How do we find a cell phone plan that will meet our needs when we move to Canada?
April 11, 2012 7:09 PM   Subscribe

Help us find a cell phone solution given that we are moving in 6 months (and we can't wait that long to replace our current Verizon phones)

My spouse and I are longtime Verizon customers. We currently outside of our 2-year contracts, meaning we have very old crappy phones, and Verizon is trying to get us to re-up and sign another two year contract, with a new-phone-deal thrown in. We are moving to BC (from the US) in 6 months or less. . . unfortunately we will need to replace our phones before then, as they are currently barely usable.

Ideally we will find a solution where 1) we don't have to pay a huge amount for new phones, 2) we can replace our SIM cards in said phones when we move to Canada, 3) we don't have to sign some ridiculous contract, and 4) we can somehow manage to use these wondrous devices to talk to our family back home once we move (without paying extortionist rates)

As a bonus, I am somewhat interested in a smartphone w/ dataplan that would also be transferable to Canada.

Leaving Verizon seems like the first step, as I know they don't do SIM cards. Going prepaid seems like a workable solution, but beyond that, I am lost.

If it helps, we each currently talk on the phone for 400-500 minutes/month, and text occasionally. (We also can skype and call with google, which we will probably do a LOT more of once we are out of the US).
posted by seachange to Technology (11 answers total)
One thing to know about Verizon (and any carrier) is that it's actually very easy to switch handsets even if there is no SIM card. You do what's called an "ESN Swap" which you can do online, on the phone or in-store. ESN=electronic serial number. So don't worry about SIM cards.

That said, you can generally only swap handsets within the same carrier (i.e. even though Sprint and Verizon use the same type of network, it's difficult/impossible to use a Sprint phone on Verizon). However you do not have to buy your phone from your carrier specifically. You can buy/borrow a phone from a friend, off Craigslist, eBay, whatever.

For you, an ideal situation would be to acquire an "unlocked" phone that works on your carrier of choice in both countries.
posted by radioamy at 7:55 PM on April 11, 2012

AT&T uses the same frequencies as the major Canadian carriers (Telus, Bell, Rogers). If you were to get an AT&T cell phone and unlock it, it would be usable on these carriers.

T Mobile uses the same frequencies as the budget carriers (Wind, Mobilicity). Again, if you get a T Mobile phone and unlock it, it would be usable on these carriers.

I can't help you much in terms of US cell phone plans, but it would seem advisable to not sign any long term contracts at this point. You will be able to get a cell phone from a carrier here when you sign a new contract. Be warned that you will need to sign a 3 year contract to get significant discounts on your phone.
posted by GeneticFreek at 8:02 PM on April 11, 2012

Have you considered the new Lumia 900 from At&T? It's an $100 phone, but At&T offers it for free if you are jumping to it from another company. You have to buy a two year contract, though. That's the only downside.

The new Lumia 900 is a phone from Microsoft. It's very sleek and much more beautiful than the iPhone. However, the downside to this phone is that the app store isn't as mature as the Apple app store.
posted by Thisispiggy at 8:06 PM on April 11, 2012

Oh, forgot to add, if you just need a phone for a few months, would grabbing one from Craigslist be an option? Get a deal on a phone with no commitment to a carrier...
posted by GeneticFreek at 8:11 PM on April 11, 2012

Look into Virgin ... talk to the reps at a Virgin Kiosk or Store. I don't know if they can transfer, but they serve both countries, and have a lot of options available. Look at websites for Virgin for both U.S. and Canada to get an idea, then stop in and talk to someone.
posted by batikrose at 8:21 PM on April 11, 2012

FYI, you can get out of most cell phone contracts if you prove you'd moved outside of their service area. On top of that, smartphones in Canada are expensive.

Here's what I'd do. I'd buy an iPhone 4S from AT&T, asit's still easily the best smartphone, and the AT&T model will work in Canada. As soon as you get to BC, fax your first bill/pay stub/rent check to AT&T, and they'll let you out of your contract. You can get your phone unlocked, and then walk into a Telus/Bell/Rogers shop and pick up a SIM and a new plan.
posted by Oktober at 8:49 PM on April 11, 2012

I don't feel as if I can speak authoritatively to most of your questions, but if Virgin does offer something that works for you, they have month-to-month contracts that include very generous data plans (like, unlimited with 300 talk minutes for $35. The next step up, in the minute range, 1200, I think is $45). Some of their basic android phones can be had for under $100. The rest of the details though, I'm not sure.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:59 PM on April 11, 2012

Happy Virgin Mobile customer here; I doubt the phones will work in Canada, but 1) they're not that expensive and 2) you always can resell them before you leave (I sold my previous VM phone on one of those sell-back sites and got about half what I'd paid for it a year before). Or you could even hang on to one of the phones for when you are visiting the States.

AT&T and T-Mobile both have prepaid options but the phone choices are not as good as for their contract plans. And the prepaid plans are more expensive than Virgin's plans.

If it was me, though, I'd tough it out with the old crappy phone for another six months. You can do it!
posted by mskyle at 6:17 AM on April 12, 2012

I'd just go get a $19 go-phone from Radio Shack to bridge the gap.
posted by gjc at 6:50 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the useful info folks! I will do some digging =)
posted by seachange at 10:00 AM on April 12, 2012

Just want to note, from personal experience:

There is a Verizon-compatible carrier in Canada -- don't know who they are, but when spending time near the border, my Verizon phone has often "caught" a Canadian tower, resulting in high international roaming charges for both voice and data. (Verizon wrote them off when it happened, with no more evidence than my insistence that neither I nor my phone had crossed the border, so it must be a known issue. I now know to contact Verizon before such a visit to avoid the billing surprise.)

My latest Verizon smartphone, the Motorola Droid Bionic, came with a SIM card. It's a 4G phone, which might be the difference.
posted by peakcomm at 4:16 PM on April 13, 2012

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