Best Phone Plans for Roaming and Travelling Overseas

Best Phone Plans for Roaming and Travelling Overseas

  • What you need to know about calls & rates if you are traveling to another country
  • Avoid high roaming charges when you travel
  • Know what your roaming options are and what to avoid
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Common Asked Questions About Roaming Plans

Do smaller phone companies (MVNOs) offer roaming / travelling deals?

Yes, smaller phone companies offer roaming / traveling deals but they tend to involve more complexity than the alternatives.

In a nutshell, we recommend :

  1. ‘Daily deals’:
    Perfect for those who want reliability and safety from large bills: Per day charging from the ‘tier 1 phone companies – that’s Vodafone, Telstra and Optus provide with costs in the range of $5-$10 which let you make all the calls you want and provide a small amount of mobile data when you’re travelling overseas.
  2. Prepaid Plans from Optus, Testra and Vodafone:
    Prepaid plans from the big phone companies give you a small number of included minutes to use while you’re roaming.
  3. Plans From Moose Mobile:
    Moose Mobile are a ‘smaller’ Australian phone company who offer postpaid plans and have one of the few, more accessible roaming facilities built in to their plans.
  4. Plans from Boost: Boost now offer a new International Roaming Recharge 14-day plan that includes 5GB data, 30 minutes for calls, and 100 texts, and it can be used in 15 countries.

Note, it is possible to roam overseas with most postpaid plan providers – but rates can be high – typically in the region of $1 or $2 per minute of calls both received and made, while you are overseas.

What is a ‘Daily Roaming Deal’?

Daily Roaming Deals offer you unlimited national and international voice and SMS for a flat daily fee, while you’re overseas.

Optus, Telstra, and Vodafone each offer this unlimited voice and SMS service on a per-day basis, with a little bit of roaming data.

Why is roaming so expensive, and how can I avoid exorbitant charges?

Roaming allows service providers in foreign countries to charge whatever they want due to a lack of any regulatory body for that purpose. When a traveler arrives in a foreign country, that traveler’s home telco relies on a contracted foreign telco to provide services. That foreign telco then charges whatever they wish, knowing that their own customers will be treated the same way whenever they travel abroad. Another reason is the fact that the foreign telco views the visiting customer as a one-time customer, thus lacking an expectation of longevity.

Avoid exorbitant charges limiting roaming services to absolute necessities and emergencies. Turn off your data completely– even background apps and regular app updates can cost a fortune when roaming. Getting a local SIM is also a great idea.

How do you activate global roaming on your phone service ? And what does that mean?

When you activate global roaming on your phone, your domestic (Australian) network stops provide you with home network services.

Instead you connect to the network offered by an overseas phone company.

Your phone will usually pick up the strongest network when you land at your overseas destination airport. Some suggest the phone companies deliberately turn their network signals up very strong at airports to try and get as many of these valuable visitors as they can attached to their network!

How can I enable roaming on my phone plan before I go overseas?

To enable global roaming on your phone, simply visit the call settings menu on your handset and activate the International roaming option. You can also contact your provider for this purpose.

Note that once global roaming is activated on your phone, your telco ceases to provide you with home network services. Instead, it connects you to a network it has contracted with within the country you have traveled to.

Which is better for roaming — a contract phone or an outright, unlocked phone?

Contract phones allow you to pay in installments, but they also lock you in with one provider for 24 months. Paying outright for an unlocked phone means the freedom to switch SIMs as needed. Where roaming is concerned, the ability to switch SIMs comes in quite handy because you can use local SIMs when you travel, making such phones a better option.

With an unlocked phone, is it cheaper to buy the destination country’s SIM before or after traveling?

SIMs can be bought prior to traveling. Major telcos might have kiosks at the airport, making it possible to physically buy a SIM for the destination country prior to boarding your flight. However, buying the SIM before traveling will likely involve an online purchase if its not available at the airport.

Online purchases, although convenient, involve shipping. Thus, buying the SIM prior to traveling will incur extra charges for shipping and handling. This makes buying it upon arrival at the destination country a cheaper option in most cases.

What is an International Roaming Plan – And how is roaming different to International Calls?

This refers to a mobile service plan that allows you to use your cell phone and number outside the geographical coverage area of your home network via the proxy of a visited network to make and receive voice calls, send and receive data, and use other mobile services.

International call involves using your local number to call numbers that are out of the coverage area of your local network.

What’s the biggest risk of International Roaming?

Roaming services are known to provide data connection at inflated rates.

These are real and unavoidable costs that you will incur for using the services of other phone companies abroad. Business travelers, to whom staying connected isn’t an option are usually the victims of exorbitant roaming data plans. It might be a huge distraction for you to keep your mobile service cost at a minimum if you’re someone who jets off to different countries frequently, however, the onus is solely on you to keep the cost down.

What's good

  • 'Daily deals' are often the best value when you're travelling
  • Optus, Telstra, and Vodafone all offer Travelers Daily Roaming Options
  • Make sure you sign up before you leave!
  • Unlocked phones allow you to use local SIMs and avoid roaming charges
  • SIMs can be bought / activated prior to traveling

What's bad

  • Getting roaming wrong can be expensive
  • Data roaming can be extremely expensive
  • Roaming has to be enabled before you leave home
  • Call your phone company to activate the roaming service

The Best Australian Phone Plans for Traveling Overseas (Roaming)

The Best Australian Phone Plans for Traveling Overseas (Roaming)

A quick introduction to Roaming on Australian Phone Plans & Roaming In Australia

‘Roaming’ is the name for the service provided by your phone company which allows you take your Australian phone overseas with you, and leave the SIM inside it. When you’re ‘roaming’ with that SIM, you can then make and receive calls while you are overseas. Of course, to people visiting Australia, ‘Roaming’ could well mean buying a phone plan over here and using it to make International Calls. We explain how to do that, below,  in this article, too.

The key risk people are worried about, when it comes to roaming (overseas from Australia) is getting an enormous bill when they get home.

Your 4 main options on roaming are essentially a trade off between the risk (of getting that large bill) and complexity (of figuring out what to buy):

Luckily, your key options are nice and clear.

  • Optus Telstra and Vodafone all offer ‘Daily Roaming Deals’:
    Around 70% of Australians are with one of the major phone companies – Optus, Telstra or Vodafone. If you are one of these people, you can get a ‘Daily Roaming Deal’ from one any of them. Daily deals typically cost between $5 and $10 per day. They entitle the user to receive and make as many calls as they’d like to, and to a small amount of mobile data to use while they’re overseas. We outline the detail of the key ‘Daily passes’ below and, of course, they are shown in the table above.
  • Roaming options from smaller phone companies:
    The details of what each of the smaller phone companies differ when it comes to roaming. We have provided an overview of the key details, below, in this article. Smaller phone companies will let you roam but you may have to pay in advance. Overall, we recommend Moose Mobile as having the best roaming deal from the smaller phone companies we compared.

And if you want a simple solution to the problem of finding a SIM to roam with overseas, low risk (and will accept the inconvenience):

  • Get a SIM in the country when you get there:
    Many people purchase a local SIM, when they get to their overseas destination. Often, people opt for a prepaid SIM, when they get to their travel destination. This allows them to make calls and send SMSs within the country they’re visiting although, of course, their own number (the one associated with the SIM they use at home) will appear ‘dead’ to people calling it. If you’re a visitor to Australia, and you want to call home, see our ‘International Calls’ section below.
  • Avoid any type of roaming and use WiFi / communication apps:
    If you know you will have access to wifi for most of the time you’re overseas, you can avoid any risk (of that large unexpected bill) at all and take the SIM out of your phone before you leave Australia. Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook messenger and a hundred other ‘chat’ apps will allow you to make voice calls OTA ‘Over the air’ – i.e. across those wifi networks at no extra cost.

Since you can do the last 2 of these options, without a SIM Plan, we will focus on the first 2 of these roaming alternatives in the following.

More on the 2 main roaming options available to you

According to a survey of 128 Fortune 1000 companies concerning their global mobile roaming expenses (carried out by CCMI,) 37% of the companies reviewed paid an average of $1000 per month for international roaming bills for a single user. 12% of these companies pay as much as $3500 per month on average per user! Results of global research published by Amba Hotels, show that average US business traveler spends an average of $15.10 for roaming charges per trip. In short, roaming can be expensive for the people who don’t plan for it – but becomes far more financially manageable when they do.

Here’s how to minimise the costs when you’re roaming overseas from Australia.

  • Optus Telstra and Vodafone all offer ‘Daily Roaming Deals’ on their ‘post-pay’ plans:
    The only complexity to this approach is in establishing whether the country you are traveling to is covered by the ‘daily deal’ you’re considering. Around 70% of Australians are with one of the major phone companies – Optus, Telstra or Vodafone. If you are, you can get a ‘Daily Roaming Deal’ from one any of them. This option isn’t free. A few dollars a day might add up. For example, a 2 week holiday at $5 per day is $70 (on top of your usual monthly plan spend.) However, at least this way you know you won’t get one of those scary $10,000 phone bills which are sometimes in the news.
  • Vodafone offers the simplest, and perhaps the best plan of the three ‘Daily Roaming Deals’:
    Vodafone provide an option for their customers on postpaid plans of a $5 unlimited national and international voice and SMS daily plan. The plan allows you to call over 50 countries, and New Zealand travelers are exempt from roaming charges. Vodafone’s prepaid plans also contain a small amount of credit which can be used overseas for roaming.
  • Optus’ ‘Daily Roaming Deal’ is called a ‘Travel Pack’:
    Optus’ postpaid roaming offering costs $10 per day, while it’s enabled. Optus’ prepaid plans also contain a small allowance for roaming calls (the inclusion might allow you to receive a 5 minute call, for example) when you’re overseas.
  • Telstra’s ‘Daily Roaming Deal’ is called an ‘International Day Pass’:
    The Telstra International Day pass costs $5 per day if you’re travelling to New Zealand and $10 per day if you’re going to one of the 75 or so countries they’e partnered with. Telstra’s Prepaid Max plans include just what Optus and Vodafone offer, a small amount of credit which can be used to make international calls while you’re overseas.
  • Smaller can also work – when it comes to cellular providers with the best Overseas Roaming Deals:
    Smaller phone companies, known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), provide access to the network coverage offered by the major phone companies. Because they serve a smaller array of customers, they offer less-complex plans that are often much cheaper than you’ll get from the likes of Optus, Telstra and Vodafone. Generally, rates for these providers are in the region of $1 to $2 per minute of call made or received overseas. Data charges are also high. We recommend Moose Mobile if you want to use a smaller phone company’s SIM overseas, but Boost Mobile also offer a very good International Roaming plan.

Warnings For Australians Traveling to Other Parts of The World (Global Roaming)

We’ve all seen the news stories explaining why one poor individual received a roaming bill in the tens of thousands of dollars. It certainly pays to be aware of potential hazards before attempting to roam and reduce your mobile expenditure when traveling.

For starters, the best advice is to try as much as possible to limit your use of roaming services to absolute necessities or emergencies. When using a roaming service, it’s highly advisable to turn off your data completely. Even a simple background app or a regular app update on your phone can rack up hefty data expenses.

  • Getting roaming wrong can be extremely expensive:
    We’ve all seen the headlines there have been numerous incidences where visitors accrue mobile data costs to the tune of thousands of dollars for trivial things like downloading a soundtrack online or posting a video on social media. The cost of roaming services varies from country to country even with the same providers. Even local providers who offer highly competitive rates for users at home can slap ridiculous prices on tariff plans for travelers. For instance, you can obtain a small data bundle in Australia from Vodafone for a low rate, however, using that same amount of data from that same provider while roaming in a country like Egypt, without the daily plan can cost you over 1000 times more!
  • Roaming charges are not likely to change quickly:
    The truth is, the phone companies have created a circumstance that they are happy to see remain in place. For the last 3 decades, they have each charged each other a great deal of money for voice and especially data services, when people visit them. For example, if you leave Australia and go to the UK, taking an Optus SIM with you, your phone could connect to the O2 network in the UK. O2 then charges Optus in Australia hundreds of dollars to provide data access. The same happens in reverse if someone with an O2 network connection in the UK visits Australia. That means that when you get a huge bill from Optus, because you’ve been roaming, they HAVE to charge you for it – or they will lose a lot of money. They have to pay O2. Of course, underneath that is the fact that O2 and Optus could very easily just agree lower rates between them, they just choose not to because they love the roaming rates. To consumers, however, these big bills feel unfair which means that over time, we’ve become a little worried about roaming and a little wiser about how to manage it.
  • Not all handsets will work overseas:
    We cover the GSM standard which underpins the mobile networks you will encounter as you travel the world, in the section below. Most phones will work in most countries these days but technical challenges can mean that your phone may not work. To ensure it does, check that the frequencies your phone uses are available on the network you will roam on to, overseas.
  • Coverage is not guaranteed:
    Whichever ‘daily deal’ you buy, you’ll be in a foreign country over which Telstra, Optus and or Vodafone have no control. It’s possible that you won’t have a signal from the phone company you roam on, when you’re overseas. Similarly, 4G coverage is not as prevalent in many countries as it is back home in Australia.
  • The billing information you’re given can be restricted:
    Loose agreements between our phone companies and those overseas can limit the detail you’re offered on your bill – a frustrating experience if you’re trying to figure out where the money went when you return home.
  • If you’re on a cruise ship there can be even more complexity:
    Check with your cruise ship staff before you turn your phone on. Even with an overseas roaming pack (a ‘Daily Deal’) cruise ships can treat you differently to what you’d expect. Many have a satellite connection to which your phone will attach itself, rather than a network local to the geography you’re in.

What about those who are Visiting Australia? (Overseas roaming in Australia)

For those traveling Within Australia, Is It Cheaper to Buy a SIM Before You Leave Your Home Country? 

You can buy an Aussie prepaid SIM right in your home country from a host of retailers including those on eBay, Amazon, and other online SIM card vendors like FindMyPlan and then activate it online before stepping on the shores of Australia. However, given the shipping costs and other costs associated with selling an Aussie SIM to a consumer abroad, the cost of buying an Aussie SIM card in your home country will likely be more expensive than buying it at the local retail price in Australia.

Alternatives to Global Roaming 

Is it Cheaper to Buy a Prepaid SIM in The Country You’re Visiting?

When you buy a prepaid SIM, you automatically set yourself up for the mobile phone charges that apply to locals, as opposed to isolating yourself to be charged differently from local residents when you make yourself a one-off international customer with a mobile roaming plan.

For travellers who are visiting Australia: What Should Visitors to Australia do?

While there’s yet to be regulatory bodies that can rein in Telcos from trying to outdo themselves in charging international users, you can protect yourself from literally thousands of dollars in exorbitant roaming fees by using roaming plans minimally to ensure they don’t get the best of you.

Our advice is to pick up one of these SIM plans with International Calls – and use them to call home.

Of course, you could also use apps over on free Wi-Fi whenever you can instead of calling or texting home on your roaming plan. Avoid turning on data as even background apps and automatic app updates can accrue huge data expenses.

Phone plans with international calls included

Here's the Key Takeaway Message to Effectively Navigate International Roaming 

While phone companies may be guilty of charging disproportionately for specific mobile services, the onus ultimately falls on you to ensure that you do not become the next roaming fee rip-off victim.

One thing you can take advantage of is the range of choices you have to remain connected when traveling to Australia. You can switch to MVNO SIMs when you touch down in order to take advantage of greater flexibility and control.

You need to research these options with due diligence and ensure you tread softly when working with international roaming plans. For instance, the EU has scraped off roaming plans within all parts of its territories, but you still need to carry out a comprehensive review of the roaming plans you choose, as there may be hidden charges that could significantly impact your finances.

The GSM Standard Is The Reason You Can Use Your Own Phone On Overseas Networks

The Global Systems for Mobile Communication (GSM) is a product of the concerted efforts of EU member states to adopt a unified, efficient and cost-effective system for wireless cellular networks. It’s the standard behind almost every phone in the world and the reason you can go overseas with your phone and it will connect to a network there.

By 2014, 23 years after it was first used commercially in Finland in 1991, the GSM (Global Systems for Mobile Communication) already emerged as the most dominant cellular network technology, taking up to 90% of the global market share. It has retained this pole position in the global markets despite competition from alternative technologies such as Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA), and Code Division Multiple Access — the predominant technology in North America.

For years, the cell phone technology infrastructures deployed in the U.S were incompatible with those deployed in most parts of the world including Europe. However, two major U.S mobile carriers, AT&T and T-Mobile decided to build the first GSM networks nationwide in recent times, bridging the gap in cellular technologies between the US and other parts of the globe.

Today, GSM is deployed across over 219 countries, and provides Global Travelers with highly streamlined and impressively powerful connectivity solutions.Changes to the way people use their phone and plans when travelling in just the last 10 years.Travelers now have far more features and Functionality in their phones to enhance their traveling experience with than they did a decade ago. Source.

The powerful communications solutions which GSM provides travelers has taken a quantum leap within the past decade. Today, with the impressive capacity of algorithms integrated into GSM phones, travelers can connect with a wide array of multi-media tools, take GPS-guided tours around unfamiliar places, keep abreast with currency exchange rates, and install an endless array of apps for a multitude of purposes.

These days, the utilities which GSM offers users across the globe have become indispensable for day-to-day living. Users can now travel to various parts of the world without ever being deprived of these critical utilities. With the ever-expanding array of functionalities integrated into GSM phones comes the problem of choice — finding the most suitable, budget-friendly solutions for you. It’s imperative to diligently research travel cell phone plans before jetting off on your next trip abroad, in order to avoid the nasty surprises which cellular technology has notoriously pelted many travelers with.

While on trips, you have options to either obtain GSM phones based on contacts – in which the phone is locked to a particular network provider and the cost of phone spread out in a 24-month installment payment schedule – or based on an outright sale, which gives you an unlocked GSM that allows you to switch between Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards of various cellular carriers.