Cell phone plan in Canada guide, now updated for 2021.

You’ve made your plans to come to Canada, booked your flight, and now you’ve just stepped off the plane and taken your first steps on Canadian soil. What’s the first thing you do? Call your mom to let her know you arrived safely? Look up directions to your hotel or your new apartment? Post a story to Instagram to make your friends jealous?

Well, for any of the above, you’re going to need a cell phone! (Not sure what a cell phone is? In your country, you might call it a mobile phone, but it means the same thing.)

In this article, we explain a few of the basic concepts that are important to understand before shopping for a Canadian mobile phone plan. Looking for an answer to a specific question? Feel free to jump to whatever section is relevant to you:

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If you already know the basics and you want to deep dive into some of the bigger questions, we have separate articles with much more detail comparing the major cell phone providers in Canada and discussing whether its better to get a prepaid plan or sign up for a monthly contract.

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We’ve partnered up with Canadian cell phone provider, PhoneBox, who offer some of the most affordable plans on the market. Plus, they make it easy for you to sign up and have a SIM card shipped anywhere in the world (for free!).

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How much will you pay for a cell phone plan in Canada?

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Canada is notorious for having some of the most expensive cell phone plans in the world, especially when it comes to data. If you want the latest iPhone and enough data to download an entire Netflix series on your daily walk, then brace yourself. We’ll do our best to lay out the most competitive options, but there’s a good chance you’ll end up paying more than wherever you’re coming from.

The cost of Canadian phone plans varies greatly depending on the type of services you’re receiving. If you want a simple phone plan that only allows you to make calls and text, then you can find some cheap options. 

But! 

It’s the age of the internet, most cell phone users these days want at least some data with their phone plan. As it turns out, data has a huge impact on the price of your phone plan in Canada. According to a recent government report analyzing telecommunications pricing in Canada in 2019, the cost for a phone plan with 5GB of data ranges from $57 to $101 per month. These days, many people want more than 5GB of data. If you’re a data fiend, brace yourself for the cost of your plan. 

Just to compare to other countries, here is a comparison between the cost of a phone plan purchased in Canada versus a few other countries. This comparison is taken from the same report:

Cost of a typical cell phone plan with 2 GB of data in 2019 (CAD)
CountryCanada U.S.AustraliaU.K.FranceGermanyItaly
Average Monthly Price$74.42$59.50$22.35$24.72$33.09$41.08$26.80

Canadian plans are easily the priciest on the market, costing two or three times the amount of most European plans. Consider yourself warned! Although, there is reason to be optimistic, as in March 2020, the government mandated that Canada’s major cell phone providers slash their plan prices by 25 percent within the next two years.

The impacts of the government mandate to reduce data pricing appears to be working. In April 2021, we checked phone plans available through three of Canada’s popular phone providers: Fido, Koodo, and Virgin. All three were offering plans beginning at $45/month with 6GB of data. Bear in mind, plan pricing changes frequently, and often varies based on a customer’s location and phone, so you may not see these plans reflected directly — but, data pricing is going down!

Now, you might be thinking, “It might be expensive, but it seems simple enough. I just have to pick the plan that’s best for me and go!” Unfortunately, it’s a bit more complicated than that. There are a few questions you have to be prepared for, because your answer will impact which phone provider is best for you.

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Is it better to “Bring Your Own device (BYO)” or to buy through a provider?

One of the first things to factor in is whether you will Bring Your Own (BYO) device or purchase a phone through your provider. 

Many newcomers to Canada have no choice but to BYO, as the other option purchasing a phone on a contract is only available if you get a Canadian credit check, and often you need a financial history in Canada to complete a credit check.

BYO means that you have already purchased a phone before you sign up with your provider. BYO plans are typically cheaper than purchasing a plan through a provider. This is because when you buy a phone through your provider, they will offset the cost through large upfront fees or by distributing the cost of the phone over a series of payment installments or a contract. 

However, BYO can be complicated as well. Buying a new phone is often expensive. You could opt to purchase a used phone, but you have to make sure it meets a few requirements. 

Let’s go into a bit more detail about BYO vs purchasing:

Bring Your Own device (BYO)

What specifications does a phone have to meet in order to be BYO? Can you bring a phone from your home country? 

Planning to bring your phone with you when you move? You might run into compatibility issues.

First, your phone must be unlocked in order for it to be brought to a different carrier. An unlocked phone is a phone that is not restricted to a certain carrier, so with the proper SIM card, your phone can work with any provider and any network in Canada.

Second, the phone must be compatible with Canada’s mobile networks, including with the mobile frequencies of these networks.

You can always check the specifications for your phone to see if it will work in Canada.

How much does a new phone cost in Canada?

The cost of a new phone varies greatly depending on the phone. If you want a cheap phone without internet capability, you can find one for less than $100. However, if you want a smartphone, you can expect to pay a couple hundred at minimum. For one of the latest models from the big name brands, prices easily exceed CAD $1,000 for a new phone. As of April 2021, the 256 GB iPhone 12, one of the latest models, costs CAD $1,339.00 for a new model from Apple. 

The high prices is one of the reasons some people choose to purchase through their provider, because rather than paying a large fee upfront, they can pay off the phone over a longer period of time.

How much cheaper are BYO plans?

BYO plans are the cheapest you will find in Canada that provide you with talking, texting, and data. 

Let’s use the provider Koodo as an example. If you purchase a new iPhone 12 with your Koodo phone plan, they will require you to pay it off using their TAB payment system for new phones. With this system, you will pay $583 upfront for your new phone and then pay off the remaining balance, your “tab,” at a rate of $33/month over the next two years (based on Koodo’s rates in April 2021). This $33/month “tab” fee will be added onto your regular phone bill from Koodo. 

If you choose to stop services with Koodo, or if you need to replace your phone prior to the end of that period, then you will be obligated to pay off the rest of your “tab”. This is another major benefit of BYO device plans: they usually do not require a contract. This means you can stop your service and change providers at any time without penalty. 

At the time of writing, Koodo is the only provider that uses the “tab” system, but the other players on the market are similar. When purchasing a new phone through your provider, you will be locked into some kind of contract until you pay off the value of your new phone. 

Which Canadian phone provider has the best BYO plans?

There are currently a couple of companies competing for the top spot in the BYO market. Three of the larger companies include Chatr, Public, and Lucky. As of April 2021, these providers offer a BYO plan giving you unlimited talk and text within Canada, plus 6 GB of data, for $45 per month. 

But! In the past couple of years, a handful of extremely competitive independent phone providers have been cropping up, offering great coverage while cutting costs. One example is the Vancouver-based, PhoneBox, who have managed to offer some of the lowest rates on the market. Their rates are so low, in fact, that Moving2Canada has partnered with them to offer an exclusive promotion to our community. PhoneBox offers M2C users a plan with 20GB of data for only $60 per month.

For more details about these companies and how they are able to offer the best rates, check out our article comparing Canadian phone providers.

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Prepaid vs Contract: Which one is best for newcomers?

cell phone plan in Canada

In Canada, phone plans are either prepaid (sometimes called “pay-as-you-go”) or contract-based and paid monthly (sometimes referred to as “postpaid,” but it means the same thing).

A prepaid plan means that you pay for your services in advance. If you use up all of your calling minutes, text messages, and/or data, then you will have to pay for more before you can talk, text, or surf the internet again. 

A monthly contract plan means that you pay for your services at the end of a scheduled payment period, usually on a set day each month. If you exceed your services (i.e. make international calls, use too much data, etc.), the phone provider will charge you for the excess. These fees can be exorbitant, with most providers charging an overage fee of $10 per 100 MB of data once you exceed the amount prescribed in your plan. Thankfully, in the past year most Canadian phone providers have introduced some form of data overage protection, allowing you to have your data cut-off until your next billing cycle to avoid these big overage charges.

For a monthly contract plan, most providers require new customers to complete a Canadian credit check before signing up for their phone plan. This can be tough for some newcomers, because they don’t have a credit history in Canada.

The question of prepaid vs. contract can be a tough one to answer. If you have more questions about the differences between these two options, or about completing a credit check in Canada as a newcomer, you should check out our detailed guide for choosing between a prepaid and a contract phone plan.

How to choose the best cell phone plan in Canada for your needs

You’ve got the basics down, now you’re ready to select a phone provider. Canada’s phone providers are a bit of a maze that can be very confusing to navigate. 

Not only are there nine national phone provider companies that are all managed by the same three parent corporations, but there are also a host of provincial options that might be a good fit if you’re living in the right location.

In fact, navigating this maze of phone providers can be so confusing, that we’ve written a separate guide just to help you do that. If you’re feeling ready to select a Canadian phone provider, please head to our guide on how to pick the best phone provider as a newcomer to Canada.

Other guides for newcomers to Canada

Moving2Canada helps newcomers make their move to Canada, and settle once they’ve arrived. Explore our website, and check out the links below.

Your first week in Canada

Here are some of the essential things you’ll need to do during your first week in Canada.

Do you have health insurance for Canada?

Many newcomers are not eligible for Canadian healthcare coverage when they first arrive.

Our partner, Cigna, offers newcomers a range of comprehensive health insurance policies for peace of mind. Explore your options with a free quote today!