|My Experience of Using Smartphones in Canada -
a Foreign Country
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1. Using Smartphone Services in Canada - A Foreign Country
There were many horror stories of people used their mobile phones or smartphones in a foreign country and
shortly thereafter, received surprising bills of thousands of dollars because of high roaming charge in a foreign
country. Historically, the solution to avoid such high roaming charge is to have his smartphone unlocked and to
replace the SIM card in the smartphone by a new local SIM card purchased in the foreign country.
Furthermore, the new SIM card has a new phone number that is different from the original phone number in the
original SIM card associated with the smartphone. This means that many of his friends, his banks, and his
many service companies cannot call him because those friends, banks and other service companies do not
know the new phone number associated with the new SIM card in the smartphone.
In my planning stage in June 2019 for my sightseeing trip to go from USA to Canadian Rockies, I asked several
friends about what I need to do to be able to use my smartphone in Canada without incurring the high roaming
charge. Some friends said that they simply turned off their smartphones entirely (or turn on Airplane mode) in
most of Canada except when they are in a hotel or in a Starbucks coffee shop with WiFi access. Some friends
told me that I have to use the historical solution by getting my smartphone unlocked and by buying a new SIM
card to replace my original SIM card when I arrive in Canada. Some other friends told me that they got extra
charge of $10 per day when they used their smartphones in Canada.
Then I used computer online Chat Session to ask the International Service Department of my smartphone
service company, Sprint, to see what I need to do to be able to use my smartphone in Canada without incurring
very expensive roaming charge. At the beginning of the Chat Session, I had to fill in an online form to provide
my name, my Sprint account number, my smartphone phone number, the type of my smartphone, etc. My
smartphone is Android based Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus. I think the Spring Agent needs such information to be
able to answer my questions correctly because different users may be using different service plans which have
different charging schemes in foreign countries. The Sprint Agent in International Service Department told me
that my Sprint smartphone service plan is Sprint Unlimited Freedom Plan which includes Sprint Premium
International Experience. This "unlimited" plan covers my usage of smartphone not only in USA, but also in
Canada and in Mexico with no additional roaming charge. Furthermore, Spring Agent sent me the following
instructions to prepare my smartphone for use in Canada:
Part A - Make Sure that you are connected to a working WiFi connection.
A.1. Go to Settings > System Update.
A,2. Tap Update profile.
A.3. Once it's done, tap Update PRL.
Part B - After the updates, disconnect from WiFi, you need to do the following steps:
B.1. Go to Settings > Connections > Mobile Network > Data Roaming.
B.2. Network mode & roaming network should be set to Automatic.
B.3. Turn off everything under domestic roaming.
B.4. Turn on everything under international roaming.
I did not have to have my smartphone unlocked and did not have to change SIM Card in Canada. By following
the instruction from Sprint, my smartphone indeed works well in Canada with no additional roaming charge.
Yuan Yuan Yeh, also on this trip to Canadian Rockies, was using iPhone 6 with AT&T wireless service plan.
Her AT&T Smartphone service plan is also "unlimited" which also allows using iPhone 6 in Canada with no
additional roaming charge.
We did not incur additional roaming charge because of "Unlimited" service plan. However, users of other
service plans may incur additional roaming charge such as $10 per day while in Canada or in Mexico.
It seems that all major wireless service providers in USA all provide "Unlimited" service plan which enables their
users to use their smartphones in USA, Canada and Mexico with no additional roaming charge. But the monthly
fees of "Unlimited" plans among these major service providers are NOT the same.
1.1. Calling Phone Numbers in Canada and in USA
When I use my smartphone in Canada to call any phone number in Canada or in USA, I have to dial "1" before I
dial the typical 10 digits phone numbers.
2. Using Smartphones in Many Foreign Countries
The "Unlimited" smartphone service plans from Sprint and from AT&T described in Section 1 are usable only in
USA, Canada and Mexico.
2.1. Google F1
For users who go to many other foreign countries frequently, my friend, Don Tow, recommends using Google
Fi Plan for smartphone services as described in here and in the Google Fi website.
It is a service plan for using unlocked smartphones in more than 200 countries. Google Fi plan will provide its
user an unlocked smartphone with an eSIM which is electronic SIM. eSIM will allow users to connect to the
smartphone network they want in various countries without having to locate, buy and insert a physical SIM. The
user of Google Fi plan does not have to change SIM card in different countries, keeps the same phone number
in all these countries and the smartphone service cost is quite low.
Instead of relying on just one network, Google Fi hops on networks owned by Sprint, T-Mobile, and US
Cellular—and it uses Wi-Fi networks too.
This is a huge boon when you’re traveling, since you’ll likely have a Wi-Fi network nearby. Basically, if you have
more than one cellular network available to you, Google Fi will use the network that’s the fastest. This happens
in real time, so you can rest assured that if you’re experiencing coverage issues, Google Fi is on the case and
hunting down a better network ASAP.
Because Google Fi hops onto three different cellular networks and also alternates between a cell signal and Wi-
Fi, chances are good you’ll have the fastest speed possible 99.9% of the time.
Don Tow, has been using Google Fi plan in USA and in several other countries for several years and he is quite
happy with it.
2.2. Sprint Global Roaming
Sprint Global Roaming is a service that Sprint provides all customers with "capable phones" in more than 200
destinations worldwide. It says Sprint Global Roaming is only available on "LTE/GSM capable smartphones".
The global wireless service coverage map of Sprint partners in many foreign countries can be seen here.
Again, I used computer online Chat Session to ask the International Service Department of Sprint about using
Sprint Global Roaming services in many other foreign countries.
I asked Sprint agent to see if my smartphone (Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus provided by Sprint) is LTE/GSM
capable? The Sprint answer is Yes. This means that I do not have to have my smartphone unlocked and do not
have to change SIM card, and will be able to use Sprint Global Roaming services in more than 200 foreign
countries as shown on the wireless service coverage map shown above.
With Sprint Global Roaming you will receive:
- Free basic data (data speeds up to Second Generation (2G) speed which is roughly equivalent to modem dial-
up speeds and is much slower than 4G LTE speed.
- Free text messaging, and
- Calls from just $0.25/minute
In addition, you will be able to purchase a "high-speed data pass" right from your smartphone when you land at
your destination. This will give you access to data speeds up to 4G in most locations for only $5/day or
Upon arrival at your destination, you will receive a Welcome Message on your device from Sprint that will send
to you to a link where you can purchase a high-speed data pass for 1 day or for 1 week. Just follow the steps
on the link. Note that high-speed data service begins as soon as you complete the request on your
Without the high speed data pass, you will enjoy unlimited data at up to 2G data speeds.
To use the Spring Global Roaming, the user must also go into the setting in the smartphone to set up the
international roaming setting as described in Section 1 above.
2.3. Global Roaming with Other Smartphone Wireless Service Providers
Other smartphone wireless service providers, such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc. Probably also have similar
global roaming services in many foreign countries/destinations. But the price structures may be different. The
user needs to check with his/her specific wireless service provider for specific and details.
A review article in comparing the international smartphone roaming service plans by several major smartphone
service providers is available here.
3. Two Surprises in Initial Experience of Using Smartphone in Canada
3.1. Surprising Problem of Partially Working Smartphone
After we arrived in Canada, I found that some functions of my smartphone were working, but some other
functions were not working properly. So, I entered my question into the Google Internet Search Box. Thanks to
the intelligence in Google Internet Search Box, the solution is to re-boot the smartphone. So, I turn off my
smartphone entirely by hard pressing on the power button for several seconds to shut off not just the screen
but the entire smartphone. Waited for a few minutes. Then I hard pressed on the power button for several
seconds to turn on the smartphone. Such reboot will force my smartphone to re-register with the roaming
partner of Sprint Wireless Services in Canada.
After such reboot, my smartphone indeed works perfectly in Canada.
3.2. Surprising Problem of My Smartphone Losing GPS Signal
Since I have never used Google Maps GPS Navigator on my smartphone in Canada previously. I was not sure
if it will work properly in Canada. So, I also brought my Garmin GPS Navigator with North America Map in this
trip as a back up.
The instruction for using the free Google Maps GPS Navigator on smartphones is on my website here.
Since many national parks are in remote rural areas and may not have good coverage of wireless mobile
phone services, so I preloaded the Google Maps of the areas of Banff National Park (NP), Yoho NP and
Jasper NP in Canadian Rockies into my smartphone while I was at home with WiFi before the start of my trip
to Canadian Rockies. The instruction to preload Google Maps into a smartphone is also in my website
We got a rental car at Calgary Airport in Alberta, Canada. I turned on both GPS Navigators (one in my
smartphone and another one in Garmin GPS navigator) to guide my driving from Calgary Airport to the town of
Banff in Canadian Rockies. Both GPS Navigators worked well in the first hour of driving in wide open plain.
However, the town of Banff is surrounded by high mountains of Canadian Rockies. When we drove into Banff,
the Google Maps GPS navigator on my smartphone popped up an error message saying the GPS signal is
lost. And my smartphone never recovered from this problem when I was driving in Banff even though Garmin
GPS navigator worked well with no problems at all. So, I asked Yuan Yuan Yeh to turn on the Google Maps
GPS Navigator on her iPhone 6. The Google Maps GPS Navigator also worked well with no problem on iPhone
6 in Banff.
After we checked into the hotel in Banff, I typed my question into the Google Internet Search Box to ask why
my smartphone lost GPS signal and never recovered from such problem. Thanks to the intelligence of Google
Internet Search Box, the answer is that my smartphone (Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus) has a Power Saving Mode.
In trying to save battery power/energy, this Power Saving Mode will turn off many Apps running in background,
including the GPS Navigator App. The suggested solution is to turn off this "Power Saving Mode". So, I went
into the Setting in my smartphone and turned off the Power Saving Mode. After this solution, the Google Maps
GPS Navigator in my smartphone worked very well in our 8-day driving tour of Canadian Rockies with no more
3.3. Preload Destinations into Smartphone
During the 8-day driving tour, I did not have to enter the destinations of attractions and hotels in Canadian
Rockies into my smartphone because during the planning stage at home, I entered all these destinations into
the Contact List of my Google Gmail System on my laptop PC. (For me, typing on laptop PC keyboard is much
easier than typing on the tiny soft keyboard on the screen of smartphone.) The Contact List in my smartphone
is stored in the Google Gmail System in my smartphone. Therefore, the Contact List in my smartphone is
synced to the Contact List on my Google Gmail System on my laptop PC automatically and wirelessly through
Wi Fi in my home. So, all these destinations are on my smartphone Contact List ready to be used during the
driving tour. I just have to click on a destination on the Contact List on my smartphone and the Google Maps
GPS Navigator in my smartphone is ready to guide my driving to the selected destination.
I can also use the voice command by saying:
"Hey Google. Navigate to Lake Louise"
With such simple voice command, the smartphone can get the address of Lake Louise in the Contact List in my
smartphone automatically and start navigating my driving to Lake Louise.
Furthermore, during such driving, if I change my mind for any reason, I can say:
"Hey Google. Navigate to Emerald Lake."
The smartphone will respond, confirm my new destination, and change the driving route to guide my driving to
Emerald Lake, instead of Lake Louise. With such voice command, I do not have to touch the smartphone at all
while I am driving.
As you can see that I have been spoiled by the convenience of the free and smart Google Maps GPS navigator
on smartphone and by the intelligence in Google Internet Search Box. Many advantages of smart Google Maps
GPS Navigator on smartphone over conventional stand alone GPS navigator are described in more details in
my website here. These are the reasons driving my effort during my planning stage to make sure that my
smartphone will work and will be available to me during my driving tour in Canadian Rockies without incurring
additional roaming charge.
It is obvious that the solution used by some of my friends by turning off their smartphones entirely in most of
Canada (except when WiFi is available) is unacceptable to me for my 8-day driving tour in Canadian Rockies.