How to Use a Cell Phone in Both the US & Canada

By Aaron Wardell

Picture this: You travel to Canada to visit a relative. The moment you step off the plane, you take out your cell phone to call them. You turn it on and ... nothing. No service, no bars, no signal, yet others around you are using their phones perfectly. Unfortunately, this is a common problem. Using a cell phone in Canada is not something the average user thinks about, and cell phones can and do act quirky (or not at all) in a different country. Keep reading to learn tips on how to avoid the most common pitfalls related to this problem. Depending on what provider and phone you use, you may not need to follow all of these steps.

Things You'll Need

  • Cell phone

Step 1

First and foremost, contact your service provider's customer service. They can provide the kind of information you need to use your phone in Canada. They can also tell you whether or not they have roaming partners in Canada, what the coverage will be like and if there are any additional charges. They may also be able to "unlock" your phone for usage in Canada.

Step 2

Find out what type of phone you are using. This information is useful in doing your own research and having on hand when you call your provider's customer service. If your phone came with a manual, find the make and model number.

Step 3

The technical specifications of your phone can be found via an Internet search. This will generally tell you if it's a "world phone" and if it's capable of roaming on multiple GSM or CDMA frequencies, depending on your provider. GSM and CDMA define the cellular radio standards used by worldwide cell phone companies. For example, GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) is used by T-Mobile, AT&T and Rodgers in Canada, while CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) is used by Verizon.

Step 4

Buy a new phone if necessary. Often, phones sold in the U.S. are only capable of tuning into U.S. cell phone frequencies. Although Canada and U.S. cell phone companies share many frequencies, it is dependent on the service provider. Again, check with your cell phone company to ensure your phone will roam in Canada and that you will have sufficient coverage.

Step 5

Buy a prepaid SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card for your phone. If you find that the rates through your cell phone company are too expensive, a prepaid SIM card may be cheaper. This tiny card (usually inserted under the battery) will provide you with a local cell phone number, temporary voicemail and text messaging. All you have to do is replace the existing SIM in your phone and you can make calls right away with your new number. Prepaid SIM cards require that you have a GSM world phone or one that is capable of roaming on multiple GSM frequencies.

References & Resources