Buying a Prepaid SIM Card in Canada Guide

Visiting the largest country in the western hemisphere will be remarkable. Canada offers all sorts of experiences, including a few large cities, skiing, rafting, hiking, and much more! Of course, you are going to want to tell your friends all about it either by calling, text messages, or video chats. For that, you need a reliable SIM card.

Finding a suitable SIM card in Canada is not necessarily impossible, but unlike most countries, there are some small nuances to consider including whether you want a pre or postpaid option and data, what region you are going to be staying or traveling in, or if your phone is compatible in the first place! So, I compiled a list of the best SIM card options when visiting Canada.

For Data and Calling:

  • Rogers
  • Telus
  • Bell Mobility
  • Freedom Mobile

For Data:

  • Public
  • Chatr Mobile
  • Fido
  • Virgin Mobile Canada
  • Koodo
  • Petro Canada
  • cityfone

Check out the full list and details below. Also, read on if you want to find out what you need to keep in mind when it comes to getting a SIM in Canada and where you can buy them upon arrival.

Things to Consider Before Going to Canada

Now before you book your flight and reserve your hotel room, there are a few things you might want to consider when it comes to calling, mobile data, and buying a SIM card in Canada.

Canada is a huge country with a relatively small and widely dispersed population. This means that the major cities like Vancouver and Quebec are densely populated and have great cell coverage, but large chunks of Canada are almost, if not completely, empty.

As a traveler, you are not going to want to spend too much time in the city, so getting a reliable SIM card with a good data plan is vital during your trip.

So first consider where you are going to stay. If it is in a city, then your choices for a SIM card just became much easier.

You should also take into account your phone and current carrier. Roaming can turn out to be extremely expensive, so it makes sense to get a SIM while in Canada. The only question is whether or not your phone is compatible.

No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!

This is not necessarily a brand thing; it is that your cellphone needs to be unlocked. When purchasing a phone, you have the option of buying an unlocked phone for an additional upfront cost.

  • If you travel internationally often, it makes sense to purchase an unlocked cell phone.
  • However, if you are not someone who travels often or you do not want to invest in an unlocked cell phone, you could get a prepaid phone while in Canada.

Is Your Phone Compatible with Mobile Frequencies in Canada?

Ok, so you have an unlocked phone. Now the question is are you compatible with Canada’s networks? Here is where it gets a bit technical.

Mobile phones work by transmitting information using specific bands or frequencies. The type of band used depends mainly on the region and country you are in and the specific network provider you are using.

If your phone’s model number or carrier does not support the band in the specific area you are in, then you are likely going to have deplorable service or none at all.

Standard Canadian mobile frequencies include:

  • 2G: GSM 850, GSM 1900
  • 3G: UMTS 850 (Band 5), UMTS 1700 (Band 4), UMTS 1900 (Band 2)
  • 4G: LTE 1700 (Band 4), LTE 2600 (Band 7)

Your phone is likely going to be compatible with these frequencies, but if for some reason it is not you can always pick up an unlocked phone or a phone locked to one of the service providers in Canada. Of course, this will account for another cost during your trip.

Now that you know the basics, let’s get into what features to look for when choosing the best SIM card in Canada

Tip: Looking for cheap flights? Book with CheapFlightFreak! Not in a hurry yet? Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog and get notified when ticket prices drop!

What Criteria Should You Consider Before Choosing the Best SIM Card

After you have figured out your phone’s compatibility with Canada’s network frequency and whether or not your phone is unlocked, you can now move unto the other criteria by which you can determine the optimal SIM for your travels.

  • Pre or Post Paid
  • Data
  • Coverage and Region
  • Credit Validity (Days)
  • Price
  • Overcharges

Let’s get into the details on each, and then you can figure out which is more relevant to you and your travel needs.

Prepaid or Postpaid?

As mentioned above, Canada is a vast country with a rather widespread population. This means that while there are multiple affordable postpaid options, there are not that many prepaid ones, so you need to make your choice carefully.

Unfortunately, for a traveler, the choice has already been made for you. While you do not need identification or anything to pick up a prepaid SIM card, you do need ID and proof of Canadian residency to sign up for a postpaid subscription.

Not to mention that most postpaid options require multi-month sign-ups.

So, if you are just visiting, it is probably not a great option. On the other hand, if you are an exchange student or a study abroad, you will definitely need a residency card, which also makes you eligible to purchase the more affordable postpaid SIM card from one of the major providers in Canada or your specific city.

However, there is one small catch… Some providers require a credit check and a Canadian bank account to establish a monthly plan. So even if you are a student, you may have some trouble getting a postpaid SIM.

Figure Out How Much Data You Need

Having a solid data plan during your trip is probably more important than being able to make calls. With apps like Whatsapp, Viber, Skype, and Messenger, you probably do not even need to make a call within Canada or abroad.

You want to select a carrier that is going to offer a big data plan.

Keep in mind that major cities in Canada like Vancouver and Toronto have plenty of cafes, restaurants, hotels, parks, and other areas with free WIFI.

But, of course, no one goes to Canada just to stay in the city!

You are going to want to get some data. The amount you get can be tricky to calculate. You have to figure out what you need for your trip specifically.

If you are on a two-day business trip, you might not need very much data because your hotel WIFI might be enough for you. If you are more of an outdoors type on a ten-day hiking or cross-country skiing trip, you might not even need that much data.

As long as you do not watch videos, consume too much social media, or make long calls, 200 MB a day is more than enough for things like Google Maps or to hail a ride.

However, for a more extended trip, say two weeks, you might consider a larger package. If you are going to be on Instagram and YouTube the whole time and you need to make video calls, you are looking at something north of 5 GB or 8 GB.

Data is relatively expensive in Canada. One of the significant differences between Canada and the other countries you may travel to is that Canada has low data caps and very high prices.

In fact, CBC News reported that Canada has one of the highest costs for mobile data in any country. So, you are going to want to choose one of the more affordable options.

Keep in mind also that if you run out of data, you may get a text notification, but that is not certain. You might even be able to access data after your allotted amount expires, but you will be charged extra.

Coverage and Region

Like mentioned before, Canada is huge! No, seriously, it is the second biggest country in the world, but the population is ten times smaller than the United States.

So, you end up having a bunch of people concentrated in three or four major cities and everyone else scattered around the large country.

This puts carriers and data providers in a unique situation… It creates an oligopoly.

There are essentially three major mobile providers in Canada, and even they share some of the same cell towers! That is how big the country is, and that is how hard it can be for tourists, visitors, and even students to get a good deal on coverage and data.

First of all, you want to make sure that the region you are traveling to has a carrier that is compatible with frequency and band type with your phone.

More importantly, when you buy a SIM card from one of the major providers, you need to make sure they cover the region and city you are in. This may sound funny, but some providers will only cover single areas. In fact, one major provider only covers a few cities.

More and more providers are now adopting Canada-wide calling, which covers most of the country for calling. Data is still a bit slow or inexistent in some regions, so you have to take that into account as well.

Make sure your plan has Canada-wide calling because if it does not, you end up paying more than you bargained for.

If a particular region is not covered by your provider, it is not that you will not have connection or “bars,” but you will end up paying additional domestic roaming fees for zones outside of the region or area you have purchased calling and data in.

Get a Plan that Covers Your Trip

This is just good advice for picking a SIM card wherever you travel to, and it does not just have to be Canada.

Get a SIM that will cover you for the duration of your trip. You do not want to pay for something that will last a month or two when there may be a plan for a week.

Often at airports, providers will try to sell you more expensive packages, and if you do not ask, they will not necessarily present all the options. So, make sure you ask for coverage for a week, ten days, or two weeks.

On the other hand, sometimes longer lasting packages are less expensive than shorter ones.

Keep in mind that some telecommunication companies will not charge you per day or a fixed amount of time, instead they will have a set amount of minutes and bytes of data you can use.

So, you might be given 200 minutes and 5 GB of data. These types of plans usually last a year. That is not to say the given assets are enough for a whole year, but that if you end your trip prematurely, you can come back with the same SIM and still have the remaining minutes and data.

You might also want to consider when you will need calling and data during your trip. If you spend the first part in the city, then data is not going to be a big concern, so you might not even want to buy a mobile package until the final days or week of your trip.

How Much Does Cell Phone Service Cost in Canada?

It almost always seems to come down to price.

Again, since there is not much competition among providers in Canada, the prices are very high, in fact, they are noticeably higher than in other countries.

There also is not much variety in what type of plan you can buy. The list of providers compiled in this article includes prices from various carriers and for the best SIM card options they provide.

You need to figure out what is most important to you, whether its data or calling. Know your region, know your provider, and know your price before you chose which SIM to go with.

Overcharges

Read the fine print!

Overcharges are everywhere. Especially in a country like Canada where SIM options are few and, mobile providers are even fewer, there are a lot of unforeseen charges.

The most common overcharge you will receive is if your plan does not have Canada-wide calling or data, and you leave the region you are “assigned” to.

Sounds almost dystopian, right?

It is true. You will also be charged a small fortune if you use roaming outside of the allotted areas.

Make sure you ask questions like, does this SIM option have Canada-wide? Which regions can I use calling and data in? Will I be charged extra for data after it finishes?

Ok, now that you have the basics down, here are:

The Best Canadian SIM Cards Overall

  • Rogers
  • Telus
  • Bell Mobility
  • Freedom Mobile

Let’s go one by one and look at why these four made the list. I have also compiled a list of great data providers in Canada as well, but let’s start with the Best overall SIM card options while visiting Canada.

Rogers

Rogers Logo

Rogers is the largest provider in Canada. In fact, the list above is ranked from largest to smallest. Because it is the leading telecommunication company in Canada, it has a wide variety of options for visitors to choose from.

Rogers is unique in that it offers a “Pay As You Go” SIM, which, as the name may suggest, charges you as you use the card for calls, texts, and data.

Rogers divides its plans into two major categories Talk & Text and, as you may have guessed, Talk, Text & Data Plans.

Since travelers use a lot of data, especially in a large country like Canada, this article will only go over the plan with data as well as talk and text.

Their first plan is the most expensive at around $48, and it comes with 150 minutes of daytime calls, unlimited texting locally, in the US, and internationally, as well as 1 GB of data. This plan is best for individual family members who want to stay in touch and also video chat back home.

The second plan, which is considerably cheaper at $37, has the same talking and messaging perks as plan #1 but with a reduced data plan of only 500 MB. This is an excellent plan for someone on a week-long trip who does not need much access to the internet.

The cheapest plan for travelers to Canada includes only 50 minutes of calling, unlimited messaging within Canada, and 250 MB of data. This plan is best for anyone in Canada for a day or two waiting for a connecting flight or on a short business trip.

You can add an extra GB of data for $14.80 per month.

Plan #1 (≈USD 48.07)

  • Talk: 150 minutes of local daytime calls – also unlimited local calls from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.
  • Messaging: Unlimited locally and internationally
  • Data: 1GB (Add an extra GB for ≈USD 14.80 per month)

Plan #2 (≈USD 37)

  • Talk: 150 minutes of local daytime calls – also unlimited local calls from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.
  • Messaging: Unlimited locally and internationally
  • Data: 500 MB

Plan #3 (≈$22.20 USD)

  • Talk: 50 minutes anytime but local calls only
  • Messaging: Unlimited but only in Canada
  • Data: 250 MB

You can purchase plans from official Rogers stores, as well as mobile kiosks, and the airport.

Telus

Telus Logo

Telus is another great provider! Coming in second after Rogers, this telecommunication company has some great plans tourists and visitors to Canada can take advantage of.

You can purchase SIM cards and add data as you go, or you can choose one of three the card options, which include the Elite 67, Hero 45, and the Connect 37 options.

The Elite 67 plan is the most expensive at around $50 and comes with 500 minutes of local calls, unlimited texting locally, and 1 GB of data! This is a solid plan for anyone with a family traveling with teenagers or young adults. This way, you can call and text each other on the go and keep track of everyone at all times without worrying about data or call minutes.

The second option is the Hero 45 prices at $33. This plan comes with a reduced 300 minutes of local calls, unlimited local texts, and 500 MB of data. This is a solid plan for someone on a week-long trip to Canada looking to disconnect a little.

Last but, well, in this case, least, the Connect 37 option. This plan comes at around $27 and offers 150 minutes of free local calls, unlimited local texting, and only 250 MB of data. Again ,this is a great plan for a business trip where you need to stay connected to your peers but also have access to WIFI.

Elite 67 (≈USD 49.60)

  • Talk: 500 minutes within Canada
  • Messaging: Unlimited within Canada
  • Data: 1 GB

Hero 45 (≈USD 33.30)

  • Talk: 300 minutes within Canada
  • Messaging: Unlimited within Canada
  • Data: 500 MB

Connect 37 (≈USD 27.40)

  • Talk: 150 minutes within Canada
  • Messaging: Unlimited within Canada
  • Data: 250 MB

You can also buy additional data at around $22 for every GB, but be careful because videos and streaming will eat up data faster than a Canuck eats maple syrup… a little Canada humor for you.

Bell Mobile

Bell Mobility Logo

Bell is the smallest major telecommunication provider, so you would assume they have multiple affordable options. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

They do have multiple options in general. Since this article is identifying the best SIM card for when you visit Canada, we have focused on Bell’s Carte Multi-SIM option.

The Carte card comes at a fixed price of around $8 and gives you the option to purchase prepaid data. This is where it gets interesting. Bell is perhaps more data-focused than the Rogers and Telus, but that does not necessarily mean it is cheaper. Luckily there are a lot of options to choose from.

After the initial SIM card payment, you can choose from a range of data options from $7.40 for 100 MB all the way up to $62.90 for 10 GB.

Carte Multi-SIM Card (≈USD 7.40)

Plus an additional

  • ≈USD 7.40 for 100 MB of data
  • ≈USD 33.30 for 2GB of data
  • ≈USD 44.40 for 5GB of data
  • ≈USD 62.90 for 10GB of Data

If you purchase 10 GB of data and you exceed your limit, you will pay an additional $7.40 for each GB used. You can also buy a daily data plan for $1.50, which gives you about 20 MB of data. This is enough to use Google Maps for a few quick searches and hail a ride from one of the ride-sharing apps.

For an additional $37, you can get unlimited local and Canadian long-distance talking time. You can also purchase 50 GB of data for a cool $110, but it would be a very unusual amount, especially for travelers and visitors to Canada.

Freedom Mobile

Freedom Mobile Logo

Remember that part about some providers having regional and city limits? This is one of them.

Freedom Mobile is the smallest major telecommunication provider in Canada.

First of all, you need to make sure your phone is compatible with Freedom’s SIM card. Then make sure the city or town you are in supports the carrier.

The SIM card can be purchased for $10, and then you can buy a plan. Surprisingly, Freedom offers some pretty solid options.

  • For $25, you will not get any data, but you have unlimited call and text in Canada.
  • For $40, you get a whopping 4GB of data and unlimited local calls with international text.
  • On the upper end, you can purchase a plan for $59 and get 8GB of data (which includes 1 GB in the US), unlimited Canadian and US calls, and full international text coverage!

Freedom Mobile is a great option for businessmen and women who are going to stay rather long periods in major cities. They are also great for parents with small kids you are not going to leave the city or town they arrived in.

As long as you are within their region of coverage, Freedom is your best bet!

Good Canadian SIM Cards for Data

Honestly, if you are traveling, you are likely not going to need a lot of talking and texting options, data is the name of the game. This is what major providers need to understand and adopt a more internet-driven model.

That being said, you may just want to pick up a plan that offers robust data while you are visiting Canada. It makes sense too. You can chat, video call, or text using several apps, including Viber, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Skype!

Here is a list of data providers in Canada. This article will not go into great detail on each one because they are mostly subsidiaries or sister companies of the above mentioned three or four major providers, so the plans are mostly the same.

  • Public
  • Chatr Mobile
  • Fido
  • Virgin Mobile
  • Koodo
  • Petro Canada
  • cityfone

They all come at between $23 and $30 with a $10 upfront cost. There are one or two outliers that are worth pointing out.

For instance, Chatr Mobile has unlimited data, but you may be required to sign a contract, which means you will likely need to be a Canadian resident with a bank account and average credit history.

Public comes with no contract but only offers 1 GB of data.

However, most provide only 500 MB of data and are not really worth the cost. Like I said before, Canada is a large country with very few data and telecommunication providers, they set the prices, and visitors suffer the consequences.

Where Can and Should You Buy a SIM Card?

The last thing you should consider is where you can physically buy these things!

It is not like gangs are selling SIM cards out of their coat jackets, but you should still know some insider information before buying a SIM in Canada.

First of all, if you can, try to avoid the airport altogether. Water and magnets are not the only expensive items in airports, so are SIM cards.

Providers know you are desperate to get data and texts or calls, so they hike up the prices, and it is mostly fixed for the competition. Instead, use the airport WIFI (with a VPN) to tell your mom, friends, or business partners you just arrived in Canada, then search for a local shop to pick up a card.

Kiosks in malls and shopping areas are great places to find SIM’s and even unlocked phones if yours is not compatible. You can also grab cards from the providers themselves as they have multiple locations in major cities.

Avoid ordering online because you never know what you are going to get, and you do not want to be in the middle of nowhere before you find out your data does not actually work.

For more information on SIM cards, visit the official websites of each provider. Now go pack, the great white north awaits to be discovered!

Further Travels in North America

Visiting other countries in North America? Check out my North American SIM card buying guide covering the other North American destinations, which are Mexico and the United States. Going to other places around the world? Then you should also check out my sim card buying guides for other destinations around the world.

What is next?

Looking for the best companies and gadgets to enhance your travel experience? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! Save money on plane tickets, bus rides, cruises, and accommodation. Besides that, I also list services and items I use to make my life easier – and I believe they will help you too!

Book Your Flight for Canada

It is time to book your flight. Find cheap flights with AirWander so that you can add free or cheap stopovers in destinations you have not considered yet before going to Canada. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Canada drop.

Book Your Accommodation for Canada

I am a huge fan of Airbnb because it allows me to live with a local or get a local place for myself. Staying in someone’s house or apartment feels much different than being in a ho(s)tel, especially in Canada. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a Canadian hotel.

Get Your Travel Insurance for Canada

You will regret not having travel insurance once you actually need it and “forgot” to get it. Nowadays, travel insurance is cheap and comprehensive unlike back in the days. World Nomads is by far the best travel insurance for adventurous travelers like yourself. You can even get insured WHILE already traveling in Canada, which is not something many insurance companies allow you to do.

Get a Travel Debit Card

Travel Cheques are outdated. Paying with your credit card or debit card can be expensive because of all the exchange commissions banks charge you. TransferWise allows you to convert your main currency to Canadian Dollars for a small fee (up to 8 times less than with your bank!) Getting a Transferwise Borderless account is FREE, so you will get an instant return on your investment.

Enjoy your trip!

Ernest Adu

Ernest Adu, going by just Adu, is the founder and editor at Phone Travel Wiz. He has been a traveler for 6 years. Although from Europe, the Netherlands, Adu's favorite region in Asia, in particular, East and Southeast Asia. He currently lives in Tainan, Taiwan due to the current pandemic and does not have any travel plans for after his stay in Taiwan.

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