Smart Tips for taking Phones Overseas

Taking your phone overseas has become a norm in our digital world. Activities like sending emails, searching the web, updating social media and even using apps like Google Maps have all become invaluable for travellers around the world.

Today, around 76% of Australians currently own and use a smartphone – and if they aren’t taking their own phones overseas, data shows that almost 3 in 4 Aussies will take their work phone with them.

But if you’re planning to take your phone along on your next trip, it’s not as easy as simply getting on the plane and hoping for the best when you land.

How can you ensure your phone will even work when you’re in another country? And what can you do to make sure your usage doesn’t result in a hefty bill upon your return to Australia?


International Roaming is probably the easiest way to use your phone while travelling. But beware – it can be costly.

  • Some carriers will let you activate your International Roaming online, while for others you may need to call up and speak to a customer service rep.
  • Make sure to double-check that roaming with your carrier will actually be available in your location.
  • Most major carriers will offer specialised roaming packs (like these Optus Travel Packs) with different rates based on where you are going.
  • But there is a catch – International Roaming can be incredibly expensive and it can send your bills through the roof, especially if you plan to use lots of data overseas or make phone calls.
  • As such, International Roaming might only be suitable if you only plan to use your phone minimally while travelling (e.g. as a backup or in cases of emergency).

Pre-paid SIM cards can be a good alternative to International Roaming options as they’re often much cheaper.

  • Do a bit of research before you leave and find out what pre-paid SIMs (if any) are available in the country you’re going to. If available, find out exactly where you can buy them from (e.g. phone shop, supermarket).
  • Assess the pre-paid plans on offer and choose one that suits your budget and potential usage. Try to stick with the larger carriers to get the most reliable coverage.
  • Is your phone network locked? Many mobiles in Australia are locked to your network. If you plan to use a pre-paid SIM overseas, you’ll need to unlock your phone either online or by calling up your carrier. This is usually free, unless you’re with Telstra, who may charge a fee.
  • To unlock your phone, you’ll need to quote your phone’s 15-digit IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number. According to the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, you can dial *#06# on your phone to retrieve your IMEI number.
  • If you plan to use a lot of data while travelling, try to find a plan that will be able to accommodate your usage or one that offers unlimited data options. While this might be more costly upfront, it could save you lots in the long run.

Using data can be pricey no matter what type of plan you’re on. Even apps that run in the background can cost you heaps. How can you avoid racking up a sky-high phone bill while travelling?

  • Data roaming can be very expensive so if you’re using International Roaming, turn it off just before your flight. This will mean your phone won’t use your plan (and its high costs) to access data.
  • If you buy a SIM on a pre-paid plan overseas, it can be a good idea to turn your data roaming off as well so that you don’t chew up your budget with data.
  • Turning off automatic data downloads or refreshes for your apps is also recommended so that they won’t continue using data in the background (e.g. set your email to manually ‘refresh’ instead of leaving it on auto).
  • Turn on Airplane Mode if you’re unsure whether you’re using data or not. This is a good way to turn all of your data options off, meaning you won’t incur any related charges.

Did you know that you can save lots of money by simply using free Wi-Fi for your phone wherever it is available?

  • Find out where free and easy-to-find Wi-Fi hotspots are in your destination.For example, if you’re going to the US, all Starbucks stores offer free Wi-Fi, as do most McDonalds restaurants in Singapore.
  • If you’re heading somewhere where Wi-Fi hotspots are few and far between, try to book hotels that offer Wi-Fi either from your room or on their premises.For instance, in Bali, the Adirama Beach Hotel has in-room Wi-Fi services, as does the Six Senses Samui in Thailand.
  • Free (or even cheap) Wi-Fi is an excellent option when travelling overseas and can be used for any app or function that requires a Wi-Fi connection. You can check your emails, make calls via apps and even upload photos using Wi-Fi.

If you plan to make phone calls while overseas (e.g. to friends and family back home), it could be beneficial to consider using certain apps instead of your phone plan.

These apps often only require a Wi-Fi connection and can be much less expensive than ordinary calls.

  • Skype can be ideal for both voice and video calling, and it’s free. If you have an iPhone, FaceTime is also a good option.
  • WhatsApp is a popular alternative to text-messaging and allows you to send free texts to anyone else in the world who also has WhatsApp.
  • Photo apps like Instagram, Flickr or even Facebook can also be great for sharing photos with friends and family rather than using costly multimedia messaging (MMS).
  • If you have an iPhone, the dedicated Smartraveller App can be useful for keeping updated about travel advice. It’s also packed with info on travel tips, travel insurance and Smartraveller services.

Tip: Try not to download any new apps when you’re overseas as this will use data and can cost lots. Instead, make sure you plan ahead and get those apps before you leave!

About Tommy Ooi 427 Articles
Luxury Hotel Reviewer & Destination Blogger. Passionate for travel, exploring new culture & indulging divine food, Tommy has traveled to 42 countries & 140+ destinations.

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