The Quest for Mobile Internet in Canada

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canadian egg sunny side up

My first full day waking up in Vancouver I didn’t want to give in to jet lag. We went to bed when the rest of the house did around 10pm and I was awake by 7am, but decided to write about climbing Rangitoto Island before getting out of bed. While Thom and I were making breakfast, I got a taste of the reverse culture shock I knew I’d inevitably face; I was surprised by how yellow the yolks of the eggs were!

What we were used to and what was on offer

Since it was a bright sun-shiny day, Thom and I decided to venture out into the neighbourhood of Surrey and see what was around. We stumbled upon a Rogers store and looked into buying SIM cards for our unlocked cellphones. I already knew the quest for mobile internet in Canada was going to be a challenge. (Culture shock #2 – must remember that tax is not included in the price). Obviously we weren’t interested in any sort of contract, we just want to be able to contact others and be contacted as necessary without any exorbitant costs. Although cell phone companies in New Zealand often get a bad name for being over-priced, we soon realised that we’d been completely spoilt by 2degrees, which offerer literally Pay-As-You-Go convenience that included text messages, phone calls and data for our phones. In comparison, the mobile internet in Canada, offered by Rogers on Pay-As-You-Go was like offering bread crumbs to a giant and charging him gold for it (we’re talking 100 MB of internet for the month for $20+tax).

Now, I don’t think our internet needs are as big as they maybe once were; my plans involve being able to check my emails and social media, keep my Facebook page up to date as we go along and use Google maps when we’re stuck in a pickle (my navigation skils are a bit dependent on my iPhone internet access sometimes). For those of you who know Thom, he isn’t going to be spending hours gaming like he did on his X-box or taking up new online hobbies such as playing CheekyBingo. But 100 MB wasn’t going to last us either. I’d heard talk of the Mi Fi around web, especially from Cailin over at Travel Yourself while she she was in Europe, so this was in the back of my mind as a back up option.

Why we need mobile internet in Canada

I’d tried to set up the no commitment Pay-Monthly $30/month plan which included Talk & Text, online with Rogers, but ended up having to ring to talk to someone to get it all sorted. Turns out I had to provide two pieces of ID in order for her to do a credit check on me. That was fine, thankfully I didn’t accumulate any hidden debt while I was gone and we were away. The next challenge was to get to another branch of Rogers to find the Mi-Fi device because where we’d bought our SIM cards, was sold out. Once Shirley arrived back home, we visited Best Buy first, to see if they had them cheaper, but the girl had no idea what I was talking about. For some reason she didn’t like my explanation of what I was looking for:

“no, not My Five, I’m looking for a Mi-Fi please.. you know, a device that makes the internet happen anywhere“.

Nor did she find it funny.

“Where does the internet come from?” she asked me.
How am I supposed to know that? I don’t know. It sounded like a philosophical or trick question to me. Lucky for her, her co-worker who was standing and watching us, told her I wasn’t crazy because such a device does exist, and that we did in fact have to go to Rogers as they were only providers and carriers so far.

Our Options

At the Willowbrook Mall, we waited our turn to speak to Dave, a very cheerful and helpful customer service rep at the Rogers store. From what I could see, we had two choices:

- pay $0 for a two year contract,
-pay $199.99 up front for no contract.

My initial reaction was that we didn’t want a two year contract because we weren’t going to be in the country that long, so that just didn’t make sense. Dave respected that, but also pointed out that  the contract spreads the $199.99 that we’d have to pay up front, out over 24 months and if we broke the contract, we’d only  be paying the remaining cost left on the device. So we ended up agreeing to the contract, which would save us $60, which is better than nothing.

Luckily, I’d been through the credit check earlier that day, since I hadn’t brought my passport with me. I’m a tricky Canadian, with my expired Nova Scotia licence, valid NZ drivers licence, in British Columbia with a permanent address in Nova Scotia.

Mi-Fi Mobile Internet in Canada

Quest Accomplished!

When we’re ready to leave at the end of the year, we’ll have to pay about $140 for our Mi-Fi, which is better than $200. We also have the option of having Rogers unlock it for us, so that we can travel with it (need to make sure it is compatible with where we decide to go), or we can sell it in Nova Scotia. Decisions for Future Kate and Future Thom.

The only redeeming feature I found about going with Rogers and the Mi Fi is the Flexi-plan. We’ll get a monthly bill for the minimum option of $25 for 200MB, but if we use more than that instead of being charged individually for usage, we get bumped up to the next plan and then the next month we go back down to the basic $25 again, so according to Dave, we’re only being charged for what we use.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not a great deal, and there’s a potential to waste a lot of money but out of the options available for mobile internet in Canada, this is the best we’ve got to work with.

The person that sweetened the deal

Dave was great at making sure we had the best deal possible. We were discussing comparisons between Pay As You Go, which he also agreed is the worst deal going in Canada and Canada is THE MOST EXPENSIVE COUNTRY IN THE WORLD for it, because you need to make sure you top up before your renewal date, otherwise you lose the money on your account. I don’t know how every other country works, but Thom probably wouldn’t be using his phone to ring or text often, but his minimum $20/month which gets him nothing would either be wasted, or accumulated to an outrageous amount which he couldn’t get back, unlike in New Zealand where there’s no obligation to top up, ever. Frustration!!

He had mentioned a 10% discount for bringing your own phone, and when it comes to a discount or a deal, I am like a dog with a bone. So I made Dave check to make sure that I was getting said 10% discount on my account too, because the girl on the phone hadn’t mentioned it – and I wasn’t! So he fixed that up for us too. He took good care of us, making sure we had his full name and store phone number in case we needed it. We told him that if Thom does end up with minutes to use, he’d be giving him a call at the end of each month, as he was the first friend he’d made in Canada.

I did have a bit of a giggle while arguing about how much Canada’s options/prices/plans sucked compared to New Zealand, when he tried to play the population card. Asia, yes, wins hands down to us all. When we were in Thailand in July 2012 for 10 days, Thom and I bought a sim card with 1GB of internet for stupidly cheap, and just shared it between our phones as necessary. They do have a massive amount of people that can drive the price down. New Zealand, on the other hand, with its population of approximately 4 million has less than Toronto alone. So why can’t Canada get its act together and follow 2degrees lead?  They’re a little guy who have come along and challenged the big guys, and won. I guess because Canada’s got such a large population that keep paying their ridiculous prices,  they don’t have to change anything.

In the end, we now have internet access available if and when and where we need it, so we can file our quest for mobile internet in Canada under “success”.

Our next quest will involve purchasing wheels to get us on our roadtrip – woohoo!

What do you think of our solution? Would you (or have you) done something different if you were in our shoes?

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{ 12 comments… add one }

  • Rayma Winter May 4, 2013, 8:55 am

    Interesting times. have a great trip

  • Kate May 4, 2013, 9:24 am

    OMG this so puts me off Canada! $25 for $250MB! Thanks for writing this. Far better to be forewarned!
    Kate recently posted..5 Vegan or Very Vegan-Friendly Restaurants for Your Vegan Restaurant Bucket ListMy Profile

    • Kate May 7, 2013, 6:22 am

      I think every country has their really expensive things that could put one off, but there’s so much amazing-ness to Canada too! But yes, knowing is half the battle.

  • nana and pop May 5, 2013, 10:54 pm

    sounds like you are getting settled in have fun We all had a good weekend in Duneden stay safe good to know how you are .xx

  • Jose May 7, 2013, 6:44 am

    im at a camp ground atm and its $2 for 2omb i.e i loaded 5 webpages that were left open on my safari and i had already run out, good luck with vehicle

  • Kay May 8, 2013, 3:07 am

    Great to read & hear how you’re getting set up…. Thats the thing in a new place, there is always some little hitches to getting settled in…. Have a fabulous time,
    has barely stopped raining since Adam & I saw you last week, Yr last day was a stunner !!

  • Bethaney - Flashpacker Family May 11, 2013, 9:58 pm

    Gosh that’s pricey!!!!!! What a bummer. It’s true, every country has their “thing” that is expensive. I think in NZ it’s food for sure. :)
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted..40 Tips to Help You Travel Smarter, Cheaper, Safer, Lighter and, errr… Awesomer!My Profile

    • Kate May 12, 2013, 2:52 pm

      We’ve been using it sparingly, luckily have been able to hit up public libraries for extended wi-fi use needs. Google maps is our biggest need for it so far!

  • fotoeins | Henry May 12, 2013, 12:41 am

    Kate, paying for *just* the mobile telephony was hard enough; deffo the reverse-culture shock for me, too. On the upside, I hugged every Tim Horton’s cup of coffee-and-donut combo every chance I had. Your phrase: ” … I’m a tricky Canadian, with my expired Nova Scotia licence, valid NZ drivers licence, in British Columbia with a permanent address in Nova Scotia.” resonated with me, as I’m sure it does with lots of travelers who are back in their home country, but *not* necessarily in their home state/province/city. Thanks for writing about the “minefield” that is temporary wi-fi mobile service in Canada!
    fotoeins | Henry recently posted..ANZAC Day in Sydney (2013)My Profile

    • Kate May 12, 2013, 2:57 pm

      Ah yes, the reaction of people who ask for my ID/address is often priceless. I’ll surely be disowned as a Canadian if I admit this out loud, but my tastebuds have outgrown excessive amounts of sugar, and I have a terrible caffeine tolerance (I can drink it in the morning, and still be off the wall come midnight, so it’s like a recreational drug for me!) so I haven’t been all over the Timmmies this time!

  • northierthanthou June 4, 2013, 5:30 pm

    That’s a lot of difficulty. I hope they get things together.
    northierthanthou recently posted..The Village of Wainwright, AlaskaMy Profile

    • Clarkek June 21, 2013, 4:36 pm

      It is pathetic, and there’s honestly no excuse for it besides their greed, in my opinion.


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