How to communicate while on vacation: long distance calling to Canada and more

How to communicate while on vacation: long distance calling to Canada and more


*Updated April 2015

Whether you’re travelling to relax on the beach, visit family, or explore a new country, most travellers want to be plugged in online to share photos, check emails, and to be able to get in touch with friends and family in case of emergency. Travelling, then, doesn’t need to be something that makes you nervous: calling home to Canada and avoiding big long distance bills is as easy as checking for free Wifi at your hotel, with these tips:

How do I avoid huge long distance calling bills when travelling?

It’s true that long distance rates outside of Canada are generally higher than what we’re used to at home. If you need to get in touch with someone at home in Canada, using a calling card (offered through most phone companies) and Canada Direct toll free numbers to an operator can cut down on these costs. This service is an automated service and asks you to make your call through an operator, which means you pay a set rate in Canadian dollars, rather than paying foreign rates that can rack up the cost in seconds. Voice prompts will ask you to select your in-country access number (access numbers can be found online here), and your payment method (calling card). If you don’t have a calling card, Canada Direct may charge the number you are trying to reach within Canada. Using a calling card when travelling means you receive the rate included in your phone company’s long distance plan. Most hotels allow local calls for free, and some have special plans on 800-numbers.

Note: The per-minute long distance fees for Canada Direct vary by area.

What if I want to use my cell phone while I travel?

If you can’t leave your phone at home, the best way to cut down on international fees is by placing your phone on “Airplane Mode” and using it when on Wifi for email, to share photos, and stay in touch with home. If you’d rather place calls from your cell phone over the hotel room phone, contact your cell phone provider before travelling to work out roaming charges so you’re not surprised with a bill. Some providers, like Virgin mobile, offer short-term add-ons to your plan to help cover these international roaming fees.

For more information on what you will and won’t be charged for while travelling, visit your service provider’s travel and international calling information:

I’d rather keep in touch by email. How do I find out if my hotel has free Wifi?

As tablets, iPhones, and travelling with laptops become more common with our technology-centric world, many hotels are starting to offer free Wifi. Hotel chains like Courtyard by Marriott Hotels, Holiday Inn Hotels, and Howard Johnson are including free Wifi with your stay, others only provide free access in common areas, while others still rely on Internet access centres where you can login to use computers on site. Many Caribbean hotels, though, ask you pay per hour fees for Internet access. The best way to know if your hotel includes Wifi or requires you to bring some pocket change to get in touch with home is to visit the hotel website or have you travel agent call the resort; Wifi capability is often mentioned under package inclusions or amenities.

I don’t speak Spanish but I’m visiting a Spanish-speaking Caribbean country. Will I be frustrated and misunderstood my whole vacation?

In tourist-heavy destinations, English will be spoken in airports and most hotels, with signs often in both Spanish and English. At all-inclusive resorts in popular destinations like Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba, hotel staff will speak enough English to perform their jobs adequately. Staff such as cleaning staff or cooks may speak limited English due to their lack of interaction with the public.

To avoid frustrating, stressful situations if travelling off the resort, or if you’re not staying at an all-inclusive, we recommend having the address and phone number of your hotel written down, and your destination address when hiring a taxi, to ensure you’re able to safely get around, should taxi drivers have limited English.

Many times, people working in the tourism industry or in restaurants will say they don’t speak English, but can speak enough to get by; they’re simply nervous about trying. Knowing simple phrases like “Hello,” “Thank you,” and “Where are the washrooms?” in the native language of the country you’re visiting will go a long way in showing your respect, and may encourage staff to try English.