If you’re heading overseas and want to take your mobile phone with you, then you will have probably heard about people’s horror stories of global roaming bills that run into the thousands of dollars.
However, if you purchase a travel SIM card or a local SIM card for the country you’re visiting, then you can save a lot of money.
To give you a quick visual comparison of the different options that you have available – enabling global roaming on your Australian SIM card, purchasing a Travel SIM Card and purchasing a Local SIM Card for your Destination Country, we have prepared a quick chart.
What Is A Travel SIM Card?
A SIM Card is a small chip that you insert into your phone that is linked to your phone service and identifies you as a subscriber to a mobile network. You need one in your phone in order to obtain service from a mobile phone service provider.
However, if your phone is unlocked, you can swap the SIM card from your Australian mobile provider with one that comes from an overseas provider, allowing you to obtain better rates when you travel.
There are some providers that market special “travel SIM cards”, where the provider has negotiated good roaming rates in a number of countries – typically based on one or more of three main travel regions, being the US and Canada, Europe and South East Asia. Quite often these will have better rates than your Australian provider offers, which is where the advantage of swapping comes from.
You can also buy a prepaid SIM card for one of the local networks country that you’re travelling to. While you can normally buy these in the airport or at most convenience stores after you land, there are online stores like SIM Corner that stock and sell prepaid SIM cards for most countries that you might be considering traveling to.
The big advantage of pre-buying your local SIM card is that you will have your new number and SIM card in your hands before you land, making it easy to set up call diverts or voicemail messages advising of your temporary number, and tell any friends or family that may need to call you.
How Does It Work?
By swapping the SIM Card in your phone, you’re switching the provider that provides calls, text and data services to your phone, and in the case of a travel SIM card, you’ll be getting a new number that is tied to that service.
Be sure you know how the service is billed – most travel SIM services are prepaid, which means you will need to log into a web site and recharge your service using your credit card.
When people call you, they will be making an international call to the country that your mobile number is in, even if you are sitting across the table from them. Many of the travel SIM providers have negotiated deals with UK networks, so you will have a British mobile number that begins with +44. When your friends or family call/text you, this will be charged as an international call to the UK, and you may be charged to receive that call depending on which country you are in at the time. It may not be included in their caps or monthly call value allocations either.
What Do I Need To Know About Roaming?
If you choose to use international roaming on your Australian service rather than purchasing a travel or local SIM card, all of your calls, texts and data usage will be billed back to your Australian carrier at the roaming rates for the country you’re visiting. You can normally check the roaming rates for your destination countries by checking your mobile provider’s web site or calling their customer service team.
- On some providers, roaming is not turned on by default – you will need to call customer service to have it activated, and some providers charge a deposit of between $200-$500 to activate roaming.
- For some providers, including some prepaid MVNOs such as Aldi, international roaming is not available.
- People will continue to be able to contact you on your Australian mobile number, as if you were still in the country.
- When your friends and family call you, they pay the standard rate to call you as if you were in Australia, and you pay to receive the call.
- Receiving text messages are free when you’re overseas, but MMS messages are expensive to receive due to roaming data charges.
- Accessing mobile data services, such as iMessage, Facebook, Twitter, FaceTime, Skype, etc are all typically very expensive to access due to high per MB charges, and mobile data via roaming is not available in all countries. We recommend you turn off your mobile data when roaming, and only use Wifi.
Should I Buy A Travel SIM Card Or A Local SIM Card?
If you’re only traveling to one or two countries, and you’ll be spending a week or more in each country, then you should definitely consider purchasing local SIM cards for the specific country.
Why? Because you’ll get a much better rate on your calls and data than you would normally get from a roaming SIM card.
If you’re going on a month long Contiki tour through many countries that only has you stopping for one or two nights in any one city, then one of the travel SIM cards is better – there’s only one number to hand out to friends and family, you only have to change your SIM card once, and it’s a lot easier to manage.