Dan Frommer's Roaming Report didn't work for me. When I went to a Virgin Mobile kiosk in Windsor Ontario, shortly after crossing the post-apocalyptically cool Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, their disinterest was complete. Prepaid plans are all pain and no commission for Kiosk operators, there were "out of" prepaid cards. I suspect forever.
I had better luck at Future Shop (update - or Best Buy). I paid $10 for a Virgin prepaid plan card, then $15+$25 at the cash register to get $40 of credit (paper slip) - knowing I'd want $30 for 1GB of data and $10 left over for a bit of voice. We used my daughter's (post-contract, legally) unlocked AT&T iPhone 4S; the Future Shop guy switched SIMs for me. (NOTE: As of 3/2014 if you buy a $25 or $50 card the balance will last 60 days, see update below.) Data purchases are monthly and always expired 30 days post purchase.
As of 8/2013 the plan showed as 35 cents/min (per minute plan) voice. The data expired after 30 days; I don't know if unused data would carry over if one bought an additional month but I doubt it.
I activated online from my hotel room. For prepaid you enter a PIN, but you don't get a Virgin account. It's all very somewhat anonymous. You will get spam so use your junk Yahoo address (you must have one). Use my.vmobile.ca to find out available data and be sure to "update your message preferences" by turning off Virgin's text spam and email spam. Be sure to write down the phone number you choose and your PIN.
During activation Virgin's web site said it didn't recognize my IMEI. That made me nervous, but I continued onwards.
WARNING: While waiting for phone activation, if you haven't set up a data plan, set your iPhone cellular data to OFF. Otherwise your phone will use data on an overage basis just with low bit background operations as soon as it activates.
It took 1 hour for the phone to activate, I don't remember seeing that one the web site or in the documentation. I'm told it can take up to 2 hours and sometimes you need to pull the SIM.
Data and tethering both worked well.
Update July 2014
Clarifying options - there are three add-on options now. As of 7/2014 cash balances take 3 months to expire with a $50 initial purchase. It can be hard to find anything but $50 cards. With the card’s cash balance you pay the Prepaid .40/min rate for voice. You can purchase add-ons — all of which auto-renew each month and cannot be removed or reduced (only increased) from the Virgin web site. You need to phone them to change though for typical stay of < 4 weeks this doesn’t matter. Add-ons these days:
- Prepaid Data Add-On: $10/mo for 100MB, $20 for 500, $30 for 1GB. Note these are monthly,
- Texting: $7 for 500 — this is worthwhile.
- 100 min free long distance: $10, but you still get stuck with the 40 cent/min charge. Probably not worth it.
(b) Prepaid: … Prepaid funds are valid for a specified number of days starting from the time on the day they are added to your account (“Active Period”). Unused funds will expire at the end of the Active Period. Expired Prepaid funds will be restored if you Top Up your account within 7 calendar days of their expiry. If you Top Up your account before your existing Prepaid funds expire (or are used up), then your Top Up will be added to your existing Prepaid funds and the Active Period for the Top Up will apply to the combined amount of Prepaid funds….
So, what’s the “specified number of days” you ask? That’s top-secret. My notes on a phone call say...
$15 Top Ups expire in 30 days, $25 and $50 Top Ups expire in 60 days and $100 Top Ups have an expiration period of 365 days. (A Top Up is simply a credit one buys from Future Shop and other retailers.)
Unused funds expire at the end of the Active Period unless you Top Up within 7 calendar days of their expiry. If you Top Up before hitting zero the new Active Period will apply to the combined amount of prepaid funds.
Expiration is based on the expiration date of the latest Top Up. So if your credit expires in 60 days, and you buy a $100 Top Up, expiration is 365 days, not 425. Other prepaid vendors are much better; the expiration date is sum of original remaining plus new. (If expiration is 365 days and you but a $10 Top Up what happens then? Nothing good I fear.)
If you run through your Data Plan, Virgin charges per MB overage fees until your prepaid balance is exhausted. (If you optionally associated a credit card with the prepaid plan I suspect the credit card is charged until your bank account is exhausted. I don't know if this applies to INTERAC purchases.)
If your prepaid funds expire and you do not top up for 3 months your account will completely disconnect. (It may be possible to 'reactivate', but I don't know how that works or for how long.)
FWIW, I ran through $50 cash purchase (which I thought had 60 day expiration) then added $15 and my Top-Up expiration was 30 days beyond my first anniversary date. Ok, this is indeed baroque. I found this on the prepaid purchase site, emphases and edits mine...
Prepaid funds are valid for a specified number of days starting from the time of the day they're added to your account ("Active Period").
Unused funds will expire at the end of the Active Period. Expired prepaid funds will be restored if you Top Up your account within 7 calendar days of their expiry.
If you Top Up your account before your existing prepaid funds expire (or are used up), then your Top Up will be added to your existing Prepaid funds and the Active Period for the Top Up will apply to the combined amount of prepaid funds….
… The higher the amount, the longer the available time you have to use it before it expires...
|TOP UP VALUE|
CREDIT OR DEBIT
So I’m going to try this strategy since I make trips to Canada every 3 months and I have a Canadian bank account with Interac services ...
- Purchase add-ons then call next day to turn off the renewal
- Don’t put money in account until close to 3 month limit or next trip
- Depending on circumstance use Interac to put in $50 (covers a typical trip with messaging and data, I use Google Hangout for voice) or enough to bring credit over $100 and be good for a year.
- Gordon's Notes: Americans traveling through Canada: Telecom 2013.
- Gordon's Tech: Low cost net entry for Canadians: The Virgin Mobile experience 3/2014 - Much more detail, including how to disable Virgin Mobile’s high level of text spam.