When you leave Australia, it is more than likely that at least one mobile device is going to go with you. But how should you make phone calls or use your device to receive data? If you have tried your phone company’s roaming facility before and have been hit by a huge bill when you returned home or simply ran out of credit (if you were using a prepaid plan) you may be wondering whether there is a better way to go about using your device overseas. In this article we will look at all the options. There is no one size that fits all as it all depends which company you are using, what plan you are using, how long you intend to spend overseas and how important your Aussie phone number is.
Spending More Than a Few Days in One Country? Try Going Local!
There is a lot to be said for getting a local SIM card for texts, phone calls and / or data when you spend any more than a few days in one specific country away from home. This is almost always cheaper than paying your own phone company’s roaming charges. However, depending on where you go and what you want from your overseas phone connection, it can get tricky and you may find it easier to just stick with your own phone and roaming.
The main factors that will affect you buying and using a new local SIM include:
- Whether your phone or smart phone is locked to your own phone company. If it is you will have to unlock it before you can use it or you will have to buy an unlocked device when you travel. In many countries, especially if you can easily communicate with the sales staff who sells mobile devices, it may still be cheaper to do this than spend exorbitant roaming charges.
- Whether your phone or smart phone is compatible with any of the local telcos. Just because it works well at home doesn’t mean it will work on any of the overseas frequencies.
- Whether you can easily communicate what you want when you travel. If you go to somewhere where English is spoken and there are a lot of travellers, it will be much easier choosing a local SIM that suits your needs as well as making sure that it works and you find out how to keep it topped up. You can get into all sorts of interesting situations where you can’t communicate because of language barriers!
- Whether you really need your Aussie phone number. If you are on holiday and only need to let a few friends or relatives know your number you can just send them your new overseas number by email.
When Roaming is The Best Option
It is sometimes best to use your phone company’s roaming facility, even if it is likely to be quite expensive, especially for data. You may consider only using your phone for text and voice calling and then use wifi locally if it is available. It is very common these days for all accommodation options to provide wifi, especially in hotels. You may also be able to use wifi in places like cafes, restaurants, bars or even libraries or info centres.
The good news is that these are not as high as they once were, but the bad news is that they are still much higher than what you would pay at home.
If you opt to use roaming with any of the three main Aussie telcos, you pay the bill when you return home if you are already on a post paid plan. Post paid roaming is typically less than roaming charges if you are on a prepaid plan.
Here are the roaming charges for the three main telcos.
Vodafone has a great roaming option, at least for the first 90 days you are overseas. For a flat $5 a day you can use your Aussie plan for voice calls, text and data and, of course, keep your own number. If you fly to New Zealand, roaming is free. The $5 a day charge is valid in over 50 countries overseas, including the U.S., Europe, Canada and most Asian countries. If you are already on a Vodafone post paid plan in Australia and going to an unusual destination, check with Vodafone before you go to find out if the $5 a day applies to that country first!
Roaming charges can be kept down by purchasing a “travel pack”. This works whether you have a post paid or prepaid plan. The travel pack is only valid in one group of countries that includes New Zealand, the U.S., Canada, Asia and Europe. It costs $10 a day and for that you get unlimited talk and text but only 50MB of data. This can obviously mount up if you are in the country for a week or so and use your device for data. International calls, either ones you make or ones you receive may be billed at international calling rates. Also, if you visit anywhere that is not one of the countries listed above you will pay premium rates for everything! That could be $2 a minute for calls, $1 per MB and $2 per SMS.
Many people use Telstra at home because it typically has a better overall coverage than any of the other telcos. But it also has the most expensive overseas roaming charges. Like Optus the cheapest way to roam is to use a “Telstra travel pack”. Telstra divides the world up into different zones. Zone 1 is just New Zealand. It only costs $15 for three days of talk and text (unlimited) which doesn’t sound too bad, but you only get 225 MB of data included. It costs $70 for 1GB of data which lasts 14 days. Zone 2 includes most countries in Europe, Asia, and North America. The 3 day pass costs $30, but still with only 225MB. The 7 day pass costs $70 and includes just 525 MB while the 14 day pass is $140 and includes 1GB. The 30 day pass costs $300 and for that small fortune you get 2.2MB!
Note that Telstra roaming charges for any other zone are even more costly.
If you are going overseas and want to make calls and access data, it pays to think carefully what you are going to do before your go. There are advantages and disadvantages of buying a local SIM or just using your own phone company’s roaming facility. The latter can get pretty expensive if you don’t know what you are doing.