Using a Mobile Phone while Traveling?

Thinking about using your mobile phone while travelling around Canada this summer?  At NYQUEST, we are asked a lot about what our international staff should do about their mobile phones (cell phones) during their adventures in Canada.


Unfortunately Cell phone carriers are ridiculously expensive in Canada, so you will find that any international phone calls (incoming or outgoing) will cost you a lot regardless if your phone is Canadian or brought from home country!  If you are purchasing a ‘Pay as you Go’ SIM card in Canada the credit will be drained very quickly if you are using it for international incoming/outgoing calls or text messages.  For the same reason, if you are on a phone contract you will be shocked by how much these extra charges can add up by the time you get home.


If you are bringing a phone from home please make sure that you are turning off Data Roaming, and Cellular Data (if possible) before you get on the plane.  Turning it on once at the airport when you arrive could mean accidently downloading hundreds of dollars worth of data by accident.  Email, SnapChat, Facebook messages, weather information etc will all cost you a small fortune to access! Also, you can read this post about how to change your iOS app store to download Canadian specific apps.


This is a complicated issue with many different variables such as networks, your phone model, what you’ll use it for, where you’re going etc etc – so you’ll have to use your own judgement to decide what is the best option for you.


If you want our advice (and if you can’t be bothered to read this whole post) here it is:


  • Yes, you can bring your cell phone, but keep it on Airplane or Offline mode and just use WiFi when it’s available.  For calling home – use international calling cards.


So here are a few extra things to consider about using your phone while traveling:


You probably won’t need your phone at all

You may only spend a day or two in the city before going to camp, and when you are at camp you will almost certainly not be permitted to use your phone.  So for those few days when you’re not at camp you won’t need an (expensive) international calling package/add-on, or to buy a new phone when you’re here.


At camp your new social circle will be all the new friends that you make, and they won’t be using their phones either!


Understandably some people like to have a phone in case of emergencies, so you can still bring your own phone from home if you feel that you need to.  You’ll have to do your own research to check that your phone will work with the phone network in Canada (dual-band phones will NOT work in Canada or the US).


Take advantage of free WiFi

Our number 1 piece of advice: bring your cell phone but keep it on ‘Airplane’ or ‘Offline’ mode, and just use WiFi.


If you have a smart phone then you can very easily connect to free WiFi at hostels, restaurants, coffee shops or libraries while you are traveling around.  You can use this to send emails, browse Facebook and even Skype with friends/family in your home country for free.


There are loads of apps that you can install on your phone that work fine on WiFi – Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp.  If you’re bringing your laptop, use Skype to call home, or Google Voice to call North-American numbers for free!


Note: Generally, summer camps are technology free zones, so don’t expect reliable WiFi coverage all over camp.  Some camps won’t have any WiFi at all, and you’ll just need to ration your time on the office computer.  


Use international calling cards

There are some great phone cards in Canada that for $5-$20 can provide you with hours and hours of international phone calls.  You just need to go to an old-fashioned phone booth and enter the information that is on the card.  There are phone booths all over the place, so this isn’t a complicated process.  Canada is very accustomed to having international visitors and so you will find that these international calling cards can be bought at pretty much any local convenience store, and are the best value option.  This is our recommended choice for international calls.


Consider going off the grid

You’re going on an adventure this summer, and the best way to enjoy traveling is to completely immerse yourself in the experience, cut yourself off from the rest of the world and embrace the new places you’ll visit and people you’ll meet.  You will not get as much out of your trip to Canada this summer if you’re constantly sending messages to your friends back home rather than interacting with new people.


Just tell your mum that you’ll write her a letter.  And then blame the postman if it’s never delivered.  No, you probably should write your parents a letter or two.


Do you really need 24/7 access to the internet?

Use the free WiFi options when available to check your email/Facebook messages, but we promise that you will live if you don’t have 24/7 access to Facebook – it’s just not worth incurring massive data fees on your phone just to flick through a few status updates.  You will have access to the internet at your camp every now and again, so save your non-essential browsing for then.


Unlock your phone before you come

It’s actually more expensive to unlock a phone in Canada than in most other countries, and sometimes you can end up with your phone not working at all.  By unlocking your phone at home first you will at least know if it’s worth bringing or not!


You can pick up a new SIM card from pretty much any phone store in Canada.  If you do go with a Canadian network then make sure you check that their network covers the area(s) of Canada that you are going to be in.  The biggest networks with the widest coverage are Rogers, Bell, Telus – but they can be more expensive than others like Fido, Wind, Public) – and as we wrote above don’t be surprised to pay a lot for a little!

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