If you are one of the many Canadians who travel to the US for work or pleasure, then you’re probably already aware the data roaming charges can add up quickly; hopefully, you didn’t learn this lesson the hard way.
The good news for Canadians travelling to the US is that many of the larger Canadian providers have agreements with their American counterparts and offer roaming plans that can save you a ton of money. This article will dive into those plans and go over everything you need to know about US roaming so that you can pick a plan that works for you and helps you avoid roaming penalties.
Let’s jump right in and go over your data and network options when travelling to the US.
Option 1: Daily Roaming Add-On
Daily roaming add-ons are, without a doubt, the quickest and easiest solution if you are travelling to the US for a short amount of time, less than a week or so. The way it works is that you simply call your network service provider and let them know that you’ll be in the US and would like to add on data roaming, then you turn data roaming on in your device’s settings, and you’ll be good to go.
What happens is that your cell phone will automatically connect to an American network, and then you’ll be able to make voice calls and use data like you normally would. Keep in mind that this is the most expensive option, and, depending on your data usage, the cost of this type of roaming can quickly skyrocket to well over $100 and can sometimes cost $1,000 or more.
That said, some of the major network carriers in Canada offer daily add-on plans that can help cap the amount of money you’ll spend for daily data roaming add-ons in the US. Let’s look at those now.
Telus US Easy Roam
The TELUS Easy Roam plan enables you to use the minutes, texts, and even data from your regular plan while travelling to the US (and almost anywhere in the world). Even better? They share the lowest daily travel rates at $7 per 24-hour period to the US, and $12 to more than 150 countries worldwide. For travel to the US, Roam Easy adds $12/day to your month-end bill. Each “day” ends 24 hours after it’s activated. You won’t be charged again until you use your minutes, texts or data but once you do then $12 gets you another 24 hours. You only pay for the days you use data, talk, or send a text while travelling.
Rogers Roam Like Home
Rogers offers one of the best daily data roaming add-on packages for Canadians travelling to the US for extended periods of time. With their Roam Like Home package, Roger’s customers that have Share Everything plans can make calls, send text messages, and use their data plan from back home for only $5 per day.
What makes this a great deal is that customers who are in the US for more than ten days are capped at a maximum of $50 per month, meaning that you won’t spend any more than an additional $50 for data roaming while you are in the US provided that you don’t exceed the parameters of your current plan at home.
Bell Roam Better
A significantly worse plan, compared to Rogers Roam Like Home service, is Bell Canada’s Bell Roam Better package, which also costs $5 per day and includes an underwhelming 100 megabytes of data, which is around one YouTube video. Of course, if you’d like to watch a second YouTube video, you can always pay an additional $5 per day for another 100 MB. Unlike with Rogers, this plan does not have a cap, so you’ll continue paying $5 or more per day indefinitely while the plan is active.
Freedom actually has a pretty good deal when it comes to US data roaming. It’s $15 per month in addition to your base plan and offers unlimited Canada-US talk and text plus 1GB of data. What makes the plan worthwhile is that once you exceed the 1GB of data, instead of charging you a fortune, Freedom simply throttles your data while still allowing you unlimited internet for no additional cost. All things considered, this is a decent plan, especially if you plan to connect to Wi-Fi while in the US, which can help you preserve precious high-speed data.
Option 2: Travel Packs for Extended Vacations
Generally speaking, purchasing a daily roaming add-on is probably the easiest way to access your Canadian cell phone plan while you are in the US. That said, daily add-ons can be very expensive, especially if you’re going to be in the US for a significant amount of time. Canadian snowbirds who plan to spend longer than a week in the US will often be better off signing up for a travel pack, which will allow them to roam for considerably less money than they would spend with daily roaming add-ons.
Most of the big Canadian wireless carriers have US travel packs that include Canada-US talk time, SMS text messaging, and a small amount of data. The good thing about these travel packs is that they allow you to keep your Canadian number. All things considered, these travel packs are still cost prohibitive.
For example, a US data travel pass offered by Virgin Plus presently costs $60 per month for 30 days of service and only includes 200 minutes of talk time, with 1GB of data. For an extra $40, you can add two additional gigs of data. Not a very great plan if you ask us. Other Canadian carriers offer similar travel packs that are equally miserly.
Option 3: Canada-US Plans
Some Canadians are often in the US frequently—and for up to six months at a time. In that case, a much better option for roaming can be to add a Canada-US plan. Most of the big Canadian network providers, including Bell, Rogers, and TELUS, offer plans that allow Canadians to access their home networks in both Canada and the US.
These plans don’t offer any additional data or minutes; they simply allow you to use the plan that you currently have while you are down south. In most cases, these plans range from an additional $20–40 per month. Compared to the price of daily data add-ons or travel packs for the same amount of time, this is significantly less. Remember that this fee is in addition to your normal monthly service charge.
There is one drawback to using a Canada-US plan that you may not be aware of though. Once you return to Canada, you may want to downgrade your service and return to a Canada-only plan so that you can save the additional $20–40 per month. However, you should think carefully because most carriers will not allow you to switch back to a Canada-US plan for at least 12 months, meaning that when you are ready to head back down south next year, you may be unable to sign up for another Canada-US plan; this is, of course, unless you switch carriers.
What If Your Carrier Does Not Offer Roaming Bundles or Travel Add-Ons?
If your Canadian cell phone service provider does not offer any US roaming bundles, then you can still save a bunch of money using the following methods. Keep in mind that in some cases, these options might be even better than signing up for a roaming bundle with your current provider, so it makes sense to explore each one of them to find out which plan makes the most sense for you.
Buy a US Sim Card and Data Plan
Canadians enjoy some of the best cell phone coverage in the world, with an estimated 99% coverage amongst the population. That said, Canadians also pay some of the highest prices for cell phone service on earth, so purchasing a US SIM card and data plan can be an excellent way to save money while still enjoying a high-quality service with fast Internet speeds.
In fact, while in the US, there’s a very good chance that you’ll be able to find a local plan that includes twice as many minutes and more than double the data for less than half the price you’ll pay for a Canadian cell phone plan with a roaming package.
To take advantage of this method, you’ll need to have an unlocked cell phone. Simply insert the US SIM card in your cell phone, and you’ll be good to go. However, keep in mind that you will have a different number when using your US SIM card.
Purchase a Prepaid Phone in the Us
Depending on how much time you spend in the US, another good option can be to just purchase a prepaid phone down South. Prepaid cell phones in the US tend to be very inexpensive compared to their Canadian counterparts. When you factor in the high cost of Canadian roaming plans, it may turn out to be cheaper to purchase a prepaid phone for use during your time in the US
Use WhatsApp and Wi-Fi
If all else fails, you can always make voice calls, video calls, and send text messages for free using WhatsApp. The trick with this method is to make sure that you only use WhatsApp when you have a Wi-Fi connection; otherwise, you run the risk of incurring expensive roaming fees.
That said, the US has Wi-Fi all over the place, so it shouldn’t be very hard for you to find a network. Once connected to Wi-Fi, simply open the app, and feel free to call whoever you’d like, whenever you’d like; it won’t cost you a cent. If you plan on using this method, just remember to disconnect your data roaming, which can be found in your cell phone settings.
How Can I Be Sure My Phone Will Work in the Us?
There are a number of different websites that allow you to check if your cell phone will work in the US; a quick Google search will uncover about ten of them. But the easiest way to determine this is simply to phone your Canadian service provider and inquire as to whether or not your IMEI number is compatible with US coverage. Most modern smartphones will work globally, but it’s always a good idea to check just in case.
Summary & Recommendation
Data roaming is expensive no matter what, but there are a few ways that Canadians can save some money during their time down south. If possible, consider signing up for a Canada-US plan. If your carrier doesn’t offer a Canada-US plan, then think about having your phone unlocked and adding a US sim card. If all else fails, or you simply don’t want to pay for roaming, then stick to Wi-Fi and use WhatsApp for unlimited free video calling, voice calling, and text messaging; just remember to turn your data roaming off before you use this method, or you’ll incur expensive roaming charges.