Canada has four national mobile providers:
- Wind (only present in 3 provinces with an own network)
This is added by their resellers, subsidiaries and MVNOs like Fido, Chatr, Koodo, 7-Eleven Speak Out / Petro-Canada, Virgin Mobile, and PhoneBox. We skip here regional providers like SaskTel and MTS Mobility, that are present only in one province.
Frequencies and coverageEdit
In the last years in Canada all networks operate or moved to the GSM/UMTS/LTE system. CDMA is practically phased out at the end of 2015 and new devices won't be activated on CDMA anymore. Coming from an US provider on CDMA (Verizon, Sprint), this means that you need a "world phone" with GSM or LTE and a SIM card slot for roaming. Please note many "CDMA world phones" only have GSM 900/1800 meaning this is unlikely to help. It appears Verizon and Sprint both have stopped selling CDMA only handsets a while ago and this should not be a major concern to most travelers.
On 2G (GSM) Rogers is the only provider in the country on 850 and 1900 MHz with good coverage. On 3G (UMTS) Rogers competes with Telus and Bell all on 850 and 1900 MHz, all three with good coverage in populated areas. The coverage of Telus and Bell is identical (3G: 98%) and similar to Rogers (3G: 92%) as Telus and Bell have a multiple operator agreement to provide a common network. Since Telus & Bell setup UMTS as replacement for CDMA, UMTS coverage is extensive in populated areas. If you have signal, chances are, you will be getting at least HSPA+ anywhere in Canada.
Wind has a limited own coverage in some cities only on 3G on the 1700 MHz (AWS) frequency, which is rare outside the US. MTS Mobility is limited to the province of Manitoba and SaskTel to Saskatschewan with roaming fees for usage outside those areas.
In Canada UMTS-based HSPA+ and DC-HSPA+ are often called "4G". Real 4G on LTE began some years ago on the Big Three networks on 700 and 1700 MHz. Rogers and Bell support additionally the 2600 MHz frequency, which is far more compatible with devices from overseas. In 2015 Rogers covers 77% and Bell/Telus 82% of population by 4G/LTE.
Extended coverage (meaning the big 3 roaming on each other) is generally not available to prepaid customers.
GSM-frequencies used in Canada
|Rogers||850, 1900 MHz||850, 1900 MHz||700, 1700, 2600 MHz|
|Bell and Telus||-||850, 1900 MHz||700, 1700, 1900, 2600 MHz|
|Wind||-||1700 MHz AWS||
(testing state: est. 2016)
Bell and Telus have a multiple operator core network agreement to provide a common network to the customer (different from a roaming arrangement, where the networks stay separate). Bell builds most of its towers in Eastern Canada, while most of Telus' towers are in Western Canada.
In Canada all providers are geared rather to postpaid customers with contracts than to prepaid clients. Sadly, this is true to all networks and MVNOs which don’t really compete for prepaid resulting in only few choices. That’s why in Canada the highest prices for prepaid voice, text and data on the American continent prevail. Like in all of North America in Canada prices are always given as net prices without taxes.
Because of the high rates in Canada SIM cards and plans on roaming from other countries can offer more choices. They are especially appealing when you travel north from the US or Mexico having bought a SIM plan for the previous country already. So at the end of the article some good roaming plans for Canada are shown.
Fees and taxes Edit
5-15% local sales taxes apply additionally depending on province. A monthly provincial or municipal fee for 911 (emergency) services is collected by all carriers in select provinces only. The amount of the fee is $0.40 to $0.75 and regulated in each province. Customers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Québec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland are affected. This fee is deducted already on the 1st day of usage from your account. Some operators charge a flat rate of 1.25/mo (ie: seven eleven).
Since the top-up cards values have fixed steps, this results in you wasting $5 or $10 buying a more expensive top-up card just to cover those 75 cents. So looking for a plan without the 911 fee is a good idea (e.g. Virgin).
Rogers (Fido, Chatr)EditRogers and its sub-brands Fido and Chatr give probably the best compatibility for devices from overseas. It’s the market leader in Canada and the only national provider who offers GSM-based 2G on 850 and 1900 MHz up to EDGE. Its 3G is on the same frequencies on par with Telus and Bell. But unlike its competitors, Rogers can offer a fallback to 2G. 4G LTE is on 700, 1700 and 2600 MHz. As of mid 2014, Rogers provides 4G/LTE data speeds on prepaid.
For details see Rogers coverage map. It doesn't offer 3G and 4G in the province of Saskatchewan. Rogers Coverage Map
Availability and start-upEdit
Rogers and Fido SIMs can be purchased online to be sent to a Canadian postal address, in their own shops and at many independent mobile retailers. Rogers Store Locator: here. Fido store locator: here
Corporate stores (and kiosks) for both Rogers and Fido do not charge for SIM cards when purchased in conjunction with any post-paid plan, but it'll be $10 for pre-paid plan as confirmed by customer service.
The mother company has mandatory prepaid plans without data on which data addons can be booked. The cheapest monthly plan is the “Talk anytime” for $0.75 per month and a minimum topup of $10. You can add the following monthly packs:
|Value||$ 10||$ 15||$ 20||$ 30||$ 50|
|Data||100 MB||250 MB||500 MB||1 GB||2 GB|
The add-ons can be booked online on your Rogers account or by calling 611 from your Rogers phone. The default data rate outside of packages is a choice you get before accessing data: $1 for 10 MB in 24 hours or $5 for 60 MB in 7 days.
FidoEditThe rates are exactly the same as Rogers. Their cheapest monthly prepaid plan is $0.75 per month and called “40c Anytime”. Three different monthly packs can be purchased:
- 100 MB for $ 10, overuse: $ 0.15/MB
- 500 MB for $ 20 , overuse: $ 0.05/MB
- 1 GB for $ 30 , overuse: $ 0.05/MB
Default rate without packs is like Rogers $1 for 10 MB in 24 hours or $5 for 60 MB in 7 days
Rogers and Fido moved to a new credit card processing system in 2011. As a result, you can no longer top up your account with a foreign credit card. If you go to a Rogers or Fido store in Canada, you must use cash as the store credit card readers will not accept foreign credit cards as well. This only applies to corporate stores, however, so look for third-party dealers if you wish to use your credit card from home. Top up vouchers of $10, $20, $30, $40 and $100 are available. The vouchers $10-40 give a validity of 30 days, the $100 of 1 year. So you can't keep your SIM alive topping up from abroad. The only workaround solution to save the SIM is a Canadian prepaid VISA like the 3V-Voucher card available in stores to be combined with the SIM.
Chatr Mobile Edit
Chatr is another sub-brand of Rogers. They are offered in different stores (locator). Their SIM card is sold for $ 10. Having a foreign credit card, you can expect to use only their vouchers for recharges (see above). For reload points check the locator. On Chatr you have to book a monthly base plan first, to activate data on top:
- $ 25 for unlimited province-wide talk, no data
- $ 35 for unlimited Canada-wide talk and text, no data
- $ 45 for unlimited Canada-wide talk and internatl. text
On these base planes (above), you can add these monthly data add-ons (below):
- $ 10: 500 MB
- $ 15: 1 GB
- $ 25: 2 GB (not available on the $ 35 base plan)
Overuse is charged at $0.05 per MB.
- Tethering: a profile for the iPhone is only supplied with data packs of 1 GB or more.
- APN for Rogers: internet.com; Username: wapuser1; Password: wap
- APN for Fido: internet.fido.ca; Username and Password: fido
- APN for Chatr: chatrweb.apn
Telus (Koodo)EditTelus and its sub-brand Koodo have a GSM 3G and 4G only network which is even better than Rogers, but without fallback to 2G. Their 3G is identical with Bell as they share the same wireless footprint. A device capable of 850 and 1900 MHz in 3G or 700 and 1700 MHz in 4G is essential. For coverage map click on coverage. 4G is given out for prepaid.
Note that even if your GSM phone also supports CDMA, Telus will not authorize it on their CDMA network. In mid-2015 Telus will begin to decommission the old CDMA network.
Start-up and availabilityEdit
Telus SIM cards are available in micro, mini and nano format online or at Telus stores (store locator) or Kodoo stores (store locator) for $15 without credit, $10 refunded on activation if purchased with a prepaid device. Koodo SIM card is for $20, refunded as credit on your balance too. Activate in store at the self service internet terminals as you need an online connection for it. Telus gives you $5 credit every 30 days when you buy a rate plan or add-on of $15 or more for the first 6 months..
With Telus you don't have to choose a prepaid plan. You can only use a data add-on. Default rate for data outside of plans or add-ons is $ 2 per MB. The following monthly plans with data are offered:
|Lite 25||100 MB||$ 25.75||50 mins domestic voice, free text|
|Social 35||250 MB||$ 35.75||100 mins domestic voice, free text|
|Premium 45||500 MB||$ 45.75||150 mins domestic voice, free text|
|Ultimate 65||1 GB||$ 65.75||300 mins domestic voice, free text|
These monthly add-ons for data are offered. You don't need to purchase a plan for them.
- $ 10: 100 MB
- $ 25: 500 MB
- $ 30: 1 GB
Overuse is charged with $0.15 per MB within the month. Activation is on your online account or by calling *123.
For their sub-brand Koodo mobile you have to buy a monthly base plan first to be added by boosters:
- $ 15: including unlimited text and pictures messaging, no voice
- $ 25: plus unlimited domestic evening (from 7pm) and weekend voice
- $ 35: plus included voice from 5pm and all incoming voice calls
- $ 45: plus unlimited domestic daytime calling
You can buy any of the following add-ons called boosters to add more data:
- $ 10: 100 MB
- $ 20: 500 MB
- $ 30: 1 GB
Booster add-ons don’t expire if there is a non-expired base plan on the account.
Telus allows recharges through credit card, but your credit card's billing address must be in a Canadian province. Koodo offer reloads through any international credit card (unlike Rogers). They also sell top-up cards through various retail outlets like supermarkets, gas stations or pharmacies. $10 gives 30 days of validity, $25 and $50 each 60 days and $100 one year. After that, the SIM is useless anymore and the remaining credit will be lost.
- APN for Telus with smartphones: sp.telus.com
- APN for Telus with modems and routers: isp.telus.com
- APN for Koodo: sp.koodo.com
- Proxy for Telus and Koodo: 126.96.36.199
BellEditBell is like Telus (see above). For 3G you need a 850 and 1900 MHz device. The coverage is identical with Telus. On 4G, Bell is on 700, 1700 and additionally on 2600 MHz (see Basics). 4G/LTE is given out for prepaid. Bell Coverage Map
Availability and start-upEdit
Bell is the only operator in Canada who gives out prepaid SIM cards focused on data to be used in tablets mainly. But they can be used in smartphones and modems as well. Prepaid SIM cards for data are sold in Bell shops (store locator) for $9.95 without credit. No ID necessary, they only ask for your name. They activate the SIM in store and give you your number that is assigned to that SIM.
Data feature packsEdit
These data add-ons for the voice and data plan, you activate online in store or later after having recharged. They are the only option with voice, which don't have to be locked to a (Canadian) credit card. You can use Bells refill vouchers instead. The plans renew automatically, if there is credit. To stop, you must call customer service or cancel it online:
- daily pass - 20 MB: $ 2 in 24 hours, overuse: you will be asked to buy a new plan or cut off
- 100 MB: $ 10, overuse: $0.15/MB
- 500 MB: $ 25, overuse: $0.05/MB
- 1 GB: $ 30, overuse: $0.05/MB
- 2 GB: $ 50, overuse: $0.05/MB
You can recharge your SIM with a (mostly Canadian) credit card. Otherwise, you can buy refill cards in many stores like supermarkets, gas stations and pharmacies. $15 give 30 days validity, $25 and $50 give 60 days and $100 a year. After that, your account will be closed, the SIM deactivated and the credit is lost.
- all data-add ons include tethering
- APN: pda.bell.ca
- Proxy: web.wireless.bell.ca
WIND EditWIND in Canada has a rather limited coverage. It is on 3G-only on the 1700 MHz (AWS) frequency reaching 44% of population. So it's very likely that a device from Europe/Asia won't work (the main exceptions are the newest iPhones and iPads, as well as the Nexus 6), but a phone or modem from T-Mobile USA will do. On this coverage map the Wind network is in red-only where speeds up to DC-HSPA+ are reached. Don't be misled by the orange of the roaming network where data costs extra. They have roaming agreements with all three major networks.
Do note that speed and reliability can be issues on Wind. Do not be surprised to see speeds under 1 Mbit/s during peak hours. However, if volume of data is more important, then Wind is still the most affordable option in Canada.
The SIM card is available for $ 25 in their stores (store locator) where you can buy refills as well.
For those who have Wind coverage, it offers the lowest prices in the country. You have to disable roaming as within the roaming networks (Wind shows an "away coverage") data is charged with $0.05 per MB extra.
However if you spend majority of time in one Wind covered cities, and make occasional trips out to countryside, 0.05/MB is probably lowest data rate you will find among any providers. Quality of service in roaming is identical to one of big 3.
Voice & data SIM Edit
These monthly smartphone plans are available and are valid on WIND's own coverage:
- $ 35: 2 GB data, unlimited domestic voice and text
- $ 40: 3 GB data, unlimited domestic voice and interntl. text
- $ 45: 5 GB data, unlimited CAN and US voice and interntl. text
- $ 50: 8 GB data, incl. 1 GB in the US, unlimited CAN and US voice and interntl. text
Data is throttled, when the included quota has been reached. US data is on T-Mobile US and on AT&T where T-Mobile is not available.
Data-only SIM Edit
The following monthly plan is offered for data-only SIMs with texts, but no voice and is valid for WIND's own coverage only:
- 10 GB: $ 35
Data is throttled, when the included quota has been reached. First step of throttling is down to 256 kbps, then further reduction. if you hit next stage. Add an additional 3 GB of full-speed data for $10.
- APN for smartphones: internet.windmobile.ca
- APN for modems and routers: broadband.windmobile.ca
7-Eleven Speak out and Petro Canada Mobility EditThese MVNOs operate on the Rogers network in 2G and 3G (see Basics and Rogers for details).
7-Eleven SIM cards are available in 7-Eleven stores and online. The stores can be found only in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan (store locator), not in Quebec for instance, though the SIMs operate nationwide. They are sold for $10 and available in standard and micro SIM sizes. Check which one you get some stores have old stock that are either size, or newer combo style.
The Petro Canada SIM is available in all participating gas stations of the biggest chain in the country (store locator) nationwide for $5 start up price.
The big advantage of this 7/11 card is that a recharge of only $25 keeps it alive for one year. Recharge coupons can be bought at 7-Eleven stores and at www.speakout7eleven.ca. The top-up can be applied online or on the phone. This is only prepaid in Canada that gives you 1 year validity for only $25 and is ideal for long term voice usage (ie: you only call 10 minutes a month and need it for 6 months)
Recharges on Petro Canada are valid $15 for 30 days, $25, $30 and $40 for 120 days, $50 for 180 days and $100 for a year. Refill cards at the gas stations.
Data packagesEditThey have only one data pack to be added to the pay-as-you-go rate:
100 MB per month for $10. To add the 100 MB data add-on, you must have an airtime balance greater than $12, and your account must not expire within the next 30 days. Data usage over 100 MB within 30 days from activation date will be charged at $0.10 per MB. Packs renew every month. To start or stop log online to your account or call customer service at 611.
Alternatively, they sell monthly value plans including domestic calls and unlimited texts to Canada and the US:
- 100 domestic minutes for $ 20
- 200 domestic minutes for $ 25
- 300 domestic minutes for $ 30
These value plans can be added by the following monthly data packs each:
- 100 MB: $ 10
- 500 MB: $ 15 (on the $20 plan only on 7/11 SIM)
- 1 GB: $ 25 (all plans only on 7/11 SIM)
Plans and data add-ons can be managed (booked and cancelled) on your online account.
Virgin MobileEditVirgin Mobile in Canada is owned by Bell. So it works as a MVNO on Bell's network on 3G. 4G/LTE is given out for prepaid too (see Basics and Bell for details).
What makes Virgin a really good choice is that they do not collect the 911 fee if you are using the SIM only for data. This means that you will have to top-up exactly the amount you need to buy a data pack.
The SIM card is sold for $ 4.99 in their stores (store locator) (prepaid description) in micro, nano and mini size. There you have to choose a plan. The only prepaid plan without a base rate is the by-the-minute plan. Default rate for data is $1 for 10 MB in 24 hours. Top-up cards are available in the Virgin stores and lots of pharmacies and supermarket. $15 give 30 days of validity, $25 and $50 give 60 days and $100 one year. After that account and SIM will be discontinued and credit lost.
Data feature packsEdit
These monthly data add-ons are available:
|Value||$ 10||$ 25||$ 35|
|Data||100 MB||500 MB||1 GB|
- APN: inet.bell.ca
- Proxy: web.wireless.bell.ca
PhoneBox is a mobile wireless Canadian company which is providing phone plans on either Telus or Rogers network in Canada. It was created in 2011 in Vancouver and added offices in Toronto, Calgary and Montreal.
Start-up and availability Edit
With Phonebox you can obtain a SIM card (nano, micro or regular) for $10 and bring your own device, rent a device or buy a new device in one of their stores (store locator). You just have to bring your valid ID and a credit card. They only have 4 stores in this huge country for personal assistance, but they will deliver to any worldwide address without surcharges.
Plans with data Edit
Phonebox offers monthly, daily and weekly plans without any engagement:
- $ 38: 600 MB data, unlimited domestic calls and text, extra data $5 per 100 MB
- $ 45: 1 GB data, unlimited domestic calls and text, extra data $5 per 100 MB
- $ 55: 2 GB data, unlimited domestic calls and text, extra data $5 per 100 MB
- $ 70: 5 GB data, unlimited domestic calls and text, extra data $10 per 500 MB
- $ 6 - daily plan (24 hrs) - 100 MB, unlimited domestic calls and text, overuse: $0.25/MB
- $ 27 - weekly plan (7 days) - 700 MB, unlimited domestic calls and text, overuse: $0.25/MB
- $ 20 data-only monthly plan: 1 GB data, extra data $10 for 500 MB
More info Edit
- Website: http://gophonebox.com/
Roam Mobility Edit
Roam Mobility is a Vancouver-based operator best known for offering roaming solutions for Canadians travelling to the USA (see US). In 2015 they added prepaid SIM cards for visitors to Canada acting as a MVNO. While they don't disclose their carrier network, their coverage looks like the combined Bell/Telus footprint on 3G and 4G/LTE.
Their SIM cards can be ordered online to be shipped to the US, Europe, Asia and Australia/NZ. In the US you can expect delivery within 2 days, overseas you need to allow 7-20 business days. You can also have it sent to a Canadian postal address like your hotel and they plan retail distribution too.
Combined prepaid Plans Edit
Roam's Canada Travel SIMs come pre-loaded with 3 plan options:
- 7 days, unlimited nationwide calls, unlimited global text, 500 MB 4G/LTE data: US$ 26.95
- 14 days, unlimited nationwide calls, unlimited global text, 500 MB 4G/LTE data: US$ 37.95
- 21 days, unlimited nationwide calls, unlimited global text, 500 MB 4G/LTE data: US$ 49.95
All prices are subject to 15% US sales tax plus up to US$ 8 for shipping and handling.
All plans include voice mail, caller ID, hotspot tethering. Note, that you can't upsize your data allowance and you can't call out of Canada. SIM cards are tri-cut which means they will fit standard, micro or nano SIM slots.
Activating your SIM card and starting your plan is all done online through the Roam Mobility for Canada website. You enter the 19-digit SIM ID number printed on the SIM card and click on 'Activate'. Your plan will start and you'll get a text message from Roam with your Canadian phone number and the date and time when your plan expires.
More Info Edit
- Website: www.roammobility.ca
Foreign SIM cards on roaming in Canada Edit
Canada has the highest rates for data on the North American sub-continent right now. This makes it quite expensive to buy a local SIM card for a short visit. Alternatively, you may think of bringing a SIM on roaming from the US, Mexico or overseas. Compare their rates with local Canadian rates given above.
Roaming SIM cards from US providers Edit
If you are coming or travelling north from the US, it may be more efficient to use your US home plan or buy a US prepaid plan to be used north of the border. Many US contracts include data, minutes and texts in Canada now, so check it out.
There are a few prepaid plans by US carriers that include heavily reduced Canadian data, voice and texts debited on the domestic US allowance (given $ prices are in US$):
- T-Mobile's "Mobile Without Borders":
- Simple Choice Prepaid: 3G and 4G data roaming debited on domestic allowance without surcharges in Canada on all Simple Choice Prepaid phone plans: $50 for 2 GB, $65 for 6 GB, $80 for 10 GB and $95 for unlimited data. Unused data on the 6 and 10 GB plans roll over to the next month. After the 4G LTE data allotment is used up unlimited throttled data is provided. For tablets and hotspots, data-only plans are $20 for 2GB, $35 for 6GB, $50 for 10GB, $65 for 14GB, $80 for 18GB, and $95 for 22GB. For light tablet users, T-Mobile offers 200MB free every month for the life of the tablet (the SIM is tied to the tablet upon activation).
- Simply Prepaid: Canada coverage with a $5 add-on per month (not the $30 Walmart plan): $45 for 3 GB, $55 for 6 GB and $65 for 10 GB. After the 4G LTE data allotment is used up unlimited throttled data is provided.
- Cricket Wireless: $50 for 5 GB and $60 for 10-20 GB, debited as domestic data
- AT&T: $60 Go Phone plan for 5 GB, debited as domestic data, with data roll-over
- MetroPCS: with a $5 per month add-on debited as domestic data: $45 for 3 GB, $55 for 5 GB and $65 for unlimited data. More info: here.
Most roaming given out by US providers in Canada is restricted by their Terms of Service (TOS). You have to give a US home address and should have more than 50% domestic usage. So it can't be used for permanent roaming. However, the period of time used by the US provider varies. For example, T-Mobile measures time and usage over a 90-day period to decide when to cut off for excessive int'l usage, so if you stay in Canada for less than that or you used a lot of data in the US before going to Canada, you should be fine.
Roaming SIM cards from Latin American providers Edit
Most prepaid plans of the Mexican network providers now include roaming data in the US and Canada too without surcharges. Thus, the lowest rates can be obtained for now using a Mexican SIM card on roaming in Canada. For more details about the plans, check the Mexico article:
- AT&T Unidos (Iusacell, Nextel, Unefon): all combo plans of MX$100 or more include voice, texts and data on roaming in Canada and the US.
- Telcel: all Amigo data packages of 400 MB or more and all combined combo packs of Amigo sin limite include data (combo: plus talk and texts) in Canada and the US without surcharges at Mexican rates.
- Movistar: combo packages of the ilimitado prepaid plan contain for MX$200 1.5 GB and for MX$300 2 GB to be used on roaming without surcharge plus unlimited calling and texting in Canada and the US.
To all Movistar networks in Central America (Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama and Costa Rica) roaming in Canada can be added for around $5 per day in their sin fronteras program.
Roaming SIM cards from overseas providers Edit
- Vodafone Ireland: RED Roaming €3 for 200 MB per day, for more see Euro2
- Vodafone Italy: Smart Passport with 500 MB for €3 per day and Internet Passport with 1 GB for €6 per day, for more see EU and Italy chapters. This SIM card is only sold in Italy.
- Free mobile France: Pass Destination included in €19.99 plans (+€10 fee) for 3 GB in a month, for more see EU and France chapters. This SIM card is only sold in France.
- Three Hong Kong: International Roaming Mobile Data Prepaid SIM for HK$280-328 giving unlimited 2G/3G data on Rogers for 14 days, for more see Hong Kong chapter.