Dec 142014
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Roam Mobility proves to be a viable option for one Canadian snowbird

Staying connected via phone service can be a challenge for Canadians travelling in the U.S. This is particularly true for snowbirds, those who spend most of the winter in southern areas of the U.S.

Roaming charges make it prohibitive to use your Canadian cell phone. Some people purchase cheap phones and pay-as-you plans when they arrive at their destination in the U.S. If you have an unlocked phone, you can purchase a U.S. SIM card and plan. I’ve written about phone options for the Canadian snowbird before. See A Canadian Snowbird’s Telephone Journey.

This winter I am trying out a service by Roam Mobility. One month into my winter stay, it is proving to be a cost-effective and viable option.

Most Canadian cellular providers offer travel plans which can be added to your plan. However, they can be pricey to use for more than a few days and often offer limited minutes. Roam Mobility is a service dedicated to providing Canadians service in the U.S. while travelling. Plans offer unlimited calling and texting within the U.S., data access, and free calling and texting to Canada. Service comes with voice mail. Plans are available for as short a period as one day. Snowbird options exist for periods of three months to six months.

To use Roam Mobility, you need an unlocked phone, smartphone, or tablet. Alternatively, you can purchase their Breeze phone. it is not a smartphone and provides only talk and text facilities.

An unlocked phone is one that isn’t tied to any specific service provider. If you are using a phone that came free or at discount from your service provider when you signed a contract, that phone is most likely locked. These phones leave the factory locked via software settings which prohibit activation on anyone else’s network. You can get a locked phone unlocked by your provider, in most cases, if you meet certain conditions and pay a fee. The conditions usually include paying for the phone in full.

You purchase a Roam Mobility SIM card at one of their authorized dealers or online via their website. Once you have the SIM card, you activate it online and get a U.S. phone number. You select a plan and the date on which you want the plan to start. When you cross the border into the U.S. on that date, you insert the SIM card and the phone is ready to use. If it turns out you extend your stay, you can top up the plan on the fly.

I purchased a Roam Mobility SIM card for my unlocked Google Nexus 5 and signed up for the six month snowbird plan. The rate was cheaper than what I paid last year for my pay-as-you-go U.S. plan. The process for getting set up was as easy as the web site made it out to be. If you do run into problems, support is readily available via phone (even without the SIM card being activated, the phone is still able to dial Roam Mobility support) or Internet. 

(I should note I had a few problems initially, but that had nothing to do with Roam Mobility or its procedures. I had two SIM cards, got them mixed up, and tried to use the one I hadn’t activated. Once I realized my error and swapped out cards, everything worked beautifully.)

Last winter I paid extra on my U.S. plan to get free calling to Canada. However, when I talked to friends and family in Canada, there was a latency problem, a noticeable delay between speaking and hearing. I have not experienced a similar delay this year. Data speeds are good.

After my plan has expired and I am back in Canada, I keep the SIM card. Next time I travel to the U.S., I can add another plan to it and re-use the SIM card. My phone number stays the same.

Phone numbers are assigned at random. At the current time, you cannot select a number. I was assigned a number with a Philadelphia area code. I will be spending most of the winter in Arizona, which means my number is long distance for locals. So far, this has not proved to be a big issue. I have just learned that Roam Mobility users have the option to request a new random number (once per device) and can specify a zip code. If a number associated with that zip code is not available, a number from the next best available zip code will be assigned. Now that I have given out my number to many people and almost have it memorized, I don’t know if I want to pursue this option, but may look into it.

Roam Mobility piggybacks on the T-Mobile network. Before you sign up for Roam Mobility, you should check their coverage map. There are areas in the U.S. without coverage. On the drive from Manitoba to Arizona, there were spots in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska where I had no service. Coverage on the map looks pretty good for the areas most snowbirds frequent, but there are significant parts of the country not covered – Montana and Wyoming for example.

Update December 23, 2014: Roam Mobility has announced enhanced coverage. For an additional cost, coverage is now available in additional parts of the U.S. (including Hawaii and Puerto Rico). There are still some areas not covered. Check the coverage map.

If your travel in the U.S. will be mostly in the areas covered, Roam Mobility may work for you. So far, it is proving to be a good option for me. 

For those of you who vacation in Mexico, you may want to look into Roam Mobility’s recently introduced weekly Mexico roaming plans. They work with the same SIM card and the same U.S. phone number.

Update May 2015: My Roam Mobility plan served me well throughout my winter in Arizona. However, on my drive back to Manitoba, I had no coverage through New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota, and only spotty coverage through North Dakota. I would consider other alternatives for travel through those and other states where Roam Mobility coverage is scant or non-existent.

Note: I have no affiliation with Roam Mobility and have received no compensation or incentives from them.

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  5 Responses to “Roam Mobility and the Canadian Snowbird”

  1. Funny the things you have to be on top of when you are a snow bird!! I really hadn’t thought of what a hassle this might be! Great that you found a good plan!

    • There are lots of things to be on top of as a snowbird. I’m still learning. Cell phone service and phoning home can be an issue for Canadians who winter in the U.S., but there are a variety of options. So far this one is working for me.

  2. Hi Donna, I love to travel. But the only downside is not knowing when you are out of the country if your cell phone is going to work, is it going to cost you an arm and a leg or do you simply have to be out of contact while you are on vacation. I guess that last option does make for a relaxing trip. I’m sure your advice will help a lot of travelers.

    • Being out of contact for a short vacation could be relaxing. But as I am in Arizona for 5 months and the house I am renting has no land line, cell phone access is important. I can always call out via my Skype account, but that doesn’t work as a contact number. So far Roam Mobility is working for me and I would consider it for short vacations in the U.S. as well.

  3. Roam mobility now offers packages for Mexico too.

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