The Best Cell Phone Plan For Canadian Snowbirds
Nowadays it’s considered a basic necessity to have a working cell phone when you’re travelling abroad, whether it’s for business or personal reasons. Maintaining your phone’s functionality outside of your home country is essential to staying in touch with your relatives, friends, and work acquaintances. However, there are a few things you need to consider before you start racking up calls and text messages with your current Canadian (domestic) provider.
Manage Your Snowbird Cellphone Plan To Save Money
If you don’t re-evaluate your snowbird cell phone plan before you depart for the winter, you can expect to face incredibly high roaming and long distance messaging charges just from regular usage in another country. Fortunately, there are plenty of foreign-use cell phone options that you can take advantage of in order to save money.
We’ve created this brief guide to inform you of the different types of cell phone strategies that are exempt from absurdly high international-use charges. As always, the “best” plan is subjective – you should evaluate your expectations to determine what your individual cell phone requirements are.
THE TOP OPTIONS FOR SNOWBIRD CELL PHONE PLANS
OPTION ONE: STICKING WITH YOUR CURRENT PROVIDER
This option puts an emphasis on convenience over dollar cost savings. Today, the vast majority of Canadian cell phone carriers offer coverage plans that are specifically marketed to those travelling south of the border, obviously some being more cost efficient than others. Your current provider should be able to give you this service, which involves lower long-distance charges, but to get the best cell phone plan for travel to USA you’d need to shop around.
By simply adding on US local service to your Canadian plan, you stand to benefit from having the same phone number. If someone needs to reach you - for any reason - they can do so with ease.
Convenience Over Cost
Since you’ll be using the same phone number, you’ll also be using the same SIM card so there’s no need to swap it out or replace it. The only drawback is that this option can easily turn out to be the most expensive one on this list. Long distance affordability, even in countries as close in proximity as the United States, is not ideal if you plan on making frequent calls, texts, or enabling data. Therefore we mainly recommend it if you greatly value convenience and plan to use your cell phone extensively.
OPTION TWO: PURCHASING A LOCAL CELL PHONE IN THE UNITED STATES
If you have no problems having ownership of two mobile devices, you can do most of your outbound contact with a second phone that you can buy once you cross south of the border. By using an American phone to place calls/texts, you benefit from local messaging rates instead of paying foreign or international messaging rates. As an added bonus, if you choose to continue your Canadian plan on another device at the same time, you can still receive inbound calls from contacts that are only familiar with your Canadian phone number.
Contract vs. Prepaid
Note that if you’re deciding to go forward with this option, you should weigh the benefits between a contract and a prepaid plan. If you have a general idea of how often you’d like to use your cell phone (when disconnected from WiFi) and you’ve assessed the duration your residence time south of the border, you’ll likely save more money by going prepaid.
OPTION THREE: OPENING UP A NEW SIM CARD
The alternative to purchasing an entirely separate mobile device would be to just acquire a SIM card that operates natively in the United States. By choosing this method you won’t have to readjust to a new phone, all of the settings and accessibility of your current phone will remain untouched. Assuming your new SIM card is registered and active, replacing it is fairly simple; all you really need to do is locate your cell phone’s SIM card slot, take out the old one, and pop in the new one.
The Technical Aspect
If you’re buying the SIM card from a physical retailer (not online), the customer service representative can help you out with this to make sure the new SIM fits properly and does not get damaged in the process. Note that a SIM-card replacement process requires your cell phone to be in an “unlocked state,” which essentially means it is not locked to one provider. Luckily, getting your current cell phone provider in Canada unlock your phone (assuming it isn’t already unlocked) is a fairly simple process.
Other Things To Consider
The idea behind getting a US-friendly SIM card involves taking advantage of domestic call/text/data rates on your original device. Keep in mind that you need to manually transfer your Canadian phone number to the new SIM card if you want to more easily be reached by your contacts, although some carriers won’t allow this feature. In other words, if you adopt a SIM card with a new phone number you may miss a substantial amount of inbound calls or text messages that would go to your old number.
OPTION FOUR: OCCASIONAL-USE CALLING CARDS
If you plan on making infrequent contact back home when not connected to wireless internet, and retaining the accessibility of your one personal cell phone, you can just buy international calling cards from virtually any convenience store or place that sells gift cards. These cards come pre-loaded with a fixed amount of usage time at a very affordable price point, and normally the amount of time you receive per card is pretty generous.
For The Frugal Traveler
Calling cards are very advantageous if you’re planning to travel around the states fairly often and you can’t always expect to have an internet connection. While this option can save you money if you plan to make calls sparingly, it doesn’t provide you with the same convenience and flexibility as having a US SIM card or a designated US mobile device.
OPTION FIVE: BECOMING AN INTERNET NOMAD
This one's probably the most controversial alternative on this list. In our modern world there are many ways to stay connected with others (free of charge) as long as you have a reliable internet connection. In theory, if you prefer to go the frugal route, you don’t need to have an active cell phone plan to make contact with others – even though having one makes calling and texting significantly more accessible on the road.
Leveraging Free Technologies
There are widely used social applications for smart phones like Skype or WhatsApp, which allow you to call/text other phone numbers from within their platform if you are connected to the internet. Alternatively, you could directly contact others through social media applications like Facebook which offer their own private messaging services free of charge – Facebook now also offers free phone and video calls!
If you consider yourself a tech savvy snowbird, you can save a substantial amount of money from traditional cell phone carrier fees by leveraging these applications and limiting your outreach to internet-only. Of course, the downside to this strategy is that you need to locate accessible internet anytime you wish to connect with another person.
FINAL THOUGHTS – CAN A CANADIAN GET A US CELL PHONE PLAN?
Assuming it won't break the bank, our overall recommendation is yes. Considering that you’re a traveling snowbird, in most cases it helps to register for an active US cell phone plan. Having a separate plan that is native to the United States gives you a much greater degree of flexibility and convenience when compared to the other frugal options on our list (relying on calling cards and reliable internet service).
Adjusting To The New Reality
In today’s society, frequent back and forth communication with someone close to you is not uncommon, and if you rely on your Canadian carrier to help you do this in the states you might be shocked at the monthly bill.
For more ways to save money and stay protected while spending your winters in the United States, check our short and simple guide to snowbird travel insurance to find the right coverage for your needs.