Friday, April 24, 2015

April 24, 2015 at 08:51PM by advodna_dave

There were two main things we needed to get done soon after driving off the ferry in Victoria. First, buy some groceries since we'd intentionally not crossed with much in case it was confiscated and second, figure out a Canadian cellular data plan. Actually, by the time we got to Goldstream Provincial Park, only about 20 minutes outside of Victoria, and parked the trailer in a rainy campsite surrounded by trees, we realized there was a third thing; As much as we'd fought it, trying to use purely solar power to charge our batteries when dry camping, the last few days of wet weather (with the forecast calling for at least a few more days of rain), after an uncharacteristically sunning Spring in the Pacific Northwest, had made it clear we wanted a generator. I know, tremendous blow to #TeamSolar but we'd always said that this leg of the trip would be the decider for us.

As we'd taken the exit for Goldstream Park, I'd noticed a Tim Horton's (Canadian for Dunkin' Donuts, basically) and remembered that friends had told us that they usually had free wifi. I guiltily bought a coffee and six bagels and settled in for some research. I quickly located a grocery store with decent reviews on Yelp that was not too far away from a mall that had a Telus and a Rogers cell store. I also did a quick scan of Craigslist for a used generator but came up empty. A general search for generator dealers in Victoria turned up one good looking powersports store, but their online inventory search didn't show any new or used 1000W generators. We'd decided on the smaller, lighter 1000W units since our SUV storage is tight and we only needed it to charge our batteries, not run A/C etc. In fact, I'd basically decided we were going to get a generator one time before after having been caught in several overcast days and unexpected snow earlier in the year along Highway 395 and had even ordered a propane conversion kit specific to a Yamaha generator that I hadn't quite been able to bring myself to return. Coming up empty on my searches, I started to feel like I was rushing the generator thing and didn't want to make a bad decision and settle for something other than the Yamaha.

On the way to the mall with the cell phone dealers, I passed a bunch of equipment rental and sales places with scissor lifts and tractors out front. Just before the mall, I saw yet another one with a big Yamaha banner and thought, "What the heck." I went in and asked if they sold Yamaha generators. They didn't, but there on the shelf were a few of the Honda 1000W's, just as highly recommended. She quoted me a price on a Honda but, literally being "fresh off the boat," I wasn't quite sure of the conversion between US and Canadian dollars. Through the window and across the street, I spotted a Tim Horton's sign and told her I was going to think about it. Parked right by the front door, I was able to get three bars of wireless from inside and converted the price. Eh, not a great deal on something that wasn't really what I decided I wanted.

When I closed the Google window, I saw the listing for the powersports store and decided to give them a call. Turns out, they'd actually just taken a brand new Yamaha 1000W generator in on consignment from a guy who'd won it at a raffle and had never even started it. How'd a couple hundred (Canadian) off the new price sound? Twenty minutes later I was at the counter handing over my credit card for the exact generator I'd wanted at less than I'd figured I could get a well used one for back in the US. Okay, item number three on the list complete, let's get to work on number two. That sounded wrong.

Anyway, as I walked into the mall, I almost immediately saw a Bell store, so I stopped and asked about monthly data plans for non-Canadian citizens. Oh, no problem here are the deals and you'll just get a SIM card and be all set. You'd just need one form of Canadian ID (driver's license, etc). Well, I don't really have that now do I? He was very apologetic but insisted there was nothing he could do. I asked him if he had any ideas about other carriers. He said he was sure Telus was the same, but that the only one who might be able to "squeak it through" would be Rogers. On the way to Rogers, I confirmed his suspicion at the Telus store and even got the same response at a Virgin Mobile place.

Sure enough, after a call to his regional manager to confirm, the rep at Rogers was happy to help as long as I had a passport and a credit card. Monthly data only plans (with no device purchase) started at $5 for something like 100MB but would automatically bump up to the next level if you went over. There were two types of plans, one that was a little cheaper and maxed out at 5 GB for $40 ($10 extra per GB) and another that maxed at 10GB for $85. I opted for the cheaper one and he started keying my information into the computer. At one point, he asked for my Canadian address. I explained that we didn't really have one. We were moving from campground to campground. He said he just needed something to put in. I told him to put in the postal code for the store we were in. He glanced over at the manager who was listening to our conversation out of one ear while helping another customer, and he just slowly shook his head no. No problem, we'd be staying at a VRBO in Vancouver for a week in a couple weeks. We searched for the info online and found the address. There, just use that. Another call to the regional manager. This time, the answer came back that it had to be a permanent address with the follow up, "Don't you have a friend or something in Canada with an address you could use?"

The only people we knew in Canada were a couple we only knew through Facebook who had been traveling on the Pan American Highway. They were back in Vancouver for a bit making some money to continue their trip, and we had plans to meet them face to face in a couple weeks just before they headed back to where they'd left their truck in Costa Rica. I begged the rep to log my phone onto the store wireless and sent a few urgent Facebook messages asking them for a favor. Then I remembered that I had one of their cell phone numbers and sent a text. After 15 minutes of pacing around the store waiting for a response, it came. They were happy to help and we could use their address, although I honestly don't know (or care) if it's the address of the place they're about to move out of. I returned to the desk and announced, "Here. This is my permanent address in Canada." I also may have implied that following the moving around from campground to campground that I'd mentioned, and following the VRBO in Vancouver that I'd also mentioned, we would then be *totally* permanently living at this address. Then I confirmed that nothing would ever be sent there and all billing would be online, right?

One more call to the regional manger. I thought I was sunk. I'd left Ann in the trailer with the kids just after noon. It was now 4:30. I'd sent one text but didn't hear back and assumed it didn't go through. I needed to get this *done* and get home. When he returned from the back room, he sat back down at his computer and started entering the address!

I'll spare you the story of the one final hiccup that required him to call in to Rogers during which time I was absolutely sure he was going to say something about us not really having an address that would kill the whole deal. In fact, he got the issue resolved and by 5:00 I was out of there with a SIM card taped to a piece of paper beside a phone number I would never use, did the grocery shopping in record time, topped off the gas in our new generator and sped home.

So, lessons learned on getting a Canadian SIM for data:

- As far as I can tell, Rogers is your only option and they have a decent network (including some shared service with Telus and Bell) across Canada.

- Go in with your passport and a credit card.

- Have a Canadian address in mind. Could be a VRBO, a house you found on Trulia Victoria, whatever. As far as I can tell, it makes no difference but you need one. If they ask, just say you're moving there for a year.

- When I tried the rep's SIM in our Jetpack, it showed a good signal and 3G coverage but I couldn't load anything when connecting to it by wifi. I tried to update the software on the device itself and it said it couldn't connect. Hmmm. When I put the SIM in my Verizon iPhone 6, it worked perfectly. While I'll do more testing, for now, we're using it in an old Verizon iPhone 5s with the hotspot feature and it's working great.