The longest day of the year, also known as summer solstice, marks the start of summer for all North Americans. Many people have plans to travel during summer either to escape work or travel as a family while students both young and old are out-of-school. Regardless of your reason for traveling, there may come a time when you would venture outside of Canada. At that point, you will be “roaming” if you wish to continue using your mobile phone service such as making calls, texting or access mobile data. Unfortunately, roaming service offered by your mobile phone carrier is expensive. In this article, I will go over calling options while traveling outside of Canada. I will also share my experience to save on roaming charges while in the United States.
To start, we will categorize travel types into: US and International because calling strategies are slightly different for each region of travel. For domestic travel (within Canada but outside of your mobile phone service area) you will most likely incur long distance charges when making calls. Since most mobile phone carriers have nation-wide coverage, paying for roaming fees within in Canada is unlikely.
Calling from your mobile phone within the United States will surely trigger roaming fees charged by your mobile carrier unless you have the following:
1. A mobile plan which includes US calling (e.g.. WIND Mobile offers plans that include unlimited US calling.)
2. A roaming plan offered by a telecommunication company that specializes in roaming. For instance, you can purchase a SIM card from a roaming company such as Roam Mobility. Then purchase plans that allow you to talk, text or use data while in the US. A few disadvantages of using a roaming SIM card are: First, you need an unlocked mobile phone for the SIM card to work. Second, you will be assigned with a US phone number; not your own phone number. Third, companies like Roam Mobility requires you to top up your SIM card at least once every six months so you can keep the same US phone number.
3. Many VoIP (Voice-over-IP) home phone providers offer free calling Apps which could be powered by WiFi or mobile data mentioned above. Therefore, if you are subscribed to a home phone service, the only thing you need while in the US is mobile data for the calling App to work on your smartphone. You can either pay for a WiFi hotspot or a roaming plan via a SIM card to get mobile data. Since the calling App is an extension of your regular phone service, calls are charged based on your home phone plan.
4. Same as above, but you don't need to subscribe to a home phone service just to get a free calling App. There are free phone services App which you can install on your mobile phone such as freephoneline.ca. The only drawback of this method is you need to buy credits from the provider beforehand in order to make long distance phone calls. Otherwise, you should be fine if you intend to call numbers from your home city only while traveling in the US.
For International travel, the key to make calls via your mobile phone is getting the right mobile data. In many countries, traveler's SIM cards for talking, text and data are sold in the convenience stores or electronics stores. For these SIM cards to work, you will need to install an APN app or input the info manually in your mobile phone setting. This could be challenging if you are not comfortable with tinkering with smartphone settings. Alternatively, you can rent a WiFi hotspot from shops in the destination airport and return it when you are leaving. I personally like the SIM card option because it expires automatically so there is no hassle to return it before leaving the country.
As promised from the opening, I will go over my own experience making low-cost calls while traveling in the US. I already own a Roam Mobility SIM card and an unlocked mobile phone. Therefore, I only had to pay for a roaming plan before my trip (I pay via Roam Mobility's website). Roam Mobility specializes in low-cost roaming plans in the US. It offers voice, text and data plans. I mainly use their service for mobile data. In order to make free phone calls in the US, I use a free calling App offered by my home phone service provider (good VoIP providers such as Phone Power offers their own version of calling App). The calling App is said to work with WiFi or mobile data. With a recent US trip, I tested the calling App with numerous free WiFi services while in the US (from fast food joints, airports and other establishments) but encountered many failed calls attempts. After this trip, I highly recommend 3G or above mobile data speed for running the calling App smoothly. Relying solely on free WiFi will result in too many failed calls.
To conclude, avoid "roaming" charges from your mobile carrier at all cost to save money while traveling outside of Canada. Instead, get reliable mobile data with a roaming SIM card or rent a mobile hotspot and use a free calling App offered by your VoIP home phone provider to call home for free. The same calling App will allow you to make long-distance phone calls while abroad based on your home phone's LD rate plan which is a lot cheaper than paying for both roaming and long distance charges via your mobile carrier.