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