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Ask Slashdot: Mobile Data In Canada For a US Citizen? 270

Posted by timothy
from the just-drill-into-a-powerline dept.
macwhizkid writes "I'm traveling to Canada for a week in July with youth group, and need a way to post blog updates on the trip and send back photos. I'll be staying on an island accessible only by boat, so a hard-wired connection is out of the question. I have a Verizon voice + data plan, and I've heard all the horror stories of multi-thousand dollar international data roaming charges. What I'd like to do is get 1-2 GB of data (5 GB would be great) to use on a Canadian provider's network for a reasonable fee (say, less than $100 total) as a wireless hotspot set-up. I have both a CDMA iPhone and a GSM iPad, so I really just need a micro-SIM or a way to register the IMIE. It appears that both Rogers and Bell offer 'pay as you go' data plans (Rogers has a particularly attractive iPad option), but there are conflicting reports as to whether a U.S. credit card can be used to buy service. I can't believe I'm the first U.S. citizen to want mobile data in Canada. So, has anyone done this successfully? Is there another option I'm not considering?"
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Ask Slashdot: Mobile Data In Canada For a US Citizen?

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  • by statusbar (314703) <jeffk@statusbar.com> on Monday June 27, 2011 @07:42PM (#36591062) Homepage Journal

    Can't you do the same thing as Canadians can do in the U.S.? That is, in your non-native country, go to a 7-11 and purchase a VISA gift card that is preloaded. Use that card to purchase your data plan.

    --jeffk++

    • by xombo (628858)

      Pre-paid gift Visas are really poorly done in Canada. There are a bunch of fees and many merchants won't accept them. For some, you even have to go through a normal credit approval process to even have them give you a pre-paid credit card.

    • by mjwx (966435)

      Can't you do the same thing as Canadians can do in the U.S.? That is, in your non-native country, go to a 7-11 and purchase a VISA gift card that is preloaded. Use that card to purchase your data plan.

      --jeffk++

      Wont his US Visa card work in Canadian ATM's.

      Did they stop exchanging the US dollar at Canadian banks?

      Because everywhere I've been, my AU issued Visa card has been accepted and my AUD bank notes have been exchanged for the local fare without question.

      Pre-paid Visa cards attract a lot of unwanted fees.

      • by statusbar (314703)

        AT&T in USA does not accept an out of country credit card to pay for cell phone plans.

        • No, but an ATM in the US will take an out of country card and hand out cash, which is what your parent suggested.

      • by tibit (1762298)

        You haven't been to Japan, then. I have four U.S. issued credit cards (personal MC, business MC, personal AMEX, personal VISA), and I've been to plenty of establishments where only one of them works, and to some where none of them go through in spite of VISA/MASTERCARD logos displayed on the doors.

        I've never had any problems in U.S. and Europe, though, with any of those cards (as long as they accept a particular type, that is).

        • by mjwx (966435)

          You haven't been to Japan, then. I have four U.S. issued credit cards (personal MC, business MC, personal AMEX, personal VISA), and I've been to plenty of establishments where only one of them works, and to some where none of them go through in spite of VISA/MASTERCARD logos displayed on the doors.

          First off, I said ATM, not business.

          And secondly,

          I have been to Japan, as well as Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Philipines, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore in Asia, My Visa card has worked everywhere.

          If your card has a problem, I suggest you check with your issuing bank as some will stop you from making international transactions, this is why you notify your bank you are going overseas.

          Also I take it you never did much research before your trip, otherwise you'd know cash is king in Asia. As a season

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The lakes and rivers are still frozen here and that causes the absorption of all cellular phone frequencies. Our summer, August 13th is the one day we get Internet

  • Tim Horton's gift cards and/or Canadian Tire money should all work fine for you here.
  • by michaelwigle (822387) <michaelwigle@hotmail.com> on Monday June 27, 2011 @07:51PM (#36591158) Homepage
    I'm a Canadian living in Cincinnati and drove home to Edmonton, AB for a few weeks. I called my local cellular provider (Cincinnati Bell) and asked them for an international data roaming feature to be added to my account. There were multiple data caps available. I went for the mid-range and paid $30 per month for, I think, about 5 GB. It was turned on over the phone immediately and I turned it off when I got home by calling them up and telling them to turn it off. I also recommend getting international voice roaming if you are going to do that. Otherwise you can get hit with serious roaming charges just for making or receiving a call Internationally. I figured not a bad expense for the convenience. Hopefully your current cellular provider offers something similar.
    • by Alan Shutko (5101)

      I checked both AT&T and Verizon about a month ago (for a 1-week trip to Edmonton as well). Their offerings were $100/mo for a 200MB cap. Verizon used to have a plan with a 5GB cap for a reasonable price, but discontinued it in January.

      • My employer paid for precisely this feature when I was traveling in the UK earlier this year.

        It did . not . work . at . all . At least in the London, roaming connections got the lowest priority on the network. 30-40 call attempts, fruitless attempts to use data for two days, and finally I went to a local T-Mobile shop, bought a local pay-as-you-go MicroSIM for £10, got an unlimited data plan attached to it for a £5 annual fee (!!!!!) and popped it into my jailbroken iPhone, upon which I proceede

    • This is better than most Canadians get.

      • If it's just data, you can get about that on a tablet plan from Telus.... But yeah, for a decent mobile data cap, the carriers pretty much universally suck in this country, unless you're in Toronto, Ottawa, or Calgary and can get Mobilicity.

        • by dadragon (177695)

          I don't have a data cap with SaskTel. There are some good carriers in this country, but you're right you do need to live in the right places.

        • Edmonton also has Mobilicity!

          (What? Regional rivalry with Calgary? Ridiculous)
  • by caseih (160668) on Monday June 27, 2011 @07:54PM (#36591194)

    If they cover the place where you'll be staying, Virgin Mobile offers a very attractive iPad-only data plan. It's prepaid and costs only $25 for the SIM, and then depending on how much data you want, from $25 to $60 a month.

    • by caseih (160668)

      I forgot to give a url. Good thing I looked it up because the details are somewhat different than I remembered. Here's the link:

      http://www.virginmobile.ca/en/hot-offers/offer-tablet-50.html [virginmobile.ca]

      It's not exactly prepaid, but more of a non-contract, month-to-month. So I'm not sure how well they can accommodate a non-canadian billing address, but worth talking to them about I think. They will ship the SIM to you, but I'm not sure how you'd go about activating it while still in the US.

      • Also relevant: The Map [virginmobile.ca].
      • Interesting. I didn't even think to check Virgin Mobile. That might work. I'll have to check coverage to be sure, but being able to order online would sure make life easier, since the Rogers/Bell stuff apparently requires you to go to a brick-and-mortar store and even then is pretty hit or miss on whether you get a salesperson with a clue about how data plans work. Activation might still be a problem, though luckily I live an hour from the US/CA border, so I can always just drive there some afternoon and tr

  • Tethered. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by westlake (615356) on Monday June 27, 2011 @07:57PM (#36591232)

    I'll be staying on an island accessible only by boat.

    For one damn week, kick the habit. Ditch the tech and enjoy your time with these kids.

    • by Obfuscant (592200)
      I suspect that it is the parents of the youth group members that are pressing for updates and pictures, and not the guy going there. Parents can be anal about such things. Remember, it's for the children.
      • Re:Tethered. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by plover (150551) * on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:35PM (#36591528) Homepage Journal

        Only a few short years ago, parents got along just fine when the kids went off to summer camp, and didn't worry that the kids wouldn't trouble them with phone calls home and constant SMSs and emails. Matter of fact, Mom and Dad would usually call this time period "vacation".

        There are two reasons kids go to summer camp. Only one is for the kids.

        I agree with the GP. Unplug. It'll be best for all of you.

        • by Obfuscant (592200)

          There are two reasons kids go to summer camp.

          "A week" "with a youth group" is unlikely to be "summer camp". It sounds like a special trip for a specific purpose. Summer camps tend to have professional staff and insurance policies to keep parents happy. A "summer camp" on an island accessible only by boat will have professional staff taking the kids out to the island and won't need some adult coming along for the ride.

          "Youth group" trips are whoever got roped into it going places without professional staff to deal with the kids.

          If he could unplug,

          • by PNutts (199112)

            If he could unplug, I'm sure he'd have chosen that option instead of spending money on "blogs and photos", and would not have bothered asking.

            It's OK for you to make that assumption, but I doubt many people here would go on a vacation for a week and unplug.

            • by gstoddart (321705)

              It's OK for you to make that assumption, but I doubt many people here would go on a vacation for a week and unplug.

              You should. I highly recommend a week on a beach with mojitos, palm trees, cigars and exceedingly fresh coffee.

              Unplugged can be good ... I read quote the other week about how someone realized they wouldn't look back and wish they'd spent more time in Facebook.

              Embrace the horror ... be offline, and outside in the sun. ;-)

        • Only a few short years ago, parents got along just fine when the kids went off to summer camp, and didn't worry that the kids wouldn't trouble them with phone calls home and constant SMSs and emails. Matter of fact, Mom and Dad would usually call this time period "vacation".

          I don't disagree, but I take it you haven't taken a group of kids camping recently. The truth (for better or worse) is that most parents are wary of not having any communication from their children for longer than a day, let alone a week. Particularly in the high-tech college town I'm from. Like it or not, a daily email update is the modern version of a postcard from camp. And at least for us, it's an adult-written thing; so it's not like the kids are spending time sitting in front of a screen instead of ca

      • by PNutts (199112)

        I suspect that it is the parents of the youth group members that are pressing for updates and pictures, and not the guy going there. Parents can be anal about such things. Remember, it's for the children.

        I dont' disagree, but if I need a daily picture to prove my kid isn't tied to a bed or eaten by wolves (since Jeffery passed) I'm not sending them there.

  • Forget Rogers in Newfoundland. Their coverage is in exactly two places - Most parts of St. John's, and I believe some of Clarenville or Gander. Bell's network, on the other hand, is comprehensive here, and the other mobile providers here use Bell's towers (Fido excepted, because Rogers owns Fido).

  • by Jahava (946858) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:04PM (#36591302)

    When I was visiting Canada from the US, I actually called Verizon from my car on the way up. The customer service rep was very informative, and after much questioning we agreed to basically upgrade my account to "international" for exactly the time that I was in Canada. It would be prorated to the higher fee for the 4 days, then revert to its original US plan. It was something like $15US/day extra for both voice and data - nothing horrible. I checked my bill afterwards and it went seamlessly. I recommend at least investigating this option.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      While this is what my family did when we went up a couple years back, it definitely depends who you get when you call. It took us 3 weeks of continuous correspondence with Verizon to get the deal we were first promised. While we did eventually get what was offered, 3 weeks of calling Verizon and each rep claiming to have fixed our bill and not having actually done so gets rather annoying. I am glad to hear both you and the next post had success, and perhaps our case was a rarity, but if not be aware it migh

    • by xombo (628858)

      CMDA coverage in Canada isn't that great. I'd recommend doing it with a GSM phone, which Verizon will allow you to borrow for international trips.

  • by mlc (16290) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:04PM (#36591304) Homepage
    I was in Canada last summer for a couple of weeks, and Verizon offered me fairly reasonable data (and voice, fwiw) roaming rates. They even automatically canceled the plan on the day I was scheduled to return to the US without me having to make another call to customer service. Most Verizon reps have actually heard of Canada. It's not like you're traveling across the ocean or anything.

    By “fairly reasonable,” of course, I still mean too much money, but still less than signing up for an entirely new prepaid plan with a Canadian carrier. Call them up, see how much money they want, and then make your comparisons from there.

    • The only reason I'm wary of just calling Verizon and talking to customer care is that there are a number of anecdotes floating around about how customer care people are mostly clueless about international issues [blogspot.com] or (worse) will tell you what you want to hear, rather than the real truth, and then can't help you when you get the $1k bill a month later.

      The only bit I can find on Verizon's site is $30 for 75 megabytes [vzw.com]. It's not quite highway robbery, but it's a pretty bum deal. I'd be really hesitant to agree t

  • Post the pics to a free webserver. All thephone + Canada is noise.

    Your loved ones / friends download the pics at home .

    • The OP wrote:

      I'll be staying on an island accessible only by boat, so a hard-wired connection is out of the question.

      From what connection do you recommend that the OP "[p]ost the pics to a free webserver"?

      • Quoting from elsewhere:
        "Re:Island only accessible by boat.. (Score:3, Insightful)
        by BitterOak (537666) Alter Relationship on 08:16 PM June 27th, 2011 (#36591412) ..Make sure it has cell network coverage first.

        As a Canadian, I can tell you that unlike the US, cellphone coverage in Canada isn't universal. There are regions where there is simply no coverage. Make sure, before you invest in one of these plans, that there is coverage where you'll be. Probably the first thing you do is talk to some of the islande

  • People used to go to the wilderness to get away from it all. These days they go for the livejournal entries [xkcd.com].

  • and need a way to post blog updates on the trip and send back photos

    I have taken plenty of vacations in Canada and did not find myself with such a need. Waiting until I returned was plenty adequate for blog updates and showing off photos. You can buy a lot of storage for your camera for what wireless internet might cost you in the middle of nowhere for a week.

  • Isn't there a 'vacation' package you can get that'll give you X MB of international north american data for a one time cost that lasts one month or some other temporary 'add-on'.

    Typicially even if you need more than the 'cap', the overage rate is much much lower if you have the package.

    e.g. my last trip to italy I bought a 50MB package for $60 or something like that, but it lowered the roaming data rate from 3 cents per kilobyte to $1/MB (or 0.1 / kilobyte). So even though I used 67MB it cost me $17 extra f

    • by xaxa (988988)

      50MB for $60?

      If you travel to a country more than once it's probably worth buying a local SIM card when you're there. I bought a SIM from a small supermarket in Germany for €9.90, which included €10 of credit. €3.90 paid for 100MB of data, or €9.90 would have paid for 1GB. Phone calls /texts within Germany were also cheap.

      (This was for a music festival, so I then got drunk, and when it finished at 9:30 (in the morning) played some YouTube videos, and used up all the 100MB + all the rem

  • If you contact your provider in advance, its sometimes possible to arrange for a data plan in the country you're visiting through them, and avoid the roaming charges.

    Also I know its possible to get the pay-as-you-go data plans with cash ONLY if you already own the equipment necessary (ie they only need to give you a SIM). They will not hand over a data stick without a credit card or your willingness to buy it outright.

  • by zill (1690130) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:32PM (#36591508)

    Both Wind Mobile [windmobile.ca] and Mobilicity [mobilicity.ca] offers $10 unlimited data add-ons. If you don't want any voice plans then their data-only plans would cost $30 and $40 respectively.

    No credit card is needed for either of these providers. Cash and carry. So it doesn't matter if you're Canadian, American, or Pastafarian.

    • I was visiting Toronto last year (from Germany), and I was looking for a pre-paid SIM card from one of the new carriers. And all of them required you to either sign a contract or purchase a phone along with it. In any case, I just stuck with my European SIM since it was too much of a pain in the ass. On the other hand, in Germany, i was able to setup a visiting friend with a SIM with unlimited data for a month for just 10 EUR, including the SIM. Canada's wireless industry is still in the dark ages. I hope i
  • Which island? (Score:4, Informative)

    by rueger (210566) * on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:35PM (#36591532) Homepage
    Before getting too carried away, keep in mind that your island may have poor or no cel coverage anyhow.

    For that matter there are locations on the Vancouver North Shore [trailpeak.com] where my Telus/Moto phone is useless.

    OK, I'll admit that as long you're travelling along the bottom half of the country service is pretty reliable, but the three mega corps that own the cellular business in Canada really don't give a damn about service.

    PS - Telus and Bell operate on the same network.
    • Approx 45.087, -78.299 [google.com]

      Both Rogers and Telus/Bell theoretically cover it according to their maps, but it's definitely on the fringe.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        Good luck with that. Maybe if you climb a tree and the ionosphere is just right.

        Coverage maps lie. Having driven through that area to get to Georgian Bay to go kayaking, cell service is weak enough on the highways, never mind off them.

        Save up the pictures and dump them when you get home.

      • by rueger (210566) *
        Been through there many times. In all likelihood whatever service there is will be more or less along the highways.

        But if you're up that way take Highway 60 across to Wilno and have the perogies at the Wilno Tavern. [wilnotavern.com] Definitely worth the drive, and some nice scenery on the way.

        Or geek out at Foymount, [ghosttownpix.com] a near abandoned outpost from the Cold War DEW Line.
      • by Yaztromo (655250)

        Both Rogers and Telus/Bell theoretically cover it according to their maps, but it's definitely on the fringe.

        Consider this my addition to the chorus of people who know the area who are telling you that coverage up that way can be weak at best. My family owns property around Gooderham, and while coverage has improved in the last five years or so, don't expect anything. At all. You might get something on the island, but the cell companies aren't optimizing for coverage in those areas beyond some of the bigger towns (Haliburton), and some of the more heavily travelled highways. Bell has historically been a bit st

  • The options are not pretty, Canada having some of the most monopolistic mobile carriers in the G20.

    Having said that, you should consider the following:

    - CDMA is out, since I don't think it would work with another carrier. CDMA works only with Bell and Telus. So Rogers, Fido and the rest are out.

    - Is the area you are in within mobile range of certain carriers? It may not be. So check with locals there. There used to be a map of all Canada with all the cell towers and all carriers somewhere. I forgot the URL

    • Sim cards (at least with Rogers) are $10 at a rogers store. If you're still looking for a cell tower map, check out this site. It shows all the towers, sortable by carrier. http://www.ertyu.org/steven_nikkel/cancellsites.html [ertyu.org]
      • by kbahey (102895)

        This link [puremobile.ca] says it is $7.50 even ...

        But, last time someone I know lost his phone, he bought an unlocked phone but had to pay $35 to get a new SIM.

        Maybe that $35 included something extra, like preserving the number he had, or $25 of air time?

  • ... call the service provider and ask them is they take a US credit card instead of posting your question on Slashdot. If that fails, I'm sure there are plenty of other more suitable forums for this discussion elsewhere on the web. (A simple google search found plenty of discussions on internet service in Canada... suprise!)

    I'm not sure why Slashdot continues to pander to a US-centric audience, and waste space on personal interest stories instead of "news for nerds" and other "stuff that matters".

    What's nex

  • Like several other commenters here, I have Verizon and simply called them up and asked what the options were. They offered to add Canada to my plan, but I only had to pay for the week I was to go there, then they'd revert back to the US-only plan and refund the portion of the month I had not used. They did exactly that, and it all went smoothly.

    Now, the important thing to keep in mind is that if you get say a 400MB per month plan for Canada, and you only use it for a week, you can only use 100MB. So if

    • All of this is moot if your Island does not have coverage from a Canadian provider who has a roaming agreement with Verizon.

      Fixed that for you. However, if it has coverage from a CDMA provider (Telus or Bell Mobility, IIRC) then surely Verizon will have a roaming agreement with them.

      • Yes that's what I meant to say. Thanks for the correction. And it is fortunate that Verizon is CDMA for that kind of interoperability.

  • But come on... Call the freaking carriers. Someone manages the island or the boat to it. Call them. You had conflicting reports and you decided to post to Slashdot to get straightened out? I seriously question your decision making skills and hope that if you are one of the organizers or leaders of the youth group that there are others to keep everyone safe. I get the feeling you are a "GPS led me off a cliff" sort of s/he.
  • My Blackberry has $5/month global roaming capabilities for data, I don't think it's anything special that you can't get.
    • by kybred (795293)

      My Blackberry has $5/month global roaming capabilities for data, I don't think it's anything special that you can't get.

      A co-worker and I went to South America, he took his T-Mobile BB. I asked about data, he said he had the international data and it wouldn't cost him any extra. He neglected to check on the voice rates, however, and ended up with a $2k voice bill. Fortunately the company reimbursed him (but told him not to do that again).

  • Do you have enough to post one on every peak between the camp and the nearest internet cafe ?
  • by T1girl (213375) on Monday June 27, 2011 @09:46PM (#36592032) Homepage

    Go with the flow. Enjoy everything a remote wilderness island in Canada has to offer. Do you think the rest of the world will wilt in despair just because you miss a post or two? Be here (there) now! Enjoy the scenery. Soak in the views! You are in a high latitude during the longest days of the year. How often do you think you will get to have an experience like this? Stop to smell the wild roses. Catch a fish. Cook it in a pan with just butter and maybe some s&p. The "wired" world will still be there when you emerge, but you may never have this experience again. Unplug. Live. Enjoy. Experience. Take some pictures ...or make some sketches (yes, we're talking pencil and paper, maybe even the brown paper your groceries came wrapped in). Upload them when you get back to wherever you currently live. Maybe next year you will go to Africa.

    All the best
    T1girl

    • And if you absolutely need internet access, you can consult porn sites by smoke signals provided you find a skilled tribe member to send them for you.
    • Thanks. Please don't misunderstand, I do take time to enjoy the wilderness! Heck, my personal vacation back in February was to drive cross-country and bag a couple Colorado Fourteeners. Without a cell phone or netbook.

      But, chaperoning kids isn't a vacation (at least, doing it well isn't) and technology for keeping fragile parents sane or finding the nearest ice cream spot for the group when we're out biking means I have more time for the relaxing things. As always, your mileage may vary.

  • Rogers will let you register your iPad using the on-device provisioning with a US credit card so long as you give it a valid Canadian address. It doesn't seem to do any authentication of your address during that transaction. I haven't had much luck doing the same via a store or their website. The iPad is likely your best choice for this. If you have an unlocked phone, you can get a pre-paid Rogers SIM for about $10 at a FutureShop and pay $7-10 for a week of data or $2 for a day of data for your smart phone

  • not being online for a week - it's not like it'll kill you to skip /. and facebook for 7 days :)

    pros: cheap!

  • Macwhizkid: Your options are as follows:

    a) Look up the island and it's location on coverage maps on Rogers, Bell, and Telus. Note that Bell and Telus do share the same network (Bell is eastern Canada, Telus Western Canada, and they share each others towers to give coverage in all areas of the country). But you do need to look at the coverage map. If it shows little to no coverage in your area, you will probably be out of luck. There are large portions of Canada without any network coverage or only in certai

  • Check out Xcom Global - http://www.xcomglobal.com/ [xcomglobal.com] They offer a MiFi mobile hotspot for just about any country at $15/day. Unlimited data. I use it every time I travel outside the US. Canada has excellent data coverage.

  • by rs79 (71822)

    Depends where you are. North of Madoc, between the highway and Algonquin park, for examples, there's zero coverage.

    But, if you're in Toronto, every coffee shop has free wireless. In the 2 mile stretch of Yonge st between Bloor and Lawrence, there are 11 Starbucks; 3 on one block (at Eglington).

  • Leave it, and just enjoy the youth group retreat!

  • You're pretty much screwed. I know Virgin Mobile offers $30/mo plans for 500MB, prices go up from there.

    Out of curiosity, I'm about to make the reverse trip. What's my best option for a wifi cellular hub in the US if I don't already have hardware?

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