Cellphones for Newcomers in Canada

Ask any newcomer about the things they think they’ll spend money on, and you will likely get four responses:

  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Food
  • Transportation

Indeed, these are non-negotiable essentials. Yet, here is something to think about:

Making the move to another country comes with a set of new challenges. Doing so exposes a prospective newcomer to changes in his or her routine. There will simply be new ways of doing things to which the newcomer needs to grow accustomed.

Living in a new country, the immigrant who once survived without checking his phone every few minutes now has to do so. He or she now has to check for job openings regularly. As well, there may be a new vacancy for that new affordable apartment near the city centre. Being far from friends and family, the newcomer to Canada needs to find some way to stay in touch to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness in a new land.

For these reasons, the list above should contain one more essential: a phone plan.

Having the right mobile phone plan makes many aspects of your life in Canada easier. It could mean the difference between getting the right apartment or not. The right mobile phone plan can also help with job hunting and phoning your loved ones back in your home country.

In short, you need a Canadian cellphone and the right plan to go with it in Canada.

On The High Prices Of Cellphone Plans In Canada


One of the most common observations (or complaints) of many newcomers is the steep prices of not just cellphones. Many are also shocked at the high prices of cellphone plans each month. Unfortunately, this is a reality. Canada has some of the highest mobile or cellphone plan prices in the developed world.

In fact, according to a 2018 CBC article, the figures for phone plans per month in Canada are significantly higher than in other immigrant-friendly countries like Australia. Hence, it does make you wonder why the prices are so steep.

Here are some factors that account for this:

High Investment In Telecommunications Infrastructure

The telecommunications market in Canada is dominated by five companies:

  • Bell Mobility
  • Rogers
  • Virgin
  • Telus
  • Fido

Each one maintains a constant presence in almost every Canadian province and territory. As you might imagine, this requires the construction of cell towers in many areas: both urban and rural. This means constructing a lot of construction needs to take place since Canada is a large country.

Making mobile communication and internet available to as many Canadians and permanent residents as possible becomes daunting for this reason. Nevertheless, telecommunications companies in Canada need to make their services available to as many people and as many areas as possible.

The scope of infrastructure development requires much investment for this very reason.

Geographical Challenges

This is related to the previous factor.

As you might already know, Canada has enough land area to make it the second-largest country on the planet. Much of its land is unfit for cell tower and company branch construction, especially farther up North. The general characteristics of Canada’s topography make mobile infrastructure concentrated to a few urban areas. This was pointed out in a 2017 article in the National Post.

Strategic investment in only a few areas might make sense from a corporate perspective. Be that as it may, there are also many Canadians and permanent residents outside these key areas. This puts Canadian telecommunications companies in an awkward position of having to balance investment and Canada-wide availability.

Prioritizing availability, telecommunications companies in the country are left with no alternative but to construct more cell towers to establish and maintain broadband networks in other areas.

This translates to more money being spent by a company, which in turn must be paid by consumers every month.

Population-Related Challenges


Maintaining mobile and internet connection is not simply a matter of how many cell towers or service centres are built. Ultimately, people need to pay to sustain the infrastructure. It is the average Canadian or permanent resident who needs to pay for his cell phone plan per month. A low population spread out across a vast expanse of land area leads to a low number of paying consumers.

In order to make up for the investment, telecommunications companies need to offset their fiscal deficits by increasing prices just a little bit.

A Lack Of Competition

Competition between companies in the same market encourages improvements in products and services. As well, improvements in pricing are an effect of competition since companies would want the patronage of more consumers who seek affordability.

As mentioned earlier, there are only a handful of telecommunications providers in Canada. The very few companies that cater to this market suggests a lack of competition. A lack of competition can affect how one telecommunication service provider sets its prices per month or per contract.

Things To Consider

Here is a list of things to consider when you shop around for your mobile phone plan in Canada:


Everything comes right down to personal preference and purpose. It would be unwise and impractical to sign up for an expensive plan that has features you might not have a use for.

While this may seem far-fetched, not everyone needs access to the internet 24/7. Moreover, not everybody misses everyone back home enough to call them every day. Most certainly, some people are just not too demanding in the way of internet connection speeds on their phones.

With these in mind, you need to check your purposes behind your mobile phone usage. Besides, if your needs change in Canada, you can always choose to upgrade later on when you have determined that you could afford added services.


Bell, Telus, and Rogers are the top-three largest telecommunications companies in Canada. In 2017 alone, the three companies brought in up to 91% of all profits from telecommunication services. Effectively monopolizing the market, these three companies maintain their presence across the country and do indeed have some of the highest prices for cell phone plans of which some complain.

Luckily, in at least three provinces, citizens and permanent residents enjoy relatively lower costs when it comes to cell phone plans. These provinces are:

  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan
  • Manitoba

In these three provinces, the big-three telcos have to compete with a fourth service provider. This causes prices to be lower in these three provinces. Though pricing is pretty much standardized in the country, big Canadian telecommunication providers need to lower prices in provinces where they need to compete with other providers.

In short, if you are immigrating to these provinces, you could expect your cell phone bill each month to cover more services.

Whether You Need A New Phone Or Not

A typical Canadian cell phone plan often comes with a new phone. This offer is inviting to many newcomers to Canada.

In almost all cases, such plans will incur certain costs per month. If you decide to get a plan which accompanies a phone, you will effectively be paying for two things every month:

  • The mobile phone plan
  • The phone amortization

In other words, you will be paying for both the phone and your usage of it each month until the end of your contract with your provider.  Hence, you may want to consider whether you will actually need a new phone or not. Luckily, it is possible to purchase just a plan or a sim card.

Whether you need a new phone or not depends on the model you will have once you enter the country. Why? This has something to do with how different phones work in different places.

Every mobile phone functions under certain wireless systems. Currently, there are four:

  • Tri-band
  • Quad-band
  • Global System Mobile (GSM)
  • Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA)

In North America, the wireless system is the CDMA wireless system. As a result, only phones that could function in CDMA will work. Many mobile phones manufactured in Asia or Europe might not function in Canada. For instance, many Xiaomi phones work in Asia’s tri-band wireless mobile system. However, bring one of these to Canada, and you will find that your Canadian sim will not work.

For this reason, you need to do some homework on your phone to make sure that it functions in a CDMA region. If it does, you may not need to take out a contract that provides a phone. This could save you a lot of money in Canada.

Numerous carriers allow you to do this. In fact, some have phone-free plans where a contract only requires you to pay for calls, texts, and data. One example of such a mobile carrier is Koodo, a company based in British Columbia.

You could check out the mobile offerings of Koodo. The Bring-Your-Own-Phone plan of Koodo also gives you a choice of sim card sizes that are compatible with your current mobile phone.

Besides Koodo, here are some other companies that have similar offerings:

  • Lucky Mobile
  • Telus
  • Bell
  • Freedom Mobile
  • Chatr

Perks And Features To Look For

While it will not cost more than your food, rent, and utilities, your Canadian cell phone plan every month will require a place in your budget. That said, you want to make sure that you get the most out of every “Loonie” or “Toonie” for your cell phone plan every month. Of course, you may want your plan to be more than a simple talk-text plan.

In this section, you will see a list of perks you might want to look for in a mobile phone plan. As well, there will some companies mentioned to make your decision-making easier.

Beyond Talk-Text Plans

Gone are those days when people only needed decent cell phone plans to call and text. You want to sign up for a good plan that offers more than talk-text services in Canada.

There could be many other services besides these but the most important must be mobile internet data. During your first few months in the country, you will need frequent and reliable access to the internet for jobs, entertainment, and talking to family back home.

In addition, having access to affordable mobile data enables you to use one more service- VoIP service.

VoIP means Voice-Over-Internet Protocol. It is a service that allows users to make audio and video calls using an internet connection instead of a conventional phone connection. This is often deemed an inexpensive alternative to calling or texting people using the credit allowance of a usual post-paid mobile phone plan.

If you have a high data allowance, it means you could use the VoIP services of Skype. Other VoIP services you may come across in Canada are Telehop and Vonage. There are many more.

Another example of an added service is a TV and streaming bundle. One carrier in Canada that offers this as a bundle is Telus.

Affordable Long Distance Charges


Sometimes, you just need to call your friends and family back home. As well, you may have relatives in other parts of Canada. Whether it’s calling or texting long distance, international mobile phone usage is often expensive. In many cases, much much more expensive.

With this in mind, you need to look for a mobile phone plan that has reasonable rates for long-distance calls and texts. I good way to determine affordability is to ask around and compare prices. Thus far, Telus and Telehop are two Canadian telco providers that offer very competitive rates for long-distance mobile phone use.

Chatr is an Ontario-based company that offers affordable international rates as well.

Unlimited Calls And Internet

Canadian phone bills are already expensive as it is. Many carriers in Canada already provide reasonable talk-text plans. However, if you are looking for carriers that offer unlimited data plans, there are some companies in the country that do offer this.

The three major companies mentioned earlier (Bell, Rogers, and Telus) offer unlimited mobile internet. As well, since these companies are found all over the country, the signal coverage is also Canada-wide. Of these three companies, Rogers is the one that was the first to offer unlimited internet.

For those who are looking for more budget-friendly alternatives to the big three, there are options. As mentioned earlier, Saskatchewan is one of a few provinces where mobile phone plans are cheaper by comparison. This is due to a telco company in the province known as SaskTel. SaskTel has numerous mobile phone plans. Even with a VIP upgrade, you will find the services of this telco carrier very affordable.

Other budget-friendly options include Freedom Mobile, Chatr and Lucky Mobile. Both companies also have a list of plans that are affordable. Also, all plans from these two companies include either unlimited internet or unlimited calls and texts.

The Lack Of The Need For A Credit Check

As a newcomer to Canada, you may still need to build a credit history for a Canadian phone plan. This is because, for many companies, you can only take out a phone contract following a credit check. While having a credit history does not really take a long time to build, it could be a hassle especially if you need a mobile phone service right away.

Luckily, some companies or mobile phone carriers do not require a credit check. In place of a credit check, these companies may only require a few pieces of identification. Below are some reputable companies that will allow you to sign up for a mobile phone contract without a credit check:

  • Koodo
  • Chatr
  • Lucky Mobile
  • Virgin Mobile
  • Telus

When you do shop for a plan without a credit check with any of these companies, you may be asked for pieces of identification. Often, this could be any of the following:

  • Social insurance number (SIN)
  • Driver’s license
  • Any proof of permanent residence

What Phones Will Work In Canada?


As mentioned earlier, you want to be sure that your phone works in Canada. This will determine whether you need a new phone with your plan or not.

As of 2019, at least 10 different smartphone models have been known to be compatible with North America’s CMDA wireless system. If you already any of these phones, there may be no need for you to buy a new one in Canada.

If not, you could sign up for a phone contract that offers any of the models in this section.

The following smartphone models are the best phones to have according to Mobile Syrup:

  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone Pro or Pro Max
  • Samsung Galaxy S10+
  • Asus ROG
  • One Plus 7T
  • Huawei P30 Pro
  • Google Pixel 4 XL
  • LG G8 X
  • Asus Zenfone 6
  • Samsung Galaxy Fold

Clearly, this list above is not an exhaustive one. Other smartphones will work in Canada’s CMDA wireless system. You just need to check for your phone’s compatibility with Canada’s wireless system.


As a newcomer to Canada, the cell phone contract for which you will sign up needs to be on your list of important expenses as well. Having the right one can go a long way for you and your family in Canada.

As you read this part of the article, what probably sticks out for you is how expensive a cell phone plan might be every month. Indeed, Canada does have high cell phone costs.

Nonetheless, there is an old saying:

“Cheap things are of no quality. And, things of quality are not cheap.”

As one commentator put it, paying for a phone plan every month is like paying for a Lexus. Be that as it may, the service you get is as impressive as driving one. In other words, with the prices as they are, good service is a guarantee.

You can be assured of this when you talk, text, and surf effortlessly in Canada.

Choose Canada Magazine

Each member of our team at Choose Canada Magazine has been in Canada for over five years, and has helped dozens of people worldwide find their life in Canada.

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