US Roaming Guide for Canadians


WhistleOut
17 November 2015

There are two different kinds of roaming plans for travel to the US. Your provider may offer both, or just one of them, depending on how its roaming services are set up.

The first is the least-common; it’s an automated system that kicks in as soon as you use a single byte of data, send/receive a text, or make a call while within US borders. This option is best if you’re just popping across the border for brunch, or a short holiday, but can become expensive if you rely on it long-term.

The second is a roaming pack/bundle/add-on. Just exactly what it’s called varies per carrier, but the general gist is that you pay for a certain amount of data, texts or calls in advance, then have an expiry period within which to use them. This option is much more expensive if you’re only heading south for a couple of days, but is usually more cost-effective if you’re going to be in US borders for half a month or more.

Note: We've included some pricing in the tables below. At the time of this article's last update, those prices were correct. However, they are subject to change with no notice.


Automatic

This roaming method is straight-forward, hassle-free, and all-round great if you’re just popping down to the US for a short period of time.

As soon as you use your cellular plan for anything within the US, you’re charged a small fee (i.e. $5 or $7), and a 24-hour clock starts. During that 24 hour period, you have full access to your regular plan with your carrier. That’s all your normal monthly data, calls, and texts, all for use within the US.

Payments are not automatically ongoing; if you don’t use your phone after that 24 hour period you’re not charged again until you do. Of course, to ensure this you’d better throw your cell on Flight Mode and turn on WiFi. You don’t pay for roaming unless you’re actually using it.

If you don't switch it in to flight mode, it's bound to receive a message, update, or notification, which will trigger a new 24 hour period once the last one has ended.

The instant you want access to your plan again just turn Flight Mode off and start using your phone like you normally would. You’ll be charged the same small amount and given another 24 hour period in which to use your phone, starting from the moment you used your carrier service for anything.

The weakness in this setup is long-term costs. At even just $5 per day that comes to around $150 per month to simply access the plan you’re already paying for back home. Luckily, the two carriers that offer it place a payment restriction per billing cycle. Rogers limits you to paying for 10 days ($50) each month, and Telus caps payments off at $100 per billing cycle.


Charge Payment cap Time period Access to

Rogers Plans

$5 $50 per billing cycle 24 hours Your regular calls, texts and data

TELUS Plans

$7 $100 per billing cycle 24 hours Your regular calls, texts and data
from within the US to Canada and US numbers

Rogers' system is called Roam Like Home (RLH). Roam Like Home is only available on Rogers Share Everything Plans. The $5 fee is charged per line, and the service itself is opt-in. It costs nothing to sign up, but don't go shooting off to the US before you activate RLH on your account. Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands are all included as US coverage.

The $50 per billing cycle cap makes this one of the most affordable US roaming options on the market. Not only do you gain access to your regular cap, which is often greater than 1GB, but if you're south of the border for less than 10 days, or use it less than 10 days in a single billing cycle, you'll end up paying less than $50. Affordable and you only pay for what you need, when you need it.

TELUS' version goes by the name US Easy Roam. The important stuff is the same: access to your regular plan for 24 hours after using your phone and activating the fee; no charges unless you actually use your phone plan.

You don't get the full plan; 'premium' messages are not included. Try to keep it to simple text messages, rather than MMS or anything fancier. Like Rogers, you need to set US Easy Roam up before you actually go to the US and start using your phone.

You can sign up through your online TELUS account, or over the phone:

  • Text TRAVEL to 7626 to add US Easy Roam to your device
  • You should receive a text message in confirmation
  • Once you yourself confirm the confirmation, you're good to go

Add-ons

Called “Add-ons”, “bundles”, and “packs”, among other things, these are optional, one-off additions that can be made to your pre-existing service. You pay for a package, which grants you a specific amount of data, calls, texts, or a combination of any or all three. Your package has an expiry period during which you must activate it, then another expiry date that is based on when the package was activated; usually one month but sometimes less.

As you might expect, a product aimed at giving you a month’s worth of service is going to be pretty pricey if you’re only intending on using it for a fraction of that period.

These add-ons have nothing to do with your normal monthly allowance from your pre-existing carrier plan; while roaming you only have the inclusions stated in the pack itself for use within US borders. Once you go over that, you'll need to purchase another pack or expensive pay per use (PPU) overage charges kick in.

Rogers US roaming

Rogers' travel packs are not available with a Share Everything Plan. There are two options with no data, and two that include a small sum of data. For travel to the US, you'll need one of the following Zone 1 travel packs.

Zone 1 includes the US (including Alaska and Hawaii), Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.

Pack Includes Price Expiry Overage
25 minutes
100 Text
0MB
$20 31 days 75c per minute
25c per sent text
100 minutes
Unlimited Text Sent
0MB
$40 31 days 35c per minute
50 minutes
Unlimited Text Sent
200MB
$40 31 days 75c per minute
$20 per 100MB
100 minutes
Unlimited Text Sent
500MB
$80 31 days 35c per minute
$20 per 100MB
TELUS US roaming

TELUS has three Combo Passes. If you're planning on using your phone every day for a full month, this is likely going to be cheaper than the TELUS US Easy Roam option, which caps out at $100.

Just remember that Easy Roam gives you access to your full TELUS plan, which may feature more data than the 1GB offered in the largest TELUS Combo Pass.

Pack Includes Price Expiry Overage
50 minutes
150 outgoing text
50MB
$25 25-30 days 50c per minute
50c per text
50c per MB
150 minutes
500 outgoing text
150MB
$45 25-30 days 50c per minute
50c per text
50c per MB
Unlimited minutes
Unlimited text
1GB
$80 25-30 days 75c per minute
$20 per 100MB
Bell US roaming

Bell offers data separately to calls and text. If you want both then you need two separate packs.

Note that the overage rate for calls is quite low, but going over your data allocation will cost you dearly. $6 per MB can very quickly add up to hundreds or more. Bell will notify you when you have used 80% and 100% of your plan, at which point you will also be linked to buy another pass. Hopefully the notifications aren't too delayed, or you may have already gone overboard before they get to you.

Pack Includes Price Expiry Overage
1000 anytime minutes
Unlimited text
0MB
$30 30 days 20c per minute
0 minutes
0 texts
200 MB
$20 30 days $6 per MB
0 minutes
0 texts
1GB
$50 30 days $6 per MB
Fido US roaming

Fido is owned and operated by Rogers, so it should be unsurprising to find that its travel packs are pretty much identical.

Pack Includes Price Expiry Overage
25 minutes
100 outgoing text
0MB
$20 31 days 75c per minute
25c per sent text
100 minutes
Unlimited Text Sent
0MB
$40 31 days 35c per minute
50 minutes
Unlimited Text Sent
200MB
$40 31 days 75c per minute
$20 per 100MB
100 minutes
Unlimited Text Sent
500MB
$80 31 days 35c per minute
$20 per 100MB
Koodo US roaming

Each of Koodo's packs has three expiry options: 3 days, 10 days, or 30 days. Obviously, prices differ based on the length of the expiry period. The amount of data included also varies.

Pack Includes Price + Expiry Overage
0 minutes
Unlimited Text
0MB
$10 - 3 days
$15 - 10 days
$20 - 30 days
$1.50 per minute
$5 per 100 texts
$5 per 20MB
Unlimited minutes
Unlimited Text Sent
0MB
$20 - 3 days
$30 - 10 days
$45 - 30 days
$1.50 per minute
$5 per 100 texts
$5 per 20MB
Unlimited minutes
Unlimited Text Sent
Variable data
$30 - 3 days (150MB)
$40 - 10 days (250MB)
$75 - 30 days (750MB)
$1.50 per minute
$5 per 100 texts
$5 per 20MB
Virgin Mobile US roaming

Virgin's US roaming packs keep voice, text and data all separate for the most part, except for the final text+voice bundle that gives you a $10 discount when compared to purchasing those two packs separately.

Pack Includes Price Expiry Overage
0 minutes
0 texts
50MB
$10 30 days Unknown
0 minutes
0 texts
100MB
$20 30 days Unknown
0 minutes
0 texts
1GB
$50 30 days Unknown
100 minutes
0 texts
0MB
$20 30 days 20c per minute
0 minutes
1000 outgoing text
0MB
$20 30 days 2c per text
1000 minutes
1000 outgoing text
0MB
$30 30 days 20c per minute
2c per text

Text message overage is incredibly cheap and 2 cents per text. Calls, too, are reasonable at 20c per minute once you've used up your pack.

We couldn't find any info on data overage, and are yet to hear back from a query we submitted to Virgin. If other providers are anything to go by, the fact that text and voice overage fees are reasonable doesn't necessarily mean that per-MB billing will be too. Employ caution.

At the very least, you should be warned at 80% of your data usage, and be prompted to purchase another data pack.


Original Empire State Building Tourist Taking Photo image from Shutterstock


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