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Use your mobile or smart device overseas

Before you travel outside Australia, find out how to reduce the cost of calls, texts and data overseas, and avoid bill shock. 

You can use your mobile, tablet or any other smart device if your telco has an agreement with an overseas network. This is ‘international roaming’.

The cost of using international roaming for voice calls, texts or data can be very high, potentially resulting in bill shock.

What telcos must do to help you

Telcos have to help you check and manage the mobile phone data you use overseas. The rules are in the Telecommunications Service Provider (International Mobile Roaming) Determination, which says that telcos must:

  • send notifications about international mobile roaming costs to any device capable of accessing international roaming upon arrival at overseas destinations
  • send usage notification alerts to 50%, 85% and 100% of the included value of an international mobile roaming value pack. Please note that there may be delays in your telco receiving usage information
  • provide price information upon activating access to international mobile roaming services
  • provide usage updates to assist consumers track their spending on international mobile roaming services
  • make spend management tools available to consumers
  • allow you to decline roaming services, at any time and from anywhere at no or low cost.

Your telco may let you choose not to receive messages about your roaming use. They must not force you to opt out as a condition of the contract or travel pack.

Telcos can charge for data, calls and SMS. Rates may change depending on the destination country/zone. Your telco may also charge you if:

  • you switch on your smart device overseas
  • apps on your smart device are set to update automatically
  • you receive or access a voicemail message

What to ask your telco

International roaming costs are in your plan's Critical Information Summary. If you’re still not sure, contact your telco to ask:

  • whether your monthly plan includes international roaming and if so, where to (your plan may let you roam in some countries but not others)
  • how much they charge for international roaming services. Check the rates for calls, data, message services, texts and any other services you want to use overseas
  • how to turn off international roaming or turn off data while you are overseas
  • how to check your usage while you are overseas to avoid going over a limit

Ways to avoid bill shock

  • Plan ahead and avoid pay-as-you-go roaming. Check to see if international roaming is automatically enabled on your phone or plan. If you don’t want it enabled, then follow your telco’s instructions to disable it. Contact your telco if you need help to do this.
  • Contact your telco to discuss roaming bundles they offer (also known as travel packs, roaming passes, international day passes, roaming packs, roaming add-ons) and the country or countries you will be travelling in. 
  • If you plan to go on a cruise ship, international mobile roaming charges may apply while on board or in port. Contact your telco and cruise ship company to discuss what options are available to you.
  • Turn off the auto-update settings for apps on your smart device.
  • Consider downloading maps and entertainment to your smart device before leaving Australia. This will allow you to use them offline without using data.
  • If you can change the SIM card in your phone, buy a local prepaid SIM (at your destination) for overseas travellers. This will have a data limit and its own phone number.
  • Turning 'aeroplane mode' or 'flight mode' on your smart device can stop roaming charges. However, it does mean you won’t be able to send or receive any calls, texts or MMS messages. 
  • Remember, text messages are usually cheaper than phone calls or using data.
  • Monitor your data usage notifications sent by your telco.
  • Proactively check your telco’s spend management tool for current usage estimates, or the latest available information about your service usage.

If you receive a large roaming bill that you cannot pay, ask your telco about help with financial hardship. If you think there has been a mistake with your bill, you can complain to your telco in the first instance. If you are dissatisfied with your telco’s response, you can escalate your complaint to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

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