A guide to cellphone plans in Canada

By Amanda Owusu

Posted on May 24, 2021

One of the most important parts of settling in Canada is getting a cellphone. Your cellphone will be used as your main point of contact between you and the world. It plays a huge part in our day-to-day activities and can make your life much easier. Whether you’re connecting with friends and family back home, finding a job, or getting settled in your new home, a mobile phone will come in handy. Cellphone plans in Canada differ a bit from other countries. This article will provide you with information about the types of plans offered in Canada and how you can go about getting one.

What are the major phone companies?

There are major national Canadian phone companies that are used by customers all across Canada. These companies are Bell, Rogers, Telus, Koodo, Virgin, Fido, Freedom Mobile, Public Mobile, and Chatr. The majority of these companies are owned by Rogers, Telus, and Bell. Many different provincial/territorial service providers are used by customers within a certain province. Some of these providers are SaskTel Mobility, Fizz Mobile, K-Net Mobile, Eastlink Wireless, TNW Wireless, and Sogotel. Depending on the city you’re in, a cellphone plan with a regional carrier may be cheaper than one with a national carrier.

‘Bring your own phone’ plans vs. contract-based plans

In Canada, you can select between two different types of cellphone plans: ‘Bring your own phone’ or contract-based plans, where you lease the phone from the service provider.

Contract-based plans provide you with the opportunity to purchase a phone from the service provider and pay it off over 24 months. You’ll have to undergo a credit check and sign a contract with the service provider, agreeing to monthly payments for 2 years. However, if you want to leave the phone company before the contract expires, you’ll be expected to pay off the remaining balance for the phone. These plans tend to be a bit more expensive than ‘bring your own phone’ plans because they include the monthly cost of the phone. Although they may be more expensive overall, sometimes it’s cheaper to pay the monthly cost for the phone than the full cost of the phone up front. Do your research before opting for the contract-based alternative and see what options best fit your needs.

On the other hand, ‘bring your own phone’ plans are designed for customers who already have their own mobile devices. With this option, you’ll only have to pay for the monthly cost of their services. These plans are typically cheaper than contract-based plans because the cost of the phone is not included in your monthly payment. They are also easier to access because you don’t usually need to undergo a credit check.

Prepaid vs. postpaid plans

In Canada, all retailers offer postpaid, prepaid services, or both.

With prepaid services, you pay for the phone plan before you use the services. You can find prepaid phone plans for prices as low as $25/month with companies such as Lucky Mobile, Public Mobile, and Chatr. Once you use all the services that you have paid for, you’ll have to purchase more to continue using your phone. You do not have to sign a contract or undergo a credit check to access these plans. You can also find vouchers to pay for these prepaid services in many different stores, such as gas stations, convenience stores, dollar stores, and other bigger department stores. Prepaid services are easier and cheaper to access, but sometimes they do not offer all the services that a postpaid plan may offer.

Postpaid cellphone plans have services that you are required to pay for at the end of the monthly period on a specified date. To access these plans, you’ll most likely have to undergo a credit check and will also have to sign a contract promising that you will pay the balance each month. If you exceed the services covered by your plan, you’ll most likely be charged for the excess, which they call “overage.” The price for overage fees can be very expensive. Some providers charge as much as $10 per 100 MB, which can add up quickly. These plans offer services that may not be offered by prepaid plans, such as higher data usage limits, better coverage, and family packages.

Determining which option is best for you will depend on what you are looking for in a cellphone plan and what you can afford to pay. It’s important to note that prepaid plans are a good option for newcomers because they don’t require credit checks.

Types of cellphone plans

There are many types of cellphone plans in Canada. Some have unlimited data, calling, and texting options, while others charge you per minute of a call.

The most popular phone options these days are smartphones. To use a smartphone, you typically have to have a plan that includes data. The type of phone you have will also play a role in deciding which phone plan to go with.

Companies like Chatr and Public Mobile offer affordable basic talk and text packages with minimal amounts of data.

  • You can get unlimited Canada-wide talk plans with unlimited international texting for just $25/month with Chatr.
  • Public Mobile offers this same type of plan for $25 except it also includes 1GB of data. You can even find unlimited provincial-wide calling and texting options for as low as $15 at Public Mobile.

girl and grandma on cellphone
If you’re looking for a phone plan that allows you to talk, text, and use data, some great options are Chatr, Koodo, and Freedom Mobile.

  • Chatr has unlimited international texting, unlimited Canada-wide calling, and 4.5 GB of data for just $40/month.
  • Koodo offers unlimited international texting, unlimited Canada-wide calling, and 10 GB of data for $50/month.
  • Freedom Mobile offers unlimited international texting, unlimited Canada-wide calling, and 15 GB of data for just $60/month.

These carriers are great when looking for affordable options; they also offer prepaid services.

There are also plans that are advertised as providing “unlimited data.” It’s important to note that the data is not actually unlimited. What actually happens is the service providers usually offer a set amount of data at a certain streaming speed. Once you surpass that amount, your streaming speed is lowered. This unlimited data option is good for Canadian cellphone users because, unlike traditional plans, users are not charged high fees for data excess. By having this “unlimited data” option, users are no longer incurring crazy overage fees. Freedom Mobile is known across Canada for offering affordable “unlimited data” plans, whereas other carriers still charge you overage fees. You can access unlimited international texting, unlimited Canada-wide calling, and “unlimited” 25 GB data for $80/month at Freedom Mobile.

Typically, all Canadian cellphone plans include features like voicemail, caller ID, and call waiting.

The price of plans varies from region to region. Some areas have cheaper services than others. Due to the variation across the country, the prices in this article may not be accurate for the area you live in. Contact your regional retailer for accurate rates.

What do I need to get a cellphone plan? How much will it cost?

To sign up for a postpaid contract-based phone plan, you will need two pieces of ID. One must have a photo. You can use your passport, Canadian driver’s licence, proof of permanent residency, SIN Number, study permit, and/or visa. You will also need a credit card that matches the name on your identification.

If you are not buying a phone with your plan, you will need to bring your own phone. Make sure that your phone is unlocked, so it can work with Canadian carriers. You can typically get your phone unlocked for free or for a small fee through the carrier that sold you the phone or the carrier you are about to sign up with. You can purchase basic mobile devices in Canada for a starting price of $200. If you are purchasing a used phone, ensure that the phone’s features are working properly before buying it.

You will also need a SIM card to use on your phone in order to access your plan. Sim card prices vary depending on the service provider, but on average, they cost $10-15. Some service providers will even give you your SIM card for free when you sign up. Since there are a number of factors to consider, it’s best to shop around and do your research when thinking of buying a cellphone.

When signing up with some service providers, you can also expect to be charged an activation fee, a payment you have to make to get your account set up. This fee is usually about $30 but can be as high as $50. Some companies like Chatr do not charge activation fees.

If you are purchasing a prepaid plan, you will be expected to pay for the cost of the plan, activation fee, and SIM card at the time you sign up. If you’re going for a postpaid plan, you will be charged for all of these things at the end of your billing cycle.

There is no set cost in terms of how much you will spend when getting your first plan because the cost varies from company to company. It’s safe to say that you can expect to spend at least $40 upon signing up (assuming you already have a phone) if you are going with the most basic plan from a less expensive company.

Questions to ask when getting a phone

When getting a phone, you should find the answers to the following questions to help you identify the option that best suits your needs. You should find out:

  • Where am I able to call as part of my phone plan? Am I allowed to text and call internationally? If not, what are the fees?
  • Will my phone work in another city or country? What are the fees for this?
  • How much will I have to pay if I exceed my phone plan limits?
  • How much will I have to pay if I decide to leave my cellphone plan contract?
  • Will I have Caller ID and voicemail?
  • What are the roaming fees?
  • What options do I have if I damage my phone?

Whatever your budget is, you are sure to find something within it, as there are a lot of options when it comes to selecting a cellphone plan in Canada. Don’t forget to take advantage of the different promotions that many service providers offer year-round when searching for your perfect phone plan. For example, signing up around August during the back-to-school season can save you some money on your cellphone plan. When getting a mobile phone, make sure to do research and shop around to find a plan that best fits your needs and budget.

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