Canadians know the drill — when the leaves start changing color, it’s time to pack your bags and head down south.
Is there a better way to spend the holidays than on the beach while wearing your swimsuit? Clearly not, which is why half a million Canadians spend the winter months down in Florida.
But there are some comforts from home that Canadians need during their long stay in the Sunshine State, and one of the main comforts is their family and friends.
Here’s how to find the best cell phone plan for Canadian snowbirds and avoid all of those excess roaming fees.
Whether you plan to spend a few days or weeks south of the border or are planning to stay outside of Canada through our long, cold winter season, having a cell phone and data is important.
Ensuring that you have plenty of service while away means being able to stay connected with family and friends back home. It allows you to call to book campgrounds, hotels, and other travel accommodations. And if you get into trouble on the road, you can use it to call for help.
Unfortunately, your normal Canadian cell phone service won’t work once you cross the border. Or worse, it’ll cause you to start wracking up incredibly high surcharges for each time you make a call, send a text, or access the internet.
Luckily, there are ways to keep using your current cell phone and number while traveling as a snowbird.
Most phone carriers in the U.S. as well as abroad use LTE, which is a single 4G global network. However, 5G is taking over and will soon become a single global network.
This means your service should work throughout the U.S. and in international territories, but you should double-check with your phone carrier.
Many major cell phone plan carriers offer plans for those traveling in the U.S. For an additional monthly fee, you’ll be able to continue using your existing phone and phone number while traveling.
Many Canadian phone companies offer affordable roaming rates.
However, there could be extra costs. For example, a plan may not charge extra for roaming but may charge for phone calls.
Some carriers offer customizable add-on plans. For instance, Verizon for snowbirds offers a convention global add-on plan that can be quickly added to your existing plan and removed when you return home.
You’ll also have other benefits. For example, you don’t have to change your cell phone number and your family and friends can easily stay in touch with you.
If you opt to get a new U.S. cell phone plan, you could update your friends and family with your new, temporary number. However, if you receive any unexpected calls, like emergency calls from your bank, your landlord, or other sources, you do risk missing these calls if you switch numbers.
For those working while traveling, keeping your phone number might be a necessity.
Keeping your existing cell phone plan can help you avoid this issue.
If your plan has affordable roaming charges or long distance calls, you might as well stay with that plan. You can also shop around for a new plan that has better rates.
If you stay with this option, try and cut down on costs as much as possible. For example, turn off your data and use WiFi whenever possible.
Another option you have for getting cell phone coverage while you’re still in Canada is shopping around for a Canadian snowbird phone plan.
Cell phone carriers understand the demand for snowbird cell phone plans that are affordable and only active a certain amount of time of the year. This is why more Canadian cell phone carriers are releasing snowbird plans.
Most of these plans offer affordable rates and even unlimited calls or texts.
Some plans charge monthly while others offer prepaid plans. Many major U.S. cell phone carriers sell these plans, so it’s helpful to do some homework to compare.
Keep in mind, affordable rates come with a downside. You may not get the best quality service or your service won’t cover a large area. Understand the terms and conditions before signing up.
If you find that your carrier doesn’t offer service south of the border or the roaming rates are too high, your next option is getting a U.S. mobile phone. With this option, you’ll need to get both a new cell phone and a snowbird phone number.
However, not just any cell plan will do.
Just like in Canada, most U.S. cell phone services offer long-term contracts. These tend to last a minimum of two years. If you’re only planning to be in the U.S. for a few months, this isn’t the plan for you.
Some cell phone companies offer prepaid plans, which is ideal since you won’t be spending more than six months out of the year abroad.
As the name suggests, a prepaid plan features a set amount of service for one fixed price.
In most cases, you'll first purchase a prepaid phone that will come with a service plan. This plan will often feature a certain amount of minutes for calling or accessing the internet, and a set amount of texts.
Some prepaid plans will allow you to purchase additional minutes and texts if you run out.
Because you can buy only what you need, this is a great budget-friendly option. If you're traveling on a tight retirement budget and don't plan to make a ton of calls, prepaid plans are a great option.
Prepaid phone plans tend to be more limiting than traditional phone plans. They may have strict restrictions on the number of texts you can send or minutes you can spend on the phone.
If you need internet service, this will likely be even more restricting.
For this reason, many snowbirds search for more traditional cell phone service plans instead.
If you decide to sign a contract, ask if they can pause the plan while you’re in Canada.
Many American cell phone companies offer benefits to customers travelling from Canada, such as free-roaming and phone calls.
If this is the case, you should still do your homework. All plans have different rates for texting, calls, and data. That’s if you don’t decide to sign up for an unlimited plan.
What if you travel outside of the U.S.? The same advice applies. If you get a regional cell phone, make sure you check their rates and if you can use the phone when you’re back in Canada.
What if you don’t plan on making too many phone calls? You shouldn’t go through the hassle of signing up for a new phone plan or paying extra for long-distance calls.
Fortunately, you can make affordable long distance calls on your Canadian phone plan with long-distance calling cards (also called international calling cards or prepaid phone cards).
Long-distance calling cards are very affordable and can be purchased just about anywhere — from directly with your phone carrier to online and even from the gas station.
When you purchase the card, you’ll first have to call a toll-free number. From here, you will enter the PIN number found on the card and the phone number you’re trying to call.
Instead of prepaid phone cards, there are also various apps that have similar functions. You make a long-distance call by first dialing the toll-free number and following the protocol before talking to your loved ones.
If all else fails and roaming charges are too expensive, there are always communication apps that you can use. You can turn off your data, connect to the WiFi, and use these apps to talk to your loved ones.
Popular examples are Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, but just about all social media platforms offer direct message or video calling features.
Social media platforms such as Instagram are free and easy to use. Other than the messaging feature, you can comment on your loved ones’ posts and post your own content for them to see.
Instead of getting a specific cell phone plan, should you just opt for an international SIM card?
A SIM (subscriber identity module) card is a small chip that stores data for global cell phone uses. SIM card users subscribe to the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) which is the network used by most major countries.
One of the benefits of the SIM card is using the GSM network cuts costs and makes communication easier.
If you choose this option, just remember to pop in your SIM card when you’re traveling internationally, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere.
This means you can continue using your current cell phone, with all of the apps, contacts, and saved photos that you usually have access to.
And when you get back to Canada, all you have to do is swap out the SIM card for your original one.
You can purchase a SIM card in Canada before you leave for your travels. However, make sure that you get confirmation that the SIM card will work outside of the country. Otherwise, you may find yourself unable to place calls when you leave Canada.
Another option you have is to get a SIM card once you reach the U.S.
If you’re worried about getting a SIM card that will work outside of Canada, this is a great option.
However, there are still drawbacks.
To start, you’ll have to wait to get your new SIM card until you find a retailer. For those driving into the U.S., this means not have a cell phone to use for a potentially lengthy period. If you get lost or experience car trouble, this could be a problem.
Shopping for a U.S. SIM card also means having to shop around once you’re already on vacation. If you’re someone who likes to start their vacation right away, you might not want to be going from store to store in search of a SIM card at a reasonable price once you get to the U.S.
Choosing the best cell phone plan for Canadian snowbirds is important.
Having access to a cell phone and even internet service while on the go allows you to stay in touch with friends and family. You can update them on your travels, check in to see how they are doing, and ensure that you don’t miss out on any important details in their lives.
But having cell phone service is a convenience and a safety feature as well. Whether you need to update your travel plans with a call to your next hotel, schedule repairs for your vehicle, or call for emergency help, having a cell phone makes this fast and easy.
Getting cell phone coverage while you’re travelling isn’t the only thing you should do before you leave home.
Protecting yourself and your fellow travellers is also a must. Like your cell phone service, your current insurance won’t work while you’re outside of the country.
Travellers insurance is by far the smartest accessory you can pack. Why not use a top rated financial comparison platform like Insurdinary's to compare quotes, save time, and receive the best quote on the market?