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by Greg Gazin

Save money when travelling

Worried about outrageous phone and data charges, many people turn off their phones when travelling, so that they don’t come home to massive cell phone bills. Rules and regulations are starting to change, and there are now more affordable choices.

Your carrier or service provider may offer special travel add-ons to your current plan. While this would be the most convenient route, it’s not the most economical. Canadian mobile phone and data rates are very expensive compared to other parts of the world. In fact, as a result of a 2016 study by Nordicity Group, CBC reported that Canadians pay much higher rates compared to other G7 countries and Australia. In one example, an entry-level wireless package in Canada was quoted at $41.08 (on average) compared to $17.15 for a comparable package in Germany.

Photo, bigstock.com
Photo, bigstock.com

If you pick up a cheap phone when you’re abroad, you won’t have your apps and contacts with you. A great solution is to purchase a local SIM card and insert it into your own phone. Previously this wasn’t an option for Canadians, as phones sold in Canada were locked with the carrier that you were under contract with. Even if you bought an unlocked phone, it would often be locked with the carrier that it was first used with. This all changed on December 1, 2017 when the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) ruled to update the Canadian Wireless Code of Conduct, giving you the right to have your phone unlocked by your service provider upon your request – at no charge. New phones that were purchased after December 1st are to be unlocked.

The carrier that your phone is locked with, must unlock your phone. If that’s Bell or Rogers, call them and they will do so. Telus can’t help you. If your device was previously lost or stolen, you may be blacklisted. Or, you may have an issue if you have an outstanding balance.

When travelling, you’ll still want to use Wi-Fi whenever you can, but in addition to cheaper calling with an unlocked phone, you’ll be able to leverage lower data rates, which is handy when using maps and apps that require connectivity. You can find local SIM cards just about everywhere, like the airport, electronic shops, gas stations and convenience stores. Often they’ll also work in nearby countries.

If you spend your winters south of the border, companies like Vancouver-based Roam Mobility offers complete Talk+Text+Data monthly plans, which may turn out to be lower than your current bill. You can pick up a SIM card in Canada before you go, including 7-Eleven stores.

Do your homework. Newer smartphones should work globally, but there are always exceptions. A local SIM card, as well as a pay-as-you-go phone, will have a different phone number, so you’ll have to alert family and friends. The advantage is that your number will be local to the country that you’re staying in.

Whether you’re travelling or not, an unlocked phone makes it easier to switch providers, and if you choose to sell it, you’ll have a larger pool of potential buyers if your phone isn’t tethered to a specific carrier.

Greg Gazin (a.k.a The Gadget Guy and Gadget Greg) is a syndicated tech columnist, blogger, podcaster (host and producer), and contributes to Canoe.com, Troy Media and Active Life.



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