How to Use Your Phone in Australia Without International Charges

Posted on: May 3rd, 2022 by Lizandra Santillan No Comments

Travel internationally using your carrier’s International Call, Text and Data plans can be quite expensive.

Many people opt to stay unplugged while traveling international, but there are many practical reasons you might want to use your phone while traveling internationally:

  • Stay in touch with folks back home
  • Reconfirm tours and transfers
  • Allow your driver to call you in the event you are unable to connect at the predetermined time and location
  • Order ride share or taxi services
  • Look up bus and ferry schedules
  • Look up nearby restaurants
  • Look up things to do and see
  • Look up directions
  • Ensure your taxi driver isn’t ‘taking you for a ride’
  • Look up strange Australian slang 
  • Post photos and videos to social media
  • Chill out after a long day of touring with your favorite Netflix show
  • Find out why all the roofs in Australia look different from ours

Ok, the last four aren’t very practical, but we all need to have our own brand of fun while on vacation!

Person taking picture of Sydney Opera House on phone

The fact is, in today’s world it’s hard to get by without a cell phone. International calling plans are ridiculous, free WiFi is unreliable and hard to find, and a local driver trying to find you in a crowded airport might not feel comfortable calling an international number to find you.

That’s why we recommend getting a local number as soon as you get off the plane.

Here’s our step by step guide to getting a local number while traveling to Australia.

How to get an Australian SIM Card

When you arrive in Australia, the airport will offer several options for purchasing SIM cards. If you are looking to get a good deal, you are technically savvy, and you know where to find a supermarket near your hotel, you might want to look into getting a SIM card at supermarkets like Target, Kmart, Coles, Woolworths or Aldi.

Australia has three major networks:

Smaller sim providers use one of the 3 major networks but can often offer better deals:

  • Coles – on the Optus Network. You can purchase in the supermarket.
  • Aldi – Can be purchased in store. The coverage is the same as Telstra.
  • Boost Mobile – Great deals for the Telstra Network. You can purchase at Woolworths, Coles, Target, Kmart, and BP gas stations. You can also find retailers at the Melbourne and Sydney Airports.

Each carrier will have quite a few bundles you can choice from. If you purchase from a kiosk at the airport, the attendant can show you which one will work for you based on what you plan on doing with your phone while in Australia.

After you pick, the attendant will set everything up for you. They insert the sim card, tap away and you are set!

If you purchase your SIM card at a supermarket, there should be instructions included on how to set it up.

To purchase a SIM card, you will need your name, passport and address of your first hotel.

Known coverage issues

Expect to hit no coverage zones when traveling in the outback or remote areas. These isolated areas in Australia can be unpredictable no matter what network you are on. If your stay takes you to the outback, you might consider saving the sim for your city days.

You’ll need an unlocked cell phone

Woman using phone

This can be an older cell phone you have laying around or your personal cell phone. Cell phone carriers can lock their phones to their service if the phone is under payment. But once you pay off your phone, they must unlock it on request.

Requesting the unlock takes minutes, but it might take up to 2 days for the phone to actually unlock. It’s really easy to do. Beware of services that offer to unlock your phone for a fee.

To unlock a cell phone or check to see if it is unlocked:

  • Locate your phone’s IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity)
    • iPhone: Go to Settings > General > About. Then scroll down to find the number near the bottom of the page.
    • Android: Type IMEI in the search section of your settings or dial *#06# and call.
  • Most carriers allow you to unlock your phone online with a simple form:
    • Search on Google your carrier’s name + “IMEI unlock”
      • You will be asked to supply your IMEI number
    • If you can’t find this, just call the carrier’s customer service department

Check to make sure your phone will work in Australia

Most modern USA phones should work in Australia. You can double check by searching for your phone on this website:

For those tech savvy people, the criteria your phone needs to have is:

  • GSM network – This is common in the USA and most phones now can handle a GSM network, but older Verizon, US Cellular and Sprint phones may be CDMA network only. These phone can not be used in Australia for calls and text, but you may be able to use 4G data.
  • Australia uses 850MHz, 900MHz, and 2100Mhz for 3G networks and B1, B3, B5, B7, B7, and B28 for 4G bands.
  • If you unlock your phone by calling the carrier, the service representative maybe able to tell you if your phone meets this criteria.

Remember to bring the correct power adapter for your charger

Many hotels have USB ports, but just in case you will want to make sure you bring a Type 1 outlet (same as New Zealand, Australia and China) with a current of 240v AC 50Hz. A simple adapter is fine for a phone, but if you plan on using devices that uses 110v, you will want to purchase a converter.

Download the carrier’s app so you can monitor your usage

Most carriers offer an app that allows you to track your usage. You might be able to top up, if you start to run low. Overages can get pricey so watch this closely. If you worry about going over, you can always put your phone into airplane mode when you are not using it.

Tell your friends and family to download Whatsapp to stay in touch

Woman watching phone with Whatsapp

Now that you have a local Australia number, you don’t want to burden folks back home with an international calling bill to get in touch with you. Ask them to download Whatsapp so you can use data to call and text international numbers while in Fiji. It’s free! May SIM cards also come with international calling to the states that is very reasonable.

Keep your original SIM Card in a safe place

Make sure you put your SIM card in a safe spot, preferably in its own little container. These things are tiny and can easily get lost. We’ve used business card holders, pill containers you can get in the travel section, and those little envelopes you can get for credit cards that you can slip in your wallet.

Bring your SIM card key

One of the most annoying side effects of switching out the SIM card of your main phone is landing back on US soil and discovering you have no way to use your phone because you can’t switch out your SIM card. When you pack that special little container, add the little SIM key that came with your phone.

Notify your transfer and tour operators of your local number

It’s 2022 and Australia has just opened to the world after being in hibernation for 2 years. There is bound to be some hiccups along the way.

On your first night in Australia, sit down with your new phone and look on your vouchers for the numbers of all your tour operators and transfer providers. Give them a call and let them know you would like to add your local number to your booking. Now they can easily contact you if they need to.

Here’s to a no-worries mate vacation!