How To Use Your Canadian iPhone on International Vacations

Data roamingThe iPhone is sexed up to be a do anything anywhere type of device. In the U-S, where cellular carriers treat the entire nation like one area code, with cheap and competitive price plans, it’s easy to take your iPhone from LA to Las Vegas and still fire up all the applications and email capability you would at home.

In Canada, however, moving that iPhone just a few inches across the border could instantly crack your bill wide open with data roaming charges.

I recently took my iPhone to Las Vegas. Before leaving I turned off the data roaming feature. This doesnt turn the phone off, but it will stop it from constantly checking for email or data on any applications you may be running. [contd]


With data turned off, your Jesus Phone instantly becomes just a regular old door stopper that any other manufacturer may have made. You have castrated your iPhone, you have taken all it’s potent power and rendered it useless.


The only way to get the iPhone back up to speed, without breaking the bank with your bill, is by scoping out free WiFi.

In Las Vegas, hotels charge $15 a day for access to their wireless services, better than what you’d be paying if you turned your phone on, but still ridiculous. I sought out free WiFi in Las Vegas and stumbled into it many unlikely places, including inside Bally’s, Planet Hollywood and New York New York.

If you’re travelling to the U-S and you’ve got an iPhone, be prepared to travel back in time to the era of phones with just text and voice. There will be no twitter, no live updating of hockey scores, or scanning email while waiting at a taxi stand.

Your iPhone will be perfect for talking and texting, and that’s about it.



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  1. Steve Hillman
    April 30, 2009

    I’ve got an unlocked iPhone (there are tutorials online for how to do this). Once it’s unlocked, walk up to any AT&T store or kiosk in the U.S and buy an AT&T pay-as-you-go SIM card ($7). Add some money to it (the more you add, the longer it lasts till it expires – $100 lasts a year), then buy a data plan. They’ve got one that’s $20 for 100mb that lasts you 30 days. Calling out is cheap – 10 cents anywhere in the U.S, and for incoming calls, and 25 cents to Canada.

    When you buy the SIM card and add a minimum $25, you get a $10 bonus. If you buy $100, you get another $5 bonus. I went down for 5 days, used 30mb of data, spent 2 hours on the phone, and came back with $80 of my $100 top-up still left.

  2. May 3, 2009

    We followed pretty much all of those rules when we went to Egypt this Xmas. Additionally, you can run wifi while still in airport mode, which assuaged my paranoia that the phone might go roaming on its own when I checked my mail and was *slightly* out of wifi range.

    We stayed in a premium hotel for the last few days in Cairo, which charged the ungodly sum of $30 a day for internet access. To maximize use, we not only downloaded half the bandwidth of Egypt’s ISPs in Doctor Who Specials, we also set up an ad-hoc network between my junker Macbook Pro 12″ G4 and our iPhones, allowing us to download a pile of podcasts for the plane ride back to Canada straight to the phone without iTunes getting an identity crisis.

    I later unlocked my phone for a trip to LA, but there was enough wifi where I was staying (and I was located in one area the whole time) that the fact that I couldn’t find a pay-as-you-go SIM wasn’t a big deal. But I agree with Steve, unlock that bad boy and follow the instructions he laid out to get around our primitive and idiotic monile data/phone restrictions.

  3. June 23, 2010

    well, friend You're on vacation after all and if you need to contact family there are other … Usually they range anywhere from $0.49 in Canada!

  4. Rick Kuzyk
    July 5, 2010

    Good advice from Steve & Warren. I also have a VOIP app called Vopium. Skype is also popular. With that I can make WIFI calls anywhere from anywhere for mere pennies.

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