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Unfortunately, many travelers use international roaming plans when traveling outside Canada. These are among the worst travel scams and the most overpriced things possible, as they’re often 30 times (!!!) more expensive than the other options (and the other options are almost as simple too).

Seriously, it’s absolutely wild that so many people pay ≈ $15 per DAY for mobile data when that’s the cost for WEEKS worth of data. For example, if you’re traveling in France, it’s $14 for a whole month with 3 GB of data! It’s similar in almost all countries!!!

That’s 30 times less expensive… no wonder so many people believe the myth that travel is expensive when they pay almost half of the total daily budget required to travel in the most affordable countries ($40 per day) just for mobile data.

Here’s how to get mobile data while traveling.

Overview of data options while traveling

You might have been paying ≈ $15 a day for roaming plans because you didn’t know the other options. If so, you’re almost certainly also overpaying on so many other travel aspects just by not knowing some simple tips. Roaming plans are another of the many many examples of great travel tips that are very easy, but that you just cannot know if nobody told you.

Stop overpaying! Make sure to learn many of those pro tips in our free ebook with 100+ tips on how to travel for less, or at least join 100,000+ savvy Canadian travelers by signing up for our free newsletter to get our content in your inbox.

Here are your 4 options to access mobile data when traveling outside Canada:

  • Using free Wi-Fi areas
  • Using a local SIM card
  • Using an eSIM card
  • Using your phone’s roaming plan

I put those in order of affordability… So they are also in reverse order of convenience. Because like most things in the world of travel (or in life in general), more simple often means more expensive.

Local SIM cards and eSIM cards! Flytrippers strongly recommends local SIM cards or eSIM cards like Airalo, and we use them ourselves. It's really simple and affordable. In many countries, they cost as little as $2 for a full week of data — and ALWAYS less than the terrible ≈ $15 per day price of a Canadian roaming plan.

You’ll access the exact same local data networks your roaming plan would… for less. As for calls and text messages, it’s 2024: just use web-based messaging and call apps. If you even slightly consider yourself a traveler, establish that habit ASAP and ditch the 20th-century technology practices, because that’s the way to go when you travel.

Here are the details for each of those 4 options, now in the order we recommend them.

Using eSIM cards to get mobile data while traveling

An eSIM card is the very best option to save money while having almost nothing to do.

An eSIM card stands for “embedded SIM card.” It’s like the current SIM card in your mobile phone, which gives you access to mobile networks, but it’s digital, so there’s no physical card. You just download it online.

It’s extremely affordable — and some also cover multiple countries!

Here’s how to use an eSIM card:

  • Make sure your phone is “unlocked” to allow other SIMs
    • All phones sold since 2017 in Canada are
  • Make sure your phone is eSIM-compatible
    • Almost all recent smartphones are (check here)
  • Buy an eSIM card (on Airalo for example)
    • Almost always doable before your trip
  • Install your eSIM card in a few clicks
    • Almost always doable before your trip
  • Activate your eSIM card in a few clicks
    • Once you connect to the country’s network
  • Use your mobile data exactly like you would normally do
    • Your phone will connect to a local network
    • The same one your roaming plan would connect to

It’s a few simple steps to do online so it’s almost as effortless as roaming plans, just ≈ 30 times cheaper. It’s a real no-brainer. Even if you don’t want to spend much time on this, at least download an Airalo eSIM to save.

And the good news is that since you’re not replacing your SIM card, you can also continue receiving text messages for free.

In fact, eSIMs have grown so much in the past few years that they are now often as cheap as local physical SIM cards, which used to be the absolute best option. It’s so much more convenient to get an eSIM compared to a physical local SIM card, so it’s often not worth that extra hassle anymore (like anything, exceptions do exist).

We’ve often used Airalo since it’s the biggest and most trusted eSIM provider (with 10 million customers and 300,000+ reviews) and had great experiences but there are so many others if you’re willing to take the time to compare prices on eSIMDB. Many other smaller providers are often a bit cheaper, we’ll soon rank them, so stay tuned.

Support us at no cost! Click directly on our Airalo link (and any of our links) or save our Airalo link in your favorites, instead of going directly to their site! It allows you to support Flytrippers at absolutely no cost to you! We sincerely thank you.

Here are price examples for a few destinations with Airalo specifically (adding more GB or weeks doesn’t cost much more):

  • USA
    • $11.50 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • France
    • $10.50 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • Italy
    • $11.50 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • Spain
    • $9.50 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • Portugal
    • $10 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • Greece
    • $13 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • Poland
    • $8 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • Croatia
    • $10 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • Morocco
    • $20.50 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • Egypt
    • $17.50 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • South Africa
    • $8 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • United Arab Emirates
    • $10 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • India
    • $11.50 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • Thailand
    • $28 for 2 weeks and unlimited GB
  • Indonesia
    • $11.50 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • Malaysia
    • $11.50 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • Taiwan
    • $10 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • Japan
    • $9.50 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • Brazil
    • $16.50 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • Colombia
    • $21 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
  • Guatemala
    • $17 for 2 weeks and 2 GB
Price of Sim card in France for 2 weeks with mobile data at Airalo.
Prices for France (image credit: Airalo)

Using local SIM cards to get mobile data while traveling

A local SIM card can be the very best option to get the cheapest price in some countries.

Once you reach the destination, you must find a mobile store and get a physical SIM card to replace the one in your phone.

It’s sometimes a more affordable option than eSIMs, although it’s not as frequent as it used to be even just a few years ago. Compare if you want to save, just like with anything else.

Here’s how to use a local SIM card:

  • Make sure your phone is “unlocked” to allow other SIMs
    • All phones sold since 2017 in Canada are
  • Find the best local mobile company
    • There can be huge price differences
  • Install and activate your SIM card
    • They can usually do it for you
  • Use your mobile data exactly like you would normally do
    • Your phone will connect to a local network
    • The same one your roaming plan would connect to

It’s a little less convenient because you have to waste time once you’re at your destination (that time should be more precious than time before you leave).

You also need to make sure you’re going to the right store to get the best price — for example, SIM cards in airports are often overpriced, just like everything usually is in airports (the $5 water bottles, the restaurants, the currency exchanges, the ATM fees, and the terrible taxi/Uber prices). The convenience of having the SIM card from minute 1 often means it’s more expensive than in the city.

In some countries, the process of getting a SIM card can be veryyyyy slow — for example, at Claro in Central America, they have a very slow-paced organizational culture and it takes a long time. In others, it’s super easy, and you can even use self-serve kiosks. Bring your passport with you just in case; sometimes they need it to sell you a SIM card.

Here are price examples for a few destinations (paid by me or Flytrippers’ other co-founder, Kevin):

  • Thailand
    • $22 for 2 weeks and unlimited GB
  • Sri Lanka
    • $7 for 4 weeks and 24 GB
  • Cambodia
    • $20 for 4 weeks and 40 GB
  • Kyrgyzstan
    • $5 for 2 weeks and 10 GB
  • France
    • $29 for 4 weeks and 100 GB
  • Türkiye
    • $23 for 4 weeks and 2 GB
  • Peru
    • $14 for 4 weeks and 2 GB
  • Ecuador
    • $13 for 4 weeks and 2 GB
  • Colombia
    • $19 for 4 weeks and 2 GB

Using free Wi-Fi to get mobile data while traveling

Free Wi-Fi is the very best option to save money, as it won’t cost you a dime.

In many countries, there are plenty of free Wi-Fi hotspots, and you can easily manage without constant access to data by downloading Google Maps and Google Translate for offline use. If you have 1 (or more) of the 10+ Mastercards that offer the free Boingo Wi-Fi benefit, you’ll have even more hotspots to connect to (1 million more worldwide, to be precise).

Almost all hotels and hostels have free Wi-Fi too and it can be beneficial to disconnect during the day when you’re out and about!

Here’s how to use free Wi-Fi:

  • Research free Wi-Fi hotspots before your trip
    • Save them in Google Maps
    • Save the city for offline use
  • Research free Boingo hotspots before your trip
  • Use those Wi-Fi hotspots
    • It can be good to disconnect the rest of the time

It’s the cheapest option so it’s the least convenient. It involves doing more research during your trip planning and having to go to specific places to access mobile data. But then, again, it does force you to live in the moment and appreciate your trip by being offline…

If you’re worried about emergencies, you can always just activate your $15 roaming plan for that day only if you really need it. You almost certainly won’t, and if you do… it’s just $15.

This roaming-free option is certainly easier to do with the Boingo benefit. There are so many amazing benefits offered by Canadian credit cards (like free insurance, airport lounge access, elite status, etc.) that this one flies under the radar. It also works on some airplanes, as their Wi-Fi is powered by Boingo. But it’s especially useful on the ground, as the unlimited access to 1 million free hotspots in cities worldwide is great.

Using a roaming plan to get mobile data while traveling

Roaming plans are the very best option only if you want to get the most convenience and make the least effort.

You can use your phone as if you were in Canada, and you don’t have to do anything.

It’s obviously the most expensive option — because it’s the simplest option.

Here’s how to use a roaming plan:

  • Activate data roaming in your phone settings
  • Pay a whopping $15 per day

Roaming plans are incredibly overpriced with Rogers ($15/day), Bell ($16/day), Telus ($16/day), and Videotron ($14/day). But you don’t have to do anything…

If you switch to Rogers, you do get 5 free roaming days per year with the Rogers Red Mastercard. We normally never recommend wasting a card application on a card with such a small welcome bonus, but since it’s a no-fee card, you can apply for it the same day as you apply for a good card with a nice welcome bonus to improve your credit score even more and get even more benefits.

If you prefer to pay for convenience, that’s fine, of course. But if you like to travel, you may want to approach it from another perspective: for a 2-week trip, using an eSIM like Airalo instead of your roaming plan can save you $200, which is enough for 5 full days of travel in Bali or many other amazing and affordable destinations.

And you’ll get the exact same access to mobile data, with very little extra effort.

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Summary

Many Canadian travelers use international roaming plans while traveling abroad. These plans can cost around $15 per day, whereas other options like local SIM cards or eSIMs are up to 30 times cheaper and just as easy to use. Here, as usual, the golden rule of travel applies: the more convenient, the more expensive. So, get out of your comfort zone and start saving money.

What would you like to know about data plans abroad? Tell us in the comments below.

See the flight deals we spot: Cheap flights

Discover free travel with rewards: Travel rewards

Explore awesome destinations: Travel inspiration

Learn pro tricks: Travel tips

Featured image:  Dubrovnik, Croatia (photo credit: Matthias Mullie)

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Andrew D'Amours

Andrew is the co-founder of Flytrippers. He is passionate about traveling the world but also, as a former management consultant, about the travel industry itself. He shares his experiences to help you save money on travel. As a very cost-conscious traveler, he loves finding deals and getting free travel thanks to travel rewards points... to help him visit every country in the world (current count: 71/193 Countries, 47/50 US States & 9/10 Canadian Provinces).

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Milou

    I see this passage: “And the good news is that since you’re not replacing your SIM card, you can also continue receiving text messages for free.” How would this work? I am wondering if this is correct. First it does not seem accurate to me if you are only getting a data plan (which is what the title suggests). Then if you also get voice, the number to reach you will be different. Secondly, amongst options: getting provider that offer free wifi calls / texts abroad (Videotron does, Bell does not). And I found out Videotron has plans for Canada-US and Canada -France. Good deals for extended stays. Finally, a request. One thing I would like to see on your website is a tutorial on precisely what settings to change when activating a data e.sim on iPhones (and android for rest of your subscribers). Thanks MB

    1. Andrew D'Amours

      Hi Milou,
      It’s definitely correct: receiving text messages is always free with any Canadian plan, whether you are located outside of Canada or not.

      So by using an eSIM card, you keep your regular SIM card and therefore keep receiving your text messages for free on your Canadian SIM card (useful for 2-factor authorization). All you need to do is turn off the “Data roaming” option in your phone settings before leaving Canada 🙂 You’ll also receive calls, but if you answer you’ll pay (same as for text messages; but obviously you can read text messages without answering).

      I haven’t really looked at Videotron plans, but I’m almost certain it’s more expensive than an eSIM card, but if it’s not that’s great.

      I’ll share a step by step for Airalo soon, make sure to sign up for our free newsletter to get all our content 🙂

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