How To: Use The iPhone With Prepaid Plans

Recently (actually since about Fall 2010) people have been asking me via email and in-person about using the iPhone on prepaid plans. In other words, can the iPhone be used with a mobile carrier without a contracted plan.

Ask, and ye shall receive. The answer is Yes.

Prepaid Definitions

Before we detail how to use the iPhone with Prepaid, let’s first establish what Prepaid is. In Canada, the Big Boy mobile carriers all have prepaid plans (so do the rest of the carriers, but today we focus on these guys):

Each carrier offers different rates (links above), restrictions, and features but they all share a common trait which is no contracts. Prepaid is a great option for people with bad/no credit, people not yet of age majority, or for those of us that are traveling.

However, do note that the mobile carriers in Canada do typically offer their contract-based plans on month-to-month terms as well, but these plans normally cost much more per month and may be more features than a Prepaid customer is look for.

Also worth noting is that data plans and tethering are not (generally) available on Prepaid plans (you can still use WiFi though). The only Internet option you have with Prepaid is purchasing Internet by the day (some carriers offer monthly prepaid plans). As you can imagine, this can add up quickly. So if you want 3G data from your mobile carrier, stick with the regular postpaid monthly plans that include voice and data.

Next Steps

Step 1

The first step is to acquire an iPhone. When it comes to Prepaid, this can be done is two ways: purchasing at full price from an Apple Store or receiving the iPhone from a friend/buying it online via eBay, Craigslist, etc.

The point here is that no carrier will offer an iPhone at the promotional $159/$269 price without a 3-year contract.

Assuming you have your iPhone, if the device is unlocked you may choose any of the available mobile carriers. If the device is locked, you can only use the carrier in which the device is locked to. For example, locked to Fido means Fido service only (unless of course you jailbreak/unlock your device, but that’s a different story).

Step 2

So now you have your iPhone. The second step is to decide on a Prepaid plan from the carriers.

Step 3

Once you have chosen your plan, we move to step three which is locating a SIM card for your device. The absolute best place to do this is at an Apple Store, as the SIM is free. However, if you are not near an Apple Store, visit your local mobile carrier retail store and buy a SIM card.

Step 4

Now you have your iPhone, SIM card, and plan. Step four requires you to activate service. This can be done online (easiest) or at the mobile carrier store. After activation, put the SIM into the iPhone and voila!

Note that Prepaid packages DO NOT come with any type of activation charges/fees. So if you’re at a retail store and the commissioned rep asks for one, do not pay. If they persist, leave and activate online for free.


Earlier we established that Prepaid plans do not (generally) include data plans. A best practice to avoid possible data charges is to disable 3G and/or Cellular Data on your device (where applicable, as not all iPhone’s have this option). Since you won’t need mobile data, might as well protect yourself and save battery life by toggling off the iPhone data functions.

If you’re with Rogers/Fido:

  • Settings > General > Network
  • Enable 3G: Toggle Off
  • Cellular Data: Toggle Off

If you’re with Bell/Telus:

  • Settings > General > Network
  • Cellular Data: Toggle Off
  • Note: 3G must remain on with Bell/Telus in order to use the phone as a phone.

Hope this helps.