Rogers today announced new SMS packs for Canadians who make the unfortunate choice of using their canuck phones abroad. The packs (not plans – you buy the texts up front and they can be used over 30 days) start at $10 for 20 messages. There’s also a $20 for 40 and $35 for 100 message pack available. Now while it’s nice that Rogers is doing something for travelers, that doesn’t change the fact that using your Canadian cell phone anywhere outside of Canada is a complete ripoff. How do you save money on your cell phone when traveling abroad?
When I travelled to Australia in May, I spent $59 AUD ($53.70 Canadian) for a month of talking, texting, checking my email, and surfing the occasional website on a prepaid plan with Vodafone Australia. If I had done the same thing roaming with Rogers, my bill would have been hundreds of dollars, probably thousands because of the data I used with email and the web. So here’s some tips on using your phone outside of Canada and keeping your costs down.
– Unlock your phone or buy an unlocked phone. My unlocked first gen circa 2007 iPhone is always ready for travel. Phones bought from Bell and Telus won’t work, as they don’t take SIM cards. Any cheap Nokia or Motorola from a GSM carrier (Rogers and Fido) will do just fine, and can easily be unlocked by mom-and-pop phone stores in any major city.
– Buy your prepaid plan and SIM cards from either a company-owned shop or an authorized seller. You’ll find national providers like Vodafone or O2 have kiosks right in the Airport. After landing in Sydney, I had my cell phone up and running 15 minutes after picking up my baggage.
– If you’re going away for an extended period, ask your carrier if they will suspend your account during the time you’re gone. Some may charge you a nominal fee, but it surely beats paying your regular cell phone bill when you’re not using it.
– Don’t buy SIM cards from 3rd parties like globaltraveller. While they may sound like they’re perfect for jet-setters, in reality they’re just buying minutes wholesale from mobile carriers and reselling them to you. You’ll have a better experience and greater savings dealing with a country’s local cell phone company.
-Before you leave, check out the websites of the cell phone companies available at your destination. After some researching, I decided that Vodafone and Optus would be my best bets in Australia. Some carriers let you use prepaid for data as well, which comes in handy if you have an unlocked smartphone.
At the end of my month in Australia, I actually still had about 15% of my prepaid credit left. I also had a Vodafone Australia SIM card I can use when I return to Oz, and no hefty bill waiting for me when I returned home. Now that’s the way to travel.
For the curious, full deets on the Rogers “deal” here.