The Best Australian Phone Plans For International Calls
International calls are the hardest bit to understand
Plans with International call facilities appeal to people who have friends and family overseas. Most of the main telcos and MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators – a.k.a. Network Resellers) have their own International call time and text deals.
On the plus side, these days, it’s relatively easy choosing an all in one plan that has sufficient Australian data, domestic calls / SMS and decent International rates. National calls and SMS are essentially free now. Phone plans with International calls INCLUDED are now as cheap as $25 per month. This threshold is falling every year – just 12 months ago, $40 was the minimum charge for a plan with any substantial International call inclusions.
On the other hand, establishing whether you’re getting the best possible rate can involve a lot of thought and spreadsheet time. We help you avoid that with the information on this page.
We’ve got the detail on the process we worked through to provide you this summary, below.
If you’re in a hurry, here’s the quick summary.
It doesn’t take much International calling to get to the point that a dedicated plan makes sense.
Lebara won the 2017 WhatPhone award for International Calls.
If you make more than 2 hours of International calls per month, consider Lebara. Lebara use the Vodafone 3G and 4G network which, independent analysis suggests is now just as good in city areas as any other you’ll find. Lebara specifically target overseas callers with their plans, offering a variety of options which will suit any International need, including plans which allow for Unlimited International calls.
Perhaps surprisingly, they also provide data bundles for use in Australia which are on a par with what you’ll get from the bigger telcos and competitive even against smaller phone companies. Although their customer support can be their weakest service feature, if you make any appreciable number of calls per month to overseas numbers, we recommend Lebara.
How we can help you navigate International plans
What we’ve done in this article is crunch the numbers on International calls rates from the major Australian phone companies. We’ve also considered some of the major calling destinations which will appeal to Australians.
To help you decide which International plan is right for you, we’ve shown the calculations we used to work out the cost of your alternatives. With these results, we provide some hopefully useful rules of thumb which will help you feel better about the plan you pick.
Which International destinations do Australians call most often?
The ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) has some helpful information on the places that most of us called home before we got here. (See graphic, below.)
The fact that such a high proportion of Australians were either born overseas or have family in other countries, is part of what makes this country so special, and what makes plans with International calls so appealing.
Source : The ABS
What happens if the country you want is not on the list?
There are, of course, more countries in the world than we’ve shown. The majority of Australian International call requirements will be covered by the above. The rule of thumb we suggest, below, is almost certainly still valid for everyone, whichever country it is you intend to call.
The key factors which will determine the best plan with international calls
- Postpaid or Prepaid :
Both Prepaid and Postpaid SIM Only plans now offer variants of plans, some of which include International calls. As you might expect, it is often the case that even prepaid and postpaid plans from the same phone company have different per minute and per SMS International rates on their prepaid and postpaid SIM Only plans. We show those below.
- Default / ‘Out Of Bundle’ fees for International Calls:
Any plan which does not have included International minutes will have International call rates associated with it. We show you what they are, below. It can be challenging to find them on the websites of the phone companies you’ll do your research with. Rates for International calls are typically high when they are ‘out of bundle’ and add up when you make longer calls. However, if you’re calling less than an hour a month overseas, using these ‘out of bundle’ rates may actually be your best option. More detail on this below.
- Plan with included International Minutes:
If you make more than about an hour of International calls per month, you will want to consider plans which have some International minutes ‘baked in’ or buying an International ‘add on / bolt on’ from your existing provider. These plans are hard to miss. If International calling is a target for the phone company, you will see their International inclusions demonstrated prominently in the listings we show on this page.
- ‘Add ons’ / ‘ Bolt Ons’ / ‘Extras Credit’ :
Telstra, Optus and Vodafone all offer International ‘Add Ons’ ( also known by other names including ‘Bolt Ons’ and ‘Extras Credit’ for some prepaid plans.) If you are happy with your phone company, would rather not change, and make one or two hours worth of calls a month, these plan ‘extras’ are worth considering. They’ll reduce your overall bill. They typically provide an ‘extra’ bundle of International minutes – sometimes unlimited International minutes to the most commonly called overseas destinations. Costs vary but are of the order of $5 – $10 per month. We outline your options, below. Bolt ons of this sort can be added through the Self Service portal of your telco, using the self service app or, if you can bring yourself to do it, with a call to their call center.
- Unlimited International Calls:
Given the complexity involve in comparing these plans, finding a plan which has Unlimited International calls is an attractive proposition. Once you’ve established that your target international calling destination is on the list of countries included in this sort of plan, the comparison is over and you can call as much as you’d like. We recommend this sort of plan to anyone using more than 2 hours of International calls per month.
Vodafone, Optus and Telstra’s Approach To International Calls
Most Australians are with one of the big phone companies – Optus, Telstra or Vodafone. Let’s start by considering what they offer when it comes to International Calls in their headline plans.
Vodafone’s International Rates:
Vodafone are the best of the 3 big telcos, for calling overseas :
Vodafone’s large range of phone plans were adapted in mid 2017 to showcases their key strategic advantage in Australian telco. Vodafone are part of one of the world’s biggest phone companies with operations in more than 35 countries. Their plan’s International rates (both prepaid and postpaid) make use of this facility. Simply put, when they undertake an International call, Vodafone companies complete the call with each other and charge less than the rates Optus and Telstra can secure.
Vodafone’s Global Plans :
Are a sub set of their SIM Only postpaid range. They all include between 500 (about 8 hours) and 1000 ( about 16 hours ) of International minutes of calls to ‘Eligible countries’ (and 100 minutes to non eligible countries.) These plans are a trade off. You’ll get less data for the same spend, if you take a Vodafone Global plan with International minutes included. Also, you’ll have to spend $50 or more for a month to month plan or take a 12 month contract for $40. As we show you below and in the table above on this page, there are better deals out there.
Vodafone have a wide variety of ‘add ons’ for their postpaid plan range. The amount you’ll pay will depend on where you’re calling and how long you’re calling for. Generally, you’ll get about 4 hours for a $5 bolt on.
Vodafone’s prepaid plans with International minutes :
All Vodafone prepaid ‘Talk Combo’ caps come with an inclusion called ‘My Credit’. Typical International call rates on these plans are between $3 per minute and $6 per minute (those rates are very high). The International Rates on their other prepaid plans is even higher. Again, at spends of $40 a month or more on their prepaid range, you’ll get the 1000 minutes of calls to eligible destinations included. And, again, there are cheaper ways to do the same thing which we outline below.
Vodafone offer an International Add on for their prepaid range too, although it doesn’t offer quite the same value as you’ll get for the same spend on International calls on their postpaid range. $5 will get you 2 hours talk time to the top 50 overseas destinations with a prepaid expiry of 28 days.
Optus’ International Calls Rates:
Optus SIM Only plans and contracts mostly have included International Minutes :
Optus took some time to catch on to the value of international call time and tying them into an overall plan that included data and local calls, but they’ve got there now. Most of Optus’ postpaid plans (called My Plan Plus) with a Minimum Monthly Spend of $40 month to month / $30 on a 12 month contract, have 150 or 300 minutes of international calls included per month. These calls can be to any one or more of 32 selected countries.
With Optus, users can add an international talk pack for $5 which will give you 150 minutes for $10. They also have a $5 International pack which will give you Unlimited SMS / MMS to agreed destinations and 50 minutes of talk time.
Optus prepaid plans with included International Minutes:
Optus’ Prepaid Plan range is broad. The hero prepaid plans they offer are called My Prepaid Ultimate Plus. You can make an International call on one of those plans when you spend $30 a month. Call costs are shown below and are taken on a ‘cost per minute’ basis from your ‘Extra’s Credit’ (explained above.)
Optus will also allow you to buy ‘Extras Credit’ in various denominations. The rates are still high, for International calls, even when you do it this way, as you can see from the tables, below.
Telstra’s International Call Rates:
Telstra’s SIM Only plans with International Calls:
You’ll have to spend a quite frankly incredible $89 per month on a Telstra month to month SIM Only plan before you get included International minutes. At this price, International calls are unlimited to 15 countries. As you work up the spend thresholds, more countries are ‘thrown in’. Their 12 month contract SIM Only plans are slightly better value (although you need to consider how your data usage will change over that 12 month period) before you sign up. You’ll need to spend $79 per month on a 12 month contract before you get unlimited International calls to 15 countries. Again, raise the spend level and the number of countries you can call internationally will rise.
Telstra offer a $10 per month International Bolt on to their SIM Only postpaid plans. It offers unlimited calls, SMS and MMS to a list of destinations which includes most of those shown on our most popular calling destinations, above. But remember, you’re talking about adding a $10 bolt on to a Telstra plan here – which start at $59 per month. These are big monthly spend numbers and, in our view, you should really be considering alternatives.
Telstra’s prepaid plans with International calls:
Telstra’s entry point for International calls is much lower on their prepaid plans. You’ll get some inclusions on their $30 ‘Prepaid Extra’ plans, which, like Optus’ are drawn from an allowance called ‘Extra’s credit’ (explained above.)
Finally, like the others, Telstra has a prepaid International ‘Plus Pack’. It costs $10 with a 28 day expiry and the rates are not particularly attractive.
Telstra’s International Call Approach :
Telstra seems to have left international calls to its competitors, perhaps because it’s making its money without bothering abut chasing the international call market. It still has a variety of options for international callers, which might suit if you are happy with the rest of your Telstra plan or, perhaps, because you are getting better coverage with Telstra where you are. There are add-ons for those on the cheaper plans. Depending on exactly which country you want to call, each one of them might cost $10 or $15.
Comparing Talking Internationally Cost you with Telstra, Optus and Vodafone
Below, we’ve done the research for you on the international rates the big 3 telcos charge to call overseas. We show those ‘out of bundle’ call rates here for both their prepaid and postpaid SIM Only plans.
Comparing Telstra, Vodafone and Optus on their SIMO International Call Rates per minute
Comparing Telstra, Vodafone and Optus on their SIMO International Call Rates per hour
What you should take from these postpaid out of bundle call rate tables :
As you can see, if you make any appreciable number of International calls, you will be better off with the ‘bolt ons’ sold by the telcos. Telstra, for example, have that $10 International Call bolt on we mentioned above. Even calling New Zealand, the cheapest plan on the list, for 20 minutes, would cost as much as the bolt on for the entire month!
Similarly, Vodafone will offer you 4 hours talk time, to most of the destinations we’ve listed here – for $5 a month. Much cheaper than paying these ‘out of bundle’ rates.
Comparing Telstra, Vodafone and Optus on their Prepaid International Call Rates per minute
Comparing Telstra, Vodafone and Optus on their Prepaid International Call Rates per hour
What you should take from these prepaid out of bundle call rate tables
Again, the result is clear. You’re better off with an ‘add on’ than you are paying these out of bundle rates. The case is particularly strong for Vodafone. $5 a month as a prepaid add on gets you 2 hours of overseas talk time to the top 50 destinations. You’d burn that up in approximately 2 minutes paying those out of bundle fees!
Telstra’s prepaid ‘Plus Packs’ for International calls are not easy to locate! Their rates are not as good for International calls on prepaid plans are not as good as the equivalent on their postpaid plans, either. For $10, you’ll be able to call International destinations for somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half.
Rule of Thumb: The key things you need to know
As each of the major phone companies point out on their own website, the rates they charge for International calls change regularly, sometimes even monthly. That makes it extremely difficult to keep track of with any normal amount of time. This is just one more factor which should influence you towards adopting a plan with included International calls.
If you want some guidance on how to analyse things yourself…
- You’ll get more for your money on postpaid plans if you’re making International calls:
Whichever phone company you’re on (Vodafone, Telstra or Optus) you’ll get better ‘out of bundle’ rates on your International calls if you pick a postpaid plan, rather than a prepaid plan.
- I make less than half an hours’ worth of International calls per month:
This is easy, just stick with the plan you have. You’ll be charged a high out of bundle ‘per minute’ call rate for the International calls you do make, but it’s still less than the cost of the ‘add on’ which is your major alternative – see next bullet point.
- I make more than about an hour’s worth of International calls a month :
If you already have a phone plan from Optus, Telstra or Vodafone, your best option is an add on / bolt on. They’re usually $5 or $10 a month and they’ll give you between an hour and a half and 4 hours of International calls to the most common destinations. Your major alternative is a Phone plan with included international minutes. If you’re prepared to move to a smaller phone company, they sell variants which have included International minutes. This sort of plan (plan with included International minutes) will be right for anyone making more than about an hour’s worth of International calls per month.
- I make more than 2 hours of International calls per month:
We would strongly urge you to consider an Internationally focused phone plan. Companies like Lebara offer preferential International rates and actually, their Australian data and voice/SMS inclusions are pretty good too. See examples in the table at the top of this page.
Lebara $29.90 provides Unlimited International Calls to 12 destinations.
- You need a domestic signal to make an international call :
One critical and perhaps counter-intuitive aspect of these plans, is that you’ll need a domestic signal to make an international call. There’s no use having a Vodafone plan and no signal where you live, if you need to call overseas, whether or not Vodafone’s plans offer better value.
- If you spend more than $40 a month on a phone plan, you may well not have to spend extra to get International calls included:
Most SIM Only and Prepaid plans costing more than $40 a month now include International calls to selected destinations. Many $30 and above plans from smaller phone companies also have these inclusions.
Here are the key players in the international call stakes and what they provide
Why MVNO SIM only plans with international calls will save you money
Lebara is one of the best phone companies to use if you really want cheap international calls. It also now has a number of quite competitive SIM only plans for local calls and text too. Lebara’s unlimited international plan offers unlimited calls to 60 different countries. That’s a lot more than many of the other telcos, which tend to offer their unlimited international minutes to a more limited range of countries. For plans that don’t include unlimited international calls, Lebara’s rates are still pretty competitive for the odd call.
Just make sure that you check the Lebara website to see that the country or countries you are most interested in calling is on their unlimited list before you sign yourself up. Also note that there are more fixed line numbers that you can phone on the unlimited plan than mobile numbers. For example, you can ring either a mobile or a fixed line number using the unlimited plan in Austria, but you can only ring a fixed line number in neighboring Switzerland. Similarly, you can ring a Colombian mobile number but not one in neighboring Venezuela.
Amaysim has this year introduced a much better deal for those hungry for international call time. Their unlimited international call plan costs $24.90 and is good for 10 countries. There are another 22 countries that you can send unlimited text or MMS messages to, but you pay the Amaysim call cost per minute for voice calls.
Boost Mobile provides unlimited call time and text messages on its $40 and $50 prepaid plans for 10 selected countries. If you want to make an international call it’s very simple to enable this on your prepaid plan, as it does not come automatically turned on by default. Simply recharge with a $10 “Add on” and your account will be credited with $10 which can be used for overseas calling, charged at the rate per minute of the international country which you are calling. As a bonus thanks to Boost Mobile, each time you recharge with a $10 Add on, your account will also be credited with an additional 500MB of mobile data.
These three providers are the best of the smaller phone company approaches to International calls at present. The other MVNOs all have some sort of deal for international calls, but none of them are quite as generous as the three mentioned here.
There is nothing more important than family and staying in touch. International call rates get right to the very heart of why we have phones.
The problem is the constant movement of plan inclusions around International calls in Australian plans. As we’ve seen, even the major telcos are always adding and removing International destinations from their prepaid / postpaid plans. The sector is crying out for simplicity.
International calls are going to keep getting cheaper under pressure from the regulator which overseas these kinds of charges in Australia and because of the pressure from very close substitutes. One need only glance at the alternatives on offer from Skype, Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger to see the future. Calls made over data (the protocol used is called SIP) are convenient, built in to these messaging facilities – some of them the most popular in the world – and are essentially from a user standpoint, free.
Call quality can be low on these messaging apps, of course, as any user will report. The alternative, comparing plans with included international minutes, is, as we’ve seen above, a far more difficult ask. We hope the rules of thumb that we have provided will help.