Are there common prepaid providers in USA and Canada?

by Bertie
(Dubai, UAE)

As a visitor, can a buy a pre-paid SIM card which can be used in both countries, USA and Canada?

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May 24, 2010
Prepaid Wireless Providers Across North America - Part 1
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

This is actually a question that is near and dear to my heart as I frequently travel between the U.S. and Canada. Unfortunately, there's good news as well as bad news on this front.

Some prepaid wireless providers simply won't allow you to roam across the border. Usually this is not a technology limitation at all. In fact, whether you have a CDMA, GSM, or even iDEN based phone technologically isn't the issue, because there are providers that support these standards in both countries. The issue typically lies in whether or not the provider in the originating country has a roaming agreement with the appropriate carrier(s) in the other country. Unfortunately, prepaid agreements require a lot more work to ensure that the roaming partner gets paid. The reason why it's more complicated for no contract wireless than for postpaid plans lies in the fact that with postpaid there a bill that can get sent out for later collection. To the contrary, with prepaid wireless call rating/billing must be done in real time to ensure that funds are immediately available to make/complete the call.

As an example, Boost Mobile used to work in Canada...for FREE! This was not by design, but rather because there was a roaming agreement for the Nextel postpaid business with Telus' iDEN network, however, the billing processes for prepaid were never built. This was considered a hole, and later blocked in late 2009. Anyway, the point being that this topic can get tricky.

There are prepaid providers that will allow for roaming across the border, which is what you're looking for. The downside here though, is almost always that the price per minute is so absurd that it's virtually never worthwhile unless you want to use your phone only for emergencies. At least that's what I've found every time I look for a solution for my personal situation.

May 24, 2010
Prepaid Wireless Providers Across North America - Part 2
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

So where does that leave you? Well, I've found that the best approach has been for me to use a prepaid SIM from the host country. i.e. I take my unlocked GSM phone to Canada and use a Rogers prepaid SIM card when I'm there (or you can just buy a Rogers prepaid phone). The rates aren't nearly as good as the prepaid plans in the U.S. (yet!), however, it's not too bad. When I'm not in Canada, I simply let the funds expire. The good thing about Rogers is that even when you don't have any money on your account, you can still retain your phone number for 365 days following expiration of the funds on your account. So I just need to remember to add $20 (their minimum reload amount) once a year to keep my account active.

Of course, the major downside of this approach is that you don't have one single phone number that can be used in both countries.

Another option for you is to buy a prepaid SIM card as descrbied in the International Cell Phones section. My personal experience is that while those services are great for other countries (ex. Europe), for North America, having a local phone/account in each country tends to be a better deal overall. That said, your personal circumstances may very well be different, so checking out that option is definitely recommended!

Please let us know which option you end up using to meet your personal usage needs!

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