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Aug 8, 2017

7 min. read

With maps, boarding passes and Google right at our fingertips, travelling with a cellphone is practically a must these days. The problem is, if you’re not paying attention to your data usage, you could come home to a massive bill.

Luckily, it’s never been easier to get data abroad at reasonable rates. Recently, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) banned cellphone unlocking fees—the first step to getting cheap data when travelling.

Once your phone is unlocked, you can use it in a variety of ways. The only other consideration is that your phone must be a multi-band model—and fortunately, most smartphones are. (Right now, a quad-band GSM phone with 3G will work in most places.)

Here are four ways to avoid paying sky-high data charges when you travel.

Enrol in a roaming plan from your carrier

Just about every carrier has a roaming plan; you just need to look into the details. Rogers offers Roam Like Home, which allows customers to use their phone as if they’re at home in more than 100 countries, while Telus offers Easy Roam. Regardless of which carrier you’re with, you’ll want to look into what the roaming plan covers: whether voice and data are included, where you’ll get coverage, and how much it’ll cost if you go over your allowed amount.

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Use a global SIM sticker or card

KnowRoaming is a Canadian company that offers a global SIM sticker or card to travellers. (A SIM sticker is a tiny card with an adhesive back that you apply to your phone’s SIM card.) What’s especially convenient about KnowRoaming is the fact that you’ll always know what you’re paying; since you pre-load your account with funds, you’ll never come home to overage charges.

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Unlimited data packages are offered in 100-plus countries for $7.99 USD per day, while voice rates depend on what country you’re visiting. As a KnowRoaming user, you’ll get free WhatsApp data usage worldwide regardless of how much credit you currently have in your account, so you can message and make voice or video calls to your contacts at no extra charge.

Get a local SIM card

Depending on what country or region you’re visiting, it may make more sense to buy a SIM card from a local carrier. You’re essentially purchasing a prepaid plan that gets you a local number and lasts you for a set amount of time. This is usually the cheapest option for travellers, but keep in mind that you won’t be able to take calls or get text messages at your regular cellphone number. All local SIM cards are different, so you’ll need to get the details if you plan on travelling to a few different countries. The airport where you land is often the most convenient place to purchase a local SIM card.

A cell phone displaying a gps on the dashboard of a car.

Consider Wi-Fi only

Most travellers only use their phones for data purposes when they’re abroad, so is there really a need for a formal voice and data plan? These days, free Wi-Fi is available in just about every coffee shop, and some cities offer free Wi-Fi in major tourist destinations, like New York City’s Central Park or the Louvre museum in Paris. Many apps allow you to download maps and information for offline use, so load up your phone whenever you get a signal.

To make sure you’re browsing via Wi-Fi and not via cellular network, switch your phone to airplane mode, which disables its wireless transmissions, then re-enable Wi-Fi, which can be done separately on most phones.

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If your trip is taking you to the U.S., keep your expenses low with these smart tips from our CAA Travel Consultant.

Image credit: visualhunt, pexels and stocksnap

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