Coming to Canada? My experience with the wireless plans here

I remember how a day after I landed in Canada, back in May, one of the first things I wanted was a Canadian number! Even though a few of my friends had warned me about the high charges, it was not until I went to buy a new number for myself did I realize how real the prices were!

My first experience with Canadian wireless

Until 8 months ago in India, I was paying $3/month (Price worth 2 litres of fuel) for my mobile plan, which included unlimited domestic calling, texting and 168 GB of data for 3 months, i.e. 1.5GB of data per day!! Yes, you are reading it right 1.5 Gb per day for approximately $40 per year. Whereas for the past 8 months, I now have been paying $56 for 6GB of data per month. Well, I was charged an extra $150 on top of the service fee on my first bill - but that’s a story for another day.

My friends and I went to many providers to help find the best plan for ourselves. Ours was a simple need - a minimum of 8GB mobile data, calling to our home country and good coverage, especially in subways since we anticipated a lot of travel. However, we ended up compromising, simply because paying so much for a mobile plan that met all of our needs seemed unfair and too expensive.

Not only did we compromise, but we also went through the extra trouble of submitting many relevant documents and showcasing a credible payment proof. Not to forget, at the time we were not even a day old in a new country!

There is no plan designed for newcomers or travellers

This experience with Canadian wireless, which was shared by the people around me, was one of the main motivations for me to join dotmobile, a company aimed at bringing affordable wireless services in Canada. I felt the organization was acting upon the issues faced by people like me - newcomers to Canada, the travellers, and many others - or as we rightly say at dotmobile, the underserved.

Having used different plans in different countries, I can call myself a true user who can differentiate and tell how amazing it feels to be using an affordable and flexible mobile plan. Some may argue that there are many cheaper plans in Canada, that I and any other newcomer/traveller can still choose from, however, I need a plan to call my folks back at home - I need data to use GPS or track TTC while I navigate my way through the new country and I need a provider which assures that my parents have a peaceful sleep at 11,000 km away knowing that I can be connected over call anytime.

For the first time ever, I had to control my data usage

As a newcomer to Canada, it took me a while - actually, I am still grasping hold of it, to adjust to the high mobile phone bills. On my student budget (I am a grad student) the monthly bills have been making a big hole. What is astonishing to fathom is that why in a developed country we are still paying so much for a basic need compared to many developing countries which offer similar mobile plans for a way cheaper price.

With my current Canadian plan now, I strive really hard to control my data use - to avoid over-usage charges - I partially blame my previous plan in my home country for spoiling my choices with the huge amount of data - that I never had to worry about my usage. I now have to set limits to data usage and consistently need to check if I have enough left to make it through the end of the billing cycle.

I asked others like me about their experience

The burden of the humongous mobile bills is not limited to just me - surveys show how the telecom services in Canada are enraging users over the years, especially the underserved, including newcomers and travellers. During my time here at dotmobile, I did some primary research to understand what newcomers and travellers to Canada feel about their mobile plans.

I discovered that 98% of the users were found to be unhappy with their current mobile providers, while 99% of the respondents said they would opt-out of their current plan if provided with an affordable and flexible plan.

The respondents were found to be using quite a decent amount of data, 32.61% of the users use between 2GB and 4GB of data, while 23.91% use between 4GB and 6GB of data. Just this month the CRTC released their media monitoring report which showed that Canadians use an average of 2.5GB, something that’s hard to adjust to when you’re used to using that in a day.

Most of the users said their experiences were frustrating, with many demanding cheaper data plans, easier documentation and joining process, and better connectivity on the subway! The group of people surveyed compared their current plans with their previous plans in countries such as India, the US, Oman, UAE, UK, and Ireland, and found their existing plans in Canada to be super expensive.

A checklist for visiting or moving to Canada

Before coming to Canada:

  • Prepare to be shocked. First and foremost, be prepared to deal with the shock of high mobile prices.
  • Compare coverage maps. If you aren’t staying in a big city you will need to find a company that provides coverage where you are staying. If you are someone who is expecting important calls all the time you won’t be able to rely on Wi-Fi.
  • Check for Wi-Fi. Do check for wifi availability at the places you will spend your time the most when in Canada. Data is expensive and you could save money based on this.
  • Talk to some locals. The plans and policies might be more complicated than you’re used to. Talk to friends and family based in Canada or engage with people on various social media groups to better understand the plans that would work well for you.
  • Research the plans. You can use http://planhub.ca/ to compare plans that suit your data needs. Most plans include unlimited local calls, but long-distance calls back home will cost extra.
  • Test your phone. Make sure your phone is compatible with the service provider you have chosen (not every provider supports all phone models).

Getting your new SIM card once in Canada:

  • Get your documents in place. Carry a Passport and Canadian government-issued IDs (university ID, study/work permits) when you go to take a new SIM.
  • Bring proof of address. You can show a rental agreement or hostel accommodation letter, but you’ll need to prove where you’re staying.
  • Plan to pay extra upfront cash. Carry about $100 - $150 in cash when you go to take a new SIM. You can also use your travel card to make the first payment and the subsequent. If you use the card issued in your home country, you will be charged an international transaction fee every time.

Seven things a provider will (probably) not tell you:

  1. Hidden costs. Ensure that you understand all the terms and conditions. A lot of hidden costs exist which go unnoticed - always scan your bill thoroughly. If you are offered a discount make sure it’s on your agreement and check your bill to make sure you received the discount.
  2. Double-check everything. Ensure that the services that you have subscribed to have been activated - I was charged $100 dollars for a service that I had availed, but was not activated due to negligence on the servicer's end.
  3. International Calling. Most of the telecom providers do not provide international calling. Understand international calling charges and maybe add an international calling pack to avoid high bills.
  4. Connectivity in the subway. Every provider claims that their services work in subways - but it is not true! Ask local people for feedback on your chosen provider before you take one
  5. Roaming charges. If you will be travelling frequently, make sure to understand roaming charges and avail a roaming pack if needed. Sometimes you get roaming charges even when you stay in Canada!
  6. Set data usage limits. For every extra data that you use, you will be charged heavily. It can easily cost an extra $50 per month if you go over. Manually set data limits on your phone to avoid extra usage
  7. Set prepaid payment. For every day you delay your bill payment beyond the due date, you will be charged. You should set a prepaid payment method or calendar reminder for regular bill payments to avoid extra charges

Lastly, before you take a new Canadian number, you can always stay connected by using your home country number. Make sure to ask the service provider in your home country about international roaming packs. You can also migrate to a different provider in your home country if they have cheaper international roaming packs.

The more you know!

While I hope that you are now better prepared on what to expect, be assured that your concerns for high wireless prices are not going unnoticed. Voices of people like you and the one surveyed help us here at dotmobile in our mission to change the rules and bring services which are long demanded. Services that not only serve the selective few, but the underserved - newcomers and residents alike.