Use a local SIM card to reduce your roaming rates
If you’re planning a trip to Canada, contacting family and friends abroad can be expensive. A top tip for keeping down costs is to switch over to a local SIM card. Canada has some great voice, SMS and data plans on offer, deals that could really reduce your phone bill. You can get 1GB of data from Canada’s top telco providers for CAD$15 (AUD$14.77). So, whether you’re planning a short or lengthy trip, you could save money by comparing SIM card options on finder.com.au.
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There are four main telco providers in Canada: Rogers, TELUS, Bell and Freedom Mobile. Locals and travellers have tried and tested SIM cards from all four networks, so they can be trusted. Although there are many other SIM card options offered by the likes of Fido, Chatr, Koodo, 7-Eleven Speak Out/Petro-Canada, Virgin Mobile and PhoneBox, they are all operated as MVNOs through the four main operators we have mentioned above.
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Canada’s operators offer competitive prices and sell prepaid credit, which allow users to take advantage of cheap plans, tariffs and deals. All networks offer customers 2G (although it is being phased out this year), 3G and 4G/LTE. Canadians call their SIM cards “SIMs” and there are no real rules and regulations when purchasing them. Just make sure you show your passport and register your SIM card online once you have purchased it, using the address for where you’re staying. It would be easier to ask the store assistant to do this for you to save time. SIM cards and credit can be purchased from supermarkets, stores, kiosks and main airports in Quebec, Vancouver, Toronto, Ontario, Ottawa and Montreal.
Rogers, along with sub-brand Fido, is the largest operator in Canada and offers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services. 2G is slowly being phased out as 3G and 4G/LTE services become more widespread. SIM cards can be purchased from official stores or approved sellers and can also be ordered online. SIM cards are free of charge but credit must be added to start using them. Prepaid SIM card plans come without data so add-ons must be purchased. The “Talk anytime” plan is the cheapest and can be purchased for $0.75 per month along with a minimum top-up of $10. The following monthly data packs can be added:
|$0.1 /MB||$0.05 /MB||$0.06 /MB||$0.04 /MB||$0.025 /MB|
Call 611 from your phone and select the desired plan or book online through your Rogers account. The standard default data rate once the package has been used is charged at $1 for 10MB in 24 hours or $5 for 60MB in 7 days. There is also a year-long prepaid SIM card deal that’s always on sale as a promotion. It can be purchased for $120 and allows 50 minutes’ calling per year, unlimited evening and weekend local calls and unlimited SMS within Canada. Daytime minutes can be expensive, at least 50 cents a minute, and international calls and SMS are not included in this deal.
TELUS, along with its sub-brands Koodo and Public Mobile, is the second largest operator in the country. It has good 3G and 4G services but has scrapped 2G. Micro, mini and nano SIM cards can be purchased in official stores, at approved resellers or online for $15. A $10 refund will be debited to the account once you have purchased a prepaid plan. TELUS also gives $5 credit every 30 days when you buy a rate plan or add-on of $15 or more during the first six months. The standard default rate for data separate to plans or add-ons is $2 per MB. The following prepaid plans which include data are available:
|1||Connect 37||250MB||$37||150 mins local voice, free SMS|
|2||Hero 45||500MB||$45||300 mins local voice, free SMS|
|3||Elite 67||1GB||$67||500 mins local voice, free SMS|
You can also add data packs to any prepaid SIM card plan:
- $10 – 100MB
- $25 – 500MB
- $30 – 1GB
Overuse is charged at $0.15 per MB. Dial *123 to activate your desired plan, or select the desired option online by using your TELUS account.
Bell is the third largest operator in Canada. Be sure to check with the retailer that your phone is compatible with the network. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores, resellers or online. Bell is the only provider in Canada that gives out data SIM cards for modems or tablets; they can also be used in phones. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for $9.95 – credit will then have to be added. Data packs can be purchased either online or in stores, or can be updated using credit vouchers. Plans renew automatically; to cancel call customer services or cancel online. Overuse is charged at $0.15 per MB.
- Daily pass (20MB) – $2, to be used within 24 hours
- 100MB – $10
- 500MB – $25
- 1GB – $30
- 2GB – $50
Credit can be purchased from most stores or online by using your credit card. Refill cards can be purchased in several different denominations from $15 valid for 30 days, $25 and $50 valid for 60 days, and $100 valid for a year. Once the time limit has been reached then the account will be closed.
Freedom Mobile is the smallest carrier in Canada and has limited network coverage. Unless you intend on using this network in the large towns and cities then we strongly advise you select another provider. Make sure you use Freedom’s IMEI number (your phone’s unique identification number) checker to see if your phone will be compatible with the network. If you are lucky enough to be compatible then Freedom offers the best plans and prices in the country. Freedom’s SIM card can be purchased for $10 in official stores, resellers or can be purchased online. Credit can also be purchased in the same way:
- $25 – no data, unlimited local calls and SMS
- $30 – 250MB data, unlimited local calls and SMS
- $40 – 4GB data, unlimited local calls and international SMS
- $49 – 6GB data, unlimited local and US calls and international SMS
- $59 – 8GB data, incl. 1 GB in the US, unlimited local and US calls and international SMS
Make sure that when you use the Freedom network that there is a Freedom Mobile signal available. Sometimes you will roam on other networks and will not be able to use the above-mentioned plans when your phone is not in service. Look out for “Home” at the top of your screen near the signal icon to be sure you are using it correctly. Freedom also offers a data-only plan on 4G/LTE for $40 offering 10GB of data. Although this deal sounds phenomenal, the network can be rather congested which means you sometimes get no connection at all or the speed is ridiculously slow. Also, Freedom doesn’t provide data sticks for modems so be prepared to fork out for a new one if you haven’t already got your own.
- They speak English and French in Canada and absolutely love tourists, so you shouldn’t have any problems.
- Locals call a SIM card a “SIM” or “chip”.
- Ask the store assistant to set up the SIM card for you; they will know how to do it. If not, follow the instructions we have highlighted above or go to the official operator website to seek advice.
- Get to the shops early to receive better assistance and to avoid the crowds.
TripAdvisor has many user comments that can help guide you through which SIM cards have been tried and tested in Canada. Here are some top tips from TripAdvisor users:
- “Rogers and Fido have prepaid data plans for $5 for 60MB for 1 week (buy more if 60MB used up within the week)”
- “I had no problems using my Galaxy S3 in Vancouver, Ottawa, Quebec and Toronto... Fido doesn't charge extra for data when you are in other cities”
- ”There is Wi-Fi everywhere so you can use the phone in airplane mode, data off, Wi-Fi on and get what you need. There are phone kiosks in every mall if you want to buy a SIM card. The main providers are TELUS, Bell and Rogers”
All networks require you to have a SIM-unlocked GSM compatible phone. To double check you have this phone, contact your provider before you set off on your travels.
- Good value for money
- Prepaid credit when required
- No in-store contract needed
- Could be compatible with your current phone
- No devices offered with the SIM card packages
- Can only be used on SIM-unlocked GSM phones
- Freedom Mobile can suffer from poor coverage in some areas
Q: What about other SIM card providers in Canada?
A: There are many smaller carriers providing SIM cards in Canada, including Fido, Chatr, Koodo, 7-Eleven Speak Out/Petro-Canada, Virgin Mobile and PhoneBox. These are run through the four main operators we have highlighted above. Although they may offer slightly different packages, the prices are not too different from the main operators mentioned, and it’s usually better to stick with the main providers. However, shop around because they can all be trusted and sometimes you can find a great promotion or deal.