For a year now I’ve been the proud owner of an Apple iPad. In that year I’ve become addicted to being online. My iPad is a 3G iPad, and I take it with me practically everywhere including church, work, to visit family, or to do the grocery shopping.
About five months ago, I got a work-provided Android phone, and that has replaced some of my need to carry my iPad with me wherever I go, but I still love the iPad’s superior screen, it’s interface, and functionality.
Last week we traveled to Canada for my cousin’s wedding. I knew that my work-provided phone wouldn’t work in Canada. (OK, technically it WORKED, but was exceptionally expensive to use). Before we left, I was doing some research to see how much it was going to cost me to use my AT&T data plan internationally. I was astounded to learn that AT&T charges $1.00 per MEGAbyte of data when roaming internationally. I checked the page size of CNN.com today, and it is 1.2 MB. That means to just view the CNN.com home page would cost $1.20. Ouch. My local news site is .78 MB, so loading the page would cost me more than a can of soda.
I quickly decided I needed to find another source for my data addiction while in Canada.
I searched the web and found that several Canadian iPad owners had success coming to the US, obtaining AT&T SIM cards, and setting up a data plan with AT&T. The Canadian Roger’s (the iPad’s GSM carrier in Canada) customer would come to the US and obtain an AT&T SIM card either from AT&T, the Apple store, or another provider. Then they would insert the AT&T SIM card in the iPad and sign up for cellular data service. They would have to create a new account with AT&T, provide a credit card, and they could set up an account.
Some Canadians reported that they had to have a US address, and a US-based credit card account. Others reported that they could use their Canadian American Express cards, if they input a valid US address (which obviously wouldn’t be their actual billing address).
I decided to try that same plan, but in reverse. Upon entering Canada, I obtained a Roger’s SIM card that was purchased at a Canadian Best Buy store. (The cost of the card was $10.00, but Best Buy had some promotion, so there was no charge for the card at all for us.) I removed my AT&T SIM card and inserted my Roger’s SIM card in my iPad.
I turned the iPad back on and in Settings, created a new Roger’s data account. I used my US American Express card, but I used my grandmother’s Canadian billing address and phone number. I signed up for Roger’s 5GB data plan for CN$35 per month, and the request was successful.
Here’s the beauty of this plan: Since AT&T and Roger’s both have non-contract iPad data plans, you can sign up for service for one month at a time. I signed up for Roger’s service as I entered Canada, and just before we crossed the border back home, I terminated my Roger’s plan with no penalty. The same is true if you are a Canadian visiting the US. You sing up for AT&T’s service when you arrive in the US, then you terminate your AT&T plan when you leave with no penalty. There is no recurring billing because you cancelled your account. You got data, at the local price, for the time you were travelling internationally.
My service in Canada was great. We used the iPad for games, Internet surfing, GPS and maps for driving through Canada, and we even used Skype on the iPad (well, it’s an iPhone app, but it works fine on the iPad) to make calls to the US and Canada using either the built-in microphone, or using a headset with a microphone. Because we used Skype, those calls cost me only US$.02 per minute. (Compare that to the $.59 per minute Sprint would charge me on my mobile phone, if I signed up for their International add-on service.)
I checked my data usage before I returned home. We had been in Canada for five days. With the phone calls, the maps, the e-mail, the general web surfing and everything, we actually used less than 200MB of data. Had I used my AT&T card, all that data would have cost me $200. Since I used my Roger’s card, it cost me CN$35. (And if I’d known my usage would actually be under 200MB, I could have opted for the cheaper Roger’s plan: 250MB for CN$15. I’ll remember that next time I’m there.)
Here are my tips and tricks, and these should work regardless of whether you are an AT&T customer visiting Canada, or a Roger’s customer visiting the US:
- Determine how much data you expect to use, based on past data usage at home.
- Obtain a local SIM card from the wireless provider, Apple’s stores, or from a retailer like Best Buy.
- Be careful not to lose your permanent (home) SIM card. Those things are tiny and can get lost VERY easily.
- If you have an American Express card, use that to set up your “visiting” account; reports are that they work both directions (TO and FROM Canada). If you don’t have an American Express card, you can try purchasing a reloadable VISA or MasterCard in the country where the service will be used.
- You must input an address that is in the country where the service will be used. I used a relative’s address. Other people report success using the address of an Apple store in that country. (If you are not visiting family, you may want to obtain this address BEFORE you travel, and bring it with you, so you have it on-hand.)
- If you are visiting Canada, and you expect to be there less than one month, you can actually deactivate your Roger’s account withing a couple of days. Your Roger’s service will continue working for the full 30-day period, or until the allotted data is consumed. (I don’t know how AT&T does in this regard.)
- Be sure to deactivate your account while you still have service, before you leave the country. If you are driving and are in a rural location, you may not have cell coverage at the border, so you either want to check availability along your route, or deactivate when you leave the last city on your way towards the border.
I loved having my iPad to use when I was in Canada. Obtaining a Roger’s SIM card and using Roger’s service was super easy, and I recommend it to anybody.
P.S.: A note to my US friends traveling in Canada — remember that there are services like Pandora (and possibly Hulu) that won’t let you access their content outside of the US. Even though you have a US Pandora account, when you are in Canada, you will have an Canadian IP address, and you will not be able to visit those sites, so don’t be frustrated if that happens to you. It’s just the way some things go.
Enjoy your data access for a reasonable price while you are travelling!
Disclaimer: I clearly can’t guarantee this will work for you. I don’t even guarantee it will work for ME next time I cross the 49th parallel. But it worked for me in June 2011. It can’t hurt for you to try it as well.