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A guide to finding the best prepaid SIM card when traveling to Australia
Use a local SIM card to reduce your roaming rates
If you’re planning a trip to Australia, contacting family and friends abroad can be expensive. A top tip for keeping costs down is to switch over to a local SIM card. Australia has some great voice, SMS and data plans on offer, with deals that could reduce your phone bills. You can get 1GB of data from Australia’s top telco providers for as little as AUD$10 (US$7.5). So, whether you’re planning a quick vacation or a longer trip, you could save money by comparing SIM card options on finder.com.
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Cell phone carriers in Australia
There are three main telco providers in Australia: Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. Locals and travelers have tried and tested SIM cards from all three networks, so they can be trusted. Although there are many other SIM card options offered by the likes of ALDImobile, amaysim, Boost Mobile, Coles Prepaid, Dodo, gotalk, Hello Mobile, Lebara, Lycamobile, Virgin Mobile, Woolworths Mobile and Yomojo, they are all operated as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) through the three main operators mentioned above.
About Australia’s cell phone operators
Australia’s operators offer amazing technology, competitive prices and sell prepaid credit, allowing users to take advantage of cheap offers and deals. All networks offer customers 3G and 4G/LTE. 2G will be discontinued across the entire country in October 2017, so make sure your phone is 3G or 4G compatible. Aussies call their SIM cards SIMs and there are no real rules and regulations when buying them. Just make sure you show your passport and register your SIM card online once you have purchased it, with the address of where you’re staying. It would be easier to ask the store assistant to do this for you to save time. SIM cards and credit can be purchased from supermarkets, stores, kiosks and the main airports in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Perth.
Telstra is the largest operator in Australia, with the best coverage area and the highest prices. Although this might be the costliest network, it does tend to be the only one available in the outback or far-flung regions. So, if you’re going on a road trip this is the SIM card for you. Telstra no longer offers 2G services so make sure your phone is 3G or 4G compatible.
SIM cards and credit can be purchased from Telstra T-Life stores, supermarkets, kiosks and airports. Don’t forget to register your SIM card online. Prepaid SIM cards come in three different starter packs, and are offered in nano, mini or micro SIMs:
- Free SIM card – available for cells or tablets, credit should be added for use.
- AUD$10 SIM card – 100 operator minutes, unlimited SMS and 1GB data – valid for 2 weeks
- AUD$30 SIM card – includes AUD$30 credit, 1.5GB (+1.5GB night bonus) – valid for 30 days. Unused data will rollover.
Credit can be topped-up online using your Telstra account, or by purchasing top-up vouchers from most supermarkets and stores. Dial #100# to check your balance.
Telstra offers two very good prepaid SIM card options:
The standard default rate is 10 cents per MB. AUD$20 top-up is valid for 30 days, AUD$30 for 60 days, AUD$50 for 90 days and AUD$100 for 180 days.
Data with unlimited SMS and calls to Telstra customers for 28 days. Overuse is charged at a very high AUD$2 per MB, if you go over any of the set data allowances highlighted below. The following plans are currently available and unused credit will rollover to the next plan you purchase:
- AUD$30 – 1.5GB – Plus, 1.5GB bonus between 8pm to 8am
- AUD$40 – 3GB – Plus, 3GB bonus between 8pm to 8am
- AUD$50 – 4GB – Plus, 4GB bonus between 8pm to 8am
- Extra data can also be added at the following prices: 1GB for AUD$10, or 2.5GB for AUD$20.
- Telstra’s Long Life isn’t really for travellers, the focus is more on the longevity of the plan. Beyond Talk focuseson calls and SMS, but has very expensive data rates.
Telstra’s Browse Plus Packs can be added:
- AUD$5 – 30MB – BROWSEPLUS5 to activate
- AUD$10 – 200MB – BROWSEPLUS10 to activate
- AUD$20 – 700MB – BROWSEPLUS20 to activate
- AUD$39 – 1GB – BROWSEPLUS39 to activate
- AUD$49 – 3GB – BROWSEPLUS49 to activate
- AUD$59 – 4GB – BROWSEPLUS59 to activate
All the above-mentioned plans are valid for 30 days. Text the code to 125 7587 to activate.
Data-only SIM cards:
A special data-only SIM card has been produced to cater for modems or tablets, which offer good data roaming rates. The standard default rate is extremely high at AUD$2 per MB, so make sure you choose a data pack that suits your needs. Unused data will rollover on the following data deals:
|2GB||Valid for 7 days||AUD$20|
|3GB||Valid for 30 days||AUD$30|
|6GB||Valid for 90 days||AUD$60|
|10GB||Valid for 180 days||AUD$90|
|20GB||Valid for 365 days||AUD$150|
Optus is the second largest telco provider in Australia, owned by Singtel. Their coverage is great in the main cities and towns, but can be a little problematic in the country areas. SIM cards and credit can be purchased from yes Optus stores, supermarkets, kiosks, airports, and post offices. Don’t forget to register your SIM card online. They have the following prepaid SIM cards on offer:
- AUD$2 SIM – credit must be added
- AUD$10 SIM – includes AUD$10 credit
- AUD$30 SIM – includes AUD$30 credit
- AUD$40 SIM – includes AUD$40 credit
Top-ups can be made online, by purchasing vouchers at stores or through an Optus account. Text 1 to 9999 to check balance.
Prepaid SIM card:
The following prepaid SIM card plans are currently on offer:
- My prepaid daily plus: AUD$2 a day – 500MB data, unlimited AUS voice and text. If you go over the 500MB data allowance, you will automatically be charged an extra AUD$2 to increase to 1GB. To add further data, you should do that yourself by adding blocks of 500MB of data at AUD$2 each. All amounts will expire at 11:59pm. All credit top-ups are valid for six months.
- My prepaid long expiry: Data is charged at 5c per MB. AUD$5 provides 500MB and AUD$10 provides 1.5GB data, both valid for 14 days. Additional credit lasts for 186 days, the only exception is AUD$60 which is valid for a year.
- My prepaid ultimate:
|AUD $10||7 days||300 MB||100 minutes of calls within Australia|
|AUD $20||14 days||800 MB||200 AUS mins|
|AUD $30||28 days||3 GB||unlimited AUS mins||AUD$5 credit|
|AUD $40||28 days||6 GB||unlimited AUS mins||AUD$10 credit|
|AUD $50||28 days||8.5 GB||unlimited AUS mins||AUD$15 credit|
|AUD $60||28 days||11 GB||unlimited AUS mins||AUD$20 credit|
Optus offers data-only plans called Prepaid Mobile Broadband. The following data packs are available:
- AUD$2 SIM – 50MB data – valid for 7 days
- AUD$10 SIM – 1GB data – valid for 7 days
- AUD$30 SIM – 4GB data – valid for 30 days
The following data can also be added:
|1GB||Valid for 7 days||AUD$10|
|4GB||Valid for 30 days||AUD$30|
|7GB||Valid for 1 year||AUD$50|
|22GB||Valid for 2 years||AUD$130|
Top-ups can be made online by using your credit card. Unused data will be rolled over.
Vodafone is the third provider in Australia, but is reliable and offers the best prices. SIM cards and credit can be purchased from Vodafone stores, supermarkets, post offices, airports or online. Don’t forget to register your SIM card online. The following starter packs are available:
- AUD$1 – credit must be added
- AUD$30 – with AUD$30 credit, valid for 30 days
- AUD$50 – with AUD$50 credit, valid for 30 days
You can add data to Vodafone’s prepaid SIM cards in AUD$30, AUD$40 or AUD$50 denominations. The standard default rate is AUD$2 per MB. The following data packs can also be added:
- AUD$3 – 2GB, valid for 1 day
- AUD$7 – 2GB, valid for 7 days
- AUD$5 – 500MB, valid for 28 days
- AUD$10 – 1GB, valid for 28 days
- AUD$15 – 2GB, valid for 28 days
Vodafone’s MyMix offer allows prepaid users to create their own plans. Using the MyVodafone app, customers can create voice, data and international call options, as well as how long they are valid for. MyMix offers the following combinations:
- AUD$10 – 500MB, unlimited AUS calls, unlimited AUS SMS, 50 international SMS – valid for 7 days
- AUD$20 – 2GB, unlimited AUS calls, unlimited AUS SMS, 50 international SMS – valid for 10 days
- AUD$30 – 2GB, unlimited AUS calls, unlimited AUS SMS, 50 international SMS – valid for 28 days
- AUD$40 – 5GB, unlimited AUS calls, unlimited AUS SMS, 50 international SMS, 90 international mins – valid for 28 days
- AUD$50 – 7.5GB, unlimited AUS calls, unlimited AUS SMS, 50 international SMS, 90 international mins – valid for 28 days
- AUD$60 – 10GB, unlimited AUS calls, unlimited AUS SMS, 50 international SMS, 120 international mins – valid for 28 days
Data-only SIM cards:
Vodafone’s data-only SIMs were created for tablets or modems. The Mobile Broadband SIM also allows SMS usage. The following SIMs are available:
- AUD$2 SIM – standard SIM with no set plan
- AUD$30 SIM – 4GB valid for 30 days
- AUD$40 SIM – 6GB valid for 40 days
- AUD$50 SIM – 8GB valid for 180 days
The following data packages can also be added:
|1GB||30 days||AUD$10||100MB bonus|
|2GB||30 days||AUD$20||200MB bonus|
|4GB||30 days||AUD$30||400MB bonus|
|6GB||40 days||AUD$40||600MB bonus|
|8GB||180 days||AUD$50||800MB bonus|
|10GB||365 days||AUD$60||1GB bonus|
|25GB||365 days||AUD$125||2.5GB bonus|
Some top tips from finder.com staff:
- Australians speak English and love tourists, so you shouldn’t have any problems. Their accent can sometimes be a little hard to understand, but once you become accustomed to it then you won’t give it a second thought.
- Ask the store assistant to set up the SIM card for you. If not, follow the instructions we have highlighted above or go to the official operator website to seek advice.
- The majority of stores close at 5:00pm, with Thursday night being dubbed as “late night shopping night” as stores close at around 9:00pm.
What is the state of the cell phone networks in Australia?
According to OpenSignal Australia is a world leader in cell phone networking. 3G and 4G technologies were launched almost straight after creation and 5G plans are already in the pipeline. OpenSignal tested Australia’s three major cell operators, and found networks that aren’t just fast but also consistently available to Australia’s far-flung population.
- Telstra had the fastest speed with a 4G download average of 23.6 Mbps. Telstra also provided the best overall speeds, averaging 17.1 Mbps across its 3G and 4G networks.
- Vodafone kept pace with Telstra when it came to offering a consistent LTE connection
- Australian consumers have world beating access to fast LTE networks. It ranks in the top 10 in 4G speeds, and the top 20 in 4G availability.
- Telstra and Optus have built LTE-Advanced networks capable of speeds faster than its subscribers can access. Smartphone technology is still catching up!
TripAdvisor tips for the best SIM cards and where to buy them
TripAdvisor has many user comments that can help guide you through what SIM cards have been tried and tested in Australia.
Here are some top tips from TripAdvisor users:
- “Any of the majors are good: Telstra, Vodafone, Optus. Telstra has more coverage nationwide, but if you’re sticking in Melbourne you won’t have any trouble.”
- “SIM cards can be bought for around AUD$2 but they do not include any credit. If you are looking for a simple, non-cap plan you could check out the Optus plan which is only 10c per 30 seconds for calls and 10c per SMS. It is good for basic use.”
- ”Buy a SIM at the airport or at any convenience store in Melbourne and have the staff assist you to set it up and put credit on it. You’ll need ID to get a SIM, so have your passport ready when you buy it.”
- “You can pick SIMs up in department stores, electronics stores, and of course the phone company outlets as well.”
Pros and cons of Australia’s top telco providers
All networks require you to have a SIM-unlocked GSM compatible cell phone. To double check you have this phone, contact your provider before you set off on your travels.
- Good value for money
- Prepaid credit when required
- No in-store contract needed
- Could be compatible with your current cell phone
- Australia offers the best technology in the world
- Some remote areas can suffer from bad coverage
- No cell phone devices offered with the SIM card packages
- Can only be used on SIM-unlocked GSM phones
- No 2G networks
Have more questions about finding the best SIM?
What about other SIM card providers in Australia?
There are many smaller carriers providing SIM cards in Australia, including ALDImobile, amaysim, Boost Mobile, Coles Prepaid, Dodo, gotalk, Hello Mobile, Lebara, Lycamobile, Virgin Mobile, Woolworths Mobile and Yomojo. These are run through the three main operators highlighted above.
If you’re using lots of data while in Australia, the above providers could offer better value. Not all MVNOs offer the full network experience of the main providers so it’s worth checking coverage before you purchase a SIM.
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