Get connected – tips for travelling with technology

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Stay connected while you’re overseas and have a better holiday. Here’s how to do it cheaply and easily

Best options for using your mobile phone overseas


There are lots of good reasons to use ALL the functions of your smartphone while you’re overseas – browsing for a place to eat, or sleep, making tour bookings and hotel reservations, finding your way with online maps, sending pictures to family, sharing with friends on social media.

But global roaming from your Australian provider, especially for data, can be hideously expensive, as much as $15 per MB. Even basic use eats up 300 MB of data a month, which would cost $4500, plus call charges!

But it IS possible to use your smartphone on holiday without it costing more than your airfare!

Buying a travel SIM before you leave

It’s certainly much cheaper than standard global roaming fees, one provider claims it’s 90% cheaper, but you have to change your number, which means letting family and friends know what it is, or setting up a diversion (and paying the diversion fees) from your regular number.

The travel SIM providers all have plans and bundles and…. Crikey, who wants to go through all that stuff again!

Woolworths claims you’ll always get the cheapest call rate when you use their Global Roaming SIM. To do that you call the number, the phone automatically hangs up on you, searches for the cheapest rate and calls you back and hooks you up with your friend. You may have forgotten what you wanted to say by then.

Then there’s topping up credit, making sure you’ve got the right data bundle blah, blah, blah.

Get a SIM when you arrive

If you’re okay with getting a new number, then local SIMs at your destination are significantly cheaper than pre-paid SIMS from home.

How cheap and which is the best provider varies from destination to destination.

In some countries to access the Internet and the data that powers your apps you may have to buy data packs separately from “included” voice and text allowances.  Same with international calling packs for cheap calls back home.

A local SIM is a good idea if you’re spending a long time in a destination, or travelling there regularly… it becomes like your “other” number that you just recharge every time (beware some SIMS will expire if they’re not used for 6 months or a year).

Plus there’s all the same hassle about a new number, bundles, topping up, and you can waste a lot of time when you first land just finding somewhere that sells the SIMS and bundles.

We’ll try to help you through that minefield with some information below. It’s as up to date as we can get it, but plans, deals and rates change fast.

Remember, you’ll need to get your Australian provider to “unlock” your phone before you leave. Unlocking means allowing another provider’s SIMs to be used.


Reasonable global roaming fees from your current provider!

Australia’s providers, Vodafone, Optus and Telstra have done something about global roaming fees and are offering “travel packs” from as little as $5 a day.


Vodafone was the first local provider to tackle the pain of holiday bill shock with their $5 Roaming deal. If you’re an existing Vodafone customer on a new plan, you can use all the data, text and call credit (excluding Vodafone to Vodafone minutes) from your plan for an extra $5 per day. Otherwise, you can join Vodafone from as little as $20 per month on a contract free SIM Only plan and take advantage of the $5 Roaming deal.

Vodafone Roaming includes all the data, call and TXT inclusions (excluding Vodafone to Vodafone minutes) from your plan in 47 countries including New Zealand, the USA, most of Europe, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan and Thailand.


Optus has $10 per day travel packs that can be added to any post-paid plan.

The pack has unlimited local and international calls, text, and 50MB of data in New Zealand, Europe, the UK, the US, Canada and Asia.

You can accumulate the data – 5 packs for $50 will cover 5 days with 250MB of data.


Telstra’s has several Casual Traveller Data Packs starting at $29 for 100MB, up to $350 for 1.5GB. Not the cheapest option, but you keep your Telstra number and don’t have SIM swap hassles. Each pack is active for 30 days and can be used in 50 countries across Asia, Europe, New Zealand, UK and the US.

The Verdict

Vodafone’s $5 Roaming Deal is our top pick. You’ll only pay on the days you make or receive a call, send a text or use data so it is good value for money.

It also means you keep your usual Australian number so your friends and your mum can still get a hold of you when you’re overseas.

No SIM required – Connect via Wi-Fi

If you switch off data roaming you can still connect using a free Wi-Fi hot spot.

This lets you use ‘data free’ apps like Facetime, Skype and WhatsApp. You can also download emails and messages, or pre-load maps for offline use.

You’ll find free Wi-Fi everywhere in cafes, restaurants and transport terminals, but you may have to be a paying customer.

If you’re going down this path you’ll need to:

Switch off data roaming

On the iPhone

For ios7:

Touch the Settings icon > Touch the Cellular button near the top of the screen > switch Data Roaming to off (slide the button right to left. The green area should go white). This will disable web browsing, email MMS and all data. Although if you scroll down further you can switch data roaming back on for individual apps, such as maps but remember you will be charged for data.

If you also slide Cellular Data to off this will stop your apps downloading data via the local phone network, but still allow you to use Wi-Fi.

On Android

In settings > wireless & network > mobile networks – there are two check boxes: Use Packet Data & Data Roaming. If you un-check both of these your phone will not connect to any mobile data services, but Wi-Fi will still work as usual.


Travel Insurance Direct and World Nomads author Phil Sylvester offers insights and advice to keep our customers safe and informed when they travel. With 20 year’s experience, Phil has turned his journalist’s eye to the things that could take the fun out of your holiday, researching issues and destinations that keep you informed so you can travel with confidence. He is also co-host of The World Nomads Travel Podcast.


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