Canadians love to travel. We were expected to take a record number of trips – 26. 5 million – outside of the country in 2018, according to the Conference Board of Canada. And that means staying connected while we’re away, whether it’s checking in with family while we’re on a business trip, or with the neighbours or extended family back home when on vacation.
What are the best and most affordable options to consider for data roaming? Here are a few suggestions.
Sign on for a Roaming Plan With Your Carrier
Most major carriers offer special roaming options with eligible monthly service plans that allow you to pay a flat fee to continue to use your phone, including making and receiving local calls and, most importantly, using data, as if you were back home. The fees vary depending on the carrier and where you’re going.
With Rogers’ Roam Like Home, if you’re traveling to most anywhere in the U.S., the fee is an additional $7/day. If you’re gone for a week, you’ll pay $70 to use your phone as you normally would, without worry of overage charges. Leave your phone back in the hotel room for an entire day, and the daily fee will only kick in once you use the device within each 24-hour period. (But you will be charged the full $7, even if you only used the device once.) For travel internationally, as long as the country is eligible for the deal (and most are), you’ll pay about $10/day.
Telus has a similar plan called Easy Roam which is about $7/day for the U.S. and $12/day in more than 190 international destinations. Bell, meanwhile, has Roam Better, which is $8/day in the U.S. for talk, text, and data, and $12/day for various international destinations.
These plans offer some of the best rates for roaming while away, particularly for occasional or even frequent business travelers, or those who vacation annually.
If you only plan to use your phone sparingly while away, you can opt for a pay-per-use option instead. This limits your usage, however, and you need to set up alerts to ensure you don’t go over. But you might be able to save money if you only plan to call home once every day, for example.
Each carrier has specific roaming Internet rates. Rogers, for example, will give you 50MB of wireless Internet for $7.99. This should be enough for quick checks of e-mail, hailing of cabs or rideshares, looking up local restaurants or hotspots, and some quick FaceTime calls to the kids. Rogers says 50MB is nearly twice the data that its typical customers use domestically, so it should be sufficient for quick trips. You will also receive an automated text as you near the limit you can shut off roaming and seek out an open Wi-Fi network if needed beyond the 50MB.
Considering the Roam Like Home plan is $7/day, however, and it only applies when used within a single 24-hour period, it might be the better option.
Another option is to use a roaming SIM card from a company like Roam Mobility. All phones must be sold unlocked in Canada, or carriers must unlock them for free, as per the CRTC rules that went into effect December 1, 2017. This means you can swap out a SIM card for one from another carrier whenever needed. Some providers, like Roam Mobility, offer affordable cards with unlimited calling and texting, and a limited amount of data at 4G LTE speeds, throttled down to 2G afterwards so you can still continue using your phone if you exceed that amount, but just deal with apps and web pages loading more slowly, or less expansive network coverage.
UPDATE: Note that, as of June 30, 2020, Roam Mobility has confirmed that it is no longer in service. The company notes that all Roam Mobility SIM cards and U.S. phone numbers were permanently deactivated on this date. Customers who purchased a SIM card that hasn’t been activated yet may be eligible for a refund and can request one via the only form prior to August 31, 2020. Those with store credits can also submit a request for refund.
If you’re looking for an alternative option, consider OneSimCard, which offers prepaid international SIM cards that come with both a European and U.S. number, and the option to add numbers for other countries as well. There are different card options, but the most basic one that will meet most needs is the OneSimCard Universal, which is US$30 (currently on sale) and includes a 3-in-1 card (Mini, Micro, and Nano) with two numbers for Europe, U.S., Canada, U.K., or Australia, 4G service in more than 50 countries, direct dial and callback in more than 50 countries, coverage in over 200 countries, voicemail service, free incoming calls received on EU numbers, 24/7 live technical support, and more. You’ll only get free shipping to Canada with orders of over $100, or else shipping is an extra US$5. The current price comes with a US$10 credit for voice, text, and data. Rates for roaming depend on the country you’re travelling to, but for the U.S., for example, with the Universal card, you’d pay US$0.20 per MB and enjoy free incoming calls and free incoming texts. But there are also discount data plans to help save you money. For example, you can pay US$38 to get up to 2GB of data for 30 days.
When you are about to travel to the U.S. again, reload the card and you’re good to go. You can also schedule plans up to six months in advance if you know you have a big business trip coming up, or a family vacation. This will also provide you with your own local U.S. number, which you keep as long as you use the service at least once per year.
Use a Prepaid Local SIM
If you’re going on an extended trip or travelling often to the same country or specific destination, it might be worth buying a prepaid SIM from the country you’re going to that you can use for the entire duration, or any time you go back to visit. This would require, of course, that your phone itself is designed to work in the country you’re visiting. This should be fine for trips to the U.S., but double check compatibility before grabbing a SIM from a foreign country.
For travel to the U.S., you can get a prepaid SIM from most major carriers, like AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon. AT&T, for example, has a bring your own phone or tablet SIM Kit that works with most iOS, Windows, and Android devices. T-Mobile, meanwhile, has an interesting option called the Tourist Plan that lets you “live like a local” for $30, which gives you 1,000 talk time minutes, unlimited text and data (up to 2GB at 4G LTE) for a three-week period.
Related: Travel apps