Canadian cell phone plan checklist

First published on March 10, 2012

Choosing a cell phone plan involves a lot of factors. I get a lot of questions about whether certain wireless plans are “good”, and my answer is almost always that it depends on your usage. A so-called wireless plan comparison calculator would be nice, but would be quite complex in order to be truly accurate; after all, the Canadian government allegedly spent 1.4 million dollars coming up with such a calculator. However, 1.4 million dollars likely pales in comparison to the amount of money Canadians could be cumulative saving if they chose more suitable wireless plans.

If you’re looking for a new plan or your first plan, it is worth it as a first step to assess and estimate your cell phone usage and needs. This can be an open-ended, daunting undertaking, so here’s a checklist to help guide your decision.


  • Do you use a predictable number of minutes, or does it vary from month to month? Consider a pay as you go plan if you’re usage is widely variable, and/or you aren’t always in town.
  • Before thinking of switching cell phone companies, have you tried contacting the retentions department for your current carrier, if there is one?
  • Are there any deals if you bundle multiple services (and if so, do you really need those other services)?
  • Is there a family or couples or business plan that you can consider?
  • How diligent can you be to monitor and/or look up your cell phone usage?
  • Is your cell phone use tax deductible?
  • Have you factored in HST or other taxes?
  • Are you aware of all of the mobile phone companies that exist in your area? Check this Wikipedia list.

Phone usage

  • Do you receive significantly more incoming calls than make outgoing calls? There are plans with unlimited incoming calls.
  • Do you make the majority of your calls to a handful of numbers? There are plans like “My 5″ or “Fave 5″ that will allow unlimited calls to certain numbers you designate.
  • Do you make a lot of calls during the day, in the evening, or during a specific time block? Look for a plan with unlimited evening minutes or where you can specify a time block that is unlimited.
  • Do you make a lot of calls during weekdays?
  • Do you make a lot of calls during weekends? Look for a plan with unlimited weekend minutes.
  • Do you get billed by the minute or by the second? Does it make a large difference for you either way?
  • What is the per-minute cost if you go over your allotted minutes?

Add-on services

  • Does the plan include Caller ID and what is the cost?
  • Does the plan include voicemail?
  • Does the plan include call waiting?
  • Does the plan include call forwarding?
  • Does the plan include 3-way calling?


  • Are you willing to be stuck in a cell phone contract? How much is the cancellation fee?
  • If you have to leave a contract, could you consider transferring or selling it to someone else? There are a few websites where you can sell your plan to others.
  • Is there any option to not enter into a contract?
  • Divide the cost of purchasing the phone by the number of months during which you expect to realistically use the phone, and add that to the total monthly cost.
  • Do unused minutes roll over?
  • For prepaid services, for how long is airtime credit valid?
  • Is there a monthly system access fee?
  • Is there a monthly 911 fee?
  • What are the payment options?
  • Is there a joining bonus?


  • What are the most important features that you are going to use on your phone?
  • How easy is it to type on the phone?
  • Do you want a flip phone?
  • Do you need a smart phone and if so, for what exactly?
  • Do you have any special phone needs, such as large numbers or a loud speaker?
  • Do you have an existing phone you can use that is supported by the carrier?
  • Can you buy a used phone?
  • Are you going to travel or switch carriers and thus require a cell phone that might support multiple networks and bands?
  • Can you “unlock” the phone?


  • Do you need data?
  • How much data will you use?
  • Can you easily check how much data you’ve used?
  • What is the cost if you go over the data amount?
  • What are you using data for?
  • Are you often near a WiFi connection? Consider a phone with a WiFi connection to save on calls and data

Text messaging

  • Are you a heavy user of text messages?
  • Do you need to send picture messages and other multimedia type messages, and if so, are they supported and what is the cost?
  • Do you ever need to text to short codes (such as to transit services), is it supported, and what is the cost?

Long distance

  • What is the definition of the local calling area?
  • How many minutes do you need outside of your local calling area, within Canada?
  • How many minutes do you need to the US and what is the rate? Consider using Skype and/or a calling card so you pay only the local rate plus a few cents extra per minute.
  • How many minutes outside of Canada and the US and what is the rate? Consider using Skype and/or a calling card so you pay only the local rate plus a few cents extra per minute.


  • How is the local calling area defined?
  • How likely are you to roam outside of your local calling area and what is the cost to roam onto another network?
  • Where you travel, is a WiFi connection regularly available? Consider a phone with a WiFi connection to save on calls and data
  • Do you use your phone in major Canadian cities only? Look for a plan that treats all calls within a major Canadian city as a local call.
  • Do you take your phone to remote areas? Check the coverage maps for the carrier.
  • Do you use your phone outside of your own city and surrounding areas within Canada? To the US? Outside of North America? Consider buying a SIM card in the location you’re travelling to. Consider using Skype or other VoIP services when you’re travelling.
  • Do you use data when outside of your own city? As this is often very expensive, do you *need* to use it?

Do you have any other suggestions or comments for this list? Let me know!


One Response to “Canadian cell phone plan checklist”

  1. Andre Novosolov says:

    I will certainly be using this comprehensive guide next time I want to change my cell phone plan. My current one is with bell (

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