Using Your Cell Phone in Canada

Avoid Getting Overcharged When Using Your Cell Phone in Canada

iPhone screenshot with cell phone data turned off.
••• Cellular data is turned off in the settings of this iPhone. Jane McLean

If you visit Canada from the U.S. or any other country, you will have to consider what to do as far as using your cell phone goes while you're away. Undoubtedly, your priority is to avoid getting a massive bill for using your cell phone internationally. Canada has no caps on roaming fees so take care.  

Be Sure To Do These Two Things: 

If you are bringing your cell phone to Canada, the best advice is to call your local cell phone service provider (eg.

AT&T) before you arrive and hammer out a plan that is reasonable. 

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.  

What's The Worst That Could Happen?

When you touch down on Canada 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 Avoid Massive Charges Using Your Cell Phone in Canada: 

  • Set up an international plan with your local provider before you leave for Canada: Explain the duration of your trip and a representative will set you up with the most appropriate texting and calling plan. For example, pay a flat rate of $5 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, so you don't stay on it or to continue to pay for it once you're home.

    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, & Canada for one price (as of April 2016, US$50).

    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 not to rack up 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. So be sure to:

    • Turn off your cellular data before you arrive in Canada: 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.
    • Use free WiFi hot spots: When you're not connected to WiFi, emails, texts, web browsing, downloads, and voice mail text translations are recognized and billed as data, which, if you don't have it included in your plan is outrageously expensive and can run into the tens of thousands of dollars for out-of-country clients. Wait till 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: Good ones to look into are Viber, WeChat, and Skype.

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