global-roaming-comparison

Global Roaming Comparison: Research and Compare Data Packs and SIM Cards

Planning on taking your mobile overseas with you? Depending on which mobile provider you’re with, you might want to rethink that decision…

Global roaming, or international roaming, is the act of using your Australian SIM card to make and receive calls, send and receive text messages or use mobile data while travelling abroad. As anyone who’s ever had any experience with global roaming knows, it’s a convenience that often comes at an exorbitant (and unexpected) price.

Many Australians hit the runway without giving global roaming a second thought, only to arrive home to a colossal bill. Just last year, one Australian tourist racked up an infamous $571,000 global roaming charge after their phone was stolen whilst travelling. Here, we explain the ins and out of global roaming and offer alternatives to help you avoid a severe case of bill-shock.

Why is global roaming so expensive?

Whenever someone uses their mobile phone while overseas, they are actually connecting to the foreign mobile carrier’s network. If the customer is using their Australian service in a different country, it means their mobile carrier (e.g. Telstra, Vodafone, Optus or iiNet) has a roaming agreement with the foreign network’s carrier.

Roaming agreements vary drastically, as do the charges involved. For example, in Hong Kong, mobile data roaming could cost you as 'low' as 50c per megabyte (MB) if you’re an Optus customer, however, if you’re a Virgin Mobile customer, their agreement with Hutchison Telecom will set you back a disastrous $21.35 per MB.

Where can I use global roaming?

Again, where you can use international roaming is entirely dependant on where your mobile carrier has established agreements with. It is important that you check with your carrier before leaving the country. For example, Optus customers travelling to Ecuador will find themselves in a spot of bother if they’ve planned to use their mobile during their trip, as Optus does not permit global roaming in Ecuador – Telstra, on the other hand, does.

Should I use global roaming?

For many business travellers, remaining in contact while overseas is a must, regardless of the costs involved. And if your company is willing to foot the bill for the luxury, then you’re one of the lucky few. For the average consumer, however, remaining in contact 24/7 might not be a priority (especially if you’re chilling poolside in Fiji).

If you’re an average mobile user, you really have three options when travelling overseas:

  1. Do nothing and use global roaming
  2. Purchase a travel pack from your mobile carrier, or
  3. Use a temporary number with a prepaid SIM card from the country you’re travelling to.

If you truly want to use your personal mobile number while overseas and tackle the bill when you get home, it would be wise to do your research before leaving. However, if you are an Optus, Telstra or Vodafone customer, you may be eligible to purchase a 'travel pack'– a once off payment that allows for more flexible international use.

Travel Packs available in Australia

Zone 1

  • Eligible Zone 1 countries: Indonesia, New Zealand and Thailand
DurationCallsSMSMMSDataPrice
3 DaysUnlimited calls to and from standard numbers.Unlimited SMS to standard numbers.$0.50 per non-video MMS and $0.75 per video MMS + data usage.150 MB (over 3 days) included. Excess data charged at 3c per MB.$15
7 DaysUnlimited calls to and from standard numbers.Unlimited SMS to standard numbers.$0.50 per non-video MMS and $0.75 per video MMS + data usage.350 MB (over 3 days) included. Excess data charged at 3c per MB.$35
14 DaysUnlimited calls to and from standard numbers.Unlimited SMS to standard numbers.$0.50 per non-video MMS and $0.75 per video MMS + data usage.700 MB (over 3 days) included. Excess data charged at 3c per MB.$70
30 DaysUnlimited calls to and from standard numbers.Unlimited SMS to standard numbers.$0.50 per non-video MMS and $0.75 per video MMS + data usage.1.5 GB (over 3 days) included. Excess data charged at 3c per MB.$150
Zone 2
  • Eligible Zone 2 countries: Cambodia, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, U.S.A
DurationCallsSMSMMSDataPrice
3 DaysUnlimited calls to and from standard numbers.Unlimited SMS to standard numbers.$0.50 per non-video MMS and $0.75 per video MMS + data usage.150 MB (over 3 days) included. Excess data charged at 3c per MB.$30
7 DaysUnlimited calls to and from standard numbers.Unlimited SMS to standard numbers.$0.50 per non-video MMS and $0.75 per video MMS + data usage.350 MB (over 3 days) included. Excess data charged at 3c per MB.$70
14 DaysUnlimited calls to and from standard numbers.Unlimited SMS to standard numbers.$0.50 per non-video MMS and $0.75 per video MMS + data usage.700 MB (over 3 days) included. Excess data charged at 3c per MB.$140
30 DaysUnlimited calls to and from standard numbers.Unlimited SMS to standard numbers.$0.50 per non-video MMS and $0.75 per video MMS + data usage.1.5 GB (over 3 days) included. Excess data charged at 3c per MB.$300

Only available in Zone 1 countries

CallsSMSMMSDataPrice
Unlimited standard national and international callsUnlimited standard SMSMMS uses your included data in the Optus Travel Pack.50 MB (charged in 10 KB increments)$10

$5 Roaming

Vodafone’s Travel Pack is charged differently from Telstra and Optus. For a fee of $5 a day, Vodafone customers can use their included value in 47 different countries. The handy thing about Vodafone $5 Roaming is that, so long as your plan was connected after 23 April 2014, you don’t have to go out of your way to activate it, meaning you’re free to set off on your travels without worrying about setting up a travel pack.

What countries is $5 Roaming available in?

Albania, Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Lithuania, Poland, Spain, Austria, Denmark, Hungary,

Luxembourg, Portugal, Sweden, Belgium, England, Iceland, Malta, Romania, Switzerland, Brazil, Estonia, Indonesia, Montenegro, Scotland, Thailand, Bulgaria, Finland, Ireland, Netherlands, Serbia, Turkey, China, France, Italy, Northern Ireland, Singapore, USA, Croatia, Germany, Japan, Norway, Slovak Republic, Wales, Cyprus, Greece, Latvia, New Zealand and Slovenia.


Pay-As-You-Go Roaming

If you’re a prepaid Vodafone customer, there’s also options available for you when travelling overseas. On Pay-As-You-Go, the roaming rates are as follows:

  • $1 per MB
  • $1 per minute when making or receiving calls
  • 75c per SMS or MMS
What are my other options?

Purchase a Travel SIM

Some companies offer prepaid SIMs  that you can use overseas at a much lower rate. This is a great option for those who don't mind using a temporary number and don't want to want to deal with purchasing a SIM when you land.

Nano SIM & $10 Credit from Woolworths Global Roaming

Sim Size: Nano Includes: $10 credit for calls, texts & data

View details

SIM & $10 Credit from Woolworths Global Roaming

Sim Size: Standard/Micro Includes: $10 credit for calls, texts & data

View details

ChatSim Unlimited from ChatSim

ChatSim Unlimited offers unlimited text that lasts up to a year and multimedia add-ons to use when travelling aborad. Click here to find out more.

View details
Using a temporary number with a Prepaid SIM card from the country you’re travelling to

The third, and most wallet friendly option, when travelling overseas is to purchase a prepaid SIM card when you arrive at your destination. You won’t be using your Australian phone number, but it works out much cheaper, as you will be accessing the local network directly, rather than through a pricey roaming agreement. Below are our top tips for purchasing a SIM card overseas:

  • Be sure to check if you’re phone is unlocked from your carrier’s network before you go. Seeing that 'SIM not valid' message is dreadful at the best of times, let alone when you’re thousands of kilometres from home. Check out our comprehensive guide to network unlocking any phone here.
  • Still activate before global roaming before you leave. It’s always handy to have your trusty SIM card in case of an emergency– just remember to keep it somewhere safe (e.g. with your passport).
  • Turn off your handset or better yet, remove your SIM card, before departing. Many airlines have on-board WiFi these days, so it’s always nice to have your device on hand. However, if you forget to switch off your phone before entering the country, you could get hit with some unexpected data charges.
  • Purchase your SIM card directly from the airport. Many mobile carriers will have retail stores located in international airports. Not only is it handy to get connected as soon as possible, but airport staff are well-versed in dealing with clueless travellers who don’t know what to ask for.
  • Remember to ask where the prepaid SIM card will cover you. When travelling in particular regions, we often find ourselves hopping between countries on a daily basis. Some SIM cards (especially around EU) will only cover you for use in certain countries, and you could be suddenly disconnected if you’re not prepared.
Wing it with WiFi

The last option is to not use roaming, or a SIM card, at all. Most modern devices can connect to a WiFi access point and most hotels and resorts these days offer a (sometimes free) WiFi connection. Not only that, but most cafes, restaurants, libraries and airports also offer free WiFi, so you can get connected pretty much anywhere for free.

With the amount of services the Internet offers these days, you really don’t need your SIM card to contact loved ones while travelling abroad. There are many alternatives, like Facebook, iMessage, Whatsapp and Skype, for contacting home, all of which can be used over a WiFi connection.

You can still use your smartphone or tablet during the day to take photos, record video and listen to music with Airplane Mode switched on (which blocks all incoming and outgoing mobile data from your device). Then, if you want to upload the truckload of selfies from the day, you can put it all up on Instagram when you return to the warm embrace of free WiFi.

Our top tips for global roaming

  • Set your own usage alerts on your phone. Android and Windows Phone allow for you to manually set a data limit in settings. If you go over this limit you’ll be alerted and your data will be switched off.
  • Leave your phone on Airplane Mode. If you’re not planning on using global roaming, you may as well leave Airplane Mode on for the entirety of your trip. You can still connect to WiFi when in Airplane Mode.
  • Switch off voicemail. Does anybody still use voicemail? If you absolutely must use your mobile while overseas, we recommend switching off voicemail, as the charges are not usually included with your travel pack allowance.
  • Switch off background data, automatic updates, location settings etc. Basically, turn off any setting that automatically uses data. The last thing you want if for your phone to begin downloading the latest Angry Birds update while you’re occupied bird watching in the Panama Canal.

Brodie Fogg

Brodie is a staff writer at finder.com.au covering breaking tech and telco news. When he's not drooling over the latest comic book releases or grinding away at the newest time-devouring RPG, he's helping people choose between Australia's various streaming services.

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