Travelling with your cell phone in Canada: some tips

We’ve all heard horror stories of travellers who end up with “salty” cell phone bills when they return from their vacations. But on the other hand, it’s so convenient to have your phone with you… to take pictures, find your way or in case of emergency. Let’s see how we can do this without wincing when we get the bill.

You should know that users are now better protected than they used to be since roaming charges (while abroad) cannot exceed $100 per billing cycle. However, it’s easy to avoid these charges and use your phone wisely when travelling without incurring a significant cost.

Three options for using your phone abroad

Large users or long stays: a local SIM card

For a long stay or if you’re unable to live without YouTube, Snapchat, FaceTime, Netflix or Spotify and withdrawal might give you a bad holiday, it’s best to subscribe to a local service at your destination. In other words, you temporarily subscribe to Vodafone in Europe or T-Mobile in the US, for example. In these parts of the world, it’s very easy to find mobile services without commitment that are more generous and less expensive than in Canada, or at least less expensive than the travel packages of Canadian providers.

The local provider will give you a new SIM card. You’ll have a local phone number. During this time, your Canadian account will be inactive (you can ask to have it suspended).

Some providers, such as Roam Mobility, offer products specifically for travellers: sending the SIM card by mail, choosing a plan and the activation period on the Internet. All you have to do is insert the SIM card when you reach your destination. Check https://www.simoptions.com/ for more about buying a prepaid SIM card in Canada.

You will need an unlocked phone to do this. This practice of locking a phone with a particular provider will soon be banned by the CRTC, but currently, some companies impose conditions and fees to unlock devices. Before choosing a local provider, make sure your phone is compatible with their network and that it offers good coverage.

Short trips and getaways: take a travel package from your Canadian provider.

Mobile service providers offer travel plans that often include unlimited talk and text and a small amount of Internet data, or the same terms and conditions as your home plan. A simple text message is all it takes to sign up. Prices range from $5-$10 per day at the three major Canadian providers (July 2017), which is appropriate for moderate use during a short stay, but it’s quite expensive after a few days.

Small users or small budgets: Wi-Fi only

For those who manage to do without the Internet, simply disable data abroad and make do with Wi-Fi where it is available. You’ll still be able to use your phone for camera, calling or texting in an emergency. One or two minutes of calling (about $1 or $2 per minute) or three texts (about 50ยข per message) won’t ruin you. And GPS works even without cellular data.

Tips to reduce the use of Internet data while travelling

  • Your GPS works offline. All you need are the maps: the Google Maps application allows you to download them in advance with the “offline region” option.
  • Find out which applications consume a lot of mobile data, avoid using them, or change the settings so they don’t get too busy.
  • Turn off automatic downloads and uploads of photos, magazines, newspapers, and applications, including automatic updates.
  • Download any travel guides, books, articles, music and magazines you might need before you leave.
  • Listen to music stored on your device, rather than online.

Using your cell phone as you would at home: the mistake not to make

What should be avoided abroad is continuing to use the mobile Internet as at home and thus running up the meter at exorbitant rates. An important distinction: we are not talking about using the Internet on free Wi-Fi networks, such as those in restaurants and hotels, but about using the Internet while walking down the street or driving in a car. That is what costs money. It’s hard to measure its use, and what’s more, your naughty phone is using data even when it’s in your pocket, doing tasks in the background.

A setting that you should always check on your phone to avoid the cost of a phone call.

Therefore, before crossing the border, you should always block data roaming in your phone’s settings or parameters. The device will no longer be able to use the mobile Internet abroad unless it is connected to a Wi-Fi network. Reactivate the option if you have selected an appropriate plan.