Phone and Data Roaming for Aussie Travellers

In just three weeks Jill and I will be begin our 2016 Europe adventure. It is time to select the best solution for phone and data roaming. Although I normally like to plan a long way in advance, I have learned that the communications products change too much and too quickly to make a selection more than about a month in advance.

We travel with five devices – two iPhones, two iPads and a 4G MiFi Hotspot. For communication and connectivity we need:

  • Phone and SMS for keeping in touch with the office and with family back home.
  • Roaming data on the phone for on the ground navigation and reference.
  • Data for working on a laptop.
  • Data on our iPads for social media.
  • Data for uploading videos, photos and blog posts.

We haven’t got time to waste looking for free wifi spots as we travel (but if we come across them we are happy to use them). Loyalty cards get us free Internet at most hotels we stay at but we like a plan B for when it is desperately slow. Buying data on a cruise ship is ridiculously expensive and slow. Much better to have a SIM that you can use when you arrive in port.

Last year in our European travels we used the Telstra Travel Pass for phone and data roaming. It gives unlimited phone calls, SMS and a respectable amount of data for A$10 per day. We supplemented that with data-only SIMs from GlobalGig in our iPads and MiFi. We also ran a similar plan in Japan and Korea later in 2015 and again in Bali earlier this year.

Greedy Telstra

But that plan is not so good for Europe in 2016! Telstra have hiked up the price of the Travel Pass product by a whopping 50%. It is now $15 per day for use in Europe. GlobalGig have also changed and simplified their product so that every Mb costs 10 cents or 25 cents depending on the country. That’s $100 or $250 per Gigabyte. A year ago they offered a 5Gb plan for $150 per month.

Vodafone $5 roaming

Vodafone has completely blown Telstra out of the water! They offer global phone and data roaming for just $5 per day. Even better, it is only charged on the days that you use it! Whatever phone calls, SMS and data your selected plan gives you in Australia, you can access it from overseas. In other words, free phone calls, free SMS and say 4GB of data per month is your any day you want it for a $5 surcharge.

It is not a prepaid deal. You have to sign up for a month-by-month SIM only plan and then cancel it when you get home. But you are rewarded by your data allowance being aggregated and shared between up to 9 users.

Last year we used about 12GB data between all devices. Because we can, I am going to pig out and sign up for the $60/month plan for our phones and also the Mifi. The $60 month SIM only plan comes with 10GB data per month. Combined and shared we will have a whopping 60GB to play with over our 8 week trip. That should be plenty to upload sixty or more HD videos to YouTube.

So three devices @ $60/month for two months will cost $360. For each day (per device) that we invoke roaming it will cost an extra $5. I estimate an extra $600 in roaming charges. For some people the thought of nearly A$1,000 in phone and data roaming is huge. For us it is just another cost of the trip. After all, we will be away for two months!

If Graham couldn’t stay in ready contact with the office back home we simply couldn’t travel. Ten years ago, what small business operator could take two months away and still be in business?

What about the iPads?

The way we use the iPads we can connect to our 4G MiFi or more commonly the hotel WiFi. However, for total convenience we will grab a couple of the GlobalGig data only SIMs for A$4.99 month with pay-as-you-go data. We will plan to not use it unless we have to but we’ll have flexibility if we need it and access to an alternate network if Vodafone let us down. I expect that we won’t even use A$100 of paid roaming data between two iPads over eight weeks.

PostScript – Roses for Vodafone

You can order Vodafone SIMs online. I just rang Vodafone to find out if they activate upon purchase or if you do that separately. A very nice lady called Nicky answered my questions, signed me up for three SIMs. The SIMs will be posted out next week but the billing won’t commence until the day we leave. I can set them up at my leisure to make sure that all is good before we leave the country. I have even been given the phone numbers already. How good is that! Well done Vodafone on making phone and data roaming easy as well as affordable.