Buying a SIM Card in Canada

By Dustin Main Get Connected18 Comments

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.

If you’re coming from the US or Mexico, you may find that your cell plan from home includes roaming in Canada, or that it can be added relatively cheaply. If not, here’s what you need to know about buying a local prepaid SIM for your time in the country.

  • Need travel insurance for your time in Canada? We currently use HeyMondo, thanks to its comprehensive coverage options, competitive pricing, and the ability to buy or renew a policy while outside your home country. Residents of most countries get a discount with this link.


  • We recommend PC Mobile for most travelers
  • A Canada eSIM is often the best option if your device supports it

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 Freedom Mobile that have worse coverage and use less common GSM frequencies. While the company’s 4G/LTE rollout makes it compatible with a wider range of international phones than in the past, most travelers will still be better off looking elsewhere.

So while it may appear at first glance that there are many choices at your mobile disposal, that’s sadly not the case. Competition is limited between the three companies, with similar, expensive prices across the board.

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.

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.

While this article is about buying physical SIM cards, if you have a recent iPhone or other supported device, the best way to get connected in Canada may be to buy an eSIM instead.

We've written an explainer of what eSIMs are all about if you're not familiar with them. Because they're software rather than a plastic card, you can buy before you leave home, avoid the hassle of kiosks and phone stores entirely, and get connected as soon as you land.

These days, we use aloSIM: easy to buy and set up, it's a simple, low-cost way of staying connected when you travel. You'll get a discount on your first purchase with the code TMA.

How to Buy a SIM Card in Canada

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.

Prefer to spend your vacation sightseeing instead of buying SIM cards? Grab one in advance to stay connected in Mexico and across North America.

Valid in Mexico and the USA as well, options are available that last 15 or 30 days with unlimited calls and texts and plenty of data. Whichever one you go for, you’ll be connected with a minimum of fuss before you’ve even left the airport.

Prepaid SIM 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 CAD, which includes a $10 credit on your account.

Basic call and text packages start at $10 CAD/month. If you’d like a useful amount of data as well (and most people do,) package prices start at $25/month for 2GB, rising to $50/month for 8GB. You can add additional data for $10/GB, but weirdly, only on the top-tier package.

Tax will be added on top of the purchase price. More plan details 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 or online if you don’t have a Canadian credit card.

Top-up amounts and validity include:

$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 when you’re heading further off the grid that you should expect spotty coverage.

Canada speedtest
PC Mobile HSPA+ speeds

Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.

About the Author
Dustin Main

Dustin Main


Dustin just can't get enough travel or technology, but when he's not directly feeding one of those insatiable habits, you can probably find him at some far away ice cream shop taking pictures of empty cups. That, or on top of a mountain somewhere shooting photos and finding adventures to share on his website "A Skinny Escape".


  1. Avatar

    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: 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.

    1. Dustin Main Author

      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!

  2. Avatar

    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.

    1. Dustin Main Author

      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!

  3. Avatar

    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.

  4. Avatar

    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

  5. Avatar

    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?



  6. Avatar

    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.

  7. Avatar


    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!!

  8. Avatar

    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

  9. Avatar

    Hey , If i go to Canada ?? and Let’s Suppose I buy a sim over there then what i have to do next ? i mean i have to pay the provider of sim on monthly bases or at the spot and they will give me the phone of contract as well or not , My Cousin went to Canada ?? and he is currently living in Saskatchewan area , he told me that you can get an iPhone ? from the provider as well on CONTRACT , means that you have to pay them on monthly bases , he got an iPhone 6 from the retailer as well and paying them cash on monthly bases !!

    1. Dave Dean

      You don’t need to sign up for any kind of ongoing contract, nor purchase a phone. Generally, you simply purchase the SIM card, pay for it and whatever call/text/data package suits your needs for the time you’ll be in the country, put it in your existing phone, then dispose of the SIM when you leave. A few companies might try to get you to agree to an ongoing commitment, but that’s rare, and almost always optional. If it’s not, just pick a different cell company!

  10. Avatar

    I want to buy a sim card from Bell through one reseller on eBay.
    The problem is I don’t know if it’s possible to activate the sim card while I am abroad. Actually, I want to activate it while I am in Cyprus.
    Any ideas?

  11. Avatar

    I’ve found that the best deal in Canada is to use a talk / text plan like the Freedom Mobile $99/year plan and combine it with a data-only plan like the ones from Nomad. You can get a 1GB data pack for Canada for just $4, 5GB is only $17 right now with the promos they’re running. You can check out the site here:

    1. Dave Dean

      If your phone supports eSIM (Nomad is an international eSIM provider), this is a solid option. Nomad is definitely not alone among the international providers in offering eSIM service in Canada, but the pricing is more competitive than most.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.