Traveling to Vancouver. Pre-paid mobile data plans?
July 15, 2014 10:27 AM   Subscribe

I'll be in Vancouver and the surrounding area next week. What's the best way for me to get data on my cellphone? Something like a prepaid mobile SIM card tied to a data plan. Just relying on wifi isn't an option as half of the time I won't be in the city.

Main considerations:

1. I'm not from the US or Canada so if some kind of ID is needed a passport will have to be okay.

2. The place to sign up for the plan should be accessible, ideally somewhere in the airport or in downtown Vancouver.

3. It doesn't cost too much. I'm actually planning to put the SIM card in a portable wifi hotspot I have, and sharing the data with 4 other people, so we're okay with it being a little pricey, but probably not hundreds of dollars.

4. I'm looking at around ~1GB of data over 2 weeks.

posted by destrius to Travel & Transportation around Vancouver, BC (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't speak to plans but there is a 7-11 (convenience store) in the airport and they often sell a range of sim cards/pre-paid data plans.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 10:43 AM on July 15, 2014

There's always a global sim card option from various vendors (e.g.). The advantage being that you can top it up and keep it (it's PAYGO) for your next trip.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:47 AM on July 15, 2014

A rundown of most of the available options can be found here. It looks fairly current after a couple of spot checks.

Pre-paid data only not commonly offered in Canada. The big three and most of their resellers will only offer data with a voice package. However, some may offer "tablet" plans which do so. Similicious does, and may be your cheapest option.

Many of the prepaid plans also won't work in hotspots. I would check carefully that any plan you consider will allow it. Similicious generally will not, for example, however Rogers typically will. This may be the hardest of your criteria to figure out.
posted by bonehead at 11:23 AM on July 15, 2014

Just a heads-up that the global sim card that Emperor SnooKloze mentioned as an example does not list Canada as one of the destinations it works for.
posted by Aleyn at 5:21 PM on July 15, 2014

Looks like Koodo will do 1GB for about $45+tax (12%):

7-11 is $10 for 100 MB, so considerably more.
posted by at 10:44 PM on July 15, 2014

Thanks for the replies! Currently Telus looks the most suitable... the Koodo site isn't loading for me for some reason so I can't compare it with the rest. Anybody know about specific ID requirements? That's my main worry as I had issues before with trying to buy prepaid SIM cards and requiring an SSN.

bonehead: Many of the prepaid plans also won't work in hotspots. I would check carefully that any plan you consider will allow it. Similicious generally will not, for example, however Rogers typically will. This may be the hardest of your criteria to figure out.

Is there any particular way they block hotspot devices? As far as I can see, as long as a SIM card can work in an unlocked phone, it wouldn't be able to differentiate between a phone and a hotspot device.
posted by destrius at 4:04 AM on July 16, 2014

I use a phone that can do a wifi hotspot when I travel for our various devices, and somehow MetroPCS in the States was able to figure that out. I had to call them to get a hotspot package with lower data limits for the same price. I don't know the technical details, but they were certainly able to figure it out and block the cellular data access.

That said, I have used that feature successfully with both Rogers and Telus, though on contract plans, not-prepaid.

For Koodo:
To complete a credit check, we'll need four pieces of information from you:
full name
date of birth
driver's license
Social Insurance Number.

Remember; If you're buying online we'll also need a credit card.

You must use a valid Canadian credit card. We do not accept international credit cards or any type of debit transactions.
posted by bonehead at 8:06 AM on July 16, 2014

I got a Koodo prepaid SIM about six months ago in Toronto. I didn't have to provide any unusual forms of ID such as social insurance number (because, you know, I'm from the UK and I don't have one). I don't think I even needed my passport you since you have that you might as well bring it along.
posted by adrianhon at 8:12 AM on July 16, 2014

Sorry, Ignore the credit check part. They only do that for contract plans. There is no credit check for pre-paid.

The Canadian credit card thing also seems to apply only for online transactions. If a store can run your card, most should be able to, they likely can process it in person.
posted by bonehead at 8:14 AM on July 16, 2014

Update: I ended up getting a pre-paid plan from Bell, as recommended by the salesperson at the first cellphone store I saw. He helped me choose an appropriate plan, and appeared pretty familiar with requests from tourists for pre-paid data plans. The plan I got had minimal calling and texting, and 1GB of data; it cost me about $50 in total.

It turned out that I did have problems getting my hotspot device to work with the SIM card. I suspect they might have some kind of IMEI whitelist/blacklist, which prevents the device from even establishing a connection with the base station. However, there were no problems using the hotspot feature on my phone, so we did that instead.

It was a great trip, and being able to use Google Maps on the go came in extremely handy. Thanks everybody for helping!
posted by destrius at 9:07 AM on August 5, 2014

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