How to Travel to the US, with your iPhone…

I travel to the US 2-3 times a year and I want to use my iPhone while traveling. The first task is to understand is your usage.  My typical usage is:

  • Voice Calls – I receive 2-3 calls daily with a total daily talk time of 20 mins, generally I know 2 of the 3 calls I get daily
  • Text Messages – I receive about 10 a day, and send 5
  • Data Usage – I use about 50 MB a day, more if I’m tethered

Just traveling to the US with your existing Roger’s plan is going to be VERY EXPENSIVE. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars. DO NOT DO IT!!!! There are a few cheaper options available from Rogers for US travel:

  • $47.50 for 100mins of US Talk Time
  • $23.50 for 100 US Text Messages
  • $100 for 250MB of U.S. Data Weekly Pass

So for under $200, I could survive for a week in the US with my iPhone. It’s still expensive.  I wanted a cheaper solution, so I found that I could get a T-Mobile SIM card. Text messages are a little problematic but Rogers Extreme Text Messaging still allows you forward text messages. My cost breakdown for T-Mobile is:

  • $30 for SIM, comes in iPhone micro-sim or regular sim
  • $2/day for unlimited text, data and voice calls in the US

This allows me to use my iPhone in the US for $44/week for the first week and then $14/week after that. Very reasonable.

There are a few things you need to setup to make this work through:

  • Unlocked iPhone, I’ve purchased all my iPhones from Apple since iPhone 3 so this is not really a issue for me. Getting your iPhone unlocked is about $20 on College St in Toronto and can usually be restored if you want when you return to Canada. It will often void your warranty though…
  • Call and Text forwarding. My Roger’s plan includes 50% of my voice minutes being forwarded to any number in North America. You’ll need to arrange a similar forwarding arrangement or Roger’s will bill you for forwarded calls as long distance calls. Some people forward their number to a local 416 VoIP number that will forward for free to a US Number, i.e. your T-Mobile number. This is usually an extra $10/month.
  • Text forwarding.Text forwarding is often a challenge, and with Roger’s is best handled by the Rogers Extreme Text Messaging plan. This is included with most Smartphone/iPhone value plans. My value plan also includes unlimited Text messages to the US. You’ll need a US text messaging plan if you want to avoid paying extra for US text messages.
  • Rogers One.For all its shortcomings, Rogers One does provide a nice interface with reach me rules for your phone and can also ring your T-mobile number at the same time. You can also use this on your laptop in the US to make free calls back to Canada. The quality is similar to Skype.
  • No 3G Data.T-Mobile doesn’t support the data frequencies required for 3G in the US. Originally I thought this might be a deal breaker, but its generally fast enough. I often access WiFi when I need more bandwidth.  In the US all McDonalds have free WiFi and many of their competitors do too. AT&T Wireless does support 3G but doesn’t allow SIM cards on a pay as you go plan with iPhone. Verizon and Sprint will only activate iPhones that they sell, so T-mobile is the best available right now.

Before I leave for the US, I set up all my forwarding rules and bring a paper clip to change my SIM when I arrive in the US.

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