Wanderlust Without the Bill Shock: The Aussie Guide to International Roaming

Wanderlust Without the Bill Shock: The Aussie Guide to International Roaming
Apple emojis. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

When you head overseas, you might be thinking about how you can access the phone calls and the internet abroad: queue international roaming.

While there are often Wi-Fi options available where you might be going, in particular at airports and in cafes, your phone is still capable of accessing the internet through 3G, 4G and 5G connectivity.

But be wary, friends. As we’ve recalled at length in the past, a blindspot in your international roaming plan could set you back hundreds.

Here’s the ins and outs of international roaming, including what your options are from the major Australian telcos at the moment.

What is international roaming?

International roaming is the ability for your phone plan to connect to networks in countries outside of Australia. This functionality is controlled by your phone plan provider (for example, Telstra, Optus or Vodafone) and is provided through your SIM card.

International roaming is typically handled as an add on to a phone plan, however it could also be offered as an included extra. There are terms outlined by the provider dictating how you might be able to use it, including available countries and data packages.

While most international roaming plans include unlimited calls and texts, make sure you’re aware of which countries your phone plan provider allows you to call without extra costs, or you could rack up a sizeable bill. Additionally, be aware of how limited your data may be when you go overseas, as only having access to a couple of gigabytes per day could cost a fortune if you stream a Netflix series from beginning to end.

What is data roaming?

For the most part, data roaming is the same thing as international roaming, but many may use it as a capture all term to discuss the more data-involved applications of international roaming (for example, streaming Netflix via your phone data in another country).

Given how reliant we’ve become on the internet through social media, web searches and online messaging services, you’ll often find data roaming plans inseparable from international roaming plans. But, just check what you’re paying for first and make sure it works in the country you’re going to.

International roaming from Telstra

Telstra’s international roaming plan is simple: unlimited talk and text, along with 500MB of data per day (as of March last year) on Upfront plans. Upfront plan users can also add an additional 1GB for $10 ($5 in New Zealand), which can be used over 30 days. You can add more data through the MyTelstra app.

Telstra does not currently offer international roaming on prepaid plans. You’ll be charged pay-as-you-go rates through Telstra if you’re not on an Upfront plan.

International roaming from Optus

Optus has three international roaming options.

Option one

Optus offers international roaming on Optus Choice Plus, Optus Plus Family or Optus Plus Kids through add-ons, activated in the My Optus app. Since May last month, travellers to “Zone one” destinations will get a 5GB data pack (for use within 24 hours) for $5. A 35GB pack for $35 is also available, with that pack lasting a week. You’ll get unlimited talk and text no matter what pack you go with.

Option two

Available to select customers (check your availability through the My Optus app), Optus offers the “Roaming Pass” for $10, giving you 1GB to use within 24 hours in “Zone one” destinations (paired with unlimited talk and text).

Option three

If you’d like to roam with a pay-as-you-go approach, this is option three. Pay-as-you-go rates begin if you don’t activate one of the earlier mentioned options. You can read more information about this here.

International roaming from Vodafone

From Vodafone, you can spend $5 per day and get access to all of your plan inclusions (unlimited calls and texts, plus whatever data allowance you have allocated). If you run out of data, you’ll need to spend $5 per 1GB (this will automatically be added). This is available on mobile plans and tablet plans and will be activated from the moment you use your plan overseas. You’ll find a map here indicating which countries allow for Vodafone $5 roaming and which countries you’ll need to pay-as-you-go.

Happy roaming to those headed overseas.