How to cut the cost of your mobile phone bill and still call your friends overseas

Many Canadians complain that they're paying too much for their wireless phone plan. CBC News has provided some tips to help cut down the costs of your bill while still reaching out to all your friends.

There are a variety of phone apps that allow you to make calls for free across the globe

Jenna MacPherson of Halifax says she is saving money by signing up for a cheap phone plan that offers data at a supposedly slower speed. (Submitted by Jenna MacPherson)

Last week, the CRTC launched a review to explore whether more competition is needed to help drive down wireless costs for consumers.

As part of its review, the telecom regulator has invited public input. Nearly 300 Canadians so far have submitted comments, many complaining of high wireless plan prices and demanding change.

For those seeking immediate relief, here are some tips on how to cut costs on your current wireless phone bill.

Get a phone app

Getting dinged for going over your talk minutes or for long distance charges? Try using one of the many available apps which offer free phone calling.

Canadian companies Fongo and TextNow both have apps that provide free phone service within most of Canada using Wi-Fi or your mobile phone's data connection. 

Once you sign up, you'll get a phone number plus added features such as voicemail and call display.

TextNow also offers free Canada-wide texting while Fongo charges $9.99 for six months.

The free Fongo app allows you to call most places within Canada at no cost. (Fongo)

So what's the catch? First, customers will see small ads on the screen when using the service unless they pay an upgrade fee. Second, the quality of the call can vary depending on the strength of your internet.

John Thomson of Powassan, Ont., actually uses Fongo as his only mobile phone service — even though the Wi-Fi at his local coffee shop isn't strong enough for phone calling. 

"Hard to make a call out of Tim Hortons because of the bandwidth they give you, but texting is 100 per cent," he said.

Glenn Emond of Toronto signed up with Fongo about six years ago to save money on long distance calls while travelling. Fongo charges a minimal fee for international calls, but you can call most Canadian numbers at no cost, even when you're in a different country.

"How can you get a better service than free?" said Emond, speaking to CBC News from Florida using his Fongo app. "It doesn't matter where you are in the world, if you're on the internet, you can connect."

Get a long distance app

There are also a variety of apps which offer free messaging and calling across the globe either by phone or video chat. The catch? While you can call any number with Fongo or TextNow, you can only call people using these apps who have signed up for the same service. 

A popular one is Apple's Facetime which typically comes pre-downloaded when you buy an iPhone. But it only works on Apple devices.

However, there are many similar apps that can be used on most types of smartphones. One of the simplest may already be on your phone: Facebook Messenger. Many people who currently use it to message friends don't even realize that they can also call them.

To make calls using Facebook Messenger, click on your chosen contact and then click on the phone icon to call or the camera icon to have a video chat.

Simply click on your chosen contact in Messenger and then click on the phone icon to call or the camera icon to have a video chat.

Jorge Amigo of Toronto said he often calls friends on Messenger when, while messaging them, he suddenly decides he wants to talk instead.

"I just click and I call."

Jorge Amigo of Toronto saves money on long distance calls by using free apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. (Submitted by Jorge Amigo)

Not on Facebook? Another option is WhatsApp which Amigo uses to connect with his sister in Chicago.

"We call each other like twice a day on WhatsApp, so we're obviously not using a single dollar on phone calls," he said.

"It would surprise me that in 2019 people still think of even paying long distance fees."

Other free calling apps to check out are Google's Duo and Hangouts and Microsoft's Skype. Before using any app, make sure you agree with its privacy policy.

Buy local

Roaming fees can add up while travelling so, depending on which country you're visiting and the duration of your stay, it may actually be cheaper to buy a local phone plan.

To do so, you'll need to get your phone unlocked — a service that all providers now offer residential customers for free. Unlocking allows you to temporarily switch your device's SIM card with the one that comes with your visiting country's phone plan.

When Richard Hibbert visited his daughter in Australia in December, he kept costs down by buying a local phone plan for a month. (Submitted by Richard Hibbert)

Richard Hibbert of St. Catharines, Ont., recently visited his daughter in Perth, Australia, and said he paid only $15 for a month of unlimited, nationwide calling and texting plus two GB of data.

"I was amazed," said Hibbert, speaking to CBC News on his mobile phone while in Australia in December. "They have a big country and you get service anywhere you go."

Shop around

Just like with your mortgage, when your current phone plan contract expires, it pays to shop around. 

Freedom Mobile has been shaking up the marketplace by offering large data plans at competitive prices. The big three providers, Bell, Rogers or Telus, also offer typically cheaper phone plans under their discount brands: Virgin Mobile, Fido and Koodo respectively.

Many people may not be aware that the big three also have ultra-discount brands: Bell's Lucky, Rogers's chatr and Telus's Public Mobile.

Each of these brands are currently offering deals such as $50 for unlimited Canada and U.S. calling and eight GB a month. The catch: the plans come with slower 3G data speeds. 

However, Public Mobile customer Jenna MacPherson said she notices no difference compared to when she had a pricier plan offering faster 4G speeds. 

"I was pretty impressed," said MacPherson who lives in Halifax. "It's just way better. We're saving money."


Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Sophia Harris covers business and consumer news. Contact:


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