The Canadian phone system is similar to the system in the United States. Canadian phone numbers have 10 digits: The first three numbers are the area code, which corresponds to a province or division thereof, plus a seven-digit local number. Ten-digit dialing (dialing the area code for local calls) is in effect in many parts of Ontario and Québec and all of Alberta and British Columbia. To call a number within the same locality elsewhere in Canada, all you have to dial is the seven-digit local number. If you're making a long-distance call (out of the area or province), you need to precede the local number with 1, plus the area code and seven-digit local number.
Pay phones are easy to find, particularly in hotels and at public transportation hubs. You can use coins to operate the phone (dial the number, then insert coins as directed by the automated voice), or credit cards. It's far cheaper to use prepaid phone cards, which are widely available in pharmacies, gas stations, and post offices. Phone cards are available in various denominations and can be used to make either domestic or international calls. Or you can order virtual phone cards over the Internet on websites such as www.pingo.com and www.zaptel.com; these phone card services are activated immediately and can be "recharged" through the company website.
To Make International Calls -- Dial the international access code 011, followed by the country code (1 for the U.S., 44 for the U.K., 353 for Ireland, 61 for Australia, and 64 for New Zealand), then dial the city code (without the initial 0 for U.K. and Ireland numbers) and then the number.
For Directory Assistance -- Dial tel. 411 if you're looking for a number inside Canada or the U.S. Fees for these directory assistance calls range from C$1.25 to C$3.50. For international directory assistance, dial 00 and ask for the international directory-assistance operator. These calls cost C$7.95 each. It is free to use Web-based phone directories, such as www.whitepages.com or www.anywho.com, to research phone numbers.
For Operator Assistance -- If you need operator assistance in making a call, dial 0.
Toll-Free Numbers -- Numbers beginning with 800, 888, 877, and 866 within Canada are toll-free.
Most U.S. travelers with cellphones will find that their phones will probably work just fine in Canada. Call your service provider to make certain, but nearly all U.S. providers have reciprocal relationships with national Canadian networks. Calls on a U.S. phone using a Canadian network can be expensive, however, usually more than the standard roaming charges incurred within the U.S.
For cellphone users from Asia, Australia, and Europe, the situation is a bit more complicated. The three letters that define much of the world's wireless capabilities are GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), a big, seamless network that makes for easy cross-border cellphone use throughout Europe and dozens of other countries worldwide. In Canada and the U.S., GSM networks are less common. In the U.S., T-Mobile, AT&T Wireless, and Cingular offer some GSM services; in Canada, Rogers is the dominant GSM network user.
GSM phones function with a removable plastic SIM card, encoded with your phone number and account information. If your cellphone is on a GSM system and you have a world-capable multiband phone such as many Sony Ericsson, Motorola, or Samsung models, you can make and receive calls across civilized areas around much of the globe. Just call your wireless operator and ask for "international roaming" to be activated on your account. Unfortunately, per-minute charges can be high.
For some, renting a phone when visiting Canada may be a good idea. A quick search of the Web reveals many cellphone rental companies that provide service in Canada, including Rogers (tel. 888/764-3771; www.rogers.com), Cellular Abroad (tel. 800/287-5072; www.cellularabroad.com), and Planet Omni (tel. 800/707-0031; www.planetomni.com). Cellphone rental charges range from C$30 to C$35 a week, but fees can quickly mount, as you'll also need to buy a SIM card and pay dearly (up to C80¢ a minute) for both incoming and outgoing calls. To rent a phone, you'll need to contact the rental company in advance of your departure and await the arrival of your phone.
Buying a phone once you arrive in Canada can be more economically attractive. Two of Canada's largest carriers, Rogers (www.rogers.com) and Telus Mobility (www.telusmobility.com) offer pay-as-you-go plans, which don't require users to sign up for lengthy contract plans. Once you arrive at your destination, stop by a local cellphone shop (both Rogers and Telus Mobility have stores everywhere in urban centers; the websites give locations) and ask for the cheapest pay-as-you-go package. You'll need to purchase a phone, but if you resist splurging on a high-end model, these can cost as little as C$50. Pay-as-you-go plans start at C$1 per day, or C25¢ per minute, depending on the plan. Incoming calls are free. The downside is that you'll end up with a non-GSM phone, but you'll be prepared for your next trip to Canada or the States.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
If you have Web access while traveling, you might consider a broadband-based telephone service (in technical terms, Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP), such as Skype (www.skype.com) or Vonage (www.vonage.com), which allows you to make free international calls if you use its services from your smartphone or laptop, or in a cybercafe. The people you're calling must also use the service for it to work; check the sites for details.
Without Your Own Computer -- To find cybercafes in your destination check www.cybercaptive.com and www.cybercafe.com.
All major airports have Internet kiosks that provide basic Web access for a per-minute fee that's usually higher than cybercafe prices. Check out copy shops like FedEx Office or UPS Stores, which offer computer stations with fully loaded software (as well as Wi-Fi). Most libraries also offer desktop computers with free Internet access.
With Your Own Computer -- More and more hotels, resorts, airports, cafes, and retailers are going Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity), becoming "hot spots" that offer free high-speed Wi-Fi access or charge a small fee for usage. To find public Wi-Fi hot spots at your destination, go to www.jiwire.com; its Wi-Fi Finder holds the world's largest directory of public wireless hot spots.
Wherever you go, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests. (Both phone and electrical cables in Canada are exactly the same as the U.S.)
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.