Are SIM cards available at Vancouver Airport, and why downtown is better
This guide is to help anyone arriving in Vancouver figure out where to buy a SIM card, which SIM card to get, and whether to buy it at the airport or downtown. Based on my experience and research, I put together this guide to help anyone else who is struggling to find a SIM card when arriving in Vancouver. Here’s what I found.
There is only one shop at Vancouver airport which sells prepaid SIM cards:
|Shop||Location||SIM Cards Available|
Open 24 hours
Only 1 prepaid SIM card is available at Vancouver Airport. The best option for a prepaid SIM card when arriving at Vancouver airport instead appears to be to leave the airport and buy a SIM card downtown or elsewhere in BC (e.g. Whistler). Shops and plans are very limited at the airport and difficult to buy; better value options are available after leaving the airport.
I cannot find any shops which sell SIM cards in the international arrivals area of Vancouver Airport.
The only shop at Vancouver airport which sells prepaid SIM cards is the 7-Eleven in the domestic terminal. SpeakOut is the brand of SIM card that is sold at 7-Elevens in Canada. I have found this to be poor value compared to some of the other options available.
SpeakOut has a confusing top-up system that can mean spending a lot of money upfront (up to $60 CAD in the first month)1, if this is the case it represents very poor value for the short-term traveller. I found the best deals are available downtown, with providers such as Freedom Mobile or Public Mobile.
Which SIM cards are available at Vancouver Airport?
There is only 1 SIM card available at Vancouver Airport, and it is difficult to purchase. That SIM card is from the 7-Elevn brand SpeakOut.
I usually consider SIM cards based on their coverage, data, and ability to call back home. Since there is only one option available, here is what I found out about SpeakOut:
For Coverage, SpeakOut only covers a small portion of British Columbia. Coverage is included for Vancouver, Whistler (I think, their map is hard to read) and a few of the larger towns and highways throughout the rest of BC. SpeakOut has better coverage in other parts of Canada, such as much of Alberta, and the southern parts of Ontario.
For Data, with $37 in credit on the SIM card, two data plans are available
- 1GB data with unlimited calls to Canadian numbers
- 2GB data with no calls
Top-ups for SpeakOut appear to have a $25 CAD minimum. As these data plans require $37 CAD, additional top ups may be required. I find this poor value for the short term traveller.
For Calls, SpeakOut charges:
- 45 cents per minute to the US
- 30 cents per minute to Canada-wide numbers
I can’t find any information about calling overseas, I don’t imagine it’s good value though.
Buying a SIM card in other parts of Vancouver outside the airport can provide much better value in terms of coverage, data, calling locally, and calling internationally.
Is it better to buy a SIM card in Vancouver downtown, or at the airport?
I found buying a SIM card anywhere outside Vancouver airport can offer far better value.
There are the three big networks (Telus, Rogers, and Bell) and then dozens of smaller companies that re-sell these networks.
Out of the many options available, I’ve tried to pick the best ones for an international traveller arriving in Toronto who needs something quick and good value.
I took a look for better value options that might be available in downtown Vancouver 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, Public Mobile or Freedom Mobile
Many data plans in Canada are limited to 3G speeds, even when the provider offers a 4G network. I typically use data for emails, WhatsApp, and to make calls back home so this doesn’t worry me. More data intensive use, such as YouTube, is probably better done over Wi-Fi when in Canada.
The best value data plan I found was with Public Mobile2:
- 500MB of data for $25 CAD
- 4.5GB of data for $40 CAD
- 8GB of data for $50 CAD
All of the above include unlimited calls Canada-wide.
All data plans here are limited to 3G speeds. I can’t tell if this is 3G on a 4G network (this is OK, still has good range and response time) or 3G on a 3G network (this is a bit tough to use).
The best 4G plan I found was with Freedom Mobile. For $24 CAD (+small charge)3:
- 1GB 4G data
- Unlimited calls
- Additional 4G data at $15 CAD per 1GB
This means Freedom Mobile can offer 2GB of 4G data for $39 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.
Freedom Mobile only includes 4G coverage in Vancouver and Whistler. If travelling to other parts of BC, coverage will often be limited to 3G. Other Canadian cities, such as Calgary, Edmonton, and Toronto have 4G coverage with Freedom Mobile.
Freedom Mobile has stores, kiosks and resellers all over Vancouver, convenient downtown locations include:
- Pacific Centre mall, near Vancouver City Centre station
- Harbour Centre, near Waterfront station
- Near the Vancouver Central library on Robson Street
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.
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 includes:
- 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 Vancouver that sell Public Mobile, such as:
- Wireless Wave, authorized dealer, in Pacific Centre near Vancouver City Centre station
- Chatr, another Telus brand, with a shop in International Village Mall for example
- iRepair, another authorized dealer, located near the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre
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 Vancouver Airport?
Yes, free Wi-Fi is available at Vancouver Airport. I’ve read reports saying it’s slow and the coverage is widely available. Poor coverage Wi-Fi can make it harder to book ride-share transport such as Uber.
Do I need ID to buy a SIM card in Vancouver?
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.
Transport from the airport to the city: Is there Wi-Fi?
Catching the train
Wi-Fi is coming soon to the Canada Line, which connects Vancouver 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.
Bus and Coaches
Public transit buses serving Vancouver do not have Wi-Fi.
Some coach transfers include Wi-Fi. For example, the Skylynx coach from Vancouver to Whistler includes Wi-Fi on its service.
Uber, Lyft and ride-share, using the airport Wi-Fi to book
Uber and Lyft are not available in Vancouver. At time of writing, there are plans to allow Uber and Lyft to operate. I imagine there will be teething problems in ordering an Uber/Lyft at the airport, and I wouldn’t try it myself until there’s advice from the Airport on how to do so.
Free Wi-Fi has apparently been coming soon to many of Vancouver’s taxis; I can’t find any reports of it actually working yet, and I haven’t tried it myself.
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.