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I'm lost as to the many options available and how to implement them. I want know what are the most cost effective ways I can use my Canadian Bell cell number to call family back in Canada from the US. Will my phone work in the state of NY? I have heard something about switching SIM cards but how do I know if it will work? Or is buying a new prepaid cheap phone better in NY instead of using my Canadian cell? Or is buying a number and using with my current cell better?

Who get charged if I buy a number or a SIM? If my family texts my bought number do I get charged long distance or do they?

I'm a heavy data user too. Need like 4GB.

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I suggest starting with Bell Canada's international coverage page. Your questions are all highly dependent on your carrier, your plan, the type of network you are on, the country where you are roaming, and so on. Also, we need to know what kind of phone you have, as this makes a difference when it comes to determining whether it is compatible with the network in a particular country. –  choster Apr 14 '13 at 21:45
    
I've got a Samsumg Galaxy S3 with Bell. –  verve Apr 14 '13 at 22:06
    
I'm looking for any other option besides just paying Bell's roaming fees. –  verve Apr 14 '13 at 22:07
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

That's a lot of questions, son.

  1. The cheapest way to stay in touch with your family is to install Skype or an equivalent service on your phone, and then call from some place with wifi. If you both use Skype, it's absolutely free even for video calls; if you use Skype to call their mobile or landline phone, you'll pay a few cents per minute. Just be sure to use wifi, not roaming, or the data costs will be murderous!

  2. Here's the basic logic: since it's you who's roaming (= in a different country), you pay all the extra charges if somebody calls you or you call someone. In other words, if your family calls or texts you, they pay for the call/text to Canada (because that's where your number is), and Bell will then charge you for forwarding the call/text to the US at some astronomical rate.

  3. If you get a US SIM card, you now have a new number in the US. (And since your old SIM card is no longer in the same phone, it's now unreachable; you need to tell everybody your new number. Of course you can always swap it back when you return.) If your family calls/texts your new US number, they pay the cost of the international call; if you call out to Canada, you pay.

  4. One catch: you need to ensure that your phone is "unlocked", so it's allowed to change SIMs. Call up your operator and ask.

  5. There's absolutely no point in getting a new phone, all you need is the SIM. I'm currently visiting the US and have been reasonably happy with AT&T's goPhone (link to random but informative blog post), which you can get set up for $20 or so, although you'll probably want to pay $25 extra for 1 GB of data.

Then a major caveat at the end: the above is how things work in 99% of the world. The US, Canada and other NANPA countries are kind of messed up, since they share the same country code and they don't distinguish between mobile and landline numbers, making it generally impossible to figure out where any given phone number is actually located and thus complicating the normal logic of "caller pays only for where they think they are calling"... so while you're guaranteed to get reamed if you roam anywhere in the world, in the US/Canada/NANPA it's possible that people calling you get reamed as well. Yay for telcos!

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voip cost depends heavily on your cell plan, can be extremely high when roaming. –  jwenting Apr 15 '13 at 6:10
    
Thanks for the detailed response. What is your view of those services that let you buy a local number and use it with the phone you already have? –  verve Apr 15 '13 at 8:10
    
That's point 3/5: buy a SIM card, use existing phone. –  jpatokal Apr 15 '13 at 19:38
    
@ jpatokal: I mean like burner numbers. –  verve Apr 16 '13 at 0:40
    
And, if I call back home using my normal Canadian number from NY who gets charged? Family or me? –  verve Apr 16 '13 at 23:29
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Definitely avoid the roaming fees.

Buying a US SIM card is in my view the most convenient.

  • You can call people in the US from a local number
  • You can use data on your phone to access things like maps, etc. without being ripped off

You will need to have your phone unlocked if it isn't already.

With Bell Canada there is reportedly a charge of CA$75 for unlocking (source). There are numerous services online that will do this for you for cheaper. Here's one example: http://www.unlockallcellular.com/

The only real downside to getting a new phone numbers is that you will need to give your family this new number to ring while you are abroad. I would recommend buying your SIM card before you go to the US so that you can have a number to give people before you go and also so that you don't waste time looking around while you're in the US. That can be done through any one of a number of resellers or there are some good deals on eBay for prepaid SIM cards too.

@jpatokal already mentioned the possibility of using Skype, which is good except for the fact that you'll be needing to find WiFi to be able to make/receive any calls. You could try to work around this by just buying a SIM card with only data and no call credit. Then use that data to make/receive calls through Skype. You could even set up a Skype incoming number so they can call from a normal phone line. Extra costs would apply to do that course.

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What does getting your phone unlocked really mean? Is it a code you enter? –  verve Apr 16 '13 at 0:41
    
Typically if you get a phone on a plan, it will be locked to your carrier. The carrier can generally unlock this if you ring them up. If you bought your phone outright, then it wouldn't normally be locked. –  daamsie Apr 16 '13 at 0:52
    
Will my carrier charge me to unlock it? –  verve Apr 16 '13 at 23:27
    
When I've had it done, my carrier didn't charge me. No idea on what your carrier's rules are. The best is to give them a call. –  daamsie Apr 17 '13 at 0:32
    
After further research - yes, Bell does apparently charge for this (source: flickr.com/photos/18378305@N00/4590013498). I'll update my answer. –  daamsie Apr 17 '13 at 0:57
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