Can You Hear Me Now?

January 26, 2013
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A snowbird and her cell phone

In this era of constant electronic connection, what does one do for cell phone access when spending several months in another country? As a Canadian spending her first snowbird winter in Arizona, I am interested in answers to this question. 

As mentioned in Snowbird Preparations Part 2, I initially changed my Canadian month-to-month plan to a voice and text only plan, removing the data portion to reduce costs. Then I added a travel pack that provided a set number of free minutes and texts throughout the U.S. without roaming fees.
This proved an effective way to start the winter, providing cell phone coverage for our drive from Manitoba to Arizona. But the limitations and costs don’t make it the best option for the entire winter.
The travel pack becomes effective the day it’s selected and is in effect for one month, which means I would need to keep adding new travel packs to my phone plan throughout the winter. This can be easily done online. However, the number of minutes are limited and prices range from $35 to $60 a month.
This week found me in Walmart looking at pay-as-you-go phones and plans. There were a few choices, and, as is often the case with technology, selecting the best option was a little overwhelming at first. A man beside me in the store was from Calgary, Alberta, looking for the same thing. He decided to check with his neighbour who had just purchased one of the phones/plans I was considering and left the store without a phone. I bought a phone and plan without further research. Time will tell whether this was wise or not.
I bought a Cricket PAYGo plan and phone. The phone was just under $30 before tax. For $25 a month, I have 300 free nationwide voice minutes, unlimited text and web access. The phone is cheap plastic and not very durable for the long term, but it should suffice for my winter use. There was at least one other cheaper alternative. Because it offered less minutes and features, I opted for Cricket.
We have a land line and Internet access in the house we’re renting. I considered living like the olden days of the 1980s without a cell phone. But visions of a car breakdown on the freeway or being otherwise stranded changed my mind.
I have a word of caution for any Canadians planning to use their Canadian cell phone in the U.S., with or without a travel pack. Make sure you have turned off all data features on the phone. Even if you are not actively using them, the phone will initiate background activities and you will be hit with data roaming charges, which, for reasons I do not understand, are ridiculously high. Some things I continue to learn the hard way. 
I’m interested to hear what other snowbirds do for cell phone usage. Do you have a favourite carrier/plan or recommendation?

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