The best roaming options for Canadian travelers [2018 Edition]

A lot has changed over the last year – get up to speed with our comprehensive guide

Another summer, another MobileSyrup roaming guide — and thanks to Canada’s unlocking fee ban, travelers in this country are more free to explore all of their options than ever before.

Unfortunately, there are also some less-than-exciting changes for consumers. Spoiler alert: daily roaming features are now significantly more expensive at most carriers.

In our 2018 roaming guide, we’ll provide a comprehensive 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, this is all the information you need to travel without coming home to a shocking bill.

Igor Bonifacic contributed materials to this guide.

Use a roaming plan/feature from your Canadian carrier

Rogers

At a glance:

  • Daily roaming feature: Roam Like Home
  • Price: $7/day U.S., $12/day international
  • Cap: 15 days ($105 U.S., $180 international)
  • Countries: ~125

The fine print:

Roam Like Home was the first daily roaming package launched in Canada. Most subscribers on a consumer plan are automatically enrolled, allowing them to use their normal Canadian rate plan for $7 per day (increased as of May 2018) in the U.S. and $12 per day (increased as of January 2018) in over 100 other international destinations. After 15 days of being charged, the rest of the billing cycle is free.

After cutting out monthly travel packs in May, customers without the feature — or those travelling to a country not supported by Roam Like Home — are now only able to use pay-per-use rates with the carrier.

Pay-per-use roaming rates vary by region. In Europe, it’s $9.99 for up to 20MB, $2.00 per minute and $0.75 per text.

Fido

At a glance: 

  • Daily roaming feature: Fido Roam
  • Price: $7/day U.S., $12/day international
  • Cap: 15 days ($105 U.S., $180 international)
  • Countries: ~120

The fine print:

Using Fido Roam, any customer with a postpaid mobile plan can use all the features of their plan for $7 per 24-hour period in the U.S. (increased as of May 2018) and $12 in other international locations (increased as of February 2018). After 15 days of payment, subscribers can roam freely for the rest of their monthly billing cycle.

As with its parent company Rogers, Fido completely nixed its travel packs in May 2018, leaving just pay-per-use rates for a non-Fido Roam option.

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 zones. In Europe, calls are $2.00 per minute and data is $9.99 per 20MB.

For prepaid plans, the pay-per-use rates are a bit different. For instance, in the U.S., calls are $2.00 per minute, texts $0.75 and data is unavailable.

Chatr

At a glance:

  • Daily roaming feature: None
  • Price: Pay-per-use

The fine print:

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 messages are free, outgoing messages cost $0.15 and data usage costs $6 per MB. The rates raise incrementally for all other international locations.

Telus

At a glance:

  • Daily roaming feature: Easy Roam
  • Price: $7/day U.S., $12/day international
  • Cap: $100/billing cycle U.S., $150/billing cycle international
  • Countries: ~160

The fine print:

For the frequent U.S. traveler, Telus offers a Canada-U.S. Your Choice 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.

As of January 2018, it also added a Canada-China Your Choice plan for frequent travelers to mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. As with the Canada-U.S. option, the plan provides users with access to their monthly voice, text and data allotments while abroad.

Both are available for all price tiers from Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) to Premium Plus, with Canada-U.S. plans starting at $95 per month, and Canada-China plans starting at $105.

Then there’s the best option for less frequent travelers: Telus’ daily roaming plan, Easy Roam. 

The feature allows customers to use their normal rate plans in the U.S. for $7 per day (one of the few prices that hasn’t changed this year — yet).

The daily charge is capped at $100 per month, meaning subscribers pay daily fees for about 15 days. Internationally, the rate is $12 per day (increased as of March 2018), capped at $150.

In comparison, Telus’ U.S. monthly travel passes start at $30 for 300 minutes and unlimited 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

At a glance:

  • Daily roaming feature: Easy Roam
  • Price: $7/day U.S., $12/day international
  • Cap: $100/billing cycle U.S., $150/billing cycle international
  • Countries: ~160

The fine print:

As of October 2017, Koodo finally launched its own daily roaming program for consumer postpaid plans.

Given the same moniker as its parent brand’s option, Easy Roam lets customers pay $7 per day to use their domestic plan in the U.S., capped at $100 per billing cycle, or $12 in other international locations, capped at $150 per billing cycle.

With the addition of its roaming program, Koodo did away with monthly travel bundles, now offering pay-per-use rates as the sole alternative.

Pay-per-use rates start at $5 for 20MB, $1.50 per minute and $5 per 100 outgoing texts in the U.S., and get incrementally higher depending on the international location.

Koodo prepaid phones can only be used in Canada and the U.S. through the purchase of a U.S. Roaming Booster add-on, which starts at $5.

Public Mobile

At a glance:

  • Daily roaming feature: None
  • Price: Begins at $8 for unlimited talk or unlimited text for 10 days in the U.S. only

The fine print:

Public Mobile offers 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. Unlimited talk for 10 days or unlimited text for 10 days each cost $8.

Without a roaming plan, customers cannot use their services in the U.S. There is currently no international roaming option.

Bell

At a glance:

  • Daily roaming feature: Roam Better, Roam Better with home data
  • Price (Roam Better): $6/day U.S., $10/day international for 100MB/day
  • Price (Roam Better with home data): $7/day U.S., $12/day international for home data
  • Cap: 20 days (for home data — $140 U.S., $240 international; for 100MB — $120 U.S., $200 international)
  • Countries: ~180

The fine print:

Catering to the frequent U.S. traveller, Bell 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.

Originally, Roam Better only offered postpaid 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, with a cap at 20 days.

In November 2017, however, the carrier added a version of Roam Better that allows subscribers to use their domestic data allotment abroad, making it consistent with Rogers and Telus’ offerings.

The home data version costs the same as Telus and Rogers’ offerings — $7 per day for the U.S. and $12 per day for other international locations — while the 100MB version costs $6 per day for the U.S. and $10 per day for other international locations.

It’s important to note, though, that the cap is much higher at 20 days, making for larger overall bills.

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 250MB 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

At a glance:

  • Daily roaming feature: Roam Sweet Roam
  • Price (with 100MB): $6/day U.S., $10/day international
  • Price (with home data): $7/day U.S., $12/day international
  • Cap: 20 days (for home data — $140 U.S. or $240 international, for 100MB — $120 U.S. or $200 international)
  • Countries: ~180

The fine print:

Virgin’s Roam Sweet Roam, identical to Bell’s Roam Better, has two tiers.

Roam Sweet Roam with 100MB lets customers use unlimited talk and text and 100MB of data per day for $6 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.

Roam Sweet Roam with home data allows subscribers to use their home data allotment internationally for $7 per day in the U.S. and $12 per day in other supported countries. 

Monthly travel passes come in at $40 for 200MB, 200 minutes and unlimited text in the U.S., and $60 for 250MB 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.

Lucky Mobile

At a glance:

  • Daily roaming feature: None
  • Price: Not available

The fine print:

Lucky joined the wireless market in Canada on December 1st 2017 as parent company Bell’s prepaid bet.

The carrier currently does not offer any roaming or travel packages, and does not specify international pay-per-use rates. To put it another way: Lucky Mobile services won’t work at all outside of Canada.

Freedom Mobile

At a glance:

  • Daily roaming feature: None 
  • Price: $20 monthly U.S. and select international plans, $8 monthly reduced international rates or pay-per-use

The fine print:

With the introduction of Freedom’s Big Gig plans in October 2017, the carrier lost two plans that catered to the frequent U.S. traveler by offering U.S. monthly data allotments. 

Freedom still offers a monthly U.S. roaming add-on called ‘Ready to Go: U.S.’ that features 1GB of data, 2400 minutes and unlimited text. The price has increased from $15 to $20, however.

There’s also a ‘Ready to Go: South’ roaming plan for $20/month that offers 2,400 mins, unlimited text, and 1GB of data in 24 locations including Mexico, Barbados, 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

At a glance:

  • Daily roaming feature: Daily Traveller Pass
  • Price: $6/day U.S., $10/day international
  • Cap: 20 days ($120 U.S. or $200 international)
  • Countries: ~100

The fine print:

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

The first is its Canada-U.S. ‘Without Borders’ 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 ‘Daily Traveller Pass.’ The package allows Vidéotron’s 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

At a glance:

  • Daily roaming feature: None
  • Price: Travel passes begin at $25 for 40 minutes of U.S. voice.

The fine print:

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

At a glance:

  • Daily roaming feature: Roam & Relax U.S.
  • Price: $5 per 300MB and/or $3/day for unlimited calling
  • Cap: No cap
  • Countries: Just the U.S.

The fine print:

As of August 2017, crown carrier SaskTel added a shareMORE Canada and U.S. plan that provides data, voice and text services that can be used in both countries.

ShareMORE Canada and U.S. plans start at $75 per month for 1GB.

Additionally, 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 $40 a month for 1GB, 250 minutes and unlimited SMS.

For other foreign countries, international travel packages including data begin at $50 per month for 50 minutes, 50 text messages and 250MB of data (with the option of paying $0.15 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.

Ice Wireless

At a glance:

  • Daily roaming feature: None (U.S. and Mexico roaming included with plans)
  • Countries: U.S. and Mexico

The fine print:

Canada’s northern carrier offers roaming in the U.S. and Mexico to all customers on its in-market plans, both prepaid and postpaid.

For instance, the Smartphone 59 plan features 3GB of data, unlimited voice and unlimited text, all of which can be used in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. 

As for other locations, Ice states that customers can roam in any location where it has agreements — a list of which is found here in its support page.

Use a roaming SIM

Roaming and international SIMs are both great travel options, especially now that the Canadian telecom regulator has banned phone unlocking fees. 

Unlocking fees previously acted as a deterrent for Canadian customers wanting to use their devices on a network owned by a different telecom company. In other words, if Rogers sold a customer a phone, it would be unusable on Bell’s network unless the customer paid a fee to unlock the device — generally $50. As of December 2017, that changed. Now, all phones sold in Canada are unlocked, and all older phones can be unlocked for free. 

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that your phone, designed as it was for the North American market, may not be compatible with all the spectrum frequencies in use in other parts of the world. Though 4G LTE spectrum is generally pretty synchronized between countries, it doesn’t hurt to check this out before you leave. You can do so by looking up the frequency bands your phone supports, and matching them up to those used by the major telecoms in the country you’re visiting.

Below, see a few solid options for roaming SIMs — there are certainly more on the market, but these are options tested and approved by the MobileSyrup crew.

Roam Mobility

Roam Mobility offers prepaid U.S. SIM cards for $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

Toronto-based KnowRoaming, which launched 4G LTE service this past year, 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 purchase an unlimited data pack, valid in more than 80 countries, for $7.99 USD per day, or stick to pay-per-use rates.

There are also 1GB and 5GB data packages designed for certain regions of the world, including Europe and Asia Pacific.

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.

Wraptel

Toronto-based Wraptel offers international roaming in over 200 countries.

The company offers a SIM card for free when a customer purchases $20 worth of airtime, a credit that does not expire.

The card includes a U.S. and U.K. number for free, while Canadian numbers are available for a small monthly fee.

Somewhat unusually, Wraptel charges data in 50kb increments, rather than 1MB increments — which the brand touts as a selling point, since it’s more cost effective for customers than rounding usage to the nearest MB.

Wraptel doesn’t offer any packages; all rates are pay-per-use. In the U.S., it charges $0.38 per minute, $0.14 per text and $0.16 for a MB. 

Find pay-per-use rates here.

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. As noted above, unlocking fees are no longer a concern, though if you purchased your device prior to December 1st, 2017, you may want to check to see if it’s unlocked and, if it isn’t, nab a free unlock from the carrier where you purchased your device.

Another thing worth noting is spectrum frequency compatibility when it comes to operating your North American device in another country. Check the frequency bands supported by your device against the bands employed by the foreign carrier of your choice for extra peace of mind.

Note: this assortment of options is by no means exhaustive and just represents an overview of the choices available for some major Canadian travel destinations.

The United States of America

All four major U.S. carriers — AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon — offer monthly prepaid 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 much 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 will only send the SIM card to U.S. addresses, plus a U.S. credit card is required to sign up online. However, customers can use a Canadian credit or debit card to sign up at a brick-and-mortar store when in the U.S. 

Another option is the variety of low-cost MVNO 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 a plan with 4GB of data, as well as unlimited calling and texting for £13.00 per month.

As in the U.S., inexpensive MVNOs are also an option, including the U.K.’s Giffgaff, which offers plans starting at £5.00.

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 hotspot. These can offer unlimited data for up to 10 devices. Some Japanese Airbnb listings even include a complimentary Pocket Wi-Fi device.

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 carriers like VodafoneIdea CellularReliance Jio, Airtel and BSNL Mobile.

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