The good news is that getting your phone working in Australia should be a fairly straightforward process. Following a few simple steps will have you sorted in no time.
You will likely only need to do two things, and one of them can be sorted before you leave.
- Check your phone isn't network locked. Depending on where you live and how you bought your phone, it may be locked to a specific network. Make sure that your phone will be able to accept other SIMs while you're overseas.
- Buy a SIM and mobile plan. Get a mobile plan in Australia and a SIM to go with it. We cover which plan could be best for you further down. If you're buying a global travel SIM, you may be able to get it delivered before you even leave.
Remember to disable roaming
Some plans have data roaming automatically enabled, meaning they'll use data when you're overseas. This data is usually hideously expensive and adds up quickly. Make sure you disable roaming before you go to avoid huge surprise bills.
This depends. Network-locking your phone is becoming less common globally so you usually don't have to worry about this – the UK, for example, is banning the practice from December 2021. But in some countries, like the US, it's still common.
It doesn't hurt to check with your provider to see whether the phone you have is currently locked to its network.
To unlock your phone from a network, you will usually need to contact your network provider or take it into one of the stores, so do this before leaving for Australia. In some cases, you may need to pay a fee to complete the unlocking process.
When buying a SIM for use in Australia, there are several different kinds of plans available. Which one you pick will depend on what you need.
- How it works: Pay upfront for a certain amount of data and calls that expire after a set period.
- Keep in mind: Data access cuts out when you've reached your limit.
- Good for: Travellers who are in Australia for a short while or travellers who don't need a lot of data.
Compare prepaid plans here
- How it works: Monthly allowance of data and calls, paid for at the end of the month. Your plan renews automatically at the end of each month.
- Keep in mind: Excess data use is charged per MB, or some plans allow for "unlimited" data but at reduced download speeds.
- Good for: Visitors who plan to stay for several months to a year, or travellers who want a lot of data.
Compare postpaid plans here
Pay as you go (PAYG) plans
- How it works: Buy a certain amount of credit upfront. Your calls, texts and data use is deducted from the available credit whenever you use it.
- Keep in mind: PAYG plans often come with expensive data rates compared to prepaid and postpaid plans.
- Good for: Travellers who don't intend to use much (if any) data, or those who want the cheapest plan possible while still being able to make occasional calls.
Compare PAYG plans here
- How it works: Purchase a travel SIM online before you leave and get it delivered to your home address. These usually work on a PAYG model or come with set inclusions.
- Good for: People who want to be completely set up before arriving in Australia, or travellers who are briefly stopped in Australia on a multi-country journey.
If you're looking to buy a SIM card when you arrive in Australia, there are three main places you can purchase a local SIM:
- From stores and kiosks at the airport itself
- From local stores (e.g. Telstra or Optus) in the city or elsewhere
- From supermarkets (almost always prepaid SIMs)
If you don't need the plan urgently and can wait for delivery, you could also purchase your plan online as normal and activate the SIM when it arrives.
Australia has three major mobile networks: Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. The best network for you will really depend on what you're after. Generally speaking, it shouldn't matter which network you join if you're looking to spend time in metropolitan areas.
If you're a traveller who will be venturing outside of metropolitan areas, it's generally recommended that you get a SIM that uses the Telstra network, since it has the widest coverage (99.4% if you have a mobile plan direct with Telstra, or 98.8% if you're with a smaller provider that uses the Telstra network).
You can find our monthly picks for the best mobile plans on the Telstra network here.
What about frequency bands?
Fortunately, most modern phones are compatible with commonly used frequency bands around the world, so we don't usually need to think about this. The majority of recent phone models will work fine with Australian networks.
Just in case, though, check your phone's specifications or manual to see if it's compatible with the following frequencies and make sure you're able to join the Aussie networks available.