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New international roaming rules

  • Communications minister announces new rules on roaming
  • Consumers must be warned about roaming charges when overseas
  • Australians face some of the highest roaming charges in the world
Written by Mikaella Clements

Australian telcos will have to alert customers with a text message to the high costs of roaming whenever they turn on their phone overseas under new rules, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has pledged.

Australian mobile networks have agreements with their overseas counterparts to allow customers to use foreign networks to make calls while abroad. As the phone companies charge each other high fees to connect these calls, roaming is a convenient but expensive service for customers. However, roaming is particularly expensive for Australians - in 2011, an OECD report found that Australia was one of the most expensive developed countries in the world for mobile roaming charges.

Customers with smartphones are particularly vulnerable to high bills due to the cost of data roaming. At an average of $15 for 1MB, simply using Google Maps to get from the airport to your hotel for an hour could cost over $100.

Under the proposed rules, Australians will receive a text telling them the exact charge to make a call, send a text or use the net, including receiving emails, whenever they turn their phone on overseas.

The Government is also considering limits on how much consumers will be allowed to spend, or forcing telcos to reduce the price of roaming.

Costs of roaming overseas

Most providers split countries into one of five zones. Zones 4 and 5 have the majority of international destinations in it, though Zone 3 contains a good part (although not all) of Europe, the UK, and Hong Kong, as well as the USA. You'll find Greece, Singapore, and Vietnam in Zone 2 along with others, and Egypt, Ethiopia, and Mexico in Zone 5. It's best, though, to check which zone the country or countries you're travelling into to be sure – and sometimes countries can be in different zones depending upon the provider, so make sure to double check!

There are different advantages to different providers. Vodafone tend to have quite expensive roaming rates for calls, but are extremely cheap for receiving calls ($1.00 per minute in all zones), so you might want to use them if you don't think you'll make any calls, but would like to keep your phone on you for an emergency. If you're going to the US, the UK, or New Zealand, Dodo or Optus are going to be your cheapest options.


Wherever you're going, data is very expensive. Providers tend to keep the same rates for both data and SMS no matter what zone you're in, and while SMS can be quite reasonable, data is incredibly expensive. The average cost is around $15 per MB – nearly 300 times the cost of a MB at home. The cheapest you're going to get is from TPG and Vodafone, with around $10.24 per MB. To put that in perspective, checking Google Maps for around 10 minutes can use 2-3MB of data, meaning you've already got a $30 bill.

It's often a good idea to turn off data roaming on your phone, as sometimes your phone will access the internet – especially in checking for new emails – without you doing anything. You could come home to a very expensive bill without having opened your mobile web browser at all!

If it's absolutely essential that you access the internet while you're overseas, try looking into data roaming packs from your provider. Prices are still very expensive – from $20 to $40 for only 10-15MB, but that's a lot cheaper than what you'd be paying if you just used standard international roaming (where you'd be looking at around $100 for 10MB). Vodafone offers prepaid New Zealand Roaming Packs which are more reasonably priced, starting at $25 for 100MB.

When you use data overseas, remember to stick to light options. 10-15MB should be enough to check your emails (although avoid downloading or sending pictures and music), light web browsing (e.g. Googling the location of a hotel), and simple app usage (again, avoid picture heavy apps). Don't try to use YouTube or other video streaming services, and don't even think about downloading something!

International providers

You could be going overseas on a one-off trip, or like the idea of going overseas one day in the future but not enough to pick your plan purely based on which providers are good when it comes to international roaming charges.

Vastly cheaper than international roaming is simply picking up a prepaid SIM in whatever country you land in. Most providers – regardless of where in the world you're going – will have shops set up in an airport, so you don't even have to make it to your accommodations without your phone!

Alternatively, you could do some research before you go in order to find the best deal before you travel. You could even call ahead to your hotel – if you're staying there – or tour guide (if you're going on a guided trip) to ask if they recommend a local SIM card. If you're really prepared, you could buy one in advance and have it waiting for you at your accommodations.

Make sure that your smartphone is unlocked from your Australian carrier before you go overseas, though. You can do this simply by calling your provider and informing them that you're going overseas, and they'll be able to walk you through the process of unlocking the phone.

Roaming zone 3

Roaming zone 4

Roaming zone 5


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