VFX in Vancouver: Cellular Service & Phone Tips


Before I came to Canada I didn’t really think too much about how I used my phone. I had TMobile’s FamilyShare Plan with almost 20GB of Data plus unlimited calls & texts nationwide. On top of that I was able to travel between the USA, Canada and Mexico and my plan didn’t change. Cell phone plans in the United States are pretty robust and affordable (to an extent). Boy was I taken aback when coming to Canada. Welcome to one of the most expensive places to buy cellular services!

Canada is different for sure. Cellular providers are regulated differently and the “big three” own about 95% of the market share here. There’s very little price competition to be had, so prices remain high. This post is going to lay out some basics of the cellular providers up here in Vancouver as well as a couple of tips I learned for US Expats making the move.

First, here’s a list of the most common cellular providers in Vancouver (& most other parts of Canada). There are many others you will see in the links below that I did not include, but these are just the main ones that I have investigated as well ones my coworkers and friends have recommended many times.

  • Bell - One of the Big Three
  • Rogers - One of the Big Three
  • Telus - One of the Big Three
  • Koodo - Uses Telus network
  • Fido - Uses Rogers network
  • WIND - Smaller & most affordable. Has its own network. Lacks LTE as of this posting.
  • Virgin Mobile - They used to be Bell network only, but now use various others on HSPA+ & 4G LTE

Check this link for more providers and to check coverage in your area. This is a really handy tool.
Carrier Coverage Map

This link is also super helpful. It will find plans based on your needs and compare costs amongst other carriers.
Carrier Price Comparing Tool

If you are like me then you don’t really use your phones actual minutes that often and mostly rely on the data portion of a plan. In Canada, it’s much more expensive than the States to get a high quality, high data cap. Additionally, if you travel to the States often there are little options out there that are similar to TMobile and AT&T where you can roam freely across borders and use your normal plan coverage without paying anything else for it.

Useful Tips

  • If your just visiting for less than 3 months and have TMobile or AT&Ts new roam anywhere plan that includes Canada and Mexico, you don’t need to worry much. With TMobile, you can visit Canada for up to three months without issue. You’ll be able to use any network here as well. Using an iPhone just turn off automatic network selection, wait for it to load and bam! Just select Bell, Rogers, or Telus.

    • I actually did this but for over a year before I knew it wasn’t allowed. Apparently in the terms of service it states “up to three months or 50% of your usage must be on the home network” otherwise they’ll cancel your line. As it was explained to me, when you are on a partner carrier’s cell network for longer than the agreed upon length of time (3 months) then the partner provider sends TMobile a notification saying “such and such telephone number has been roaming on our towers. Take a look.” Basically once that happens, TMobile or AT&T will say, sorry but were ending your line. They do give a 30 day notification but if you have a long term contract or are paying off your phone, you still are required to pay it in full. So basically, do so at your own risk and make sure you can lay your phone off in full if it does happen.

    • Theoretically you could travel every third week to the States and “refresh” your usage by staying a week then return to Canada for two, then repeat but chances are that’s not an option nor do I recommend cheating the system like that.

  • You cannot port a telephone number from the United States to Canada. It’s a different country with different systems. No way around this unfortunately. There is a work around to keep your number though, in case you ever do plan on moving back or just want to maintain that number. See #3 below.

  • If you are coming to Canada for longer than three months & plan to work/live here then in order to keep your USA number, think about porting it to an online service such as Google Voice or Ring.To. These services are free or very inexpensive. They allow you to make calls and receive both texts and calls over the Internet. You can also make very cheap international calls as well. Even better they allow you to access both on your phone or via any other mobile device or desktop PC. I use Google voice which allows me to access my phone number via Hangouts. They also have some cool features like having your voicemails converted to text automatically then it sends you an email you can listen to anywhere.

  • Make sure your phone is unlocked before coming to Canada. If it isn’t you might end up having to get a new phone which is costlier up here thanks to the higher tax plus duties and fees.

  • ShawOpen WiFi is a great supplement to your data plan. If you use Shaw as an Internet provider you gain the ability to use any wifi hotspot in Vancouver. Once you set it up with your device’s information, it automatically connects and switches between hotspots for you just like cell service automatically switches towers. Downtown Vancouver has a lot of coverage so it’s quite a useful perk if you find yourself with little data on your plan.

Hopefully some of these tips will be useful to you. Check back for more posts in this series.

More to come!