smartphone tips for canadians travelling to the US

US Phone Solutions for Canadians

US phone solutions for canadiansA QuestionWhat do you do with your Canadian cell phone when you vacation or weekend in the USA? a) use it like you would in canada and deal with the charges when you get home? b) get an add-on US plan from your canadian carrier? c) turn off the data and rely on wifi?

iPhoning in the USA Every time I go to the US, I do the following: make sure my data roaming is turned OFF and depend on wifi hotspots for email, social networking and web surfing. Yet, because I cross the 49th parallel so often, it's frustrating to wait for a hotspot for these web-enabled activities. At some point in the near future, I think I'll get a US phone and sim card so I'm not always waiting to find wifi access...

The Hard Way Two years ago, I remember going into the US when I was right in the middle of a search marketing project, and it was super stressful not knowing what emails I was getting for a 3-hour period during the drive from Vancouver to Seattle. I'm all for taking a break from the world wide web, but sometimes working while traveling is necessary.

Getting a US Smartphone Since Canadian talk, text and roam plans are redonculously expensive, I've often thought about getting a US pay-as-you-go plan and/or phone. A friend of mine recently had the same conundrum, and after an expensive trip to Vegas {I'm talking about the cell phone charges}, he's now sourced a phone and plan for Canadians wanting to stay connected while in the US {see below}. But first, a few things you should know about US and Canada cell phones and their networks:

  • US phone networks run on GSM & CDMA
  • Canadian phone networks mostly run GSM {40%} and CDMA {60%}
  • Note that even if you have a GSM phone in Canada and you want to use it in the US with a US sim card, you'll need to get your phone unlocked because most carriers lock phones to their networks
  • As a result, if you want to communicate without hassle or roaming fees in the US, you need to either a) unlock a canadian cell phone and buy a US sim card, or b) buy a US {GSM} phone
  • Unless you want to pay exorbitant fees {been there, done that} DO NOT let your Canadian cell phone roam while in the US or abroad

Buying a Pay-as-you-go US Phone {via}

  • The Phone: The LG Optimus V Android handset from Virgin Mobile USA. $149 - no contracts to sign and no commitment
  • The Plan: $25 = month of:
    • 300 anytime voice minutes – includes calls to anywhere on the Sprint network in the United States
    • Unlimited text messages (including to/from Canada)
    • Unlimited data (including tethering for your laptop, iPad or iPhone)
    • Note: you will need to top up your account with a minimum of $10 so that you can make long distance calls ($0.10/minute to call back to Canada)

All in all, if you need to be connected while in the US, the above plan is a huge costs savings when you consider roaming, texting, talking AND the fact that many 4- and 5-star hotels charge between $10-$35/day for wifi.

PS - Connect to Skype on your canadian or US phone using wifi and phone/text for peanuts {ie not much money!}. Cross-border and multi-number phone management will be much easier if Google makes Voice available throughout North America.