How to Keep Your Data Costs Down At Home and Abroad

roaming data

As mobile data speeds grow, so does data usage. Higher speeds mean a better user experience. Telcos are beginning to offer bigger data packages at a lower cost per Gb but this is relatively slow to happen. In the meantime, subscribers are finding their data allowances are being gobbled up at unprecedented rates as they access the entertainment they love to enjoy. This is particularly an issue when roaming overseas, which can certainly burn a hole in your pocket if you’re not careful enough.

How to avoid roaming data excesses and bills when overseas

You can’t completely avoid data roaming costs when you travel abroad if you want to stick with your usual provider, but most of them do publish their international data roaming rates on their websites. Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), like Amaysim, Virgin, Red Bull and TPG openly advertise their roaming rates overseas on the internet. The highest data costs occur when you just use up data without paying for a package. There is a tendency to go online without thinking if it’s possible to do so economically on arrival in another country. There are a few easy ways to ward off those alarming bills and they are:

  • Go into your phone’s settings. For an Android Phone you need to go to Wireless & Networks and you will find a switch for mobile networks and data. That enables you to turn off your data but still allow calls and texts. Turn this off and reconnect when you really need to. On an iPhone the data roaming switch can be found under General/Network.
  • If you have an Android you can download a usage app which monitors how much data you are using and cuts you off when a certain threshold has been met.
  • Don’t top up with more cash than you think you will need as when you reach your data limits the provider will start charging you hugely inflated fees for the extra data.
  • Purchasing a local SIM is another option and these days many of the main telcos have desks at airports advertising their services. You can always do some research at home before starting on your journey so you know what to look out for when you touch-down in your new country.
  • Depending on the country you are visiting, Wi-Fi hotspots may be fairly common. You will probably get free Wi-Fi in your hotel, in shopping malls, fast-food restaurants like McDonalds and even on long distance bus stations. Visitor’s centres often have free Wi-Fi, as do libraries in some countries if you have a lot to do.
  • Purchasing a global SIM before you leave is another possibility. Depending on the deal with particular countries sometimes you get offered data at very reasonable rates.

Telcos offer roaming packages but they are not cheap

If you wish to stay with your usual Australian provider this is what they offer:

Telstra has a range of packages

Telstra has several options and it’s virtually impossible to go over the data limit as it comes with texts and calls in a package depending on the country you intend to visit. If you’re heading to New Zealand for 3 days it will cost you $15 for the period including unlimited calls and texts and 225 Mb of data. If you exceed the data limit extra data costs 3 cents per Mb. However, Telstra will constantly text you as you get closer to the data limit. If you are buying the travel pass for other eligible countries the cost is higher at $30. Telstra has travel passes available for 7, 14 and 30 days with more data but the same deal for phone calls and texts.

OPTUS offers meagre data

If you buy in advance a Optus Travel™ Pack deal for $10 you will gain unlimited talk and SMS and 50MB of data for you to use in specific countries. You can also purchase multiple days which allows you to accumulate available data. For example, if you buy 5 days you can use the available 250MB at any time.

Vodafone $5 deals

It charges $5 for you to use your Australian plan in more than 55 countries but it’s free in New Zealand for 90 days in 12 months. You can access any data, text and call deals you have on your current plan. However, if you are going to be absent from Australia for a week or more this amount does work out quite expensive as it costs $35 a week for this service.


For short or long trips overseas you can opt for a local SIM card as the cheapest option. If you want the convenience of your Australian phone plan and number it’s not a cheap choice. Monitoring your data more closely helps to keep the bills down. So, whatever you choose, keep an eye on that data!

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.