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The Cellphone Contract: Before You Sign

Jurisdiction: 
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
Reviewed: 
December 2017
Time to read: 
6 minutes

You've considered your options for getting a cellphone, and decided on a service contract with a phone provider. This is called a "postpaid service contract", as you are billed all or in part after use, for example in a monthly bill.

Here are seven things you should know when signing a cellphone contract.

For more on cellphones, see our guidance on negotiating with a cellphone provider.  

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You've considered your options for getting a cellphone, and decided on a service contract with a phone provider. This is called a "postpaid service contract", as you are billed all or in part after use, for example in a monthly bill.

Here are seven things you should know when signing a cellphone contract.

1. You don’t have to sign a piece of paper to "sign the contract"

A cellphone contract is the official record of your agreement with a phone service provider. It says what you and the provider agree to do and not do.

You don’t have to actually sign a piece of paper to "sign the contract". You can agree to a contract with the cellphone provider by:  

  • clicking a link that says you agree to the terms and conditions
  • saying you agree to the terms and conditions over the phone

2. The contract must be clear and easy to understand

Cellphone contracts are "standard-form" contracts. This means that the service provider has prepared it, and typically will resist negotiating or changing any part of it. It's still important to read and understand the contract so you know what you are committing to.

Under the national Wireless Code, a mandatory code of conduct for cellphone service providers, your contract and related documents must be in plain language. They must be written in a way that is clear and easy for you to read and understand. Related documents can include any "Fair Use Policy" and privacy policy.

The prices set out in the contract must be clear and must indicate whether they include tax.

If you find it difficult to understand the contract or need more information, ask the salesperson to explain the contract to you.

3. The contract must include certain information

"When I signed my cellphone contract, the salesperson told me my plan had 'unlimited calling'. But a month into my contract I got a text message saying that my voice service would be suspended. I'd reached the calling limits for the month in the provider's 'Fair Use Policy'. My contract didn't say anything about this. When I complained to the provider, they backed off. They agreed that my contract didn't include anything about limits on my services."

– Virginia

The contract must clearly describe the services you will receive, and include information on when and why you may be charged extra.

Under the Wireless Code, the contract must clearly set out the "key contract terms and conditions", which are:

  • the voice, text and data services included in the contract
  • any limits on the use of those services that could trigger overage charges or additional fees
  • the minimum monthly charge for services included in the contract
  • the length of the commitment period, including the end date of the contract
  • any early cancellation fees, how much they decrease each month, and when a cancellation fee no longer applies
  • if you received a free or discounted phone on signing the contract, the retail price of the phone and the amount you paid for the phone

If the contract doesn't set out the key terms and conditions that you agreed to, you can cancel the contract without paying a cancellation fee or any other penalty. You have 30 days after receiving a copy of the contract to cancel it.

The Wireless Code makes it clear that data services are a "key term and condition" of your cellphone contract. The service provider cannot change a key term or condition of your contract without your consent. 

As well, the contract must clearly set out:

  • the trial period for the contract, including any limits on use during the trial period
  • whether upgrading the device or amending a contract term will extend your commitment period or change any other aspect of the contract
  • whether the contract will be extended automatically on a month-to-month basis when it expires
  • where you can find information about the service provider's coverage area, tools to manage your bills, how to make a complaint, and the Wireless Code

4. The provider must give you a copy of the contract

When you agree to the cellphone contract, the service provider must give you a permanent copy of the contract and related documents. They must give you a copy of these documents in the format of your choosing (electronic or paper), at no charge. 

If you agree to the contract in person, the service provider must give you the contract and related documents immediately.

If you agree to the contract on the phone or online, the provider must send you the contract and related documents within one business day if you opt for electronic format. 

If you opt to receive a paper copy of the contract, the provider must send you a copy of the contract and related documents within 15 days. 

You have the right to choose the format you want to receive the contract in, paper or electronic. The provider cannot force you to accept a particular format. For example, a provider's contract can't say that by signing the contract, you agree to receive the contract in electronic format. 

If the provider doesn't provide the contract within the required time frame, you can cancel the contract without paying a cancellation fee or any other penalty. You have 30 days after receiving a copy of the contract to cancel it.

The service provider must also provide you with a permanent copy of the contract in the format of your choosing (electronic or paper) upon request at no charge, at any time during the term of the contract.

5. The provider must give you a summary of the contract

When the provider gives you your contract, they must also provide a "Critical Information Summary" which summarizes the most important elements of your contract. 

The summary must be clear and concise (not over two pages), in plain language, and in an easily readable font.

It must include:  

  • all key terms and conditions of the contract—the services included in the contract, any limits on those services, the minimum monthly charge for services, the length of the commitment period, any early cancellation fees, and (if you received a subsidized phone) the retail price and the amount you paid for the phone
  • any limits on "unlimited" services
  • the total monthly charge, including rates for optional services you selected
  • information about the trial period, including any limits on use during the trial period
  • information on how to make a complaint

The Critical Information Summary is intended to summarize the contract, not replace it. The summary may be provided as a separate document from the written contract or prominently as the first pages of the written contract.

6. Any phone you get must be unlocked

Any phone provided to you by a service provider must be provided unlocked. (When a phone is locked to a network, it can only work with that provider's voice, text and data services.)

A provider can't charge you to unlock a phone.

7. You can cancel the contract during the 15-day trial period

After signing a cellphone contract, you have a 15-day "trial period" to see whether the service meets your needs. During this period, you're legally entitled to cancel the contract—for any reason—without having to pay any penalty or early cancellation fee. Under the national Wireless Code, this trial period applies to all cellphone services, whether you buy them on a stand-alone basis or as part of a bundle, and whether you buy in person, online, or over the phone. 

To cancel the contract during the trial period, you can't have used more than half of your monthly usage limits. You must return the device in near-new condition, including the original packaging.

For persons with disabilities, the trial period is 30 days, and the usage limits are doubled.

The trial period starts on the date on which your service begins. If you decide to cancel your contract, contact the provider while you're still in the trial period, and say you want to cancel the contract. It's best to follow-up in writing. 

For more on cellphones, see our guidance on negotiating with a cellphone provider.  

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