International calls & texts: finding the best international mobile plan
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Luckily, it’s easier than ever to compare mobile phone plans with international minutes attached, so you can stay connected wherever you are.
Let’s break down everything you need to know about international calls and data roaming, and which providers could offer some pretty top deals.
How to choose the best mobile phone plan with international calls
The best mobile phone plan will ultimately depend on your needs and budget. For international calls, the best plan will also depend on which countries you’d like to contact.
Generally speaking, international calls tend to have more options available on postpaid mobile plans, whether it's handset included or SIM-only – though some prepaid plans include overseas calling as well.
Prices will vary for different destinations, too, including SMS (text) and MMS (picture, video) message rates.
There’s also country codes and overseas networks to consider, as this can sometimes change what you get billed for (depending on the telco).
Many mobile providers will also state their plans include “standard international numbers” only. This just means your international calling rates/costs/allowances typically only apply if you’re dialling:
- Mobile phones.
- Certain 13/1300/1800 numbers (varies depending on plan/provider).
Providers usually exclude the following international numbers:
- Satellite numbers.
- Premium numbers such as competition and voting lines, calls where you purchase or receive a service, and machine answered calls.
- Any international numbers not included in your mobile plan’s call pack (which may include certain country codes).
But we do more than just make calls with our mobile phones these days. What happens when you’re travelling abroad and need data?
What is data roaming?
‘Roaming’ is the fancy term mobile providers use to describe network access while you're travelling overseas. Essentially: how you get data and reception in foreign countries if your mobile plan is Australian.
For most mobile plans, roaming is automatically switched on when you touch down on a foreign runway. But before you jet-set, you’ll need to check your plan’s roaming inclusions so you can get the most of your mobile services abroad. Some might cap your data at certain speeds or amounts, while others might switch off your roaming after a period of time.
With all this in mind, it’s time to start comparing mobile plans!
Which mobile plans have international calling/roaming?
Good news! All big three telcos in Australia include international calling as a perk on a selection of plans, while many of the smaller (often cheaper) mobile providers offer it, too, though inclusions can vary and come with strings attached.
International data roaming, however, is almost exclusively available through the major providers like Vodafone, Optus, and Telstra.
International calls for Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone
How do Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone compare for international minutes and roaming?
As the biggest mobile provider in Australia, how does Telstra stack up when it comes to international calling/roaming?
At the moment, Telstra offers 30 minutes per month of standard international calls/SMS/MMS from Australia to all countries on their new upfront mobile plans (which is their term for a fixed postpaid plan).
Once you’ve used up all your included calls, you can add an International Calling Pack for additional minutes to selected countries. Packs range from:
- $10 Pack: Unlimited standard calls to Zone 1 (23 countries).
- $20 Pack: Includes additional 200 minutes to Zone 2 (45 countries).
- $30 Pack: Includes additional 200 minutes to Zone 3 (93 countries).
This gives customers a total 116 possible countries to call. Note the $20 and $30 packs also include the features of the $10 pack.
Unfortunately, the big caveat is that if your intended destination isn’t listed in any calling pack and you’ve used up your standard 30 minutes, you won’t be able to call that destination again until your minutes reset the following month.
Meanwhile for international data roaming, select plans offer 24 hours of unlimited standard talk/text plus 500 MB of data when you first touch down in one of over 70 eligible destinations and start using your service.
However, if you need more data, you’ll need to get a Day Pass pack, which tops up your data with 1GB per day (with conditions). Day Pass packs range from $5 per day (New Zealand only) to $10 per day for Zone 2 and Zone 3 countries. If you go over your 1GB daily allowance, you can SMS Telstra to top it up with another 1GB for an additional $10, valid for 31 days from the date of purchase.
As Australia’s second largest telco, Optus sometimes balances out Telstra and Vodafone as the best of both worlds, with cheaper plans overall than Telstra but more extras and coverage than Vodafone. But how do they compare for international calling/roaming?
Basic postpaid SIM-only Optus plans don’t include international talk and text as a feature, but others include unlimited talk and text to standard numbers for up to 35 countries (called ‘Group 1’ countries with Optus).
You can purchase additional add-ons for more calling destinations and minutes (Group 2 and 3 destinations, with up to 200 minutes for up to 142 countries). International text is unlimited no matter which add-on you purchase.
As for international roaming, you’ll need to purchase roaming data as an add-on for your SIM-only plan and activate it once abroad through the MyOptus app.
Postpaid roaming add-on packs include 24 hour and 7 day options starting at $10, which could get you 1GB of roaming data and unlimited talk & text in over 90 countries depending on the pack (conditions apply).
Often considered the most affordable of the major networks, Vodafone offers highly competitive value on its mobile plans.
Vodafone has recently overhauled their postpaid offerings, which includes adjustments to the international minutes on offer. New customers signing up to an Infinite data plan will need to opt for the Medium or Large plans to get international calls.
For eligible plans, users could get standard international minutes to 36 Zone 1 countries.
Depending on the plan, you could also get up to 300 standard international minutes to Zone 2 countries (54 destinations). Vodafone warns that countries included in these groups can change, so always check whether your chosen destination is included before making a call.
If your Vodafone plan doesn’t include international minutes, or you want to call a country outside of the 90 possible destinations offered, you can check their Pay As You Go rates.
For international roaming, Vodafone offers a highly competitive $5 per day roaming in over 100 foreign countries (maximum 90 days per calendar year, other T&Cs apply). Data allowances will depend on your plan and usage, so check before you travel what your needs will be. If you plan to visit a country where roaming isn’t available, you can opt for Pay As You Go roaming rates.
Compare mobile SIM-only plans with international minutes included under $30.