The best roaming options for Canadian travelers [2017 edition]

mobilesyrup roaming guide

As Canada’s brief, wondrous summer season progresses, it’s time for MobileSyrup’s 2017 roaming guide, a definitive list of wireless service options for the Canadian traveler abroad.

From a breakdown of all the travelling options available through Canadian carriers, to the use of roaming SIMs or prepaid local options in foreign countries, we’re providing you with all the information you need to travel without coming home to a shocking bill.

Use a roaming plan/feature from your Canadian carrier

Rogers

In 2017, both Telus and Bell took the step of offering share plans that allow for use in both Canada and the U.S. While Rogers has yet to do so, it still offers one of the most compelling daily roaming offers available in Roam Like Home.

With Roam Like Home, the majority of subscribers on a consumer plan can use their normal Canadian rate plan for $5 per day in the U.S. and $10 per day in over 100 other international destinations. After 10 days of being charged, the rest of the billing cycle is free.

If the customer’s plan isn’t compatible, or the country they’re visiting is not included in the program, they can explore monthly travel packs instead — though those are a much more expensive proposition.

Going to Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, Mexico and Oceania, for instance, travel packs with data start at $70 for a 31-day package that includes 40 minutes of calling, 150 sent texts and unlimited received texts and 20MB of data. In Europe, the same deal but with 40MB of data starts at $60 per 31 days.

Pay-per-use roaming rates vary by region. In the U.S., Rogers charges $7.99 for up to 50MB, $1.45 per minute and $0.75 per SMS. In Europe, it’s $9.99 for up to 20MB, $2.00 per minute and $0.75 per text.

Fido

Using Fido Roam, customers with a Pulse plan can use all the features of their regular plan for $5 per 24-hour period in the U.S. and $10 in other international locations. After 10 days of payment subscribers can roam freely for the rest of their monthly billing cycle.

If that doesn’t fit, they can try a travel pack instead. $40 per month will secure 50 minutes, unlimited text and 200MB of data for use in the U.S., $60 purchases 40MB, 40 minutes and 150 sent texts in the European zone.

The carrier has also added a Caribbean and Mexico promotional travel pack since last year’s guide, featuring 200 minutes, unlimited text and 500MB for $95.

Pay per use rates start at $7.99 for up to 50MB, $1.45 per minute for calls and $0.75 for texts in the U.S. and get higher depending on international zone.

Fido also offers prepaid options for roaming, relieving some of the stress of the potential for outlandish overage charges.

Chatr

Chatr doesn’t have any travel plans or roaming features, offering only pay-per-use rates. In the U.S., calls within the States or to Canada are $0.50 per minute and outgoing calls to other international locations are $0.50 per minute plus the long-distance rate.

Incoming SMS are free, outgoing are $0.15 and data usage is $6 per MB. The rates raise incrementally for all other international locations.

Telus

Telus expanded its three types of ‘Your Choice’ rate plans this year to include a Canada-U.S. plan option that provides data usage in Canada and the U.S. (according to the customer’s allotted data amount) and unlimited U.S. and Canadian calling and texting.

It is available for all price tiers from Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) to Premium Plus, bumping the price by $10 from the pricing for an unlimited nationwide plan.

For those who want a less permanent solution, Telus’ daily roaming plan, Easy Roam, allows customers to use their normal rate plans in the U.S. for $7 per day. The daily charge is capped at $100 per month, meaning subscribers pay daily fees for about 15 days. Internationally, the rate is $10 per day, capped at $150.

In comparison, Telus’ U.S. monthly travel passes start at $25 for 50MB, 50 minutes and 150 texts. Monthly travel passes for other international locations start at $50 for 300MB, 50 minutes and 150 texts.

Pay-per-use rates are set at $5 per MB, $1.50 per minute and $0.60 per text in the U.S. and increase depending on international zone.

Koodo

Unlike its sub-brand competitors Virgin and Fido, Koodo still doesn’t have a daily roaming feature, but indicated this spring that it’s working on one that may arrive in August or September.

Until then, users can select from a variety of U.S. travel package options. Customers can pick from unlimited text, unlimited U.S.-Canada minutes and text, and data, minutes and text combos for time increments of three days, 10 days or 30 days. The plans with data start at $30 for 150MB, unlimited minutes and unlimited text for three days.

An international monthly roaming bundle runs $40 for 50 outgoing texts, 50 minutes and 50MB of data.

Without any travel plan, pay-per-use rates start at $5 for 20MB, $1.50 per minute and $0.05 per text.

Public Mobile

In November of 2016, Public Mobile added U.S. roaming options for data, text and calling through agreements with AT&T and T-Mobile.
Customers with ‘Unlimited Talk’ option plans can purchase 10-day plans that include talk-only, text-only, data-only or a bundle of all three services.

The talk, text and data bundle offers unlimited talk, global text and 250MB of data for $20.

Bell

Catering to the frequent U.S. traveller, Bell now offers its customers Share plans (from BYOD to Premium Smartphone Plus) with unlimited Canada and U.S. calling, texting and the use of the plan’s data allotment in both countries, for $10 more than the nationwide unlimited calling plan.

If travelling is more of a sporadic occurrence, however, customers may want to use Bell’s daily roaming plan, Roam Better, instead. It offers customers unlimited talk and text plus 100MB of data per day for $5 per day in the U.S. or $10 in over 110 other international locations. The daily charge applies for 20 days per line each month.

If customers exceed their 100MB cap before the 11:59pm ET reset time, the carrier sends a text allowing them to add another 100MB for $5.

Bell also offers monthly travel passes, beginning at $40 for 200MB, 200 minutes and unlimited text in the U.S., or $60 for 100 minutes, 200 sent texts and 200MB of data in Europe.

Pay-per-use rates start at $6 per MB, $1.45 per minute and $0.75 per SMS in the U.S., ranging higher for other international locations.

Virgin Mobile

Virgin’s Roam Sweet Roam lets customers use unlimited talk and text and 100MB of data per day for $5 daily in the U.S. and $10 in other international locations, with data resetting at 11:59pm ET. After 20 days, the roaming feature is free for the rest of the month.

Monthly travel passes come in at $40 for 200MB, 200 minutes and unlimited text in the U.S., and $60 for 200MB of data, 100 minutes and 200 text messages in Europe.

Pay-per-use rates start at $1.45 per minute and $0.75 per text in the U.S., but both there and in other international locations, data is not available unless customers specifically purchase a data pass, which starts at $10 for 50MB of data lasting 72 hours in the U.S.

Freedom Mobile

Freedom offers two plans that cater to the frequent U.S. traveller: one regularly priced at $59 at the time of publication that offers 6GB of data and unlimited talk and text in Canada, and 2,400 minutes, unlimited text and 1GB of data in the U.S.

The other is regularly priced at $49 and offers 4GB of data and unlimited talk and text in Canada, with 2,400 minutes and unlimited text in the U.S. but no data.

For those who don’t travel in the U.S. quite frequently enough to use those plans, the carrier offers a U.S. roaming add-on called ‘Ready to Go: U.S.’ for $15 per month that features 1GB of data, 2400 minutes and unlimited text.

Since last year, it has also added a ‘Ready to Go: South’ roaming plan for $20/month that offers 2,400 mins, unlimited text, and 1GB of data in locations including Mexico, Bermuda, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Outside of the ‘Ready to Go’ options, customers can use the $8 per month ‘World Traveller’ add-on to use reduced rates as low as $0.05 per minute, $0.03 per text and $0.03 per MB in 60 countries around the world.

Otherwise, the standard rates start at $0.05 per MB, $0.15 per minute and $0.05 per text for the U.S. and increase for international locations.

Videotron

Since last year’s guide, Videotron has launched two major new roaming products.

The first is its Canada-U.S. ‘Borderless’ packages, which include unlimited text, unlimited calling and a selection of 2GB, 3GB, 4GB or 6GB of data and allow for use in the U.S. for 120 days per year at no additional charge. The plans start at $54.95 for a 2GB BYOD offering.

The second new product is a daily roaming pass dubbed the ’24-hour’ travel option. The package allows Vidéotron unlimited talk and text plan holders to access their entire talk, text and data buckets while traveling in the U.S. and 100 destinations across the globe.

While traveling in the U.S., the 24-hour pass costs $6 per day up to a maximum of 10 days per billing cycle. In countries outside the U.S., meanwhile, the service costs $10 per day up to a maximum 20 days per billing cycle.

Other than that, the carrier offers pay-per-use rates. Those start at $0.15 per MB, $0.30 per minute and $0.15 per text message in the U.S. In Europe, the rates are $0.60 per MB, $0.60 per minute and $0.30 per text message. All other international locations are incremental increases.

BellMTS

Since last year, MTS has become BellMTS. It offers text abroad packages, but its plans and travel offerings are still very different from its parent company.

The carrier only offers U.S., international and Mexico data passes, along with and U.S. voice travel packs and ‘Text Abroad’ packages.

The U.S. voice pack starts at $25 for 40 monthly minutes, and the highest U.S. monthly data pass is $10 for 225MB.

International data passes range from $30 for 5MB to a whopping $255 for 80MB, while two Mexico-specific data passes are available: $25 for 50MB and $65 for 150MB.

One of those data passes must be purchased to use data abroad, there is no pay-per-use data option. The per-minute rate for calls begins at $1.75 in the U.S.

SaskTel

All of SaskTel’s current plans include Roam & Relax U.S. daily rates. Anytime a customer connects wirelessly while in the U.S., they’re automatically charged $5 per day for up to 300MB and/or $3 per day for unlimited calling.

If that’s not the right fit, SaskTel also offers U.S. travel add-ons starting at $50 a month for 1GB, 250 minutes and unlimited SMS.

For other foreign countries, international travel packages including data begin at $65 per month for 30 minutes, 100 text messages and 20MB of data (with the option of paying $1 per extra MB).

As for other international pay-per-use rates, charges runs between $0.30 and $6.99 per minute for calls and between $0.15 and $15 per MB depending on the country. Sent texts cost between $0.20 and $0.65 depending on location.

Use a roaming SIM

International SIMs are a another great travel option. One thing to keep in mind is that your phone must be unlocked to take advantage of these services. In such circumstances, the added cost of unlocking a device — about $50 from via the major Canadian carriers — may make some of these services not worth it.

That said, if you plan to travel later in the year, all Canadian carriers will be required to unlock your device for free after December 1st, 2017.

Roam Mobility

Roam Mobility offers prepaid U.S. SIM cards for $9.95 (the company is currently holding a sale where SIM cards are discounted to $4.97). Roam’s most popular offering is its unlimited U.S. talk, text and data plan, which costs $4.95 per day and offers unlimited calling within the U.S and Canada, unlimited global texting and 15GB of data at 4G LTE speeds and unlimited data at 2G speeds thereafter.

The company also offers monthly plans and Snowbird plans for those traveling in the U.S. for a longer period of time. A Snowbird plan with unlimited data is priced at $49.95 per month.

KnowRoaming

KnowRoaming offers service in over 200 countries across the world. The company offers both a SIM sticker option — which consumers affix to their existing SIM card — and an unlocked SIM. The SIM sticker costs $29.99 USD, while the unlocked SIM is priced at $9.99 USD. The former includes a $10 USD credit with purchase.

Once they have a KnowRoaming SIM or SIM Sticker, consumers can either purchase an unlimited data pack, valid in more than 80 countries, for $7.99 USD per day, or stick to pay-per-use rates.

Pay-per-use rates change depending on the country in question. When traveling to the U.S., for instance, pay-per-use rates run $0.10 per MB, $0.18 per outgoing text and $0.13 per minute for outgoing calls. Visit KnowRoaming’s website to check pay-per-use rates in other destinations.

Use a local prepaid SIM

Many travellers, especially those planning to be abroad for a considerable amount of time, choose to go the route of purchasing prepaid wireless services from a local carrier.

Since Canada has some of the highest wireless prices in the world, travellers often find this route to be a budget saver. Once again, however, it’s important to keep in mind that your phone must be unlocked before it will work with a SIM from a non-Canadian carrier.

The United States of America

All four major U.S. carriers — AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon — offer monthly plans with unlimited data starting between $30 and $40. As with almost every data plan offered in the U.S., pricing increases depending on how high-speed data the consumer wants.

The most intriguing offering comes courtesy of T-Mobile, which offers a three-week tourist plan. Priced at $30, the plan includes 1,000 talk minutes, 2GB of LTE data and Wi-Fi hotspot functionality. One thing to keep in mind is that T-Mobile says a U.S. credit card is required to sign up for its tourist plan. The one work around to this is that carrier will accept prepaid U.S. Visa and MasterCard gift cards.

Another option is the variety of low-cost MNVO that call the U.S. home. FreedomPop, for instance, offers a $0 plan that comes with 500MB of data, 200 talk time minutes and 500 texts.

Europe

Many of the major carriers in Europe offer not only a high value for your monthly fee, but will also allow you to easily roam throughout Europe.

Major European carriers include EE, O2, Vodafone and Orange. U.K carrier Three offers its Three Essential Plan, which comes with 4GB of data, as well as unlimited calling and texting for £10.00 per month.

As in the U.S., inexpensive MVNOs are also an option, including the U.K.’s Giffgaff, which offers plans starting at £10.00.

Asia

Local SIM availability and prices vary between some of the largest Asian countries.

Getting prepaid services in Japan requires proof of residence, though some stores are known to accept foreign passports and hotel address for verification. The largest carriers in Japan are NTT Docomoau by KDDI and Softbank.

Another option, particularly when traveling in Japan, is a pocket Wi-Fi. These can offer unlimited data for up to 10 devices. Some Japanese Airbnb listings even include a complimentary Pocket Wi-Fi.

The three major telecom players in China, China MobileChina Unicom and China Telecom, offer special prepaid plans for visitors. China Unicom, for instance, offers prepaid SIMs with 1GB of data for $25.

In India, prepaid plans for reduced rates and packaged features are available from Idea CellularReliance Communications and Aircel.

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