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]