Global roaming: Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone, which is best?

By David Flynn, December 9 2016

We compare the global roaming deals of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone – which one is best for the frequent flyer?

One of the greatest advances for business travellers over recent years wasn't a new type of business class seat, a new airport lounge or travel app, or even an actual 'enhancement' to a frequent flyer scheme.

It was the long-overdue reduction in global roaming fees charged by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, to the point where – for quick business trips with only a few days away – you can stay connected on your Aussie number and smartphone without worrying about coming home to a shocker of a bill.

When a local prepaid SIM is best

That said, there are still times when it's better to grab a local prepaid SIM card in whatever country you're visiting.

The longer you spend in any given country and the more often you'll be returning there, the more sense it makes to invest in a prepaid SIM card and top it up for each trip.

This approach is especially useful if your prepaid SIM works on a fast 4G network and has a generous data allowance, because it lets you skirt those additional in-room Internet fees charged by many hotels.

But there are practical advantages for business travellers to using your Aussie SIM card overseas, as long as you can keep those roaming costs are contained.

For starters, colleagues and clients can still call or text you on your regular mobile number.

You also avoid spending time hunting down and setting up a local prepaid SIM card, which can be more bother than it's worth on a very short overseas trip such as an overnighter or a two-day stay. 

Vodafone

Vodafone's $5/day global roaming is the bee's knees for business travellers.

This lets you use your Aussie plan's data, text and voice allowance for a flat $5 a day in over 50 countries worldwide including Asia, the USA, Canada, UK and Europe. And in New Zealand, roaming is free.

An added bonus is that if your plan includes 'infinite standard national minutes' you can made free calls back to standard landline and mobile numbers in Australia.

The only caveat is that your roaming is nominally limited to 90 days per year.

Telstra

Telstra boasts the most extensive network coverage within Australia, making it the default for many users – but it's well off the pace for global roaming.

Customers on a pre-paid plan need to buy a Travel Pass for the country (or countries) they're travelling to.

New Zealand needs a Zone 1 pass, which starts at $15 for three days of unlimited talk and text but a measly 225MB of data. A more useful 1GB is available in the 14 day $70 travel pass.

Most other countries in Asia, Europe, the UK and the USA are covered by a Zone 2 pass, but once again the data rates are way below what a traveller requires.

The three day 225MB Zone 2 travel pass costs $30, with a seven day 525MB allocation at $70, then 1GB for 14 days at $140 and 2.2GB across 30 days for a whopping $300.

Optus

Optus adopts the same Travel Pack approach as Telstra, although it works only in a single set of countries lumped together as Zone 1. That includes North America, Europe, the UK, Asia and New Zealand.

However, each $10 travel pack lasts for just one day of unlimited talk and text plus a laughable 50MB of data.

Need five days of coverage for your next business trip? That means buying five travel packs for a total of $50, with just 250MB to spread across your working week.

Countries outside Zone 1 – including South America, Africa and the Gulf states – attract their own rates which are typically $2/minute for calls, $2 per sent SMS and $1/MB for data.

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Aug 2014

Total posts 513

"...$1/MB for data" surely has to be a typo! Can't imagine paying $1000 for 1GB of data.
Mal
Mal

14 Jun 2013

Total posts 360

That's no mistake, Optus charges $1/MB outside 'Zone 1' countries!

09 Dec 2016

Total posts 9

Frequent international travellers may be in interested in Telstra's Premium Plan - $195/mth but if you ask you will likely get a $20/mth discount - sounds expensive but the inclusions are good and worthwhile for the amount of travel I do as it avoids having to purchase travel passes

Plan includes in Australia:

- 30gb data per month 

- Unlimited calls to standard, mobile and international numbers

When roaming the following is included:

- 1.5gb data per month in eligible countries, excess charged at 3c per mb ($30 per gb) which in my book is reasonable compared to many of the alternatives - having said that I typically don't go over 1.5gb given I connect to wifi whenever I can

- Unlimited calls to Australia, within country and to other eligible countries


Plus other benefits that you would expect like handset of your choice at no additional cost, 12 month phone replacement, data sharing on multiple SIMs etc

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Oct 2013

Total posts 714

As David Spriggs said above the Telstra Roaming plan is a good deal for travelers but Optus goes one better with their similar plan for Business customers (those with an ABN).

The plan includes a phone and is currently $105 a month. Unlimited Calls/Texts to Oz, 20GB of Oz Data but also Unlimited calls and texts whilst roaming in zone one countries and 1.5GB of roaming data to use each month.

The plan is normally $125 but is $20 off per month until 15/01/2017.

Whilst it does not have as many perks as Telstra (ie No data share sim ,etc) it is also $90 per month cheaper and may be a better option for those who run their own business.

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

07 Sep 2012

Total posts 151

I can attest from personal experience that the Vodafone Red plan is, hands down, the best for overseas roaming. It's just a pity that Vodafone is number 3 in the local market in terms of network coverage. During a recent trip to Tassie I may as well have been on Mars most of the time for the crappy coverage I could get.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 May 2013

Total posts 19

I recently toured Tassie for a week, primarily using my Vodafone mobile.  I streamed Pandora in the car just fine in most places because Vodafone roams on Optus.  One motel in the Tamar Valley had no coverage, but my iPad with Telstra also had no reliable signal there or even in parts of Launceston. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Dec 2016

Total posts 2

I got sick of chasing local SIMs while overseas.  So bought a dual-SIM phone and have my Telstra SIM for OZ and a Vodafone for OS both active. I up the Vodafone to a $50 plane during the travel season and drop it down to $30 (minimum post-paid) out of the travel season. Gives me the best of both worlds.  You have to hunt for phone though, as carriers don't sell dual-SIM phones.  Also need to research the available 4G bands for each area you want 4G for. Japan and USA are a pain.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Oct 2013

Total posts 714

I'm yet to find a solid dual sim phone which has 4G/4G or even 4G/3G. Most products currently on the market are 4G/2G or 3G/2G which will soon make the 2nd card slot pointless in Australia (Infact my dual sim phone is 4G/2G and I hate to think that the 2nd card slot currently with a Vodafone sim will soon become pointless in Australia). 

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 938

Have a look at the Vodafone pay as you go roaming data rates for places not covered by the $5/day option (or when you've used all 90 days). Depending on the country you're in, data roaming can be up to $51.80/MB. 0.0

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards Plantium

19 Jun 2013

Total posts 120

$51.80 for NO MB... even if it was one MD you are not read the terms and conditions. They never charge that! Please provide evidence of your claim 

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 938

It looks like you don't understand what a smiley is.

09 Jan 2016

Total posts 44

Telstra's prices are diabolical. $300 for only 2GB of data??  LOL. That would never be enough so you would be paying up for even more data. 

 

I just did 30 days in Canada and the US on a pre-paid SIM card for $89 which gave me 6GB of data. Brilliant flawless high-speed service. Adding unlimited calls and call diversion from your Aust number didn't cost much more.   

 

I'm a Telstra domestic customer, would never use them for roaming. Laughable rippoff. 

09 Dec 2016

Total posts 2

I was recently in Jakarta. I purchased a local SIM from Telkomsel for AUD15, which gave me 12Gb data and more calls than I would ever use. Great value, but don't buy at the airport. Same price will get you 2 or 3Gb. In 2 weeks I was able to happily use my phone whenever/wherever I liked (including GPS maps to not get lost!) and had loads of data and calls left.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards Plantium

19 Jun 2013

Total posts 120

and if your client in Australia called your at $1 a minute, would you hang up?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Nov 2014

Total posts 12

The local telcos are obviously not interested in looking after their customers. As a result, when I travel I keep my Australian SIM in my phone but I switch off voice mail and data. This means I can still send and receive texts but can choose whether or not I receive calls. I then use cafe, restaurant or hwifi to make calls and to manage emails. I don't apologise to Telstra, Vodafone, Optus etc, but if they offered reasonable alternatives I'd consider them. As it is I just assume I'll be taken advantage of, so therefore seek the best the market will offer me. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards Plantium

19 Jun 2013

Total posts 120

I travel overseas more than 90 days a year and never had Vodafone question my usage.  Hands down Vodafone are #1 when it comes to roaming. (says a person who has travelled 112 days this year overseas and still was able to ring my wife tonight from Canada for no charge)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 May 2013

Total posts 19

Not disagreeing with anything you say, but, Vodafone have angered my wife and I, refusing to allow us to purchase the $5 per day roaming because we are on an "old" plan that pre-dates the commencement of the $5 roaming scheme. 

Gee, how is that for a (negative) loyalty scheme?  Penalise long time (15+ years) customers, but reward new people off the street!  Not happy.

17 May 2012

Total posts 81

The biggest problem with using your Aust SIM overseas even if you do get a good plan like Vodafone is the reciprocal telco in the OS country mostly doesn't give you the best service they have available. eg Telstra sim in Thailand gets some 3G connection which is not the best available on True. Same as if I use my Thai sim in Aust...Telstra don't give me their 4G service but a 3G 'something'. The same in many countries I travel in AsiaPac.You get dudded on the recipricol connection. Hence I have two phones away. Telstra sim in voice only to pick up calls and txt's and the local sim for cheaper rates and speed than you get with an aussie sim. Best part is Facetime audio works just the same on the local sim.
I recently switched from Optus to Vodafone for their international roaming and couldn't be happier. 

I'd always have lots of troubles with Optus having to pre-request travel packs for each overseas trip and my last time roaming with Optus the dates were somehow wrong in their system which meant I ran up $130 of data in about 5 mins of roaming. Having to argue with the Optus staff member that the roaming pack starts at the local roaming date/time (NOT the Australian date/time as per their website/PDS) tipped me over to the edge so I switched to vodafone so I don't even need to let them know I'll be roaming, it just works. 

So far it's worked out perfectly and $5 day for all Voda plan exclusions is much better than Optus's crummy $10 day for 50MB (with very expensive excess charges beyond that - be careful). 

And mostly being in urban areas means coverage in Australia hasn't been an issue at all with Voda. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Nov 2013

Total posts 9

Am surprised no-one has yet mentioned any prepaid international SIM cards.  I recently spent 5 weeks in Chile and Argentina and before I left Sydney I purchased a Woolworth's global roaming card.  I bought this in conjunction with a new Huawei Y5 Android dual-SIM  phone (entry level, $150 aprox at JB Hifi) into which I slipped both my regular post-paid Telstra SIM card, and the pre-paid Woolie's global roaming one.  I then bought an extra local Aussie number from Woolies so that I could divert (call forwarding) all my incoming Telstra calls to this local  Aussie number which then diverted at no cost on the Woolies' network to wherever I was.  I turned off global roaming on my Telstra SIM, but still kept receiving SMSs. Worked perfectly wherever I was.  Only frustrating thing with the Woolie's SIM was that I did not sign up for auto top-up and Woolies is not in the good habit of letting you know when you run out of credit..!  Otherwise, I've figured out that I've saved a bundle.  It is truly amazing that none of the large telcos have any fair and reasonable plans for South America!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Oct 2013

Total posts 714

A lot of those roaming sims are fine for the holiday traveler but for someone looking for simplicity using their own sim is key. With a lot of those roaming sims you need to top up the credit before you go (it becomes more didifult to do it overseas) and that's just one more thing that you need to worry about on a short trip. The other problem that I have with most of those sims is the difficult process to make a call with most using an Estonian number and after making a call you have to wait for a call back. Whilst this is all good for the individual on holiday the slight benefits that international roaming sims provide are not worth it for the other inconveniences that it also provides 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Nov 2013

Total posts 9

There is certainly a trade-off between simplicity and cost savings.  I used the Wollie's global roaming card during my recent business trip in South America and had no problem whatsoever topping up credit wherever I was.  I reckon that I saved a bundle for the small inconvenience of using a different phone, setting up call diverts and the Estonian call back service whenever I made a phone call (it's instantaneous, works perfectly well).  Woolie's Global Roaming is certainly the most cost effective roaming service that I know of in Australia and helped my business save money.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Aug 2016

Total posts 10

I'm on telstra - and can't tell the world and his dog what the temporary local number is when getting a new sim. So I've got a huawei WiFi device - local broadband sim goes into that, and I can receive voice calls on my Telstra mobile number, but use local sim for data. And if you have a Voip service, even better...

08 Dec 2014

Total posts 2

I've used Voda $5 roaming for at least a couple of years and have never had a problem - EXCEPT that if you get lazy and transit somewhere where it doesn't apply and have not turned off your data you can run into trouble. Its a great service but watch out - I think Dubai is one case in point.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2341

Dubai is definitely a case in point and I've done the exact same thing – I got so used to care-free roaming that I landed in Dubai, switched on the phone and didn't bother with connecting to airport WiFi, and suddenly the penny dropped... except that it cost me a lot more than a penny!
oxy
oxy

03 May 2017

Total posts 19

Just an update which didn't get a mention in the article, I have recently signed up to an Optus plan at $130 per month which includes international roaming in Zone 1 countries. Also included is 1gb of roaming data per month, and 30gb within Australia. Well suited for me for my short trips away, I just use my phone as normal.

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