About Global Roaming
Global roaming lets you use your usual Australian SIM card and phone number while you’re overseas. How much of your plan you can access and what rates you will be charged once you’re over there depend on the phone company that you’re with.
Normally you will be charged while overseas for any calls you make or receive, for SMS you send and any data you use. Data can be particularly expensive to access overseas, and many travellers who have not kept track of their data usage have come home to bills that sometimes total in the hundreds of dollars.
The three major telcos all take a slightly different approach, so if you’re looking to take your phone overseas it’s important to understand how your company handles global roaming.
Optus Postpaid Options
For Optus customers on a plan, roaming should be automatically turned on – but it pays to check. Before you set off, you can find out the roaming status of your Optus account online or on the app, and either turn it on or off depending on your needs.
Optus classify countries as either Zone 1 or 2, although that classification doesn’t always mean that a Zone 2 country is more expensive. An example of rates for a Zone 1 country is:
- $1.50 per minute for calls
- $0.50 to send SMS, no charge to receive SMS
- MMS charged at usual plan rates, plus $1 per MB
- $1 per MB for data (charged per 10 KB)
In some countries, data and MMS are not available, and global roaming in some of the more remote countries is not available at all.Optus will send alerts for each $100 they estimate is spent on data while overseas. The estimate might not be perfectly accurate due to delays in calculating your usage.
Optus also offer Travel Packs for their customers on a postpaid plan. For $10 a day, customers can pre-purchase unlimited talk and SMS, as well as 100MB of data, for use within Zone 1 countries. Your data accumulates, so if you purchase 5 days worth of travel pack then you could end up with 500Mb at the end of that 5 day period.
Vodafone Postpaid Roaming
Vodafone offers one of the most attractive roaming options for popular overseas destinations to their customers on a postpaid plan.
For over 60 countries around the world, Vodafone offers $5 roaming. If you activate international roaming, you will be charged an extra $5 per day so you can use your Vodafone plan overseas just as you would in Australia. That means that you can make and receive calls, SMS and even use your data for only an extra $5 a day.
The $5 roaming option is available for 90 calendar days in a year. It covers the most popular places that Australians visit, including New Zealand, Bali, the U.K., the U.S., and many more. The countries and rates do occasionally change so you’ll need to check your country of choice is still available before you head off. The $5 daily fee is not charged for days on which you don’t use any of your plan – so you only pay for what you actually need.
If the country you plan to visit is not on the list of countries that qualify for $5 roaming, then Vodafone also offer Pay As You Go roaming rates.
The Vodafone website lists the rates for Pay As You Go Roaming as:
- $1 per 60 seconds to make and receive calls.
- $0.75 per standard text message sent, per recipient. No charge to receive SMS.
- $0.75 per PXT message sent, per recipient. No charge to receive PXT.
- $1 per MB data.
Vodafone also offers maritime roaming rates. Even if you’re on a cruise around Australia, these rates might apply.
- $5 per 60 seconds to make and receive calls.
- $0.75 per standard text message sent, per recipient. No charge to receive SMS.
- $1.00 per MB
Postpaid Overseas with Telstra
Telstra have partnerships with over 500 companies in 200 countries, so their coverage is available for most travellers. Countries are split into three categories – countries where international roaming is available, countries where international roaming is not available, and countries that have Day Pass rates available.
Accessing a Day Pass is the most affordable option if it’s available for the country you wish to travel to. The Day Pass needs to be enabled before you head overseas. In New Zealand it will cost you $5 a day, and for a wide range of other countries the charge is $10 per day. The extra charge will only apply on days that your plan is used overseas.
Telstra’s Day Pass allows you unlimited standard calls and SMS while travelling, and 200MB of data per day. The data is reset at the end of each day, and won’t accumulate if you don’t use it. If you go over your data allowance, you’ll be given an automatic 500MB extra for an additional $10.
For countries where a day pass is not available but international roaming rates apply, you will need to look up your country of choice individually. As an example, call rates can range from $2 – $5 per minute. In addition to their global roaming offers, Telstra also provide access to Fon Wi-Fi hotspots for their customers, giving access to free Wi-Fi in millions of locations.
Roaming with a Prepaid Plan
Roaming on a prepaid plan will usually require you to purchase specific roaming packages before you go. Here’s how the three companies handle roaming for their prepaid customers.
Vodafone pre-paid customers can purchase an Add-on package that lasts either 3 or 7 days. For each time period, customers can choose either just data, or calls and SMS with less data. You can purchase as many Add-On packages as you need to get you through your holiday, and you can recharge using a simple free SMS. Once you have used your Add-On, roaming rates apply.
Telstra prepaid customers should have global roaming automatically activated. Prepaid customers will pay the standard roaming rates for the country they visit. Where this amount is deducted from depends on the type of pre-paid plan they have signed up for – for some plans, the amount spent on calls and SMS will come out of the extra credit, whereas others will use up the recharge credit first. International Data Packs are available, but are only accessible if you have a recharge balance remaining on your phone.
Optus offer prepaid roaming for selected Zone 1 and Zone 2 countries, through their Optus Travel packs.
Roaming rates are taken out of your credit balance, or for some plans the charges will be taken out of “Extras Credit” that you get with certain recharges. You’ll have to look at what prepaid plan you’ve chosen to find out how you can pay for your roaming.
Considerations Before You Travel
For most people, travelling takes up only a very small fraction of the year, so they would sign up to a long-term phone plan for other reasons. If your destination is a popular one, such as New Zealand, then Vodafone’s roaming options come out ahead as you can use your usual data overseas as part of the extra $5 fee. Data is normally the most expensive aspect of roaming, so the option to access your usual allowance for a small fee is very generous.
If your country offers on Wi-Fi hotspots, it might make Telstra the more attractive option. Good access to Wi-Fi would allow you to only use your phone plan in an emergency, but complete the bulk of your communication over Wi-Fi. If you are regularly travelling to aless visited country, you will want to compare individual rates between the telcos.
Unless there is a specific reason that you need to keep your number, or if you plan to use your phone strictly in emergencies, it’s better to purchase a SIM that is specifically made for travel with good rates for your destination or to purchase a local SIM.
If you do take your phone, bear in mind that you will not only pay for calls you make but also for calls you receive, so setting up call-forwarding before you leave can help you save. Make sure your mobile data is turned off whenever possible, and the bulk of your communication happens over Wi-Fi. It’s also a good idea to download your phone company’s app and keep good track of the features that you’re using.
Regular travellers should consider international roaming as an important part of choosing a service provider. For everyone else, planning ahead and keeping a close watch on your usage are the best ways to save money.