If you are planning a trip to the US anytime and like to have the use of your cellphone while there, you better read this! If you haven’t already experienced a ridiculously large cell phone bill after heading south of the border in the past then you have been very lucky! Nowadays everyone has a smartphone and I know many people that have returned to Canada after a 3-4 day trip to discover a $300+ cell phone bill. The problem is the rates that companies like Rogers, Telus and Bell charge for Canadian customers roaming in the United States are INSANE! According to The Neilsen Company, smartphone users currently average 606.1MB of data per month. For example, if you were to try to find travel data pack (see options in the image below) that would cover this kind of usage for a 1 week vacation, you would be looking to spend $88 for a pack that would only get you 100MB of data, 40 minutes of voice and 100 text messages. Go over any of these limits and you will be paying around $6 per MB for data, $0.75 per text message and $1.45 per minute for voice! Fortunately, you have some options that are much cheaper!

Rogers USA Travel Packs

Below are some of the best options for you to save a lot of money on your phone bill when travelling to the United States but first you must do these 2 things:

1) Get your phone unlocked. There are many places in Toronto that will do this for you, just look on Craigslist or check out Stellar Cellular (I went last week and was told it would be $20 to unlock and update an iPhone 3Gs). The reason you need to get your phone unlocked is this allows you to put in a SIM card from any carrier, which you should be able to do when you buy the phone but the Canadian companies try to make it as difficult as possible for you to use your device with any other company.

2) Confirm that your phone is compatible with the US carrier’s network: Your device must be compatible with the network you are going to use while travelling. Bell, Rogers, Telus or their subsidiaries (Fido, Virgin, Chatr, etc)  are generally HSPA & HSPA+ which will be compatible with the AT&T network, or their resellers. They will typically also work on T-Mobile for voice and text, but may require that you only utilize their slow speed data network. Wind, Mobilicity and Videotron will typically work on the T-Mobile networks (including high speed), but will not be compatible with AT&T. For example, on my last trip I used my iPhone 3Gs and since it is not a 4G phone I had to use the T-Mobile 2G network.

US Plan Options


AT&T Network

AT&T has a pre-paid wireless service called GoPhone. They offer a pay per day option for $2 per day which includes unlimited nation wide talk and text but no data. Texting to Canada is included, but calling to Canada will cost $0.39 per minute. Data can be added on also from as low as $5 for 50MB to $25 for 1GB.

If you are looking for some additional options on the AT&T network, you can look at one of the mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) on their network. These companies utilize the same network, but often offer discounted rates. Here are a couple of MVNOs on the AT&T Network.

Red Pocket Mobile – SIM card must be ordered online and currently sell for $10. Some sellers can be found on eBay with very high reliability that sell the SIM’s with shipping to Canada for less than $5. Here is a list of their current plans.
H2O Wireless (Formerly O2 Wireless) – SIM cards can be purchased online, in retailers in the US such as Bestbuy for $10 or on eBay for less. Here is a list of their current plans.

T-Mobile Network

For shorter trips, I find the T-Mobile network has the best pricing options. They offer Pay By The Day plans that range from $1 to $3 per day for unlimited nation wide talk, text & data. A SIM card will cost $10 and you can purchase them at any T-Mobile store. Texting and calling to Canada are offered for an additional cost of $0.10 per text and $0.49 per minute for voice. I used T-Mobile’s $2 per day option on my last trip and though the data speeds are extremely slow (2G), I spent $27 total for my SIM plus the minimum of $15 loaded to my account and was very happy with it! Another thing to note is your balance will last on T-Mobile for up to 3 months, so if you are a frequent traveller, this is a great option!

If you are planning a longer trip, T-Mobile also offers many plans where you pay per month. Currently they have 2 deals online where you pay $30/mth for unlimited web and text with 100 minutes of voice, or $50/mth for unlimited everything!

T-Mobile also has some MVNO’s of their own, one of which is designed specifically for Canadians called Roam Mobility. A friend of mine told me about them and swears by them but I have yet to try out their service. Their plans range from $3 to $8 per day but unlike T-Mobile allow unlimited talk and text to Canada! You first must buy a SIM card from them (which can be found at many airports) for $20. The data plan is a little different from T-Mobile though and is based on the number of days you will be in the US. They also offer an option to buy just data which starts at $30 for 500MB.


Not heading all the way to the US, but just near the border?

Even if you are close to the American border, you need to be careful! Sometimes your phone will switch over to a US carrier without you knowing! Check out Dan Levy’s post on how to handle these near border situations.


What is the best deal?

I think the rates on the T-Mobile network are the best, but it really depends on many factors that are individual to every person. If you plan to talk and text to Canada a lot, then I think the options from Roam Mobility are excellent! If you plan on using your phone mainly for local calls, text and data, then I think the T-Mobile Pay Per Day plan offers the best value. The promotions are constantly changing and chances are this article will be outdated within a few months so it is best to do a little investigation of your own. Hopefully this article gives you some ideas of where to start and if you come accross anything I missed, or an even better deal, leave a comment below.