited service throughout the rest of island. They have one tower on island so once you get outside that area you will roam.
Verizon (CDMA), text all you want, but if you want to talk $1.99 per minute.
Choice Wireless has very good coverage on island, 3G, and you can get a cheap flip phone or a nice smartphone, no contract, no disconnect or reconnect fees, worst case the phone does not work you are out $10 for activation fee. If there is no service Choice phones will not work, they will never roam to an international carrier like Lime or Digicel. To me this the perfect option for a “snowbird” traveling with Verizon phone. Simply activate a Choice phone and call forward to it from Verizon. When you leave island to disconnect guess what you do? Don’t pay the bill, when you return call up and restore service for no additional fee(s). I know it’s another pitch for Choice or Surf da Web, but wake up cell phone company contracts are becoming a thing of the past!
I’ve personally never worried about a cell phone while on St. John, but I’m not working. At times, I know the locals — working to make tourists happy — have dismal cell signal at times. I just wonder how much business people lose due to poor signal. It’s one thing for a customer to have to call for a couple days when trying to book a villa, but another when a customer is lost or trying to make a last minute booking. Nature of the island life!
We just returned from an extended boat trip down island and had an AT&T global plan. The cost of calls with the global plan was around $2.50 a minute and that included the BVI.
I use AT&T service and almost every month I incur BVI roaming charges while traveling between Coral Bay and Cruz Bay. Every time I do incur these charges I call AT&T customer service and they back out the charges along with associated taxes. Most of these charges are for incoming calls that were not answered and often go to voice mail so are only 1-2 minutes long. However, they have also backed out the charges for longer calls that I made and calls I answered.
Yesterday (5/14) when I called concerning roaming charges on my current bill (which they backed out) I was told that AT&T has done something to eliminate “peripheral roaming” and that this shouldn’t be a problem in the future. We’ll see.
My wife and I have had a Westin hillside villa in building 31 for many years and have never had a reception or transmission problem using Virgin Mobile.