T-Mobile’s $35 activation fee explained — here’s when you’ll get dinged

The exterior of a T-Mobile store on the Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada.
(Image credit: ehrlif/Shutterstock)

If you're thinking about making the switch to T-Mobile, better do it sooner rather than later if you want to avoid an extra fee.

The wireless carrier, which has long prided itself on zigging where other providers zag, is picking up one of the practices of its rivals and charging a fee for any activations or upgrades, even those you handle yourself online. Previously, that kind of fee only applied to in-store interactions.

T-Mo Report (opens in new tab) first broke the news of the $35 activation fee based on internal documents it had seen as well as on information posted to Reddit (opens in new tab). T-Mobile subsequently confirmed the reports, saying that the one-time charge would apply to all new mobile broadband devices, whether the transaction took place in its stores or online.

"We're simplifying Assisted Support and Upgrade Support one-time charges, which were previously applied differently across channels and devices, to deliver a more consistent and straightforward experience for customers," a T-Mobile spokesperson said in a statement to Tom's Guide.

The fees took effect for broadband and Beyond the Smartphone devices yesterday (November 3). Smartphones will be subject to the $35 fee on November 15.

We rank T-Mobile as one of the best phone carriers, largely because it tends to avoid the practices of other carriers, like charging seemingly random fees. For instance, T-Mobile bakes taxes and fees into the cost of its $70/month Magenta unlimited plan so that you'll always pay the same amount every month.

The $35 activation fee stings, but T-Mobile stresses that it's a one-time charge — and it's also one you can avoid by activating a new smartphone with the carrier prior to the November 15 date for the fee to take effect.

For what it's worth, the T-Mobile fee is the exact amount AT&T and Verizon charge customers when they activate a new line of service or upgrade their device. All this does is eliminate one way you can save money on your cell phone bill by handling activations yourself.

With that $35 fee going into effect on November 15, it's more important than ever to find ways to keep smartphone costs down. One good way is to keep an eye peeled for the best cell phone deals, which figure to become more prominent as Black Friday deals start heating up.

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.