Australians are a travelling bunch. We love getting out there and exploring the world – probably because we’re so isolated on our very own continent, and we feel like there’s so much beyond our own backyard. Chances are you know someone, whether it’s a friend or family member that has just been overseas or is planning their next big trip.
But no matter your dream destination, you’ll need a good travel SIM card for your mobile phone, without breaking the bank. In this article, Canstar Blue reviews mobile phone plans for travelling from Australia, to help you enjoy your trip without fear of bill shock when you return home.
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SIM-Only phone plans with international roaming
While it can be expensive to use international roaming on your existing plan, if you’re not going to be using your device much while overseas, it can be useful to still have access to your existing phone number when travelling. Not all telcos allow you to switch on global roaming. The telcos that do have access to roaming might offer pay-as-you-go usage with higher rates for calls, SMS and data, while other providers, like Moose Mobile, might ask you to pay a set amount upfront with your roaming usage deducted from this amount.
The table below shows a selection of prepaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with at least 10GB of data, listed in order of their standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see a wider range of plans from other providers. These are products with links to referral partners.
What are the best mobile phone plans for roaming?
All the big carriers offer roaming, and overseas-specific call rates. It’s worth keeping an eye out for Optus, Telstra and Vodafone, but note that Woolworths Mobile also offers travelling plans, as does Australia Post with its travel SIM card.
|Optus||$1.50/minute calls, 50c SMS, $1/MB data for Zone 1 countries||Postpaid|
|$1/minute calls, 50c SMS, 50c/MB data for Zone 1 countries||Prepaid|
|Telstra||USA $3/minute calls, 75c SMS, $3/MB (rates differ in each country)
‘International Day Pass’: NZ $5 extra per day to use your current plan, $10 for other countries
|International Roaming Browse Plus Packs ($29 for 100MB, $85 for 300MB or $160 for 600MB), call & SMS rates differ for each country||Prepaid|
|Vodafone||‘$5 a day’ to access your current plan inclusions in 80 countries
PAYG roaming available for other countries: $1/minute calls, $1/MB data, 75c SMS
|PAYG roaming rates: $1/minute calls, $1/MB data, 75c SMS
Prepaid Roaming add-ons for use in over 50 countries: $25 for 3 days or $35 for 7 days, inclusions vary
|Australia Post||$25 including $5 credit, 25c calls, text and MB data||Prepaid Travel SIM|
|Woolworths Mobile||$12 SIM starter pack including 200MB data, variable extra packs to add on||Prepaid Travel SIM|
(Source: Respective company websites)
These rates above are generally ‘pay as you go’, except for Vodafone’s ‘$5 a day’ option, as well as Telstra’s $5 or $10 deals. The USA was also used as a yardstick, commonly found in ‘Zone 1’ countries – which includes countries most likely to be visited by Aussies.
Roaming is generally the most convenient option, as your provider basically does all the legwork and you can keep using your number. There are several ways to go about it. Simply taking your existing phone plan overseas can easily see you rack up big bills if you use your phone in the same way that you would at home – you’ve no doubt heard the horror stories about Aussies returning home to phone bills in the thousands.
Beyond PAYG roaming, there are a few options to consider when taking your mobile phone overseas:
- Roaming packs
- A travel/global SIM card
- A phone plan
Generally, this list can be considered in order from the most convenient to least convenient. Consequently, convenience can also mean extra costs. One thing is for sure – these options all beat using dodgy free Wi-Fi in a cafe that is both slow and a security risk.
You can purchase roaming packs from the major providers ahead of time. However, smaller carriers may charge differently, so it pays to check with your own provider first.
Telstra international roaming
To use global roaming with Telstra, you’ll have to activate the roaming feature through the Telstra app, and then purchase a travel pack. Beyond that, Telstra has also introduced the ‘International Day Pass’, which basically lets you access your current plan overseas for either $5 or $10 a day.
- New Zealand can be accessed from $5 a day.
- Other countries are $10 a day, with most popular countries available such as the US, Canada, Brazil, China, much of Europe and Asia.
- Each day pass includes unlimited talk and text, and 200MB of data with a 24-hour expiry.
- If you exceed 200MB in a day, you’ll be automatically charged $10 for an additional 500MB to use over 31 days.
Below is a list of Telstra’s postpaid mobile plans, meaning that the $10-a-day feature is an additional charge on top of these plans.
For prepaid users it’s a bit of a different story. You’ll need to add an International Roaming Browse Plus Pack, with prices and data inclusions below:
- 100MB data pack: $29 (30 day expiry)
- 300MB data pack: $85 (30 day expiry)
- 600MB data pack: $160 (30 day expiry)
For roaming, Telstra has ramped up value in the postpaid space, but prepaid users may struggle to see value in these high prices.
Vodafone international roaming
Arguably with the most competitive roaming options out of the big three, Vodafone has popularly flaunted its ‘$5 a day’ roaming charge for a while now. But what do you get for $5 a day?
Quite simply, you get what’s included in your plan – think of the $5 charge like a password to unlock your plan’s usefulness overseas. This applies to 80 countries, which includes the USA, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, much of South America and Asia, plus almost all of Europe.
The $5 roaming should already be activated on existing Vodafone plans, so it should be ready to use when you travel to eligible destinations. It’s also worth noting that if you’re on any of the ‘Plus’ plans, where you can continue using your data at a capped speed once you go over your top-speed data inclusion, that $5 roaming will only use your Max Speed data. If you go over your data inclusion while roaming, you’ll be charged for extra data.
The below shows all published Vodafone 12-month SIM only plans from Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard cost from lowest to highest. The $5 roaming charge is added onto these plans through the app or website.
Prepaid users also get access to roaming on the Vodafone network, and can simply recharge by texting particular codes to a certain number:
- 3 days, $25: 100MB, 30 minutes of calling, 30 SMS OR 200MB data only
- 7 days, $35: 250MB, 60 minutes of calling, 60 SMS OR 500MB data only
Once you’ve exhausted these allowances, you’ll be charged the PAYG rates. However, keep in mind that the countries where you can use prepaid roaming is more limited than the $5 roaming for postpaid services. Currently roaming is only available in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand and a smaller range of Asian and European countries.
Optus international roaming
Besides the ‘pay as you go’ (PAYG) rates, you can plan ahead and purchase an Optus Travel Pack for an extra $10 a day on top of your existing phone plan.
This Optus Travel Pack gets you unlimited talk and text, with 100MB of data for Zone 1 countries, which includes the USA, Canada, New Zealand, along with most of Europe and Asia. You can purchase one pack, or multiple packs within three days before they’re needed and select the start date. These packs can be activated on ‘My Account’ online, or through your Optus app on your mobile phone.
You can also get international roaming inclusions on select phone plans and SIM-only postpaid plans, but these are generally on the more top-level plans. If you’re on any new Optus Choice postpaid plan, you can get unlimited standard national and international calls and SMS from Zone 1 countries on selected plans, with 2GB of roaming data per month on the $59 plan and 4GB of roaming data per month on the $79 plan.
Below is a list of Optus’ SIM-only postpaid plans. Keep in mind that although some plans include roaming, the $10 per-day Travel Pack is an additional charge.
The above table covers rates for postpaid users, but if you’re a prepaid user, Optus also has you covered. It’s a bit different however, as you’re basically charged as PAYG rates, which are taken from your balance, with rates available on the Optus website. You can add on Extras Credit which applies to international roaming.
However, if you’re a Prepaid Epic Data or Epic Value customer, you’ll be able to choose the Data Roaming add on for $20 over five days. This gives you access to 10GB of roaming data to use in Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK and USA.
Regardless of what kind of plan you’re on, you can track your usage during your trip through the Optus app and online, to make sure you’re not coming back to a painful bill.
Travel and Global SIM Cards
These exist in prepaid form, which makes them easy to insert into your unlocked phone and only pay for what you need! There are several private operators that provide travel SIM cards:
Australia Post TravelSim
Arguably the most popular of the travel SIM cards is the ‘TravelSim’ brand operating through Australia Post. It costs $25 and includes $5 starter credit and free express shipping or you can select the $50 option which includes two SIM cards with $30 of credit and 1GB of Euro data split between the SIM cards. The rates are relatively low rates from 25c for a megabyte of data, per minute of calling or per text and these rates apply to 200+ countries. The SIM card fits all phones and tablets.
You’ll get 24/7 customer service with a smartphone app to control and monitor your use, recharge and troubleshoot. It also includes offline mapping for handy navigation and free TravelSIM to TravelSIM texts, making it easy to keep in touch with your travelling companions if you go exploring in different places.
If you’re travelling to Europe, this might be one of the easiest roaming SIM cards to set up. There are three European data packs that you can add on with cheaper data rates, which includes 1GB, 3GB or 5GB options — it’s ideal if you’re travelling to more than one of the eligible European destinations.
If this sounds like the right travel SIM to you, it could also be a convenient way of setting up your travel money card, exchange cash and get a travel SIM all in one spot!
|Brand||Features||Max Data**/billing period||Advertised Cost^^/billing period|
$25 Starter Pack
min. cost $25
$50 Value Pack
min. cost $50
|View all mobile plans listed on Canstar Blue||**^^View important information|
Woolworths Mobile Travel SIM
Woolworths Mobile also has an international roaming SIM card and you’ll activate it like any other SIM and receive a roaming number. One big difference with the other international SIM cards is that Woolworths’ offering is more data-oriented. The Global Roaming Data Pack includes 200MB of data to use, but you’re able to add on data bundles. These vary in price according to how much data you want and which zone your travel destination is in. While this pack includes mobile data access, you can still make calls and send messages, but you’ll have to do it via a mobile app such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. You can choose between 500MB, 1GB or 3GB data bundles over 30 days or 60 days.
While you’ll need to purchase the SIM card first, you can then select which data bundle to add on. The Zone 1 bundle works in China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea the UK and USA, to name a few. You will find many of the more popular European destinations included in Zone 1, which makes it a good option if you’re trekking around Europe. Zone 2 packs are generally double the cost and includes a range of pacific and South American countries, including Brazil, Chile, Fiji Mexico, Samoa and Tonga. Canada, South Africa and Vietnam are also included in Zone 2, but for the full list of destinations, you’ll need to visit the Woolworths Global Roaming site.
|Brand||Features||Max Data**/billing period||Advertised Cost^^/billing period|
Zone 1 1GB
min. cost $25 for 30 day expiry
Zone 1 3GB
min. cost $60 for 60 day expiry
Zone 2 1GB
min. cost $50 for 30 day expiry
Zone 1 3GB
min. cost $120 for 60 day expiry
|View all mobile plans listed on Canstar Blue||**^^View important information|
What about a phone plan from the country I’m visiting?
It’s hard enough having to wrap your head around the huge range of providers in Australia alone, but going overseas can make your head spin with all the phone plans on offer when you’re travelling. Not to mention any language barriers, and it can be quite daunting trying to decipher what the SIM pack is saying in a language you don’t understand. Buying a native prepaid phone plan in the country you’re visiting can require some footwork, but the work can pay off as you’ll often be able to get more value for your money.
Prepaid plans are the way to go, as with postpaid plans you’ll most likely need to supply an address, ID check and a local credit card. With prepaid, you can recharge with minimal fuss and enjoy straight away.
This is an easy one. Simply compare prepaid phone providers using our sister site – Canstar Blue NZ.
- You can compare phone plans.
- Expect 1GB of data plus generous call minutes and unlimited texts for under NZD $30 a month.
New Zealand has markedly less providers than Australia, but you will be afforded similar value.
There are five massive mobile networks in the United States: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular. Verizon is the largest in terms of subscriber base, but all offer strong plans. Just like Telstra, Optus and Vodafone do in Australia, all five operate physical stores and popping in to one of these stores is a good way to get yourself a prepaid phone plan.
- Keep in mind that 7/11 stores also stock a range of prepaid plans that may prove to be pretty solid value.
- Keep up with the US lingo: ‘wireless’ and ‘cellular’ are synonymous with ‘mobile’.
As you’d expect, these five providers are a little more expensive than the USA’s raft of Mobile Virtual Network Operators, but some US MVNOs are pretty obscure and you’ll really need to do your homework here, as they often aren’t found in-store.
One thing to be aware of: US networks Verizon, Sprint, and US Cellular all operate on CDMA technology, which means your Australian smartphone may not be compatible with their service. If you’re planning to stick a US SIM card in your device, you may need to check with your intended carrier first to ensure you’ll be able to access talk, text and data.
Like the USA, there are five network operators in Canada: Rogers, Telus, BCE and Shaw. Much of what you can get on a mobile phone plan in Canada is province dependent; one network might operate only in Alberta, but not in British Columbia for example.
Going with any of the bigger telcos will be a safe bet though, with an expansive network of stores across most provinces. You can expect plans with 1GB of data and unlimited talk and text for no less than CAD $40 with the big providers. Anything over 10GB could easily cost over CAD $100 — Canada is considered to have some of the most expensive phone plans around.
Prepaid plans are generally much dearer than what’s available in Australia, but there are some cheaper MVNOs available in various department stores, and prepaid SIM cards are often available in convenience stores as well.
UK & Europe
There are four network operators in Great Britain – EE, O2, Vodafone and 3. There is also a huge array of MVNOs, some with funny names like ‘giffgaff’. While undoubtedly these MVNOs may provide solid value, the ‘Big 4’ provide reliability and convenience.
Most of the providers offer pretty solid value, and you can expect upwards of 10GB of data with 1000 minutes & 1000 texts for £20 a month or thereabouts. But keep in mind that the AUD to GBP exchange rate could make it sound cheaper than it is!
It should be noted that most UK plans also operate in most continental European countries as normal with no roaming charges. Though not all your data allowance may be used overseas; for example, you may only find you can use 8GB out of a 10GB phone plan. Nevertheless, it’s still a very handy inclusion.
Being that many flights from Australia to Europe land in the UK, it’s very easy to pick up a UK prepaid SIM and continue on to continental Europe. Each of the four carriers have a range of store locations spanning most of the UK and you’ll likely be able to pop into one and walk out with a prepaid plan any time.
Prepaid plans in other countries
As for other countries, it starts to get a little trickier. The safest bet is selecting a roaming option, but if you’re willing to do the homework and legwork yourself, then you should be able to nab a very cost-effective deal. Sticking to major providers is also a safe bet in terms of reliability and convenience. MVNOs – while often providing more value for your money – can be hard to find without retail stores and you’ll might need to order online first, which can extend the time you spend waiting for mobile phone coverage instead of enjoying your holiday.
Mobile phone roaming: Is it worth it?
Traditional mobile phone roaming where you simply take your phone overseas with no forward planning or SIM card change is obviously very convenient, but the costs can also add up. Expect minute-long phone calls to cost over $1 a minute, a simple text to cost at least 50c and the data charges can really add up. You may want to think twice about turning mobile roaming on, and only using it in case of emergencies.
Beyond that, there are a handful of providers supplying ‘travel packs’, but these too can be quite expensive. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cheapest options also tend to be the most annoying to acquire. A native phone plan in the country you’re visiting can be the most cost effective, but finding the right one can be both time consuming and confusing.
No matter what route you choose, it is undeniable that having mobile phone access overseas is handy and a good safety tool. If you’re willing to pay for convenience, then roaming presents a good option to enjoy your holiday with minimal fuss.