RV Tips

Travelling South? Here are the best options for cell phone coverage

Roaming, data, texts and time all cost money—what is your best option?

Picture of tablet and cell phone sitting on counter.
Competition for your data dollars is fierce - explore your options for staying connected while travelling. — Julia Lototskaya/Can Stock photo

Staying in touch with family and friends while on an extended visit to the United States is important. To get the service you want at a price that’s affordable, start by defining your needs. Narrow the field of options and select a plan that makes sense.

Define your needs

What services do you require? How much time will you spend on the phone? Who will you regularly communicate with by phone, and where do they live? How many texts will you send and receive? What amount of data will you require? Do you use Google Maps to navigate when you travel? Are you regularly uploading photographs of your travels for the family to see?

Roam with your current plan

The simplest thing for many travellers is to buy a roaming plan that allows your existing Canadian plan to be accessed as it is with an additional fee. Right now, Bell (Roam Better), Telus (US Easy Roam) and Rogers (Roam like home) all offer comparable roaming plans. They run $7 per day to a maximum of $100 or 15 days in a 30-day billing cycle. Each company has a little different take on the specifics of its plan but basically you get access to your home plan to use as if you were at home. Each company offers additional data at various thresholds and costs.

Buy a Sim card

S.I.M. stands for Subscriber Identity Module––the tiny card that slips in and out of your phone. It identifies you and your phone to the rest of the mobile world. Change the SIM, change your identifier.

Roam Mobility sells SIM cards for $10 or $15 for two. Install its card in your unlocked phone and sign up for the unlimited plans. The downside is you and your friends will have to get used to your new phone number. But you can likely forward your existing phone from home to the new number while travelling. And when you get back home, switch back to your old SIM card and you get your previous number back without having to buy a second phone.

Roam Mobility provides its top-tier unlimited talk, text and data for $5 a day, or $65 per month. Pricing for snowbirds in the U.S. for three months of top-tier is the best deal at $50 per month for unlimited talk, text and data. The company offers lower cost plans with fewer services and data to customers who can manage with less data or data-only.

Connect to a landline

For travellers who are at a single location, say a park model in Texas for six months less a day or two each year, you might want a landline. This option makes sense, especially if you have Internet services hardwired into your temporary home and can combine Internet phone for unlimited long distance.

Buy a U.S.-based phone plan

Canada has a reputation for having high priced mobility costs. Some travellers buy a U.S.-based phone plan. The monthly savings can be substantial, but these are offset by not having the flexibility to stop or idle your plan at home. If you can avoid paying for phone on both sides of the border at the same time, this solution may be ideal.

Manage data consumption and roaming costs

Turn off your data when you are not in a free Wi-Fi accessible area. This will avoid data cost surprises. You can draft emails and messages offline and send them when you get to a Wi-Fi hotspot––even McDonald’s has free Wi-Fi.

Social media like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are all options to stay in touch with family and friends and to keep them updated on your travels, but each one uses some data. Upload photos and do the heavy data use work at a location that has free data access and reasonable speed.

Communication applications like WhatsApp allow users access to other WhatsApp users to stay in touch by text. If you are missing folks faces, Facetime and Skype are good to have face-to-face conversations. A fast Internet connection is required for these to work at their peak.

Competition for your roaming and data dollars is as fierce as your desire to stay in touch with friends and family. Take advantage of the offerings, select a roaming plan with the features that suit your travel needs and return home to friends and family having been well connected while travelling.  

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