Where to find a SIM card at Toronto airport, and why downtown has better deals
To help anyone arriving at Toronto airport I put together this guide on where to buy a SIM card, which one to get, and whether to should buy it at the airport or downtown. After hours of research I put together this guide to help anyone who like me, found it confusing to figure out where the SIM cards were at Toronto Airport.
There are two shops at Toronto airport which sell prepaid SIM cards:
|Shop||Location||SIM Cards Available|
Open 6am to midnight
|Terminal 3 International Arrivals area, opposite the door from customs. See map above.||
Open 24 hours
In the Terminal 3 international arrivals area, prepaid SIM cards are available from the brand Chatr. The shop Relay may also sell SIM cards, but I have not been able to confirm this.
In the Terminal 1 international arrivals area, prepaid SIM cards are available at 7-Eleven. 7-Eleven stocks the SpeakOut brand of SIM cards. I have been told not to buy SpeakOut SIM cards unless you are desperate. Apparently there’s a minimum top-up which means you can spend $60 CAD on even the most basic plans1.
In my opinion, Chatr offers the best plans at Toronto airport for someone like me: Data hungry and keen to make affordable local calls. Chatr plans start from $35 CAD (including 1GB of data and unlimited calls Canada-wide). Chatr has no activation fee and a SIM card fee of $10 CAD.2
I found the better deals are available downtown however, with providers such as Freedom Mobile. Toronto’s airport and airport train include free Wi-Fi to stay connected while travelling there.
Which SIM cards are available at Toronto Airport?
I took a look at which of the SIM cards available at Toronto airport are good for:
- Calling back home
As the selection is limited, I’m likely to buy a SIM card in Toronto itself rather than at the airport (see further below for the downtown options I looked at).
Overall, I found Chatr to be the best option out of those available at the airport. Plans start from $35 CAD (including 1GB of data and unlimited calls Canada-wide). Chatr has no activation fee and a SIM card fee of $10 CAD.
Better for coverage: Chatr, starting from $35 CAD
Chatr appears to offer the best coverage out of the SIM cards available at Toronto Airport.
After checking the coverage map, Chatr seems to have wide coverage available in southern Ontario, and all the way to Ottawa and Montreal. Heading north, Chatr appears to offer coverage in highways and towns that is not matched by SpeakOut. Coverage becomes increasingly sparse further north into Ontario.
Checking the coverage of popular places to visit around Toronto:
- Niagara Falls, Chatr provides full coverage around Niagara falls and the roads leading there from Toronto; SpeakOut doesn’t appear to cover the falls themselves, but provides coverage to nearby areas.
- Muskoka or the Kawarthas, both Chatr and SpeakOut appear to provide coverage.
- United States, neither Chatr nor SpeakOut offer great roaming plans to the States. Pick up a SIM card elsewhere.
I’m not planning to leave cities and towns while I’m in Canada. If I were going further north in Ontario, or to any of the less populated areas of any province, I’d probably look at Telus or Bell. Or take a satellite phone for emergency use.
Better for data: Chatr, from $40 CAD
Chatr has the better value per gigabyte because of a current bonus promotion ($40 CAD for 4GB). Without promotion, Chatr is normally $40 CAD for 2GB. Even without promotion, Chatr is better than SpeakOut overall due to the top-up disparity I mentioned earlier.
Chatr $40 CAD plan:
- 4GB of data (normally 2GB)
- Unlimited calls to Canada
Chatr $50 CAD plan:
- 8GB of data (normally 6GB)
- Unlimited calls to Canada
Chatr has a SIM card fee of $10 CAD; there is no additional activation fee.
Better for calls: Chatr again
For local calls to Canadian phone numbers, both Chatr and SpeakOut include unlimited calls.
For international calls, Chatr has an option some people can activate (I can’t figure out who is eligible for this) that reduces the call rates to many countries. Notably, calls to the US don’t appear to be discounted.
Example call rates for Chatr:
- Mexico, 5 cents per minute
- United Kingdom, 5 cents per minute
- United States, 40 cents per minute
Is it better to buy a SIM card in Toronto downtown or at the airport?
Buying a SIM card downtown (or anywhere else outside the airport) gives many better options.
There are the three big networks (Telus, Rogers, and Bell) and then dozens of smaller companies that re-sell these networks.
I’ve tried to pick the best ones for an international traveller arriving in Toronto who needs something quick and good value.
Which SIM cards are better value if bought downtown?
I took a look for better value options that might be available in downtown Toronto rather than at the airport. The options I looked at were based on:
- International calls
I found little difference between prepaid SIM card options for short trips (<1 week) or longer trips (>1 month).
For better value data, still Chatr
The best value data I found was still with Chatr, if their $50 CAD 8GB of data bonus is available. This is usually 6GB of data (so still good value) without the special. Lucky Mobile has a similar plan that is also available as a special only.
Chatr is limited to 3G speeds. I don’t know if this is an LTE network restricted to 3G speeds (I can live with this), or if it’s a 3G network running at 3G speeds (I don’t think this is good).
The best 4G plan I found was with Freedom Mobile. For $24 CAD3:
- 1GB 4G data
- Unlimited calls
- Additional 4G data at $15 CAD per 1GB
Freedom Mobile has a $10 CAD SIM card fee; there is no additional activation fee.
This means Freedom Mobile can offer 2GB of 4G data for $49 ($24+$15+$10) in theory - the best deal I’ve found for prepaid 4G data. I also like their roaming add-ons for short trips to the States.
The downside to Freedom Mobile is that their 4G coverage is limited to some of the larger cities only, Toronto included.
Where to buy Freedom Mobile
Freedom Mobile has stores, kiosks and resellers all over the downtown area of Toronto, such as:
- Richmond-Adelaide Centre, near Osgoode subway station
- Spadina Avenue in Chinatown
- Corner of Front Street East and Lower Jarvis Street
There are not many stores near the airport. Store locations can be found here.
For better value international calls, Lucky Mobile
If staying more than a few months in Canada, Lucky Mobile has some monthly billed options for calling other countries that can offer good value. These include 6 hours of calls to China/HK or 3 hours of calls to India, Pakistan, and some other countries both for $5 CAD per month.
I found it appears difficult to get set up with Lucky Mobile if only staying in Canada for a short time. Freedom Mobile I found to be much more accessible even though it’s more expensive for calls ($5 CAD per month to access very cheap call rates). Freedom Mobile has many stores across Toronto, a few examples are listed above. Lucky Mobile has a couple of stores in the downtown Toronto area.
Lucky Mobile seems to have a $10 CAD activation fee and a SIM card fee depending on where the SIM is purchased.
For better coverage: Public Mobile (from $35 CAD)
Public Mobile (Telus) seems to offer the best deals for a network with slightly better coverage than Chatr (Rogers). In reality, Rogers and Telus have comparable coverage, but I put include this as an alternative to Chatr. I looked at plans from many of the smaller companies, and Public Mobile seemed to strike the right balance of:
- Convenient to buy
- A useable amount of data and calls
- Not too expensive
For $35 CAD with Public Mobile, the plan includes4:
- 1GB of data
- Unlimited calls to Canadian numbers
For $60 CAD, Public Mobile includes US roaming:
- 8GB of data
- Unlimited calls to Canadian numbers
- 2GB of US roaming data
All plans listed above have their data restricted to 3G speeds. I can’t tell if this is using 3G networks, or if it’s using a 4G network slowed down to 3G speeds. If the second option, I would find this acceptable.
Where to buy Public Mobile
I found dozens of shops in the downtown area of Toronto that sell Public Mobile, such as:
- Dynasmart Wireless, and IQ Mobile (resellers) on Spadina Avenue in Chinatown
- Koodo shops (another Telus brand), including York Street near Union Station.
If not heading downtown, I see a lot of malls that usually have a cell phone store inside selling Public Mobile SIMs.
Is Wi-Fi available at Toronto Airport?
Yes, free Wi-Fi is available at Toronto Airport. Connect to
Toronto Pearson Wi-Fi and accept the terms and conditions on the landing page. I haven’t found any reports of limits or problems with the Wi-Fi, it seems to be a good overall service.
Do I need ID to buy a SIM card at Toronto Airport?
It is likely identification will be needed when buying a SIM card. Identification is required to purchase a SIM card anywhere in Canada, though my research tells me that occasionally this can be as simple as providing a name for registration (and not having to show the actual ID). As a foreigner, it seems only a passport is acceptable identification.
How to get from the airport to the city, while connected
Wi-Fi, or a local SIM card, allow my phone to update when I get off the plane. If there are good Wi-Fi options available, I can update my phone at the airport and buy better value SIM cards downtown.
When arriving in Toronto, I can update my messages using the airport Wi-Fi, and keep in touch using the train Wi-Fi while I travel downtown.
Catching the train (free Wi-Fi)
Trains with free Wi-Fi run between Toronto Airport and Union Station. This means it’s possible to stay connected from Toronto Airport to the downtown area.
Connecting long distance trains (provided by VIA rail) advertise Wi-Fi, but apparently it doesn’t work very well. I imagine this is because it’s using the cell phone network to provide the service, and long distance train lines can be tricky to provide cell coverage to.
GO trains, another rail operator offering connections to the airport train, may also provide free Wi-Fi.
Public transit buses
Wi-Fi may be available on GO buses only. Other buses that serve the airport will not have Wi-Fi.
Uber, Lyft and ride-share, using the airport Wi-Fi to book
Uber and Lyft are available at Toronto Airport. As far as I can tell, it should be possible to book the ride-share using the airport Wi-Fi, and then get into the car when it arrives at the terminal area - each company has different options for doors, it should be indicated on the app.
I assume Wi-Fi is not available once in the car.
Some taxis in Toronto have free Wi-Fi. These include taxis run by GTA Cab and Co-op Cab. I couldn’t find any information about the quality of the Wi-Fi with either of these companies.
Can I roam with my Canadian SIM card to another country
Overall I didn’t find any of the Canadian prepaid SIM cards to offer good roaming value if spending more than a couple of days in the other country. For trips longer than 2 days, it’s probably better value buying a local SIM card in that country.
Freedom Mobile offers roaming to the States with various options for data and calls starting at $5 CAD per day. I find these to be the best value, taking the example of 1GB of data with 5 days validity for $25 CAD.
Public Mobile also offers roaming add-ons for use in the States. A reasonable add-on starts at $10 CAD per 10 days.
Chatr does not appear to have any roaming package meaning poor value per megabyte and per call rates for roaming.
Lucky mobile does not allow roaming.
Freedom Mobile again has the best deal I’ve found for roaming in Mexico and nearby parts of the Caribbean. Starting at $6 CAD per day or $48 CAD for 1GB of data with 8 days validity, the amounts aren’t great but it can be convenient. For Mexico at least, I’d probably look at a local prepaid SIM.
None of the other providers I looked at seemed to offer good value roaming for prepaid plans.
UK and Europe
While still not great value, at least Freedom Mobile offers prepaid roaming to UK and Europe. Add-ons start at $10 CAD per day or $80 CAD for 1GB of data with 8 days validity.
I would get a local SIM card for UK/Europe, I don’t find this worth paying for.
Written by Chris who travels frequently for work and understands what it can be like to arrive somewhere new and unfamiliar.
I wrote Landing Last Minute to help the hurried traveler get necessary information about any destination.