The days of wandering the world with an occasional phone call home are long gone. Our smartphones are our pocket concierges when we travel: as well as helping us to stay connected to loved ones at home with texts and video calls, it’s how we book our next hotel, find our way around a new city and, of course, take and post photos to show what a great time we’re having.
But if you don’t have a plan, roaming the world can cost big bucks. These are five of the best ways to travel overseas with your smartphone without coming home to a shocking bill.
Buy a pre-paid travel SIM before you leave
Before you depart Australia, you can purchase a pre-paid SIM card for the country or region you’ll be visiting which provides data, call and text allowances. This allows you stay in control of your spend and top-up the SIM card if you burn through the initial allocation. Buying and activating the SIM in Australia also means you’ll have an Australian number to provide to your contacts and will be connected from the moment you touch down in a new country.
How to set it up: Purchase a travel SIM from your telco, the airport or Australia Post outlets. They start at around $25 depending on how much data you want and where you’re going. You will need to specify the region you’re travelling to before purchasing a pre-paid travel SIM.
Buy a pre-paid SIM when you arrive
Take advantage of local rates by buying a pre-paid SIM card with lots of data when you arrive at your destination. The data allowance is usually larger than what you will get with a travel SIM in Australia – anywhere between 5GB and 30GB – which means you can stay connected to friends and family at home through apps such as FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp. Though you'll be able to make local calls (handy when trying to nab a table at the hottest restaurant in the city), you won’t be able to call Australia without incurring extra charges.
How to set it up: Before you leave, ask your Australian operator whether your smartphone is locked to the network. If not, it’s simply a matter of inserting the new SIM when you arrive. These are usually available at the airport or from a phone or convenience store.
Use your existing SIM card with global roaming
Australian telco providers all offer roaming packs which makes it possible for travellers to use their own number and data allowance in other countries. Telstra and Optus both offer $10/day roaming packages, which include 200MB and 100MB daily data respectively and unlimited talk and text. Vodafone offers $5 a day roaming to more than 55 countries so you can use as much data as your plan allows and unlimited calls and texts.
How to set it up: In the settings, enable data roaming. Check with your provider for specific instructions
Create a wi-fi hotspot for your family
Save money and encourage your teenagers not to wander off in search of wi-fi by keeping all your family’s devices connected with one pre-paid SIM card you can use as a hotspot rather than shelling out for several SIMs. Simply choose one with plenty of data.
How to set it up: Follow the instructions above for activating your SIM and change the generic password assigned by the phone to a more secure one of your choosing to share with your family.
Just use wi-fi
If you want to really save money, keep your smartphone on flight mode and just use wi-fi wherever and whenever you can find it. It’s available pretty much anywhere you want to stop and rest – hotels, restaurants, cafés, shopping centres – and some cities around the world, such as Seoul, Helsinki and New York, offer free wi-fi in select spots around town. You won’t be able to make or receive calls but can stay in touch and plan your trip using data.
How to set it up: Simply select the available wi-fi network and carefully read the terms and conditions – most services will require you to enter your email or other information. Exercise caution when using free wi-fi as its possible for someone else on the network to snoop on your information. It’s a good idea to buy a VPN (virtual private network), which can be purchased for as little as $5 a month. This protects your connection and is like have a private tunnel to the internet.