The Definitive Guide to Canada’s Best U.S. Roaming Rates
Edited April 5th, 2017: Since we wrote this article Mobilicity has become Chatr, and their roaming options changed as well. Freedom also dropped it’s partnership with T-Mobile. This article was edited to reflect these changes.
There is no avoiding the close relationship between Canadians and our southern neighbors. Whether it is business or pleasure that draws you to the States, your trip will be made infinitely more convenient if you bring your most trusted tool: your smartphone.
Going anywhere without a roaming plan can leave you looking like the white socked, open-toe sandaled, map wielding amateur traveler. Trust us, you don’t want to be that person so get organized. Sorting out affordable roaming rates is the next step. Since no one wants to come home to a ginormous phone bill, here are some things to think about.
Everyone has different needs. A two-week trip versus a weekend getaway each carry separate challenges, but there are options to cover all bases. Most carriers offer pay-per-use roaming but at an insane cost. Really? $1.50 a MB? $1.45 per minute? Base roaming rates for all of Canada’s major Telcos are laughable. They offer bulk-roaming packages that have some value, but at a high cost. Thankfully, their mistakes have spawned a new generation of companies specializing in roaming services.
So as to not be stuck with crazy rates offered by your carrier, get your phone unlocked. You can ask your carrier to unlock your phone instantly giving you access to third party roaming services. That option is available upon request after three months of use or if you buy the phone outright. Depending on the carrier, it costs roughly $50. The opportunity to use pay-as-you-go plans directly from U.S. carriers is another feature reserved for unlocked phones. Evidently, unlocking will expand your choices considerably. The only instance to consider a U.S. roaming package from your carrier is because of a short notice one-time trip. Travel back and forth demands a responsible approach.
Yet another incentive to prepare your roaming options in advance was recently put into play. Pro-consumer CRTC regulations have capped data roaming fees at $100 per month. If you venture over that cost,your carrier has the option to cut you off to avoid breaking the law, which will leave you stranded.
Big carriers offer mostly subpar options. We have included them in our U.S. roaming report card to give a point of reference for third party services and help you make the best decision that fits your needs:
Roam Mobility: A+
Now we’re talking. Roam Mobility is set up specifically for roaming. Get your phone unlocked and you can order a SIM card for $19.95. The startup cost is minimal if you venture to the States more than once or twice. You can get talk, text, and data for $4 a day. Want only data? It will cost $0.01 per MB. Only talk and text will run you $3 a day.
On top of that, free calls back to Canada are a staple. There is an option to buy a U.S. number to keep your phone lines separate.
If you don’t want to bring your device, Roam Mobility’s phone for talk and text comes in at $49.95. The bulk 30-day package is close to a regular monthly plan rate at $59.95. This would be great for long-term visitors but there are still 1, 3, 7, and 14 day plans. The catch? It is just a regular phone, so no apps.
The high flexibility and convenience is why you should give Roam Mobility some serious thought.
For a carrier, Freedom is arguably the best in the business for roaming rates. Pay per use calls are $0.15 a minute, which may seem expensive but wait until you see what everyone else can do. Their fees are reasonable and you can even get a $15 add-on for U.S. roaming that includes talk, text, and data on eligible plans. The add-on can be turned on and off via your online Freedom account at your discretion. Coverage is also extensive as Freedom’s U.S. partner is AT&T.
Know Roaming: B+
Toronto based startup Know Roaming is a relatively new service. Having just closed preorders, this is not available at the moment but may be a good alternative in the future. The phone must be unlocked in order to use this service.
A sticker is placed carefully on your SIM card with a home kit and voila, you will have access to local rates not only in the U.S., but in over 200 countries. This is great for the international traveler. Rates for calling within the States are USD $0.10 a minute and data is priced at USD $0.11 per MB. For those who really feel this option suits their travel lifestyle or many business trips, check back when the chip stickers are ready for mass production.
The cheapest option that includes data is $40. 50 talking minutes and 200MB sounds a little low for anything more than one weekend. The next option is $80, and with overage rates similar to calling Timbuktu, it’s best to look elsewhere.
Here we go again. Another carrier with lackluster roaming products. The same $40 option exists with Rogers as with Fido: 200MB and 50 talking minutes.
Telus is the best of the worst. But it is still similar to the other big carriers: high one time cost with expensive overages. There is better out there than $45 for 150 talking minutes and 150MB.
Hey, 1000 texts are okay, but 100MB isn’t. $50 is a bit steep seeing as other big carrier can offer more at a lesser cost. Again, use only in emergency or for a short time span.
No bulk-roaming package is currently offered. With outgoing SMS at $.15/text and voice at $.50/min, it’s not that great. Data is fundamental to smartphone use so $6/MB is not good at all. The cost of data renders all your apps useless. It is an okay choice for talk and text but navigating without GPS, no email, and the constant search for a WiFi signal can make for a stressful trip.
The tables below put all options side by side:
Canadian Carrier U.S. Roaming Rates
|Service||Startup Cost||Incoming SMS||Outgoing SMS||Voice minutes||Data||Add-Ons||Notes|
|Freedom||Eligible plan||Free||$0.05/text||$0.15/ min||$0.05/MB||Bulk $15 per month with eligible plan for unlimited talk, text, and data|
|Fido||Plan and $40||Unlimited||Unlimited||50||200MB||Over talk $0.75/min Over Text $0.75/text Over data $20 for 100MB|
|Plan and $80||Unlimited||Unlimited||100||500MB|
|Rogers||Plan and $40||Unlimited||Unlimited||50||200MB||Over talk $0.75/min Over data $0.80/MB|
|Plan and $80||Unlimited||Unlimited||100||500MB|
|Bell||Plan and $50||Unlimited||1000||100||100MB||Over talk $0.20/min Over text $0.02/text Over data $20/100MB|
|Plan package and $80||Unlimited|
|Telus||Plan and $45||Unlimited||Unlimited||150||150MB||Over talk $0.50/min Over text $0.50/min Over data $0.50/MB|
|Plan and $65||Unlimited||Unlimited||300||300MB|
|Roam Mobility||$19.95 SIM||Talk + Text $3/day||Talk + text + data $4/day||Only Data: $0.01/MB||Option to buy a US number. Free calls back to Canada.|
|$49.95 for New Phone||1 day: $2.95||3 day: $8.95||7 day: $20.95||14 day: 34.95||30 day: $59.95||1-30 day packages describe talk and text only.|
|Know Roaming||Order SIM sticker||Unlimited||$0.11/ text||$0.10/ min.||$0.11/MB||Preorders have closed. Figures in USD.|
There are other packages that exclude data or offer rip-off prices like Telus’ $150 for 500 minutes and 1GB of data. We pitted similar options against each other for a realistic comparison for what you can get at an affordable price.
The best thing you can do for yourself is get your phone unlocked so you won’t be enslaved to carrier rates. Preparation is the path to follow in search of roaming peace of mind. If your trip is planned well in advance, sort out your phone options. There really is no excuse for returning home from a great trip and getting a mean surprise a few weeks later.