After updating its Red plans to offer complimentary $5 roaming on its top tier, Vodafone has today released the results of their research into how Australians use their phones when overseas. They surveyed over 1,000 smartphone owners to find out whether we roam, or go local.

It seems that as a nation, we’re wising up to historically high roaming charges. 17% of respondents use their Australian SIMs in their phones – using it just as they would at home – while 22% buy a local SIM. 61% are simply not using their phones overseas – 17% even leave it at home. They’re out of touch while holidaying, and while some of us might like it that way it means you could be out of touch if some kind of emergency occurs.

One of the main reasons we’re leaving our phones behind when going overseas is the price. “Bill shock” is a real thing, especially where international roaming is concerned. It’s not been uncommon to find bills running into hundreds of dollars (or even more) incurred when using your phone overseas, and when you add data usage into the equation the bill can skyrocket even faster (in the past, some carriers would charge $20 for 1MB of data).

Roaming charges have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, and with such a large number of Australians simply opting to not use their phones overseas, it’s no surprise that carriers are trying to find a way to encourage us to use our phones overseas. This means we’re finally starting to see some real solutions to make international roaming more affordable after all these years. Vodafone fired the first shots in this new battlefield last year with its $5/day Red roaming plans, now available in 47 countries – we think this is the simplest and the best deal for roaming, as long as you’re roaming to supported countries.

Optus and Telstra have both responded to this offer, but both carriers divide the world into 2 zones and charge different plans accordingly – it’s a far more complex offer. You can find Optus’ offer detailed here, and we wrote about Telstra’s new Travel Pass offer earlier this week.

What do you do while overseas?

Personally, I fall into both of the first groups when I travel – I usually take my Australian phone with me, and keep it roaming for calls and SMS but don’t use data and buy a local SIM for another phone to use apps (yes, including Ingress). Even then, sometimes I need to access Google Maps to navigate to my destination in a foreign country before I’ve had a chance to get a local SIM – I feel myself cringe reaching for the button to turn on data roaming.

I’ve found some great rates in some countries (in 2010 I got unlimited 3G data for two weeks in Italy for 9 EUR), making the local SIM option best for me. I also like the convenience of having a local number that friends at my destination can reach me on, instead of having to make an international call to my Australian phone while I’m down the road.

Given that we’re nearing the end of the year and some of us (myself included) are about to head overseas for holidays, we thought it was worth asking: How do you roam? Do you use your Australian phone or do you buy a local SIM? Tell us the poll below, and give us some more detailed thoughts in the comments.

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    Local sim for a spare feature phone I have, and keep my main smart phone with Australian sim….The local charges are inexpensive and I can check sms, email etc on my main phone every day or so…Easy and cheap….


    Unlocked phone with dual sim slots. the answer’s very simple, local sim in sim2 and disable sim1 unless its for google verification codes or facebook login


    Last time I went from NZ to AU I used a NZ 2Degrees SIM due to their good data roaming package but next time I may get a Optus SIM as well..


    I recently picked up a pocket wifi router, and used that with a local sim in New Zealand, leaving my Australian sim in my phone. Mind you, I only took that route because I left my OnePlus One’s sim tool at home.

    Greg Eden

    I just global roam voice and sms on my Optus account because I rarely need either when OS. Even if you send 15 SMS while away it is 10-12 bucks. Not worth mucking about. I turn off data in my phone. However I do have a pocket wifi router and a sim from GlobalGig. I have a basic $9 a month account and pay as I go when outside the country. A recent trip to Europe (June/July) cost me about $130 but I slammed through two gigs in five weeks which I did not need to do. If I had… Read more »


    In Laos Cambodia Thailand and Indonesia I went local SIM for each country. It’s part of the travel experience!! I’d do a little research on each countries mobile phone companies, their rates coverage etc then at the airport there’s usually promo staff handing out SIM’s for free if you buy credit. They would help you activate the SIM and off you go. They have really cheap rates, loads of data and surprisingly good coverage. Much much cheaper than Oz and no rip off roaming charges!! It’s not that hard to do either. I take my (unlocked) phone with me that… Read more »


    I was in the US for month this year and bought an AT&T sim, $65 for unlimited calls, text and 2.5Gb of data.


    I frequent Thailand a lot and just use the same Sim I’ve had for like 4 years. Its just easier in terms of using data. Also, if you want someone in the country your in to call you when your roaming, they get stung the international rate.


    I grab a 2degrees SIM whenever I’m in NZ. Found it trickier to find SIMs in the states a few months ago, and survived a week on hotel / public wifi.


    Luckily my work supplies an international SIM, issued by T-Mobile UK (now EE). This allows
    “unlimited” (5GB monthly?) international data on some sort of grandfathered Blackberry plan. I couldn’t care less about voice or messaging allowance, not sure if that is unlimited too.

    ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

    Whenever customers tell me they’re going overseas most of the time I recommend them to get a local sim because it’s just not worth the cost.


    The last few times I’ve been to the states I’ve bought a T Mobile SIM from an Australian based website. $50 for unlimited data (first 1GB at 4G), unlimited local & international calls, unlimited local & international texts. It lasts a month. Pretty good value IMHO. I’ll use them again too! (haven’t posted links, as I’m not sure if I’m allowed to)


    What about the use of travel SIMs such as Woolworths Global Roaming?

    Ramiro Fernandez

    None of these options are really accurate for me. I don’t use my Australian SIM or purchase a local SIM, but that doesn’t mean I don’t use my phone while I’m overseas.
    Considering 98% of my phone usage uses data, I simply take my phone and make use of the copious amount of free wifi that’s usually available, and communicate using hangouts, whatsapp, facebook, etc. While this means I’m not always contactable, I’m available enough to not really be bothered by it.

    Avon Perera

    Local sim all the way. Australia really is the most expensive place in the world when it comes to mobile phone use, both calls/texts and data-wise.