Why would you want to bother swapping out your smartphone's SIM card with one from the U.S. when you travel south of Canada's border? Let me give you a pair of painfully personal examples of why, for smartphone users at least, it's a very good idea.
Last January, despite having signed up for an international roaming package with Rogers, I was shocked to discover at the end of the month that a trip to Nevada cost me an additional $553 above what I would have normally paid for my monthly cellular service.
I spent five days in Las Vegas attending the annual Consumer Electronics Show. As I trawled the kilometres of booths and demonstrations on behalf of the publication I was working for, I stayed in touch with the rest of the journalists and editors on my team via text message and voice calls. At the end of every day, I called my significant other to let her know I was still alive. Five days of text messages and a few short conversations cost me half a grand.
This past summer, while visiting New York City for two days on business, I thought I'd play it smart. I was travelling alone so I had no one to check in with. Additionally, I told my partner that I'd be in touch with her every day, but only via Skype when I had access to Wi-Fi. By day two of the trip, it was looking like I'd have a reasonably-sized phone bill at the end of the month. But then I got lost in Greenwich Village and needed to use Google Maps to find my way back to my hotel in downtown Manhattan. My bill for July topped out at $689.
Based on this, I'm sure you'll understand why, when I discovered that I'd be headed to San Francisco overnight in mid-September, I was excited to take a new roaming service for a spin.
Telgo is a company that provides Canadian cellular customers with American SIM cards to use in their cellphones while visiting the United States.
Getting set up with a Telgo SIM card is relatively simple: visit the company's website, purchase a SIM card for $20 (although it was on sale for five bucks when I bought mine,) and wait for it to arrive in the mail. When the SIM card appears at your front door, all you need to do to activate it is visit Telgo's website once more or call them and register the card. You'll be assigned an American phone number to use, and asked how much talk time you'd like to purchase.
Telgo charges five dollars a day for unlimited incoming calls from Canada and the U.S., outgoing calls from the U.S. to Canada and to anywhere in the United States. You'll also get 10MB of data with every day of phone service that you purchase. Additional talk time and data can be purchased by calling Telgo to request a top-off. Once you get to the United States, pop the SIM card in your phone, call 611 and follow the instructions. Then, watch as the bank-account-decimating roaming charges you'd normally incur from your Canadian cell phone provider disappear.
For most people, anyway.
In order to leverage Telgo's comparatively low rates, you'll need to have an unlocked cell phone to put the SIM card in. If you didn't buy an unlocked cellphone in the first place, having your handset unlocked can cost as little at $25 or as much as $200 – a fact that might dissuade you from using Telgo's services if you travel out of the country infrequently.
Speaking of the SIM card, one size, doesn't necessarily fit all. Telgo ships their SIM ready to be jammed into phones that take a standard SIM or micro SIM card. Anyone that uses a phone that requires a nano SIM, such as the iPhone 5, will have to find a way to safely pare down their Telgo card so that it's compatible with their handset. But if you can get past this hurdle, it's smooth sailing.
VERDICT: Telgo provides a comparatively inexpensive alternative to suffering the high international data and roaming fees charged by most Canadian cellular carriers.