Cell phone options for a short trip to Canada
April 15, 2013 3:48 PM   Subscribe

We're driving from NY to Montreal for a short 5-day trip, and we'll need to be able to make a few calls and/or send and receive texts while on the road. I've found a bunch of older answers to very similar questions (for example) but surely things are better by now? What are my cheap prepaid (I assume) options for a short trip to Canada? Is there a simple way to pick up a prepaid SIM card over the border and use it for the trip?

We will have:
* Two unlocked GSM phones (Sony candy bars, originally from Australia), currently with T-Mobile pre-paid SIMs. It looks like they want 59 cents/min for international roaming, which may not be the worst option. But T-Mobile's website gets very confused when I try to sign up for International Roaming.
* An unlocked iPhone 4, currently on an AT&T GoPhone plan. Looks like they charge 39 cents/min to roam, but the whole plan/service situation is fragile and keeps breaking on me and I'd rather not mess with it if possible.
* A Google Voice number that I could redirect, if that's useful in Canada.
* A stand-alone GPS unit as well as a GPS app on an iPad, so I'm not too worried about maps. Data service might be nice if it worked with my iPhone but really not that important, since I expect to have wifi most of the time.

I'm not interested in signing up for a contract plan or changing our current service in the US. So it would probably be simplest if I could pick up a prepaid (e.g. Virgin Mobile or Vodafone) SIM, put some twenty bucks on it for basic calling and messaging, and put it in one of the candy bars. What say you, Canadian (or Canada-visiting) Mefites, eh?
posted by RedOrGreen to Travel & Transportation around Montreal, QC (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: T-mobile USA's roaming rates in Canada are actually not bad compared to other carriers. That may the simplest thing to do if you don't need data.

Google Voice will not redirect to Canadian area codes unfortunately, so that's not much help. (I've tried it. It won't.)

A cheap pre-paid SIM will indeed work as you say but you will have to track one down and in the past I've had to use a credit card with a canadian billing address (with Rogers). It may be easier with Virgin but I don't have first-hand experience.
posted by GuyZero at 4:04 PM on April 15, 2013

Best answer: T-Mobile's voice minutes are a bit expensive, but their texts are cheap. I'd suggest calling T-Mobile to ask if they have any prepaid roaming bundles for Canada. Roaming deals change all the time and are not well advertised.

In my experience, the easiest thing to do is just use your existing carrier. At light usage of just voice and text, you're unlikely to spend more than $20 in five days any way you go.
posted by psycheslamp at 4:14 PM on April 15, 2013

And yes, T-mo's roaming rate in Canada is 59 cents a minute to Canada and 79 cents a min back to the US. Oddly roaming in Canada on T-mobile prepaid is the same price which is actually cost-competitive with Canadian prepaid plans which have short expiration times and high per-minute costs. Canadian prepaid options are really not very good, especially compared with US plans.
posted by GuyZero at 4:19 PM on April 15, 2013

Best answer: We used 7-11's Speakout Wireless. Ubiquitous and easy. SMS is CA$0.10 each, talk is CA$0.25 per minute. A SIM is CA$10.
posted by 1adam12 at 5:39 PM on April 15, 2013

Hace you checked directly what your per text charges are for your current setup? Text for me on AT&T are 20 cents in US and only 25 cents in much of Europe, maybe the same for Canada?

Voice calls of course were ridiculously expensive...
posted by Tandem Affinity at 5:50 PM on April 15, 2013

You could also look into Petro-Canada. Yes, they are a gasoline company, but I've been using their cell phones for years and years. Here's a link. Towards the bottom of the page they mention buying SIM cards.
posted by mbarryf at 5:10 AM on April 16, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far, everyone. It looks like a choice between Speakout Wireless from the first 7-11 we pass ($10+$0.25/min+Effort), or roaming on our current TMobile phones ($0.59/min).

So Speakout breaks even for us at roughly 40 minutes of talk time... Probably worth it if we go back to Canada again before the SIM expires, not otherwise.

Thanks again - and further suggestions are welcome!
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:37 PM on April 16, 2013

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