Using Your Cell Phone in Canada

Plan ahead to avoid getting overcharged

Man at Moraine lake at sunrise, Banff, Canada

Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

If you visit Canada from the U.S. or any other country, you will have to consider how to use your cell phone while you're traveling without racking up a massive bill. You can avoid unexpected high cell phone bills by doing things like paying a flat rate per day for a certain amount of texting and phone calls. Canada has no caps on roaming fees so take care and plan ahead. 

Tips for Using Your Cellphone in Canada
 TripSavvy / Theresa Chiechi

Pre-Travel Steps

If you are bringing your cell phone to Canada, it is important to call your local cell phone service provider before you leave to find out about their international plans and to inform them of your intent to travel out of the country. 

But possibly the most important piece of advice that will prevent hefty roaming charges is to go into "Settings" on your phone and turn your data off before you arrive. In your settings is a cellular data icon that you must turn off so that your phone does not access a network provider outside of your local one. Turning cellular data off automatically turns data roaming off as well.

Consequences of Leaving Your Settings as Is

When you arrive on Canadian soil, if you haven't properly adjusted your data settings, your phone will immediately tap into and use a Canadian cell phone signal (you'll know you're connected when you see the name of a Canadian carrier, such as "Bell" or "Rogers," at the top of your phone screen). If you use one of these networks and it is not your own, you are "roaming," which is expensive, in some cases even causing the user to incur thousands of dollars in charges.

These charges that you rack up in Canada using a Canadian cell phone network provider will be transferred to your home cell phone bill. So don't think you can just leave the bill behind you in Canada; it follows you home.

How To Set Up an International Cell Phone Plan 

Set up an international plan with your provider. Explain the duration of your trip and a representative will set you up with the most appropriate texting and calling plan such as paying a flat rate per day for a certain amount of texting and phone calls. Be sure to set a turn-off date for the plan and ask if you need to call to cancel it in order to return to your regular plan.

People who travel frequently between Canada and the U.S. may want a more comprehensive plan that covers their calls in both countries. T-Mobile is one provider that offers unlimited calling in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada for one price.

What to Do to Keep in Touch on Short Visits

If you are just heading to Canada for a day or two, you may not want to go to the bother of setting up an international plan, but you will still want to take precautions in order to avoid a big bill. Remember, you can incur major data costs even if you are not actively using your phone just by the phone receiving emails, updating apps, etc. In addition to turning off your cellular data before you arrive you can:

  • Use free WiFi hotspots. Even when you're not connected to WiFi, emails, texts, web browsing, downloads, and voice mail text translations are recognized and billed as data. Wait until you're connected to WiFi to download all your stuff. Most hotel lobbies, many airports, coffee shops, libraries, restaurants and more will offer WiFi free of charge.
  • Take advantage of free peer-to-peer text and voice messaging apps such as Viber, WeChat, and Skype.
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