How to Find a Cheap Cell Phone Plan in Canada

I want to talk about how to find a cheap cell phone plan in Canada, because to put it quite bluntly, the process is a sadness factory.

For the past two years, I’ve lived in blissful semi-ignorance about the state of cell phone plans here in the North (yes, read that in a Jon Snow voice) because I’ve been the grateful owner of a corporate phone and a corporate cell phone plan.

Multiple gigs of data, calls, the works, fo’ free as a perk at my job.

However, that situation changed. All of a sudden, every email I’ve ever gotten asking for advice on how to find a cheap cell phone plan in Canada came rushing back into my memory, especially since my response was basically, “No idea, we’re a frozen wasteland of expensive cell service.”

Luckily for current me, past me was kind of wrong, and there are ways to find reasonably priced cell phone plans here–you just have to apply some pretty core budgeting concepts to the process, and they’re not always the most fun ones.

Read on though, because using this process, I was able to find a cell phone plan that had everything I wanted, only required a minor sacrifice, and rings in at a cool $50 a month.

Don’t even message me if you’re in the South (again yes Jon Snow voice) and rock a $15-a-month Google Fi plan, I don’t want to hear it. Do you know what I would give for Google Fi in Canada?

Know yourself and your non-negotiables

Back in the day when I last paid for a cell phone plan, I had a $60-a-month plan that came with basically nothing, except 1GB of data.

The voices on the other side of the customer support line always assured me it was really highly unlikely anyone would ever go over that amount of data, and yet. I remember getting hit with multiple $40 and $50 data overages, no matter how careful I thought I was being.

So a hefty amount of data was a non-negotiable for me during my cell phone search.

For you, it might be cheap long-distance calling to connect with relatives or friends, or it might be call display so you know which calls to avoid. I don’t know your life, but you probably should–and you should prioritize parts of your cell phone plan, and your budget, accordingly.

Research your options

Now that you have a short-list of must-haves, it’s time to go shopping. The most depressing shopping you’ll probably ever do, because the options range from mediocre to appalling, but still. Shopping!

I went out with the following list of cell phone service wishes, in order of importance:

  • Coverage at my house on the outskirts of the city
  • 5GB of data, since I’m a monster who sometimes even went over that on the corporate plan
  • Unlimited Canada and US messaging and calling
  • Call display

First up, I went to check on how much that package would ring me at the Big Cell Phone Company I was with before switching to a corporate phone.

Oh cool, it would cost me $120 a month if I didn’t bring a phone with me, and $95 if I had my own phone. Plus, no US calling included, so I guess my family doesn’t really need to hear from me that badly, right?

So I shopped around to some of the “normal” alternative providers, like Koodo, Virgin and Fido. I found options for $85, $85 and $85.

Yeah, the industry is super-competitive at the 5GB of data price point. Clearly.

I had one last option I wanted to check out that I had heard decent things about, before I wept silently into my budget spreadsheet and accepted that my expensive data tastes would run me the better part of $100 a month: Freedom Mobile.

We have a clear price winner, friends: My wishlist costs $49 a month on Freedom Mobile.

Pick the one you can live with

Is Freedom Mobile perfect? No, of course not, this is a Canadian cell phone plan we’re talking about. Perfect isn’t an option here.

The way Freedom Mobile works is that they have a home network, and an away network. My plan gives me 6GB of data, unlimited Canada and US calling and unlimited messaging while I’m in the home network.

That network covers my house, most of Ottawa, and most major Canadian cities. You can check their coverage here, but when I look at my life, almost all of it is lived within their LTE coverage. Does that make me boring? Possibly. Does it mean that I can live with paying for data if I need it outside of those places? Yes.

My plan also includes 2400 minutes of talk, and unlimited global text, while I’m outside of the home network, so I truly do mean “pay for data” if I need it.

Not everyone thinks that living life with the equivalent of a dumb phone while in cottage country is an acceptable tradeoff to save $35 a month, and that’s OK. You need to know what’s important for you.

Personally, the excuse to only be reachable by text while at the cottage, aka the only place I go outside of the home network on a regular basis, is well within acceptable limits to save me a sweet $35 a month.

Flexibility is your friend

The other thing I did to keep my options open and my monthly cell phone plan price down is to buy my phone outright. It’s something I’ve never done before, always preferring the lower sticker shock that came with getting a new phone on a plan, but I’m never going back and you can’t make me.

First of all, the difference in price between buying a phone on a contract and buying it outright is usually about $25 a month for all the plans I looked at. Sure, that’s only $600 over the course of a two-year contract, and most phones cost more than that brand new.

But… What if your phone breaks? Or you lose it? Or it gets dropped in water? You’re not due for an upgrade yet, but you can pay the early upgrade fee. Don’t worry, it’s only an arm, a leg and your firstborn.

Or what if you realize that you want to switch to a lower-priced plan halfway through your contract? Same deal: You’ll pay the early cancellation fee.

Last but not least, it is literally cheaper over the two years to buy your phone outright. As just one example, a plan that charges $25 a month as the premium to get a phone gives you a discount of $450 off of a Google Pixel XL. You’ll actually pay $150 more in total, and lock yourself into a two year commitment at the same time. (And you’ll still have to cough up more than $500 to get started on the plan I checked out.)

I know that sometimes, things happen and you need a phone ASAP and don’t have the cash to buy it outright. In those cases, buying a phone on contract is probably one of the better options, but if you can swing it? I am solidly on Team Buy Your Dang Phone Yourself (and the proud owner of a Google Pixel).

So here’s how to choose a reasonably-priced cell phone plan in Canada

If you want the Cliff Notes, here we go.

  • Figure out what you actually need in a plan, and what your non-negotiables are.
  • Shop around to find out how much those non-negotiables cost, and make sure to include off-beat options in your search.
  • Understand what the trade-offs are between price and service, and make your choice accordingly.
  • Whenever possible, bring your own, wholly-owned phone with you.

There are no magic bullets to a great cell phone plan here in Canada, and contrary to what anyone in the industry would have you believe, the market is hella not competitive. That said, in some cases – like mine! – you can find a smaller cell phone service provider whose “downsides” are entirely manageable, and can score you a sub-$50 cell phone bill every month.

PS. This isn’t a sponsored post, and I’m not affiliated with Freedom Mobile beyond the fact that they are my current cell phone service provider. And unless you’re going to the Kanata location to sign up for a plan, I’ve got literally nothing to gain from you checking them out. But like, hey, if you are going to the Kanata location, hit me up, I’ve got a sweet $10 discount for ya.