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What Is Data Roaming?
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Data roaming occurs whenever your phone disconnects from your carrier's network and hops on another network. Roaming allows you to make calls, send texts, and use wireless data even when you're outside of your network's boundaries. The downside, of course, is that roaming data usually comes with extra charges to your account.
For example, let's say you take a trip across the pond to Auckland. You get off the plane, and like magic, you have signal bars to call your friend to let them know you've arrived, and to quickly book an Uber to their place. This happens because your wireless carrier has an agreement in place with a network in New Zealand to provide you with roaming service. If you have the roaming feature turned on, all of this will happen automatically.
How much does roaming cost?
What you pay for roaming charges will depend on your carrier, any special roaming plans they have. Vodafone, for instance, is know for its famous $5 roaming add-on, which we'll get to further below.
And of course, you can always check our guide on the best data-roaming plans.
No matter where you go, free Wi-Fi is always a thing you should use. You won't need to use any roaming data whatsoever while connected to Wi-Fi, and you can even make calls through Wi-Fi calling.
How to avoid paying for roaming
Before you venture out into an area outside your coverage boundaries - ie, overseas - make sure you know what your carrier offers for travel. You don't want to accidentally exceed your allowed data usage, especially with international roaming, and come home from a lovely holiday only to find a huge phone bill.
Here's what you need to know about traveling with the big three telcos.
Data roaming with Telstra
Want to travel overseas with Telstra? If you're a Telstra Upfront user, you can pay $10 with Telstra for 24 hours of international roaming. This includes 500MB of data, plus unlimited standard talk and text. At the time of writing, Telstra had phased out international roaming for Prepaid.
Below is a look at all of Telstra’s Upfront SIM Only plans:
Data roaming with Vodafone
Without a doubt, Vodafone has the best international roaming as far as Australian telcos are concerned Vodafone makes things nice and simple; pay $5 a day for a Vodafone SIM Only plan and use your phone as you would back home in Australia, with support for more than 100 countries.
Vodafone Prepaid plans however are a bit different. You have to pay for roaming packs, which cost $5 for a 24-hour pack with 200MB of data, 25 minutes of standard calls and 30 international texts. Spending $15 gets you three-day expiry of 750MB of data, plus 90 minutes of standard calls and 120 international texts. You can compare the two styles of plans below: SIM-Only plans, and prepaid plans.
Data roaming with Optus
Optus recently changed up the way that international roaming works for its SIM Only plans. The carrier now offers a similar $5 a day roaming to that of Vodafone, with a few key differences.
Spending $5 gets you 5GB of data for 24 hours, plus unlimited talk and text in a Zone 1 destination or to Australia - check the Optus website for the full list of eligible countries. However, as opposed to roaming with Vodafone, you are limited to that 5GB rather than your regular data allowance.
The other catch is that Optus' $5 roaming is only available to those on an Optus Choice Plus plan. If you're on one of the provider's other postpaid and SIM Only plans, then your only options are to pay $10 for a temporary Roaming Pass or face the financial brunt of regular roaming charges.
Priced at $10, the Optus Roaming Pass includes 1GB of data and unlimited calls and texts within Zone 1 countries. The only catch is that this roaming connectivity is use-it-or-lose-it. Each pass expires after 24 hours, so you'll have to keep topping it up over the course of your time overseas rather than the set-and-forget setup of the $5 roaming mentioned above.
Otherwise, Optus Prepaid users can spend $20 for 10GB of data with 14-day expiry that covers 10 destinations. You can compare the two types of plans below.