Phone and Internet Plans for Newcomers to Canada

Last updated: 24 May 2023

Phone and Internet Plans in Canada

Simplify your move to Canada with our in-depth guide on cell phone plans and internet service providers. Get answers to your questions, understand phone and internet options in Canada, and make informed decisions as you settle in your new home.

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Staying connected with loved ones, searching for job opportunities, and settling into your new life in Canada requires dependable cell phone and internet services. Canada's phone and internet industries are newcomer friendly, but can be difficult to navigate as you begin a new life in a new country. Our guide offers insights into plan options, providers, and practical tips to help you make informed decisions for your communication needs in your new home.

Who are the top cell phone (and internet) providers in Canada?

In Canada, the phone and internet industries are dominated by a small number of companies, giving them a monopoly on the market. This can lead to expensive phone plans, especially when data is involved. The three main telecom companies in Canada are referred to as the "Big Three" and they control roughly 91% of the market share in both the phone and internet industries. They are:

  • BCE Inc. (formerly Bell Canada), and;
  • Rogers Communications,
  • Telus Corporation.

Other prominent players in the telecom space include:

  • Shaw Mobile: Mainly catering to Western Provinces like British Columbia and Alberta, Shaw was acquired by Rogers in 2021, in a multi-billion dollar share buy-out set to be finalized in 2023;
  • Quebecor Inc.: Quebecor Inc. is a media and telecommunications company based in Montreal that provides services to people in Quebec;
  • SaskTel: SaskTel is the acronym for the Saskatchewan Telecommunications Holding Corporation, the largest telecom company operating in Saskatchewan. Owned by the provincial Government of Saskatchewan, SaskTel is classified as a crown-corporation (wholly owned by the government as the sole legal shareholder).

The major telecom companies also have smaller branches (sometimes called extension brands) that can offer different services at different prices. These services include landline phone and mobile connections, cable TV subscriptions, and internet plans. Newcomers may wish to note the connection between these brands:

  • Bell subsidiaries: Bell MTS, Lucky Mobile, Solo Mobile, and Virgin Mobile;
  • Rogers subsidiaries: Chatr, Cityfone, Fido, Primus Wireless, SimplyConnect, and Zoomer Wireless;
  • Telus subsidiaries: Koodo and Public Mobile.
  • Quebecor: Videotron Mobile, and Fizz Mobile;
  • Sasktel: Sasktel Mobility; and
  • Shaw: (now owned by Rogers) business subsidiaries: Freedom Mobile, and Shaw Mobile.

    What is the difference between prepaid and postpaid plans?

    A pre-paid phone plan requires you to pay for your service in advance, meaning you can only use what you have paid for.

    Post-paid phone plans require you to pay for the services after you have used them. This means that you must pay the bill at the end of your billing cycle for the services you have used. These plans are also usually tied to a contract with your phone service provider.

    Newcomers coming to Canada should note that some post-paid plans require a credit check to prove that you are able to pay for the services at each billing cycle. However, certain carriers may make exceptions to this role, considering your newcomer status. Bell and TELUS for example can offer you a post-paid phone plan without a credit check, however if someone is looking to finance a new device (more on this later) on the same post-paid plan, a credit check and score will be needed.

    Can I get a post-paid phone plan even if I don’t have a credit history in Canada?

    It is possible to get a post-paid phone plan even without a credit history in Canada. Certain carriers like Bell and TELUS for example can give you a post-paid phone plan without a credit check, as long as you bring the necessary documents in-person.

    Newcomers should note that the financing of a new phone does need a credit check, however some providers have the option of doing an international credit check (common if a passport is used as the ID to register with your provider). Many of these stipulations vary from provider to provider, and so newcomers are encouraged to check with their selected provider when opening a new phone plan, about what can be done for their unique situation.

    Should I buy a new phone or bring my own device (BYOD)?

    In addition to pre-paid and post-paid plans, newcomers can also choose between bringing their own device for their new cell phone plan, or to finance a brand-new device with their service provider.

    New phone plans are often attached to a new device, which is financed on a monthly basis (the cost of which is added to your phone bill). Since these plans have an added cost, many newcomers who are fine with their current phone opt for a BYOD plan instead. Many people also prefer to simply buy their phones outright at the time of purchase, which is also an option in Canada.

    How can I determine which provider has the best coverage in my area?

        While Canada’s major providers may largely be on par with each other, it is always good to check the best coverage in the province/area that you will be residing in.

        Luckily most service providers also have a coverage map on their websites, which shows both the reach and strength of their network coverage in a given area. Below you can find the coverage maps for the “Big three” service providers:

          If there is another brand you are interested in pursuing, you can simply search for that specific providers coverage map to better understand network coverage in their area.

          In addition, there are a slew of free websites and apps that newcomers to Canada can uncover with a quick web search, when trying to figure out the best service provider for their area. Though these websites may not be as reliable as the official network coverage maps, they do a good job of comparing different service providers and their respective coverage in different areas.

          How much does the average phone plan cost in Canada?

          Phone pricing in Canada can be expensive, depending on the plan and carrier that you are using. Rewheel, a privately owned Telecommunications research firm and boutique consulting agency, publishes a bi-annual report on pricing competitiveness of phone plans found that Canada had among the highest prices in the world.

          Most phone plans start between $55-65 CAD, and feature Canada wide texting and 25 GB data to start. From here pricing plans get steadily more expensive, and add-ons like international calling can add more to your monthly phone bill.

          Due to the parity between providers, prices across companies tend to be largely comparable, however with the presence of offers and bundles it is always a good idea to check prices with a specific provider.

          What documents do I need when opening a new phone or internet plan in Canada?

          To open a new phone plan in Canada, some or all of the following documents are needed for newcomers:

          • Government Identification (Provincial ID, Passport, etc.);
          • Social Insurance Number (SIN)—depending on your service provider of choice. To learn more about what a SIN is click here;
          • Temporary residence visa/permit (study/work visa or permit);
          • Credit score or credit check (depending on the kind of plan that you are opting for;

          It is advisable to check with your service provider of choice to better understand what documents may be required for your specific situation and phone plan.

          What factors should I consider when choosing a cell phone plan?

          Some important factors that newcomers may want to consider when choosing a phone plan include:

          • Pre-paid VS. Post Paid Plans: As mentioned before newcomers will have to pick between a pre- or post-paid phone plan (though may find a harder time of getting a post-paid plan due to necessary credit score/checks with a Canadian agency). Apart from ease of access, pre-paid plans can often be more cost effective, as often services are throttled or unavailable after use, meaning that usage is capped for how much you have paid for. Alternatively, however this can be inconvenient if your regularly go over your phone plan limits, with post-paid plans offering an added convenience here.
          • Coverage: While largely on par with each other (particularly in population hotspots like the Greater Toronto Area, Vancouver, and Montreal) may be worth considering depending on where you reside. It is always a good idea to check that your selected phone plan and provider can provide adequate coverage to your area.
          • Financing a new phone VS. BYOD: When choosing to start a new phone plan, newcomers with an eligible credit check or score will also have the option of financing a new phone, the cost of which will be added on to their monthly phone bill. If you are gunning for a new device and are willing to sign on to a fixed term contract (usually between one to two years), you can receive a new phone for free upfront and continue to make payments on it every phone billing cycle. For those who need a new device this can be an easy way to obtain one for an extra $20-50 CAD a month, depending on device and contract term.
          • Data: Data plans (usually a feature of every phone plan) can be essential for newcomers. Not only does this provide internet access wherever a cell phone network can be found, (further providing access to potentially useful applications or websites (like Google Maps or Public transit information) but can also be a way to contact loved ones with the rise of online messaging and video/phone calling. While data can often add a decent sum to your phone bill, it is also a useful service that many are willing to pay for.
          • Family Plans: Many providers also feature family phone plans, with the ability to add between 4-6 people on to one plan. These usually feature bundle deals on data, talk or text (sometimes all three) at a reduced price to entice whole families to sign-up with one service provider. Newcomers moving to Canada with their families may want to pursue this option to get better rates on services as a group.
          • International Calling: As a newcomer to Canada, you may want to make international calls back home, so that you can stay in touch with loved ones abroad. Luckily many phone providers provide international calling as an optional add-on to their phone plans. Outside of these set plans, the specific rates that you would have to pay depend on both your carrier, and the place you are calling. Below we have compiled the international calling rate charts of the “Big Three” telecommunications providers: 
          • Bell
          • Rogers; and 
          • Telus.

          How do I set up my new cell phone plan in Canada?

          Usually new phone plans are set up (with the SIM installed in your phone) at the point-of-sale. This can be either at a mall kiosk, store, or even at the airport.

          All you have to do is walk into a store or to a kiosk and inform the sales staff there about what plan you are looking to avail. As long as you have all the proper documentation you can complete this process on the spot, and even potentially receive a new phone as well.

          Alternatively, newcomers with a credit history that can be assessed also have the option of getting a new phone plan (and potentially a new device as well) online from their service provider—simple visit their respective websites and follow the instructions as needed.

          Where am I able to call as part of my phone plan? Am I allowed to text and call internationally? If not, what are the fees?

          Depending on the kind of plan that you avail, you will be able to call abroad as much or as little as you desire. Plans for international calling and texting can range from as little as $7 (if added as part of an already existing phone plan) to $39 if you want your entire phone plan to focus on international call and text.

          If you are making international calls that are not part of your phone plan, costs can vary greatly depending on carrier and destination of call. You can use the following links to check what calling rates outside of a plan would be.

          Will my phone work in another city or country? What are the fees for this?

          When you use your phone (with the same service provider) outside of the coverage area (usually outside of Canada), this is called roaming. Roaming is a way that your phone can become usable outside of Canada, but it can incur huge charges, which are legitimate and must be paid.

          These charges are largely on par with each other, but can vary from carrier to carrier, and based on destination, as roaming is often facilitated by sister networks that carriers have deals with. Below is a list of the respective roaming pages for Canada’s biggest carriers:

          1. Bell;
          2. Rogers; and
          3. Telus.

          How much will I have to pay if I exceed my phone plan limits?

          Overage charges (charges that your account incurs if you are using more than your allotted amount per your phone plan) are charged to customers based on overage rates that are predetermined per their phone plan.

          If you already have a phone plan you can see your overage rates as part of the plan information.

          How much will I have to pay if I decide to leave my cellphone plan contract?

          Usually after you have committed to a phone plan contract, you will have to pay out the remainder of the contract (i.e.: if you were four months into an eight-month contract at the time that you wanted to cancel you would have to pay the remaining four months to be released from the contract).

          If you are also financing a phone as part of your plan you will have to pay the remaining cost of the phone, and possibly additional fees (depending on the specifics of the contract).

          Will I have Caller ID and voicemail?

          Caller ID and Voicemail can be set up as part of your plan with any major telecommunications provider in Canada. While caller ID is often a standard feature, you may incur a slight charge to activate your voicemail services, depending on the phone plan and carrier of your choice

          What options do I have if I damage my phone?

          If your phone gets damaged or even broken, many service providers have various device repair programs that they offer. Often customers pay extra to opt into these services, which can include phone repairs, courtesy phones, memory back-ups, and more.

          Many service providers also offer a device protection scheme as well, saving customers any cost in repairing a device or replacing it with a new one, for an additional fee.

          If you prefer not to go through service provider routes, there are many third-party stores that specialise in phone hardware repair, as well as options from the phone manufacturer themselves. Newcomers should note that (depending on the brand and model of their cellphone, and the carrier they are with) that going to a third-party repairer can void the warranty on their device.

          Are there any special offers or discounts for newcomers?

          Some service providers do offer special deals for newcomers, either on individual phone plans, or family bundles—however one group of newcomers tends to receive the most benefits in this regard: students. Students in Canada have preferential pricing on many goods and services (including phone plans), and international students can avail these benefits as well.

          Many of these promotions will ask for university/college identification (in addition to all other necessary documents) to confirm your enrolment in a post-secondary educational institution. It is best to check with your selected carrier (either on their website or through customer service contacts) about student pricing for phone plans.

          Who are the major internet service providers in Canada?

          As with the mobile network market, internet in Canada is dominated by a small number of companies (in fact the same companies): The "Big Three" telecom companies in Canada, namely BCE Inc. (formerly Bell Canada), Rogers Communications, and Telus Corporation.

          There are also other major players in the telecommunications industry, such as Quebecor Inc., which provides services mainly in Quebec, and SaskTel, which is the largest telecom company in Saskatchewan and classified as a crown-corporation.

          Smaller branches of the major telecom companies, also known as extension brands, provide different services at various prices. These include landline and mobile phone connections, cable TV subscriptions, and internet plans. Newcomers should be aware of the connections between these brands.

          Bell subsidiaries include Bell MTS, Lucky Mobile, Solo Mobile, and Virgin Mobile, while Rogers has Chatr, Cityfone, Fido, Primus Wireless, SimplyConnect, and Zoomer Wireless. Quebecor has Videotron Mobile and Fizz Mobile, while Sasktel has Sasktel Mobility. Lastly, Shaw (now owned by Rogers) has Freedom Mobile and Shaw Mobile, while Telus has Koodo and Public Mobile.

          What are the different types of internet connections available in Canada?

          Most types of private internet connections in Toronto’s metropolitan centres (Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal) and in surrounding areas are delivered through fibre optic cables. This is a high-speed internet solution that sends information at rapid speeds through pulses of light that run through pieces of glass or plastic. Fibre optic connections are popular for those who need high internet speeds (up to 3GB/s download and upload speed) and bandwidth, like competitive online gamers, remote working professionals (especially those working with large files, or in remote teams) and online broadcasters.

          Locations farther from population centres may still use cable internet. These are slower internet connections (usually between 100-150 Mb/s download and upload) that can function well for streaming shows in HD quality, downloading/uploading medium sized files, and instant messaging applications.

          Other internet connection options include satellite internet (for very remote locations), 5G internet (currently at limited availability), and mobile internet solutions—which usually involve using a Wi-Fi hotspot from a mobile device, or an external internet dongle, to tether your desired device to an internet connection.

          It is also worth noting that many home internet plans also come with special packages that include television services. These packages combine both services into one payment plan, and usually feature reduced pricing and added features.

          Most commonly internet is delivered via Wi-Fi connection (service providers usually issue a wireless modem for each new home internet activation). This being said, wired connection to devices are still an option, with most wireless modems featuring ethernet ports where cables can be connected.

          How much does home internet cost?

          Similar to phone prices, home internet prices can be high in Canada. Most providers have monthly plans starting from $50-55 CAD before tax, that offer internet speed of between 10-20 Mbps. At the top range, internet plans with monthly charges of $110-125 CAD can get internet speeds of up to 3 Gbps. An included modem rental is a standard part of most home internet plans in Canada.

          What internet speed do I need for my usage?

          Internet speeds in Canada can range from 10 Mbps to 3 Gbps (download and upload). The kind of speed that you would need depends wholly on how you like to use your home internet, and the number of people that you will have on your network:

          10-50 Mbps1-4Doing light work from home, looking through the web, sending emails, using social media, streaming standard definition videos, listening to music, watching HD videos (with some buffer time), and playing online games.
          50-100 Mbps4-6Streaming 4K videos (with some buffer time), streaming high definition videos, playing online games, working from home, and using home security devices
          100-500 Mbps6-10Streaming 4K videos, playing large online multiplayer games, running a home office, using home security and smart home devices, and streaming high definition videos.
          500 Mbps-3 Gbps10+Running a home office or online business that requires large multi-format file upload/download, streaming in 4K, live streaming, playing online games, and using home security and smart home devices.

          What factors should I consider when choosing an internet plan?

          Most internet plan connections come down to two key factors: speed and bandwidth. How fast are my internet speeds, and how many devices can be simultaneously connected on the same internet connection and still deliver a smooth user experience?

          It is good to keep in mind the way that internet speeds work in the context of a home internet. The maximum internet speed connection (download and upload) is the speed received through your Wi-Fi modem. This is then disseminated throughout your home and your devices. The actual internet speed your device receives relative to the total internet speed is then determined by how much your device can handle (most devices have a limit of between 150-350Mbps, with newer devices pushing this limit continuously).

          Similarly, the number of devices connected also has an impact on the speed. The factor that determines a smoother connection with multiple devices is usually referred to as bandwidth (though bandwidth also contributes to many other factors in your internet usage, like responsiveness of webpages on your device for example). A higher bandwidth (also measured in Mbps/Gbps) ensures that you can connect multiple devices and preform various tasks simultaneously without any loss in connection speed and quality.

          How do I set up my new internet service in Canada?

          After you choose a provider and plan that fits your needs, activations can either be done in-store or online/over the phone. Simply go to your preferred point of sale and purchase your desired plan. During the transaction you will likely be asked to schedule a time for delivery and installation of your new Wi-Fi modem as well. Once the plan is purchased, activation will be complete once the technician comes to your home and installs the new Wi-Fi modem. From here you will be billed on a pre-agreed regular monthly cycle.

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