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Can I use my phone overseas?

Make sure you can make and receive calls (plus use all-important data) next time you head overseas with these mobile phone travel tips.

Nathan Lawrence
Jul 13, 2023
Icon Time To Read3 min read

Staying connected while travelling is a lot more straightforward these days with smartphones that can keep us in touch with locals and loved ones at home. But like any overseas adventure, there’s some essential phone prep required before you’re actually able to use your phone overseas. Here’s what to keep in mind if you want to use your phone overseas.

But before we get into all of that, here’s a list of popular mobile phones from our comparison engine.

Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and other Australian telcos with international roaming

If you want to use your phone overseas, you’ve got options. For starters, you can swap out your Australian SIM card for a prepaid one at your destination. Alternatively, your Australian mobile phone plan may support international roaming or allow you to pay extra for a global roaming add-on.

Here’s a rundown of the telcos we track in our comparison engine that offer international roaming (click on the relevant links for corresponding telco plan reviews):

Info Box
What is data roaming?

Data roaming is a term used whenever cellular data is used in a country outside of where a mobile plan is typically used. For example, if you take your mobile phone from Australia to the US and use mobile data, that’s data roaming. Note that data roaming may be enabled by default by your telco or it may require you to activate it by contacting your telco or toggling it on in a companion app. One way or another, data roaming incurs costs, be that PAYG fees or as part of a plan add-on.

Using your phone overseas

Having the right Aussie telco can facilitate easier international roaming, but there are also important mobile phone considerations, too. For starters, you want an unlocked mobile phone. While most modern smartphones are unlocked, if you bought a mobile phone as part of a Prepaid plan, it may be locked to an Australian mobile network.

Chat with your telco’s tech support if you think your mobile phone may be locked to a network. They’ll ask for your IMEI number, which you can find by dialling * # 0 6 # on your mobile phone. Your IMEI number should pop up on the smartphone screen. Screenshot the IMEI number or jot it down before chatting with telco tech support. We’ve got guides for unlocking a phone locked to Telstra, Optus and Vodafone networks. Note that unlocking your mobile phone may cost money.

The other handset things to note are mobile technologies and network frequencies. Australian phones use the popular GSM standard for 3G voice and data, but some global telcos use CDMA, including Verizon in America. Because mobile phones tend to be either GSM or CDMA-compatible, Australian-bought handsets won’t work on CDMA networks, so avoid them where possible. In America, for instance, AT&T and T-Mobile both use GSM networks.

For extra peace of mind, check the manufacturer's website for your mobile phone and see the supported frequencies. If you’ve got a flagship mobile phone from Apple or Samsung, you shouldn’t have trouble with overseas network frequencies. Anecdotally, I used to travel overseas for work multiple times a year and never had any issues with global roaming with a mix of iPhones, Samsung Galaxy S handsets and Google Pixel mobile phones when I was with Optus and Telstra.

Mobile phone plans for international roaming

If you don’t travel all the time, it’s best to buy a Prepaid SIM card at your travel destination or disable roaming entirely and only use your phone when you’re connected to WiFi. Mobile phones with WiFi calling are great in this regard. For those who travel more frequently, consider a plan from a telco that offers global roaming add-ons. Below is a list of popular SIM Only mobile plans from telcos in our database that offer international roaming add-ons.

Phone use overseas frequently asked questions

Yes, you can use your Australian phone overseas, as long as it meets some requirements. Your telco needs to have an agreement with an overseas network, and you also need an international roaming feature (either included or as a paid add-on).
Assuming your telco supports phone use overseas, you need to activate or purchase international roaming. Alternatively, buy a replacement SIM card at your destination and use that in your phone instead.
The cheapest way to use your phone overseas is to disable cellular activity and only use your phone when it’s connected to complimentary WiFi. Alternatively, buy a SIM card overseas or purchase a global roaming add-on from your Australian telco.
Nathan Lawrence
Written by
Nathan Lawrence
Nathan Lawrence has been banging out passionate tech and gaming words for more than 11 years. These days, you can find his work on outlets like IGN, STACK, Fandom, Red Bull and AusGamers. Nathan adores PC gaming and the proof of his first-person-shooter prowess is at the top of a Battlefield V scoreboard.

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