There are various pre-paid and post-paid phone card products for use with mobile and fixed line phone services. Some can be used with both mobile and fixed line phones to call local and overseas numbers. Before selecting a phone card, you should be aware of the differences between these products and how they may be used.
For information about pre-paid mobile services, see
- Fact sheet Going mobile–which plan is right for you?
What are the different types of phone cards?
Phone cards fall into three main categories:
- Pre-paid calling cards have an initial fixed value and can often be recharged. There may be daily and total limits on recharging, which can vary between suppliers. These cards can be purchased from retail outlets, online or over the phone. They are often promoted as offering cheap overseas call rates, but can be used for other services. There may be restrictions on calling certain types of numbers, such as 1800 or 1900 numbers.
- Post-paid billing cards are attached to a standard telephone account. Calls you make from outside your home or business are charged to the home or business account. Special rates may apply and often include a surcharge or verification fee for use of the card. These cards are currently only issued by major telecommunications companies and you need to apply to the company concerned.
- Pre-paid payphone cards are designed for use with payphones-the Telstra Phonecard (for Telstra payphones) and the TriTel Smart Phone Card (for TriTel payphones).
What types of calls will be made?
To select a phone card to best suit your needs, consider the types of calls you are most likely to make with it. Services available using phone cards include local, national and international calls, calls to mobiles within and outside Australia, calls to satellite phones, fax calls, Internet access calls, call back to Australia from overseas and calls within and between certain countries overseas billed at Australian rates.
Your access to different types of communications equipment can also influence your choices. Cards can be used with payphones, mobile and fixed line phones and fax machines, and for computer-based Internet access. If you have access to a phone or other communications equipment but do not want charges to be billed to the person or company who pays for the service, a card may be the answer.
Not all services are available on all cards or for all forms of equipment.
Do phone cards have expiry dates?
Most pre-paid cards have expiry dates, which are generally printed on the back of the card. Check the expiry date when you purchase the card. It may be a specific date, but is sometimes a number of months after first use. Cards can differ significantly in the number of months' use they allow before expiry.
Sometimes expiry dates can be extended if the card has additional value added; so make a note of when transfers take place. Any value left on a card is generally forfeited on expiry, so make sure any remaining credit is used or transferred to another card before the expiry date. Transfers can only be made between cards from the same company.
Tip: If your card will expire a certain number of months after first use or transfer of funds, calculate the expiry date and write it on the card as a reminder.
Telstra payphone Phonecards have an expiry date. If your card expires before you use up the available credit, you may be entitled to a replacement card. Complete Telstra's expired Phonecard exchange form and give the form and expired card to Telstra within one year from the expiry date. Forms are available from Telstra on 1800 676 638 or card retailers.
TriTel Smart Phone Cards do not have an expiry date.
What are phone card access numbers?
With the exception of the Telstra and TriTel payphone cards, pre-paid and post-paid phone cards have access numbers you must call initially to access your account.
In the case of pre-paid cards, there is often more than one access number you can use and they all have different associated costs. A local access number (a local eight-digit geographic telephone number like your home phone number), is usually the cheapest option.
Cards with a local access number are not always available in areas outside major cities. If you are changing locations, check whether a local access number applies for the card you have.
Tip: Check whether the access number on the card is a local number before purchase.
Other types of access numbers used by card suppliers are 1800 and 1300 numbers. Calls to these numbers may attract a surcharge on top of the per-minute rate charged for the call. Surcharges vary, but can be as much as 10 times the per-minute cost for calls to some locations.
What phone card charges are there?
Many pre-paid phone cards have access fees and surcharges in addition to call charges. There is usually a cost for calling the provider's network, with the most common additional charges being a one-off connection fee for the call (sometimes referred to as a verification fee or flag fall) and, in some cases, a per-minute surcharge, which may be applicable depending on the number used to access the network or the type of call made.
Phone cards generally charge for calls on a per-minute basis. The per-minute calling rate can differ substantially between cards, particularly for different international locations, so check the charges to destinations you are most likely to call.
Some local calls may be charged at timed rates depending on the card. Different rates (usually higher) or a surcharge may apply to calling mobile phones in international locations than for calls to fixed line phones at the same destination.
Some phone cards have a one-off connection fee for each call made. This is on top of the access fee and the per-minute call rate. Cards with the one-off connection fee will generally have a lower per-minute call rate, so consider your likely usage and weigh up the advantages and disadvantages.
Hotels often impose a surcharge on calls, so take this into account if you are using your phone card to call from your hotel room.
If you use a phone card to call from your mobile you will still incur your normal mobile phone call charge for the duration of the call on top of the phone card call charges.
Many pre-paid phone cards are sold in convenience stores and other retail outlets that do not normally sell telecommunications products. If you are unclear about anything, it is always best to check with the phone card company directly. Make sure you get contact numbers or a website address where you can verify information before purchasing a card.
Tip: Consider all charges and weigh up the pros and cons of different charging rates offered by each card based on the types of calls you make.
Can call rates change without notice?
Attractive per-minute call rates are often used to advertise pre-paid calling cards. These rates are usually subject to review at any time and can change quickly as competition between suppliers fluctuates. Current rates can be checked with the card company before you make your call.
Tip: Double check current rates with the supplier if you are concerned about rate changes. There should be a way to do this quickly and easily by phone or website.
What if something goes wrong with the card?
All phone cards should have a telephone number for contact about problems with the service. Check for this number when purchasing a card.
If you do not get a satisfactory response from the phone card service provider, contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman on free call 1800 062 058, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on 1300 302 502 or the ACMA's Consumer Interests Section on (03) 9963 6800.
The ACMA has fact sheets on a range of topics.
Please note: this document is intended as a guide only and should not be relied on as legal advice or regarded as a substitute for legal advice in individual cases.