Planning a trip to Canada and want to stay connected? You’ve got a few options, even if they aren’t as good as they should be.

A small population in a huge country means the barrier of entry for a new provider is massive, and therefore there’s a serious lack of competition.

Add that to the fact the country is mostly focused on postpaid, so prepaid options look a little dire. Still, using a local SIM instead of roaming will likely save you a lot of money, even if you’re only a moderate user.

Prices are in Canadian dollars, and at the time of writing, the exchange rate is approximately $1.00 CAD=$0.91 USD.



COMPANIES

  • We recommend PC Mobile for most travellers
  • Consider Bell if you only need data

Canada has three main providers (Bell, Telus & Rogers), and a host of smaller resellers (including a few owned by the “big three” themselves). There are also a couple of outliers such as WIND that have significantly less coverage and use less common GSM frequencies — I’d suggest you steer clear of those.

So while it may appear at first glance that there are many choices at your mobile disposal, that’s sadly not the case.

Don’t expect to get service everywhere regardless of which network you’re on — the country’s geography and lack of population density leave plenty of blank spots on all networks. Competition is limited between the three companies, with similar, expensive prices across the board.

PC Mobile is a reseller that uses Bell’s network, but offers better prepaid options. It claims coverage of 97% of the Canadian population, and will have you covered for most of your travels until you start getting off the beaten path.

HOW

Head to a Superstore (Canadian supermarket chain) or affiliate. You can find a store close to you here. You’ll likely need to activate the SIM card yourself, which takes about 5-10 min over the phone — activating online only works with phones they sell to you.

You *may* need to provide your ID/passport to get a SIM card in Canada, and you will require an unlocked phone or have to buy a phone from the provider. If your phone is currently locked, you may also be able to get it unlocked in a general mobile store if you don’t mind losing your warranty.

COSTS

PC Mobile is the best bet if you would like a little bit of talk and text with your data. 

The SIM card costs $10, which includes a $10 credit on your account. Example package prices include:

$15 / month ($0.20 per minute for calls, unlimited international SMS / MMS)
$25 / month (150 minutes of calls, unlimited international SMS / MMS)

You then add a data plan on top: $5 for 100MB, $20 for 500MB or $30 for 1GB

More plans

If you don’t already own a cell phone or yours isn’t unlocked, PC Mobile has basic Android phones starting at $59.

DATA-ONLY PACKAGES

Mobile data is hard to come by in Canada, but you’ve got one option that doesn’t require a Canadian credit card. Bell has a “30 Day Pass” option if you go into a store (don’t even try doing it online) that has a $15 activation fee that includes a data-only SIM.

$15 for 250MB
$20 for 500MB
$35 for 5GB

More info on Bell’s data-only plans.

 

Can't be bothered with the hassle of buying a local SIM in Canada? KnowRoaming topped our international SIM card comparison.

The company's SIM cards, stickers and hotspots can be sent out ahead of time, so you'll hit the ground running in 200 countries, and save up to 85% on roaming fees while you're there. Unlike other companies, using WhatsApp for texts and calls anywhere in the world is absolutely free.

Find out more here.


 

TOPPING UP

Your best bet is to pick up a top-up card from the same locations that sell SIM cards. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to top up your account over the phone if you don’t have a Canadian credit card.

$15 (valid for 30 days)
$25 (valid for 60 days)
$100 (valid for 365 days)

COVERAGE AND DATA SPEEDS

Although the country is very large, mobile coverage is good in and around all of the population centers and where people tend to go. 4G LTE service is available in all major cites, and is fast. It’s only if you’re heading off on a weekend adventure to the lake or a National Park that you should expect spotty coverage.

Skinny LTE speeds
Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.
Want more? Grab our free 5000 word guide
Plus regular tips, discounts and the best travel tech advice.
Subscribe
No spam, ever.
 

11 Responses

  1. Deborah Gilchrist

    Hi, Dustin. I read your post with interest. I live in Toronto and I host many travelers from abroad who just want some basic connectivity. One question I am not sure you covered, is, will roaming charges accrue on PC when travelers move about the country? I usually recommend Speakout-7-Eleven as they have a $25 prepaid card, $10 SIM and a 365 day expiry. They charge $0.25/min for calls and $0.10/outgoing Canadian or US text, $0.35 International text: https://www.speakout7eleven.ca/. I know that there is a plethora of cell phone companies around but did this company come up when you did your research? I appreciate your opinion.

    Reply
    • Dustin Main

      Hey Deborah,

      Great questions.

      PC Mobile won’t have roaming charges in Canada. This is the same with all of the major providers, with WIND being the only other provider of size that has roaming charges.

      Speakout 7-11 was the other provider I was considering to recommend in the post actually. I ended up going with PC Mobile as their data rates were better vs 100MB for $10 w/ 7-11. The 365 day voucher expiry w/ 7-11 is nice too, but 60 days with PC Mobile is enough to cover most I figure. In the end, both are good options with just a few minor differences.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
      • Wanda Leung

        I am not sure that I understand about unlock my phone? I have a Samsung galaxy six, and planning to travel to Canadian Rockies for 10 days. Looking to just call or text for emergency back to USA while traveling Cananda. Please explain the unlock phone, is this something I need to call my phone carrier to unlock prior to the trip? And just purchase the SIM card at 7-11 and pop it in?

        Thanks

        Wanda

  2. Adam

    Hi Dustin. I came across this page as I was looking at your information on Iceland (thanks for that). I am currently in Canada and being from the UK, I’m really surprised at how difficult and expensive it is to get a decent amount of mobile data. I just thought I’d throw a Virgin mobile plan into the mix. I was able to get a Virgin Mobile sim card for my iPhone 5, paying $20 for about 5gb data. This sim is mostly used for tablets, as it comes with no minutes or texts. But I only need to use Whatsapp and iMessage and Facebook etc, so it was ideal for me. It’s basically a 30 day monthly contract but it’s cancellable at any time without penalty. I’m only here for 6 weeks so on my last day, I’ll call them and pay the balance.

    Reply
    • Dustin Main

      Hey Adam,

      Did you have to give a credit card (local or foreign) to them? Passport?

      When I contacted them, they were pretty poor at confirming things like this. Any more first-hand info you could give would be awesome.

      Hope you had a great time in Canada!

      Reply
  3. Lisa

    I’m in the US and just found out that Verizon offers a month-to-month plan for $25/mo which includes 1GB of data, 500 minutes talk and 500 messages for Canada and Mexico. I’m leaving tomorrow for Burlington, ON for five days, so this is perfect! It’ll save me from having to track down a sim card.

    Also, when Verizon presented me with options on when to start my international service, they even had a back-dated option! The text associated with that option states: “This option can eliminate or minimize overage charges if your usage exceeds your current plan allowance.”. The back date was my previous month’s bill cycle date.

    This must be new because it wasn’t available when I traveled to Ontario back in June. Back then it was $10 month-to-month for 250MB of data which I exceeded a couple of times while there over a 5-day period.

    Reply
  4. sam

    Hey Dustin,

    Thank you for your information. I just need a good answer so i can finalize to get my sim card. I am moving to Canada forever in next month. Do you suggest me to go for the contract one or monthly prepaid one ? which provider is good ? Please let me know as i am confused which one to use … I am not going to use lots of data and mostly i will use local text and call, and sometimes international one….

    waiting for reply tnx

    Reply
    • Dustin Main

      Hey Sam,

      You’re likely best to get a contract (monthly) plan if you’re staying in Canada. This article is mostly for people who are just visiting the country.

      Welcome to Canada!

      Reply
  5. trevor rebello

    Hi,
    I’m from India & will be spending July & August 2016 in Canada.
    Need data package to use Whatsapp, Facebook, Skype, Gmail.
    Will need to make few local calls in canada.
    Recommend a good service provider.
    Tjr

    Reply
  6. Rika

    Hi!

    Thank you for your information. I am going to visit Canada in this week for 3 weeks.

    I need a suggestion which plan I should use and the best provider for me to keep contact with my family through Whatsapp and other social media.

    Can you please recommend to me?

    Thanks a lot!!

    Reply
  7. Priscilla

    Hey dustin
    I will be in Toronto for 3 weeks with my iPhone 6 Plus where can I get a prepaid SIM card with some data
    support so I can do whatapps/ Skype/ minor web surfing

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *