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.
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.
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.
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. You can add data packs on top, starting at $5/100MB, and going up to 2GB for $50.
If you’d prefer to buy a package that includes calls, texts, and data, they start at $35 CAD. For that, you’ll get 250 domestic minutes, unlimited international text, and 500MB of data. These packs top out at $55/month for unlimited calls and texts, and 3GB of data.
Tax will be added on top of the purchase price. More plan details here.
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.
Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.