Sad but true, we’re slaves to our smartphones. So when you arrive in Australia, one of the first things you’ll probably want to do is set up an Australian mobile plan. Thankfully, it’s a pretty easy stunt to pull off. Here’s a how-to list to help you out!
1Choose a mobile network
Australia has tonnes of mobile phone and broadband providers. But they all operate on three networks: Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.
Which to choose, depends what you’re doing and where you’re going. But unless you plan to spend some quality time away from civilisation (in which case Telstra is probably your best bet), you can’t go too wrong with either.
2Make sure your phone is compatible
This used to be a big thing in the olden days – as anyone who travelled in Japan before the age of smartphones can attest to. Nowadays, there’s really only one thing to note: Australia has switched off its 2G network. That means, if you have a rather ancient phone that relies on GPRS or EDGE, you’ll find yourself out of luck.
For everyone else, Australia’s 3G networks run on 850MHz, 900MHz and/or 2100MHz while the 4G networks operate on 700MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz, 2300MHz and 2600MHz.
3Choose an operator
As mentioned, Australia has lots and lots of operators. Sure, you can sign up with Telstra, Optus or Vodafone, but you may not always get the best deal. Lately, I’ve had mobile plans with iiNet (Optus network), OVO (Optus network) and Aldimobile (Telstra network).
I was a post-paid subscriber with iiNet for the longest time. While their customer service was always good, their mobile plan inclusions weren’t exactly great value (it’s getting better now, but still not great). So, I took a back-to-the-future plunge and opted for a pre-paid plan elsewhere: First with OVO and then with Aldimobile.
OVO operates on the Optus network, so they have decent coverage in the big cities but (subjectively) not as good as Telstra in some spots. They offer unlimited SMS in Australia, unlimited calls on their AU$29.95 plan and higher. You also get between 1GB and 19GB of mobile data each month.
You don’t get to send international SMS with OVO (although you can receive them). But in this day and age with iMessage, Viber, Messenger, Snapchat and every other instant messaging app you could possibly need, who cares?
The best mobile plan in my mind is their unlimited call/text and 10GB plan, which currently sets you back AU$34.95 per month. On this plan, you also get 300 minutes of international calls to a handful of countries (but not Norway, which annoyed me a bit).
For me, Aldimobile works best as their mobile subscriptions offer a nice combination of unlimited calls and SMS, 8GB of mobile data. And it’s on the Telstra network. You also get 200 minutes of international calls to select countries.
You don’t get as much mobile data as with OVO, but Aldimobile lets you roll over one month’s worth of unused data as long as you auto-recharge. And, their selection of countries that you can call with your included 200 minutes is bigger. (Including Norway, which is yay me as that’s where I’m from!!)
4Setting up your mobile plan
Regardless of which mobile plan you pick, you’ll need a couple of things.
- Purchase a SIM card. You can normally buy SIM cards online on the operator’s website or in supermarkets, convenience stores, petrol stations and airports. (Selection will vary depending on which operator has deals with which sales outlet.)
- Prove your identity. During the sign-up process, which is generally done online, you’ll need to prove your identity. This is normally done with your passport, although if you’re actually an Australian resident you can also use your driver’s license.
- Add your credit card. Along with proving your identity, you’ll also need to enter your credit card details and select your plan. You can normally use VISA and Mastercard everywhere. Some operators may also let you get away with Amex or other credit card providers.
- Get activated and get going. Once you’ve completed the signup process with your operator of choice, you should normally be online within hours. Just keep in mind, if you’re porting your number (i.e., if you already have an Australian mobile number (in which case, why are you reading this?) and transfer to a new operator), your new plan normally will not go active at night or on Sundays.
5Wrapping it up
So there you have it. Australia has lots of mobile operators, most of which offer pretty good value for money. Before you sign up, work out whether you rely more on mobile data, international calls, domestic calls or SMS, and select your plan accordingly.
Be mindful also, that while most pre-paid plans are good for 30 days, some are good for just 28 days or even 7 days. On the flipside, some will last you anywhere from 35 days to half a year or a whole year.
And finally, don’t forget to disable auto-recharge if/when you leave Australia. That way you will avoid additional months of mobile plan charges after you leave.
6And one last thing…
Don’t ever, EVER, never-ever handle a mobile phone while driving a motor vehicle in Australia. It’s stupidly dangerous, inconsiderate and a fatal crash waiting to happen. It’s also illegal throughout Australia and will result in a fairly decent fine if you’re caught.