A Canadian Snowbird’s Telephone Journey
My husband and I are at the beginning of our second snowbird winter. We will spend five months in Mesa, Arizona. A challenge we face this year is telephone access.
Our rental house did not come with an installed telephone or telephone service. The owner told us most people use cell phones. American snowbirds may be able to easily use their existing cell phones, but that is not the case for us Canadians. Although Canadian cell phone providers offer travel plans, they are still too expensive to use as your main telephone for an extended stay.
Cheap phones with pay-as-you-go and month-to-month plans are readily available here. Many visitors purchase these, whether here for two weeks or the entire winter. If you walk through the phone section at Walmart in November, December or early January, you’ll see confused-looking seniors, most likely Canadians, studying the options.
Last year’s rental included a land line with free long distance in North America. The owner catered to Canadian snowbirds. We could easily contact and be contacted by friends and family back in Canada. I also purchased a cheap cell phone and plan for use when “out and about”.
I re-activated my Cricket plan when we arrived this year. It gives me telephone and text capability locally and within the U.S., but doesn’t address the issue of communications with family and friends in Canada. Phone calls to and from my cell phone will be expensive.
We’ve used Skype in the past. This option works for communicating with friends and family also on Skype. We usually agreed via email on a time to chat, so both parties would be on their computers with Skype open. This year, I signed up for extended Skype features that allow me to call landlines and cell phones in the U.S. and Canada through Skype on my computer. At the moment, this service costs under three dollars a month. I’ve made a couple of calls this way and it worked reasonably well. The people on the other end said I was clear, but sounded far away. This option does not give family and friends in Canada an easy way to contact us.
Another option that many snowbirds use is magicJack, a device that plugs into a computer’s USB port, or in the case of magicJack Plus, directly into a router. You pay for the device itself and a yearly fee for service, which at the current time ranges between twenty and thirty dollars for the year. You get free long distance within Canada and the U.S., a phone number people can call you at, and voice mail service. The service is VOIP and is meant for use with high broadband access.
Both Skye and magicJack are dependent on the quality and speed of the Internet connection. Neither are to be used for 911 calls.
There are some U.S. providers and plans that offer foreign plans on their cell phones, which allow calls to Canada. I haven’t researched well enough yet to understand if one of these plans would work for me. Ideally, we’d like two phones, so we can contact each other when out separately. I’m shopping for a new cell phone to use both in Canada and the U.S. When I get that, I may look more closely at these plans for that phone. At the moment, we’ve borrowed a phone from my brother-in-law for use as our second phone, a phone he wasn’t using, with shared minutes that were being underutilized. (Having family and friends nearby always makes life easier!)
Because you get a different phone number each winter when you set up a new month-to-month plan, you may experience annoying phone calls. Depending on how quickly the phone company recycles numbers, you may get calls for the previous owner of the number. Last year, I received calls and texts from collection agencies. This year, I’ve received one phone call about a court appearance.
My phone journey isn’t over yet. I’ll provide an update later in the winter.