Help me use my American phone in Australia?
September 9, 2019 10:33 AM   Subscribe

I'll be in Australia for just under a month, traveling on my own. What's the most practical and cost-efficient way make my Pixel 3 useable while I'm there?

I'd like to be able to use my phone for navigation, texting, and simple internet tasks, particularly as I've been told that WiFi is a lot harder to find in Australia. I have Verizon, and when visiting Canada I just buy a few days of roaming. I've been told by friends that I should get a Sim card for a cheap local phone plan, but I have absolutely no idea how to go about doing this and Google is giving me a lot of heavily-SEOed listicles.

Specific advice as to what to do and how to do it would be an enormous help!
posted by Narrative Priorities to Travel & Transportation around Australia (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Google Fi is compatible with Pixel 3, is no-contract, has free international data+text, and can be set up prior to arriving in Australia. Phone service is $0.20/min, but that doesn't sound like it matters to you. Conceivably, you could sign up for exactly one month of service.
posted by saeculorum at 10:36 AM on September 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Google Fi is compatible with Pixel 3, is no-contract, has free international data+text, and can be set up prior to arriving in Australia.

Google Fi is a good suggestion, but there a few potential issues -

1) You'll need an unlocked Pixel 3. If you purchased the phone from Google, you're fine, but if you got it from Verizon, you may need to unlock it.

2) Number porting. When I moved from Sprint to Google Fi I had to port my number as well. The process was easy, but you may not want to port your number for a 1 month contract. Not sure if the sim-card based option would work around this, I went the sim-less route.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 11:00 AM on September 9, 2019

Two things you need are to make sure your phone is unlocked and then to get a SIM card (or sim-less carrier, on preview) As above, you will have to ask Verizon to unlock the phone unless you bought it unlocked.

You can generally just buy a prepaid SIM when you get to the new country and many come free with an initial purchase of prepaid data. This page talks about the major phone carriers in Australia. Most of them are going to offer pre-paid sim cards in their stores. This page is a list of companies that resell service on the major companies' networks. Many of those will have stores as well and could be cheaper if the Aussie market is similar to the US. I would opt for an actual company store for the carrier you decide on rather than a store that covers multiple companies.

I would identify 2-3 stores near where you are arriving and go to each company website to see the prepaid rates they offer. Then I would estimate the cost and compare that to your current carrier's international rates. In some cases, it will be pretty similar.

Be sure to bring a paperclip or sim card tool so that you can do your own replacement.
posted by soelo at 11:57 AM on September 9, 2019

I've been told by friends that I should get a Sim card for a cheap local phone plan, but I have absolutely no idea how to go about doing this

Amaysim runs on Optus's infrastructure. Aldi Mobile runs on Telstra's. I'm unaware of anywhere that Vodafone covers that isn't also covered by one of the other two carriers, so if you get one prepaid SIM from each of Amaysim and Aldi, you'll spend very little and have coverage pretty much everywhere. Don't bother with any number porting foolery, just give your existing contacts your temporary Australian number(s).
posted by flabdablet at 12:03 PM on September 9, 2019

Is your phone unlocked? Prepaid SIM, as your friends advised, is the way to go. I use Vodafone when I’m in Australia & UK. You can load the SIM with as much or little money to start. Then download the app and set it up with you credit card so you can top it up whenever you need to. That way you don’t need to find a convenience store or gas station to add credit to your balance. There may be even a monthly special. I’ve gotten great visitor/tourist specials from T-Mobile whenever I’m in the USA.

For example, if you’re landing in Sydney, there’s a Vodafone kiosk in the airport.

Vodafone Prepaid
If you don’t want to download the app, you can recharge your prepaid here.
posted by lemon_icing at 12:08 PM on September 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you're considering Vodafone, you should be aware that their coverage is nowhere near as comprehensive as Telstra's or Optus's outside the major capital cities.
posted by flabdablet at 12:11 PM on September 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Fair point. For more info: here are the prepaid links for Telstra and Optus.
posted by lemon_icing at 12:18 PM on September 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also be aware that you get much better value from the virtual mobile network operators that resell capacity bought wholesale from Telstra and Optus than you will ever get retail from the carriers themselves. Which is why I linked Amaysim and Aldi Mobile above.
posted by flabdablet at 9:41 PM on September 9, 2019

If your phone is unlocked, prepaid SIMs are easy to find and generally don't take long to set up. Here's a decent overview. When I travel overseas (from Australia), I like to do this in the arrivals hall of the airport if I can, because the people working there are used to working with international phones and visitors. You can also buy SIM's in most supermarkets or newsagents, but it's easier if you can have a person help you set it up. It can take a few hours or even days to fully connect, so make sure you are able to survive without data when you first arrive (have hard copies of everything important!). Most airports will have some sort of Wifi, so send messages if you need to before you leave the airport. If you use Google maps, you can download offline maps and the blue dot will work even if your SIM isn't connected.

If you're heading out bush, Telstra is considered to have the best coverage outside of major cities. Otherwise, it's not really that important who you go with. You might save $20 if you use one of the cheaper resellers, but unless money is tight, it's not worth going out of your way to find the cheapest one.

You're looking for BYO phone prepaid plans. Most plans will expire after a month, but double check the expiry date. Most will have unlimited calls and texts within Australia, and some sort of data allowance which increases with the cost, but might not have any international calling or texting. Companies often change the details of their plans seemingly at random. I would err on the side of buying more than you think you'll need, because it is a hassle to work out how to recharge when on the move. You can often buy "Add-on's", which are cheap extra data or extra international minutes (around $5), which you might need. If you think you will need to recharge, make sure you find out how to before you leave the shop, as it can be a hassle to work out how (there are lots of options generally, online, by phone, or from supermarkets and newsagents). The phone company will generally text you recharge instructions if you're getting low on data, or your plan is about to expire, but don't rely on it.
posted by kjs4 at 10:45 PM on September 9, 2019

This should be super easy if it is like my Pixel 2 on the Verizon network.

Install Google Fi. The Pixel 2 allows the Verizon sim card to remain in the phone and loads the Google Fi sim on an esim. So the phone has two sim cards (one physical and one digital), Verizon and Fi. After you activate Fi, you simply go to Settings, Network & Internet, Mobile Network, Advanced, Carrier and make you choice between Verizon and Google Fi.

You can switch Carriers anytime you like. This allows you to get your text messages and maybe voice messages (can't remember) from Verizon over WiFi just like being home. Make sure the phone is on Airplane Mode with WiFi on. No extra charges.

Since I do only occasional international travel, I only activate Google Fi during those trips. About every 90 days, Google activates Fi and I have to log in and make it inactive. Only charges are when it is active. You are keeping your Verizon service and paying for Verizon while using Google Fi. They are the only downsides I can think of.

Just reread your post again. This also will work great for a day or two in Canada. You only pay Google for what you use. the monthly fee is prorated for the number of days used and turning it on/off is super easy.
posted by Al79 at 5:08 AM on September 10, 2019

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