Cheap Cell Phone And Data Plans For Traveling To The USA

cheapcellphoneanddataplansfortravelingtotheusa.jpgI'm going to be leaving for the American personal finance bloggers conference called FinCon in a couple of days to meet up with like minded people and try to learn ways to make HowToSaveMoney.ca better.

While there, I'm going want to be able to use my cell phone to call home as well as have data access for Google Maps, keeping up on email, checking on my site, looking up restaurants and attractions, tethering to my surface so I can work anywhere, and the list goes on.

There are a lot of options out there and not everyone is aware that you have more choices than just paying through the nose with your existing provider. Here are a few of the choices you have:

The Easiest Way To Go

The easiest thing to do is to check with your current cell phone provider to see what kind of add-ons they have for traveling to the USA. If you plan to use your phone for more than 1 or 2 calls or texts, then this is almost certainly a better option than paying per use.

Pay per use rates are typically around $1.50 per minute talked, up to $1 per text sent, and as much as 5 cents per kilobyte of data used which works out to $500 for 100MB of data, which is insane. Pay per use rates vary by provider, but they are never very attractively priced.

Only considering a combination of talk, text, and data, these are the cheapest rates offered by some popular Canadian providers in no particular order.

* In some cases I had to piece together rates for a talk, text, and data plan where no such plan was offered. In cases where a period of less than 1 month was available, I chose pricing for packages of 7-10 days in duration which would cover the length of a typical vacation.

Provider

Price

Talk

Data

Text (Sent)

Period

Rogers

$40

50 minutes

200MB

Unlimited

31 days

Bell

$50

100 minutes

100MB

1000 messages

30 days

Telus

$25

50 minutes

50MB

150 messages

30 days

Koodo

$40

Unlimited

250MB

Unlimited

10 days

Fido

$40

50 minutes

200MB

Unlimited

31 days

Virgin

$50

100 minutes

100MB

1000 messages

30 days

Wind

$15

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

1 month

The Pretty Cheap And Pretty Easy Way To Go

In recent years there have been some companies that have popped up specifically with the traveler in mind to make things both cheap and easy. Roam Mobility and ReadySim are the leaders of this pack, and after a little digging I discovered that Roam Mobility owns both of them. Roam Mobility is specifically targeted at Canadians traveling to the USA whereas ReadySim is targeted at anyone who is visiting the USA and wants a cheap cell phone package while visiting.

Roam Mobility

With Roam Mobility, you'll need to purchase a $20 SIM card to put in your phone either online or at one of their partner stores in Canada like Staples. Then, you pay for one of their plans on top of that but you can reuse the sim card for future visits.

One of the real advantages to Roam over ReadySim and prepaid service purchased from a USA provider is that it includes calls back to Canada. ReadySim offers international texting, but calls are only unlimited inside the USA.

Here is a look at some of their pricing (remember to add $20 for the SIM card):

Plan Type

Price

Talk

Data

Text (Sent)

Text + Data

$1.95/day

0 minutes

Unlimited 2G

Unlimited

Talk + Text

$2.95/day

Unlimited

0MB

Unlimited

Talk + Text + Data

$3.95/day

Unlimited

300MB/day 4G + Unlimited 2G

Unlimited

ReadySim

With ReadySim, you get your SIM and plan all at one price. You can purchase the plan and SIM online in advance. Slow shipping is free to both the USA and Canada (7-20 business days) or you can get expedited shipping anywhere in the USA for $8.99 (2-6 business days). You can also buy your SIM card at one of their retail partners in the USA.

A good strategy for doing this within less than a week of departure would be to choose the expedited shipping and ship your SIM card to the hotel where you will be staying. Call your hotel ahead of time to ensure they will accept and hold the package for you until you arrive.

Here's a look at some of their pricing (all plans have unlimited talk and text except the data only plans, which have none):

Plan Type

7 Days

14 Days

21 Days

30 Days

Talk + Text + Data

$25 (500MB data)

$35 (1GB data)

$45 (1.5GB data)

$55 (2GB data)

Data Only

 

$15 (500MB data)

$25 (1GB data)

$40 (2GB data)

The Cheapest But Most Difficult Way To Go

The cheapest thing to do is to purchase a prepaid SIM card and cell phone package from a local wireless provider in the United States. I could bore you with a big table comparing all the different options out there, but it has been generally accepted that T-Mobile offers the best deal for travelers with their daily or monthly packages.

Plan Type

Talk

Text

Data

$2/day

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited 2G

$3/day

Unlimited

Unlimited

200MB 4G + Unlimited 2G

$30/month

100 minutes

Unlimited

5GB 4G + Unlimited 2G

Things You NEED To Know

  • Your phone must be unlocked for you to use a SIM card from any other service provider than your own including Roam Mobility and ReadySim. Unlocking is usually fairly cheap and easy to do.
  • Your phone needs to be compatible with the network you are planning to use. Most phones within the last 3 years or so are at least quad band and most networks will support at least one of these bands. However, when it comes to data, you sometimes may not be able to achieve the highest speeds if your phone doesn't support the 1700MHz band, which isn't very common in phones sold in Canada. Fortunately most networks in the USA are being upgraded to support alternate bands to 1700MHz for 4G data speeds.
  • If you buy a SIM card out of the USA, it most likely doesn't include calls back home to Canada. They may cost extra, or not be offered at all (as is the case with ReadySim).
  • Consider using a calling card or a VoIP data solution like magicJack (magicApp), Facebook Messenger, Skype, Viber, etc to make those international calls when international calling isn't supported by your voice plan.
  • Make sure you order a SIM card that is the correct size for your phone. Choices are from largest to smallest are standard SIM, micro SIM, and nano SIM. If you buy one that is too small, you can usually get adapters that will make it fit your phone. You can even use a SIM cutter to cut a standard SIM into a micro SIM.
  • Roam Mobility and ReadySim only have an agreement with T-Mobile so if you go out of their network areas there will be no coverage at all for you. However, if you use your own provider or a T-Mobile prepaid plan, they will allow you to roam on other networks like AT&T, which gives you a better coverage area. See the Roam Mobility coverage map for details.
  • If you use any of the options other than your own provider, you will temporarily have a new USA based phone number while traveling in the USA. You will need to give this phone number to your friends and family for calling/texting so they know it is you calling. If you plan to make calls with VoIP over data, you can make and receive calls using any existing VoIP phone numbers you may have which makes things more seamless for your friends and family.

Want to save a crazy amount of money on travel?

This book by fellow Canadian blogger Steve Zussino is the ultimate guide to travel hacking for Canadians. It will teach you to get your airfare and accomodations for free or very cheaply anywhere you want to go in the world.

Hot Credit Card Deals This Month:

  • Best Cash Back Credit Card
    • 2% earned on ALL purchases - no caps or limits
    • 10,000 bonus points = $100 cash + no annual fee for the first year
    • I personally earned $1,053 cash back with this card in 2015
    • Redeem your cash any time and not just as a statement credit
    • Looks like a travel card, but points convert to cash at 2% rate
    • Great insurance and perks including RARE price protection
  • The #1 Credit Card in Canada
    • 25,000 bonus points - worth about $750 when converted to Aeroplan miles
    • Can also redeem points for ANY travel booked with ANY travel provider
    • Double rewards on grocery, gas, drugstore, and travel purchases.
    • Low minimum income to qualify - $20,000
    • First year free, cancel anytime
    • See why it's #1
  • $150 Cash Bonus + Amazing Insurance Coverage + FREE Roadside Assistance
    • 1.75% cash back on ALL purchases
    • 14 different types of insurance included - the best in Canada
    • Double the usual extended warranty and purchase protection coverage
    • $2,500 trip cancellation & $2,000 trip interruption
    • Personal effects insurance - covers lost/stolen items for your whole trip (rare)
    • FREE roadside assistance included - 1 of only 2 cards to offer this
    • Total of $150 in cash sign up bonuses - ends August 31st

Comments

Sherri
Sherri's picture
Fantastic article.y own experience with magic jack is very poor. you can never get a word in with the person you are speaking with because they never know when YOU want to say something ! people who like it must be the ones who never let anyone get a word in edgewise :-)
September 17, 2014 @ 10:21 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
That's odd, I almost never find that to be a problem at all. There's an extremely minor delay, but it's so small that I don't find it to be much worse than a cell phone. I don't have much experience using the app though, so maybe it's worse with the app. I've tried other VoIP where the delay was unbearable, but not with magicJack.
September 17, 2014 @ 10:47 am
L.
L.'s picture

That's SO funny you said that! I had MagicJack for a while and I totally felt like I could never get a word in, I was thinking my friends were being rude and interrupting me all the time but perhaps it wasn't them afterall lol

February 21, 2016 @ 4:02 pm
Peter@paidtoinvest's picture
I own my own phone (unlocked) for this exact problem. I simply swap out the chip and buy a local one for the country I'm in, much cheaper than getting hosed at our Canadian rates. I haven't checked the rates lately so thank you for posting those
September 17, 2014 @ 10:53 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
Yes, it's surprising how cheap it is. It actually makes more sense to do something like this and tether to your laptop than to pay for wifi at the hotel or airport. That's what I've been doing on this trip.
September 19, 2014 @ 3:02 am
My Own Advisor's picture
Great post Stephen, big fan of Koodo actually and the talk/text/data travel plans. For extended trips, 3+ weeks, I figure just buying a pay-as-you-go phone is the way to go in the country you're in. Cheers, Mark
September 17, 2014 @ 12:50 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
Koodo has some decent options as usual. I think Telus has done a great job with that brand. They've really given us some great plans and phone deals over the years.
September 19, 2014 @ 3:03 am
Paul
Paul's picture
Roam mobility SIM cards on sale at London Drugs in BC for $9.95.
September 17, 2014 @ 1:22 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
Thanks for the head up. I would definitely have taken advantage of this if we had London Drugs on my region. I may still see if I can get my credit card to price match it for fun.
September 19, 2014 @ 3:06 am
gary
gary's picture
we spend about 5 months in the usa and up to now we have been using tracphone. when phoning back to canada you have to go thru an 800 number which reduces the cost. their service is awful but the choices for long stay canadians are not good. we use FaceTime and Skype when our free wifi is good -- to me this is the best answer for calling canada. ( Skype phone is available for north america for about $30. per year -- great deal but you still need good wifi ). i'm glad you tackled this topic as there are a lot of canadian snowbirds out there!
September 17, 2014 @ 2:47 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
Well, Roam Mobility has longer "Snowbird" plan that might fit your needs. T-Mobile $30 monthly prepaid would be a decent option as well. You could pair that with a calling card or VoIP to call back to Canada.
September 19, 2014 @ 3:10 am
Rick
Rick's picture
Very interesting discussions. I am a snowbird for half the year and found that TracFone purchased through Walmart to be a cheap solution for about $100.00 a year I get 600 minutes or more and they accumulate if you don't use them which is great. I have a pay as you go Samsung Galaxy Centura that does all the things any smartphone can do and you consume minutes at various rates for text, talk and data. Check it out, works for me.
September 21, 2014 @ 3:38 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
Good suggestion Rick. Sounds like a good plan for pretty light users that aren't going to be doing a lot else other than data. There are definitely some good prepaid plans out there where you can top up for a certain dollar amount and have your minutes not expire for 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, etc. These are definitely the cheapest way to go if you just want a phone that works for emergencies or occasional calls. That would be a whole other post with a lot more research though! I know the best such plans in Canada, but not the USA.
September 21, 2014 @ 11:16 pm
wearsy
wearsy's picture
I have used roam mobility and it is a pretty good option. I recently signed up for wind and get unlimited everything including the US for $40/month.I only use my wind phone in the US. I travel to the US every month so it works for me. You roam on tmobile or at&t. I wish wind was more reliable in Canada and I would dump my Rogers phone.
October 01, 2014 @ 10:47 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
Thanks for contributing the info about Wind wearsy, that's great to know. For those who are in one of the provinces where you can get Wind, it's a good option for regular trips to the USA. Too bad you probably have to get a credit check every time you want to activate service because you wouldn't want to pay during months you weren't in the USA unless you also use it as your regular day-to-day cell phone in Canada. I wonder if people in provinces that don't have Wind, could just get a cell with them only for use in the USA. It would be great if you could suspend service with them over the phone after you sign up and then reactivate it whenever you go to the USA. Something a regular USA goer might want to look into.
October 02, 2014 @ 12:45 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
That's great sue, thanks! I've also heard that some places put them on sale for $10 occasionally too. Unfortunately when I needed to get mine I had to pay the full $19.99 + tax because there was nothing else available at that time.
October 08, 2014 @ 1:49 pm
Dan Geddes
Dan Geddes's picture

The Wind Mobile option discussed earlier sounded great .... I am currently paying $45/month with Virgin and if I could get the same or better Canadian coverage as well as the US roaming.... that would be awesome for our trips South ......so I checked it out....

current promotion for $44/mth (good till Feb 1st or when they decide as they have it written) I believe it's normally $60/mth

MONTHLY PROMO PLAN
Unlimited Canada/US-wide Calling
Unlimited Global Texting
Unlimited Data
Up to $250 in WINDtab
Voicemail+
$10/mo in service credits for travel across Canada and the USA or for other add-ons and extras

so While Travelling in the USA you get
- Unlimited calling to the USA & back home to Canada,
- Unlimited Global Text,
- and Unlimited data

for $44/month ..... seems to meet my criteria .... (the guy I talked to also commented on an additional $5 charge that kinda went over my head)

but there then there was one kicker for me....

in Canada if you are not within their network coverage (Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver) then you are in the partner network so it is " away coverage " and you are charged 15 cents/minute for incoming and outgoing calls, texts, emails etc. The $10/mth credit toward those 15 cent/min charges covers you off for almost an hour a month in the "away coverage".

I live just outside the network coverage.... Dewinton and I don't travel to the US every month to justify the continuous monthly charge

It was good for me to check it out though... others may make use of this

January 05, 2015 @ 6:20 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Yes, that's the definite drawback to Wind - the limited service areas. They do offer some very attractive plans though for those that spend most of their time in the designated areas. For those that stay in the city and travel to the USA as well, it's a pretty good deal. Thanks for taking the time to research all the details and post it here to share with everyone.

Muchas gracias!

January 06, 2015 @ 1:44 pm
Dan Geddes
Dan Geddes's picture

T-Mobile and Virgin Mobile options ... I like these.... and think we will check them out on the way down next month.
---------------------------
T-Mobile ...... http://www.t-mobile.com/
---------------------------
"PREPAID" monthly plans that I looked at on the T-Mobile web site
The first one, mentioned in Stephen's awesome summary above requires buying a phone. (***) .... might be worth it depending on your time duration in the US (4 or 5 months at an extra $20/mth puts a big dent in a smartphone price)
$30 per month, 100 minutes talk, unlimited text and unlimited data with the first 5GB at up to 4G speeds then drops to 2G
Includes unlimited international texting from the U.S. to virtually anywhere included in your plan — at no extra charge.
***This plan is only available for devices purchased from Wal-Mart or devices activated on T-Mobile.com.

If you don't need a phone.... you have several more options

The other plans; Just buy and activate the sim card if you have our own phone (Unlocked, compatible device & qualifying plan req'd. capable device req'd for 4G LTE speeds)

The $35/mth plan is unlimited talk and text but no data ... can bring your own device - for the talker - no surfing - no data!!
The $40/mth plan is unlimited talk/text and 500 MB of high speed data - talk email and limited surfing
The $45/mth plan is unlimited talk/text and 2GB of high speed data - talk email, surfing and social networking

The $50/mth plan is unlimited talk/text and unlimited data with the first 1GB of data at 4G speeds then 2G speed
The $60, $70 and $80 plans are 3GB, 5GB and Unlimited at 4G speeds

(US$ of course add 15%+ right now)

the $50 to $80 plans also include - Stream music without using data..... Enjoy unlimited music streaming on services like Pandora, iHeartRadio, and more — and it doesn't count against your 4G LTE data usage! ... (charge up your Bluetooth speakers :)

I believe there is add on packages for calling back to Canada. I will personally use a VOIP account, Magic Jack or Skype for calls back to Canada utilizing data. Not sure how good these would be with 2G speed though if I go for an option with less data.
----------------------------------------
Virgin Mobile .... http://www.virginmobileusa.com/
----------------------------------------
Also purchased at Walmart / Bestbuy etc (on the Sprint Network)
PREPAID - At this time you cannot use a mobile phone from another wireless carrier, or any unlocked device
basically these also require buying a phone (unless you have one already)

$20/mth - WIFI only - 300 minutes and unlimited text (Mobile data not included) like a voip phone I guess
$35/mth - Unlimited data, talk and text includes 250 MB high speed 3G/4G data or
$35/mth - Unlimited data and text plus 300 minutes includes 2.5GB high speed 3G/4G data
$45/mth - Unlimited data, talk and text includes 1GB high speed 3G/4G data + unlimited Int'l text + 100 Int'l minutes
$55/mth - everything from $45 plan + additional 2GB high speed = 3GB total high speed 3G/4G

Dan

January 05, 2015 @ 10:25 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Lots more great information here Dan, thanks.

I am confused about one thing though. You say you are required to buy a device with the T-Mobile prepaid plans but not the monthly plans. If this is the case, it must be a new rule because when I was down in the USA a couple of years ago I was able to buy a SIM card for my unlocked phone and use one of those plans.

I checked out the website again, looked through the prepaid plans page, and quickly browsed through the fine print and I could see no mention that purchasing a phone was required. They presented the option to buy a SIM card just like they do for the other plans. Can you link me to the page where you saw this and the exact wording on the page indicating you can't bring your own device?

When I did it, I didn't try to set this up online. I just brought my phone to a local T-Mobile store when I landed and got them to set it up for me on my unlocked phone.

January 06, 2015 @ 1:53 pm
Dan Geddes
Dan Geddes's picture

Stephen ...perhaps you missed it ...."T-Mobile Prepaid plan"

I was just reading it as I saw it on the T-Mobile web page .... I was only referring to "prepaid plans"... I have not checked it out yet

http://prepaid-phones.t-mobile.com/prepaid-plans

The $30 per month plan has this in bold pink right below the info (only this plan)
"This plan is only available for devices purchased from Wal-Mart or devices activated on T-Mobile.com"

from this I assumed the "device" is a phone not a sim card

I'll check it out when I am down there ... hopefully it is as you suggest .... that would make this the most cost effective way to go utilizing Voip for Canadian calls

Dan

January 15, 2015 @ 11:24 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

You're right, it does look like for that one plan only you require a T-Mobile branded device. What an odd restrictions. I used the daily prepaid plans when I was in the USA so I guess they wouldn't have that restriction.

January 16, 2015 @ 11:05 am
John
John's picture

The Roam Mobility rates for all the USA daily plans are for the first 14 days only. After that the cost is just $1 a day. London Drugs' website currently sells 2 of their SIM cards for $9.98.
John

January 11, 2015 @ 4:49 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

That's a great tip, thanks John! Is that a limited time deal on the SIM cards? I know they had a good deal on them before but it was only for 1 week.

January 12, 2015 @ 1:30 pm
John
John's picture

Unfortunately the price went up today to $14.99 but that's till less than the $19.99 regular price.

January 13, 2015 @ 1:55 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Yes, I saw they are selling the 2-pack at Staples too for $14.99 so that's another place to check.

January 14, 2015 @ 10:26 am
John
John's picture

Since I will be becoming a "snowbird" I too have looked into all these services, USA and Canada. What I have found is that in Canada Petrocan Mobility offers the cheapest service with the most flexibility to change plans anytime. In the US I found that Tracphone thru Walmart offers what looks like good Pay as you go service. I have a dual sim phone so a sim card from both in the same phone should work

January 18, 2015 @ 10:58 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Dual SIM ... that's awesome! Thanks for the tip on Walmart.

January 19, 2015 @ 3:51 pm
Christi
Christi's picture

Have just ordered the Roam Mobility Breeze phone from their website based on your review here. I don't have options through my cell provider for a US plan as I have a pre-paid account and older phone with no SIM card. The Breeze includes a SIM card and is currently $39.95 plus taxes, expedited shipping within Canada is free. I am a very occasional visitor to the US, talk and text only and don't use or need data so I think this will work well for me. I will be visiting an urban area (Atlanta) so am expecting to have good reception. The "BlackBerry" look works for me as I'm still using my LG Keybo2 as my everyday phone :)

June 28, 2015 @ 1:19 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

That's excellent Christi, I'm glad the article proved useful for you. Enjoy your trip to Atlanta!

July 02, 2015 @ 3:41 pm
Dennis
Dennis's picture

Canadians love to waste money. In the USA the Verizon network is the most comprehensive but their phones are usually SIM free. The AT&T network is second best and compatible with any unlocked phones Canadians use. Sprint and T-Mobile have limited coverage in many areas so best avoided by travellers. AT&T themselves are major carrier priced but many virtual operators use their network. Buy a SIM card for AirVoice in advance for about five bucks directly from them or Amazon and buy a $10 plan. One plan will be monthly and cost 4¢/min for voice and 2¢/min for texts and 7¢/MB if you really must use mobile data. Alernatively $10 will buy you 90 days of use but calls cost 10¢/min. Of course lots of stores and fast food places like McDonald's have free Wi-Fi and why pay for cell coverage to use Google Maps when Here can be used offline once you have entered your destinations places. Calling home? Install Hangouts and the Hangouts dialer and call for free from McDonald's.

July 03, 2015 @ 1:43 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Cheap prepaid plans are a good way to go for people who don't want data. If you're going to use any amount of data though, you're going to chew through your balance pretty quickly with most prepaid plans.

There's always a cheaper way, but you have to balance savings with convenience when on vacation. Paying a few bucks more for convenience is often worth it. Also searching for free WiFi is a complete downer and hassle when on vacation, I've done it.

July 03, 2015 @ 3:26 pm
Chris Fearon
Chris Fearon's picture

I have a trailer permanently in Florida and am there about 2 months usually twice a year.
For the past several years I use Roammobility which certainly is the least expensive and reliable in my opinion.
Unfortunately their US partner in T-Mobile and their service is very poor where I am in Central Florida.
I am about 7 miles from Inverness to the west and Hwy I 75 to the east. The campground in quite remote and talk/text is very spotty. The camp has Wi-Fi so data is fine. I do require talk/text mostly. T-Mobile is fine in any built-up areas.
When driving and approaching either points mentioned above, service is fine.
Fellow campers here tell me that Verizon has the best local coverage but Verizon 'phones are sim-less.
Prior to my use of Roammobility, I used Cingular, but they were acquired by AT & T and changed to their tower which is too far from the camp to be adequate.
My home carrier, Virgin, is fairly expensive and I believe also partners with T-Mobile.
Any suggestions? Thanks, Chris
T
Thanks,

December 13, 2015 @ 5:47 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Unfortunately, I don't know the USA cell networks well enough to be able to give you the cheapest Verizon partner off the top of my head.

You might consider research Verizon prepaid partners in the USA and then buying a cheap phone down there.

You might also try finding a cell phone signal strength finder app on your phone and using it while you are at the campground. Then you might be able to identify which networks do provide you with enough signal strength. You could use that as a basis for looking for cheap prepaid partners in the USA that do use SIM cards.

I'm surprised Verizon still hasn't adopted the SIM model. Bell and Telus abandoned that so many years ago now here in Canada and we're all the much happier for it.

February 22, 2016 @ 12:35 pm
Chris Fearon
Chris Fearon's picture

Thanks for your help. I'll check out your suggestions.
I didn't even know there was such a thing as an app to find signal strengths.

March 01, 2016 @ 6:40 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

I know it exists for WiFi signal strength testing. I'm sure it exists for cell testing as well even though I've never done it myself. Come to think of it, I think one of the apps I used for WiFi before had that built in as an extra feature even though I never paid attention to it.

March 04, 2016 @ 11:39 pm

Post new comment