Almost everyone travels with a cell phone these days. Cell phones allow us to keep in touch with loved ones and also serve as an emergency life-line in case we get into trouble.
Cell phones now come in two varieties; smart phones and traditional cell phones. You can make voice calls with either one. Smart phones have all the capabilities of a traditional cell phone and more. Smart phones have the ability to run applications (apps) and to be constantly connected to the internet. Whether you have a smart phone or a traditional cell phone, here is what you can expect in Alaska and Canada.
TIP: Cell phone capabilities are constantly changing. Even if you think your phone will work in Canada, you should contact your carrier to make sure.
Most US phones will work in Canada. The ones that I have found not to work are the pre-paid phones like Straight Talk, Boost Mobile, Cricket, TracPhone, etc. In Canada you will be subject to high roaming charges. For example: Verizon charges 69 cents per minute. A 10 minute call (whether you initiate it or receive it) will cost you $6.90 on your next bill. You can easily rack-up a hefty bill this way. There is good news though. Verizon (and other providers) offer a Canada plan that allows you to make and receive voice calls (does not provide internet access for your smart phone) for $20 extra per month. AT&T has a similar plan. I highly recommend you check with your carrier for their Canada Plan. T-Mobile allows you to use your phone in Canada AT NO EXTRA CHARGE. This includes voice, text and data.
TIP: Make sure you get the plan that allows you to make and receive calls while IN Canada (roaming inside Canada). Some plans allow you to make calls to Canada while in the US. You don't need this plan. When you sign up for the Canada plan with your carrier, make sure you ask if you can make calls while traveling in Canada. It's best to know what you are signing up for.
Coverage in Canada gets a little sparse when you travel north of Edmonton, which is where we spend the most time. You will get service near larger cities (and some small cities too); but nothing once you travel outside of the city limit. Coverage improves every year I travel but you will experience a lot of outages while traveling between cities.
Most US phones will work in Alaska including the pre-paid phones. If you use one of the main carriers like Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile, you should be able to use your phone in Alaska without roaming fees. There are so many phones and so many phone plans, you should check with your carrier as to your coverage and roaming plan. As a general rule, if you are able to use your phone without roaming fees while traveling in the "Lower 48", you should not see roaming fees while traveling in Alaska.
TIP: Contact your carrier to make sure you know of any roaming fees in Alaska and Canada. You don't want to be surprised by a big bill when you get home.
Smart phones have the capability of accessing data through the internet. This is true for devices called "Hot Spots" as well. The data could be in the form of emails, internet lookups, phone backup, maps, etc. Almost all applications (apps) use data from the internet; even when you are not actively using the app. Data usage can add up quickly. Currently all of the US carriers charge very high roaming rates for internet access through the cellular network. Verizon charges $2.05 per megabyte for data roaming in Canada. Using your smart phone or hot spot in a very limited way can easily rack up 500 megabytes of data usage. That would be a bill of over $1,000. You need to be very careful that you do not access the internet from your smart phone or hot spot while in Canada unless you have a roaming plan. Check with your phone service provider to see if they have a reasonably priced "data roaming plan".
TIP: Unless you have a reasonably priced "data plan" from your carrier, turn off data roaming on your smart phone when you are within 50 miles of crossing the border into Canada. There should be an option in your phone settings to turn off data roaming. Make sure you know how to do this ahead of time. Don't turn your hot spot on at all when you are near Canada. If you forget to do this, your phone may automatically connect to a Canadian cell tower and exchange data for which you will be charged by your carrier at VERY high rates.
T-Mobile has a plan that allows FREE data roaming in Canada (and other foreign countries). It is not high-speed data, but it should allow you to get emails and do some internet browsing (albeit slowly). It also allows unlimited texting and calling in Canada.
Your smart phone (and hot-spot device) will be able to get internet service in Alaska. Almost everywhere that there is cell service, there is internet access (data service). Keep in mind though that cell service drops off quickly when you leave the city limits. As a general rule, if you are not paying for roaming service in Alaska, you are not paying extra for internet access either.
TIP: Do not count on your smart phone to help you navigate while in Alaska. Since there is no internet access when you are traveling between cities, you will not be able to view maps on your smart phone. There is an exception though: Google Maps allows you to download maps for areas that you are traveling through that do not have internet access. I found this video to help you download maps: How to Download Offline Maps in Google Maps - 2021 - YouTube
All smart phones (not hot spots) have the capability of accessing Wi-Fi to get internet access. Since almost every campground has Wi-Fi service, you will be able to use your smart phone to access the internet while you are connected to a campgrounds Wi-Fi service. Some phones even allow you to make calls using Wi-Fi.