How to switch your cell provider (and keep your number)

28 October 2015

One thing which stops many people switching cell phone carriers is the belief that they will lose their existing phone number. But the good news is, it’s a relatively simple process to switch your allegiance whilst keeping your number.

While once you had to give your carrier thirty days’ notice of your intention to jump ship, the CRTC has smacked down on this requirement – so you can have your service cancelled immediately, and take your number to a new provider within the same locality, on the same day.

The rules of porting

  • Don't cancel your number. If you want to keep it, you need to organize a transfer before you cancel your current service.
  • If you are switching localities, you may or may not be able to port your number. For this one, you'll need to check with your new service provider if you're moving to another city or province.
  • A carrier cannot stop you taking your number with you, but a new carrier is under no obligation to accept it. Obviously, most carriers are more than happy to accept a new customer, and this will not be a problem. However, there are cases where some pre-pay carriers will not accept ported numbers.
  • Only the primary account holder can fill out a port request. If you are an authorized user on a family/share plan, you must establish a separate service with your current carrier before you can initiate a port request. If you have a company phone, you may not be able to port your number if the service is in your company’s name.
  • Even if you are in debt to your current provider, you can still port your number elsewhere. You will, however, be liable for any debts, and may have to pay an early termination fee if you are under contract (although some carriers will pro-rate this, so it may still be financially viable if you are some way into your contract).

Which numbers can I port?

  • You can port your cell phone number or landline number . Pre-paid numbers can be ported, but must be active at the time you wish to transfer the service.
  • You cannot port a pager number, but you can port a number used for a fax machine.
  • You cannot port a number to an existing account – porting only works when you are opening a new account with a carrier.

What is the process?

  1. Most importantly – do not cancel your service with your current carrier before contacting your new provider. You won’t be able to port your number if it has been deactivated by a carrier.
  2. Once you have decided which carrier, plan and cell phone you want to go for, contact your new provider. They will ask for your name, address and information about the account you plan to cancel, so have your most recent cell phone bill from your soon-to-be-ex provider handy.
  3. If you want to keep your device, you may also need to provide your phone’s ESN/IMEI number, which is usually located on the back of your phone or under the battery.
  4. Your new provider will then contact your current company and start the porting process. Porting usually takes 2-3 business hours.
  5. Once your new service is activated, your existing service should be automatically cancelled – however, we recommend giving the company a call to finalize the transfer (and perhaps negotiate any termination fees or other charges). You will usually receive a bill for any outstanding debt within a month.

Can I use my phone during the porting process?

Generally, you should be able to use your phone as normal during the transfer, although some services may be disrupted.

If your phone is locked to your original carrier, you will need to unlock it before it will work with the new service. Find out how to unlock your phone in Canada.

If you need to make a 911 call, it may be difficult for emergency services to locate you via your phone number during the transfer period, as your customer and location information is being added to, and deleted from, carrier databases. So make sure you provide your exact location to operators in the event of an emergency.

Does it cost anything to port my number?

Service rates for porting are unregulated. In theory, providers can charge to process porting. In practice, however, competition between carriers means porting fees are unlikely to be applied, or will be low if they are. Even so, you should always double check when asking to port – you may be able to get any fees waived.

Tips for a smooth transition

  • Make sure you do your homework – research which is the best plan for you, and (if you’re planning on getting a new device) which phone you’d like to upgrade to. Check that the carrier you wish to use is licensed in your area.
  • Check if your phone is carrier-locked. If it is, you will need to unlock it before it will work on another carrier's network. Note that your phone has nothing to do with your number; the number will still port to your new account with the new carrier, even if your phone isn't compatible with the service.
  • Look at the coverage provided by your chosen company – a great plan is rendered useless if you can’t get reception when you need it.
  • Check if your current handset is compatible with the new network – some are not, and you may need to get a new phone. This has nothing to do with your phone being unlocked; some phones simply do not have the hardware to work with certain kinds of mobile technology.
  • Remember, you are still liable for any remaining debt and/or termination charges with your old provider - porting your number does not mean you can break your contract.
  • You cannot transfer pre-pay airtime to your new network, so make sure you use up any credit before you move.
  • Voicemail messages won’t transfer to your new phone or account, so remember to listen to them before changing carriers. Same goes for other features, such as call forwarding and caller ID – you will need to set these up again with your new provider.


In the past, Canadian carriers relied on totally different mobile network technologies for 2G voice and text. This meant that a phone that worked on Rogers' GSM network, for example, would not work on Bell's or Telus' CDMA networks.

In areas where only 2G can be achieved, this is still the case.

Luckily, such places are few and far between. These days, in most populated areas all carriers use similar, or identical 3G technologies to handle voice and text. As such, whether your phone is CDMA or GSM is less important, unless you buy it from the US.

US CDMA carriers tend to rely on CDMA technologies for 3G as well, meaning they may not necessarily be compatible with Canadian 3G networks.

As for 4G LTE, all Canadian 4G carriers, and all US 4G carriers, use LTE as the standard. Some will also include "HSPA+" under the blanket cover of 4G, but this common standard is usually more-correctly referred to as 3G.

Cat with phone image via Shutterstock.



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