Roaming Vs Pre-Paid When Travelling Overseas?

Using 1MB of data in Australia on your mobile phone can cost as little as 10c. Overseas, it could cost as much as $15.00.

When it comes to travelling abroad, none of us can honestly afford to remain untethered from the internet for long. Sure, a digital detox might be half the reason why we’re taking a trip in the first place, but we have to be honest – can we really get by in a foreign country without a maps app or our instant messaging app…or Instagram?

Most Australian phones should work across the globe, but the cost – as we’ve already outlined – can quickly become more expensive than you’re willing to pay.

The question is…how can you avoid the high price of using your phone internationally? We’ll show you!

pre paid vs roaming table

Before you take off … Ask your phone carrier if your handset will work overseas. They can tell you if your phone is locked to the carrier, and whether your handset will function with another country’s network.

The Case For Global Roaming

What is it? If you have a mobile phone plan here in Australia, you can turn on global roaming before you leave, which will let you use your phone internationally. That means you can keep texting, calling, and using data – assuming your phone carrier hasn’t locked the phone. You’ll incur some costs, but will still be able to use your phone like you do at home.

Do you travel overseas regularly? If yes, you may benefit from a mobile phone plan with international roaming as standard. It’s probably going to set you back triple digits each month, but you won’t need to set up much each time you go overseas (unless you travel to certain countries).


For everyone else, global roaming may not be the best value option. Granted, it is the path of least resistance when it comes to a one-stop solution to your telephony needs while you’re travelling. If your provider supports global roaming, all you need to do to set it up is to get in touch with them and let them know where you’re going (to ensure you’ll get coverage).

Sure, this is a pretty attractive, especially when certain Australian carriers will offer coverage in many countries. The high price for data/calls, however, just isn’t worth the convenience for many travellers.

There are exceptions to this rule, however. One telco provider offered $5 per day global roaming as of May 2018, which is excellent value for short trips. Other providers offer ‘packs’ that provide a limited amount of data and chat time, although the value for money of these products vary.

The Case For Buying Prepaid SIM Cards in Australia

What is it? Many companies offer prepaid SIM cards that you can buy and use in your smartphone once you land in overseas. Provided your handset is unlocked, and the SIM carrier offers service at your destination, it’s an excellent solution for many travellers. You’ll have a certain amount of credit that you can spend, and you can always top it up with your credit card online if you run low. Best of all, it works in so many places. One provider offered service in more than 190 countries, as of 2018!

Are you travelling to more than one country? A prepaid travel SIM could be the best option for you, then. Not only will you not have to hunt around for public WiFi, you’ll also be able to send messages back home. This is good for when you get a little homesick, and crucial in an emergency.

Before you leave, you can seek out a provider that offers a plan that suits your itinerary. You can probably get by without calls/SMS, so keep an eye out for a plan with reasonable data allowances for a price you’re comfortable paying. If you don’t need to make any calls while you’re away, you can always just buy a data plan, which can be as cheap as a couple of cents per MB.

The Case For Buying Prepaid SIM Cards Overseas

What is it? Instead of using a product/service from home, you can always go to a supermarket/phone store at your destination and buy a SIM card there. Again, you need to make sure your phone will accept the SIM by checking if your phone is locked before you depart.
Are you only travelling to one or two countries? If you can source a SIM card while you’re overseas, and your phone can use it, then this can be your best option when it comes to price.

There are some caveats to this purchase. For one, you may have to jump through some hoops to get the SIM card. Some countries/retailers will ask for a passport number, or the address of your accommodation while you’re in the country. Also, it’s up to you to track down this SIM in a foreign country. If you’re unable to acquire it, you’ll be left without any form of communication (besides WiFi) for the whole trip.

Our advice? Do your research beforehand to see which types of prepaid SIM cards travellers are picking up at your destination. If you’re concerned that you won’t be able to source one quickly enough, you can always pick up a prepaid travel SIM in Australia instead.

What’s the (free) alternative? No-SIM and no roaming

Why go to all of this trouble when, 20-30 years ago, none of us even had access to these devices? If we could go on holidays back then without smartphones, we can do so now!

Besides, free WiFi is everywhere. Whether it’s complimentary internet at your hotel, the many Starbucks across the globe, or at free WiFi hotspots around cities – it’s difficult to be left completely without internet (unless you’re going ‘off the grid’).

That being said, there are a few things to be mindful of. While you’re overseas, you can be charged for SMS’s sent or received, voicemails that you’ve listened to, data use, and calls made and received.


As such, you’ll need to go into your phone settings to switch off the following things.

  • Mobile data (or cellular services)
  • Data roaming
  • Push notifications
  • Location services

Once you’re finished, turn on airplane mode and keep it there for the rest of your trip. You can still turn on WiFi, which will let you access the internet when you can access it.

Don’t worry though, plenty of apps work offline. In fact, Google Maps let you download maps of entire cities for offline usage so that you can find your way around without the internet! See? No internet needed.

For everyone else, you have three good options to explore.

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