Telstra bumps up roaming rates: best alternatives and ways to save

Alex Kidman 1 December 2015

Telstra has announced big changes to the rates it charges for international roaming. Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning to travel soon.

Roaming charges remain a significant pain point for international travellers, a fact which has given rise to a number of companies whose sole business model is offering lower-cost roaming SIMs for those heading overseas. Swapping out a SIM for a local alternative is an easy way to dodge roaming charges, but you lose access to your regular number for calls and texts as well, which is why so many travellers prefer to keep their existing SIM.

Telstra has just made that process a little more painful, announcing a raft of changes to its International Travel Passes roaming setup. The original model for Roaming Passes allowed for countries to sit in one of two zones, with passes available for 3, 7, 14 or 30 day periods

The previous two tier system was charged as follows:

Telstra International Travel Passes
Duration371430
Zone 1 Cost$15$35$70$150
Zone 2 Cost$30$70$140$300
Included Data150MB350MB700MB1.5GB

The new three-tier system, which kicks in from 3 December is priced as follows:

Telstra International Travel Passes
Duration371430
Zone 1 Cost$15$35$70$150
Zone 2 Cost$30$70$140$300
Zone 3 Cost$45$105$210$450
Included Data225MB525MB1.03GB2.20GB

You do get more data to use under the new scheme, but the three zone concept means that in real terms the prices have risen for many countries except New Zealand, which is the sole country to remain in Zone 1.

Zone 2 comprises Brunei, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand.

Zone 3 covers Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Mexico, Nauru, Netherlands, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovak Rep., Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UAE, UK, USA, Vanuatu.

The new nature of the zone three arrangement means that any country in zone three has had a price rise for calls, texts and data usage, even though allowances have slightly risen. In reality, who wants to pay $450 in roaming charges for a month?

I don’t want to go broke! What are my alternatives?

Whatever you do, don’t opt to simply ignore the existence of pre-paid roaming packs. Telstra’s new deal might be a bit on the pricey side, but it’s much cheaper compared to simply connecting from your destination and using straight global roaming in every single instance. It’s all too easy to run up bills in the hundreds or thousands of dollars that way. By way of comparison, without any kind of pre-purchased allowance on Telstra's standard roaming rates, a call in the U.S.A will cost you $3 per minute whether you make or receive the call, and each MB of data used will cost $3.

As mentioned, there are a number of companies providing SIMs specifically for travellers with more competitive rates than those offered by Telstra. There are also roaming options with established Australian carriers that are more wallet-friendly, such as Vodafone’s $5 Red Roaming, which charges a flat $5 per day of use. Over the short term that might seem like the same pricing as Telstra’s Zone One packs, but it’s worth remembering there that Vodafone’s roaming charge gives you access to the same inclusions as your existing contract, rather than a bolted-on data and calls package.

Often the most sensible step if you have time to research it beforehand is to opt for a SIM from a local carrier at the destination you’re travelling to. Those costs will vary by destination, but many savvy carriers now offer short-term simple SIM packages specifically for visitors to their countries.

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