How to Use a Mobile Phone Overseas

Find out how to use your mobile phone abroad without breaking the bank in Savvy’s helpful guide.

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, updated on October 26th, 2023       

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Using mobile phone overseas

Travelling abroad is an exciting adventure, and your phone can be an invaluable companion on your journey. However, using your mobile phone overseas comes with its own set of considerations and challenges.

This comprehensive guide from Savvy covers everything you need to know about using your mobile phone outside Australia, from choosing the right international plan to managing your data usage. So whether you're planning a business trip, a vacation or an extended stay abroad, you can make the most of your mobile device while travelling internationally.

Can I use my mobile phone abroad?

Yes, you can generally use your Australian mobile phone overseas, but the experience may vary depending on your phone’s compatibility with international networks as well as your mobile plan. You will need to ensure that it is unlocked and supports the frequency bands used in the country you’re visiting. You can check this with your mobile provider.

You have several options when it comes to using your phone while travelling:

  • International roaming: this is the most convenient option, but it can be expensive. You can use your phone just as you would at home, but you will be charged international roaming fees. Keep in mind that even if you have a high data allowance on your mobile plan, this will generally only apply within Australia, not when roaming.
  • Local SIM card: this is a good option if you are staying in a country for a longer period of time or if you plan on using a lot of data. You can purchase a local SIM card from a mobile provider in the country you are visiting.
  • International SIM card: if you are travelling to multiple countries, you may be able to purchase an international SIM card that can be used in several countries.
  • Wi-Fi: you can also use messaging and calling apps that work over Wi-Fi, such as WhatsApp or Skype, to stay connected.

How do I avoid roaming charges while travelling overseas?

Using your mobile phone abroad can be expensive, but there are ways to avoid or reduce roaming charges:

  • Contact your mobile carrier before your trip to inquire about international roaming plans. They may offer packages that reduce roaming costs.
  • Disable data roaming on your phone. This prevents automatic data usage when you're not connected to Wi-Fi.
  • Rely on Wi-Fi hotspots for internet access. Wi-Fi is often free or inexpensive to use in public places like hotels, cafes and airports.
  • Purchase a local SIM card in your destination country. This is a good option if you plan to use your phone extensively, as local SIM cards typically offer lower rates than international roaming plans.
  • Be cautious when making or receiving calls, as they can be costly. Consider using apps like Skype or FaceTime for calls over Wi-Fi.
  • Monitor your data usage and settings. Ensure that apps and services don’t consume data in the background.    
  • Download maps and other apps for offline use. This way, you can use them even when you're not connected to the internet.

Is my phone compatible with foreign networks, and how can I check?

Your phone's compatibility with foreign networks largely hinges on its frequency band support. These bands determine which networks your device can connect to in a given country. You can find information about the supported frequency bands in your phone's user manual or on the manufacturer’s website.

If you’re unsure, don't hesitate to reach out to your mobile carrier for guidance. They can provide valuable insights on whether your phone is compatible with networks in specific countries. Most modern smartphones are designed to work globally and are equipped with a range of frequency bands.

If your phone is unlocked, there are online resources available that can verify its compatibility with the networks of your destination. Additionally, local carriers in the country you’re visiting can offer advice on which frequency bands are in use and which phones are compatible.

It’s imperative to conduct this check before your trip to ensure you have a seamless mobile experience while abroad. This way, you can stay connected and make the most of your travel adventures without any disruptions.

Can I use my Australian phone if I move overseas permanently?

Yes, if you’re moving overseas long-term, you may be able to keep your Australian mobile number by switching to a long-expiry prepaid plan. These plans last for up to 365 days and only need to be topped up once a year.

To switch to a long-expiry prepaid plan, you can either contact your current mobile carrier or port your number to a new mobile carrier.

Here's a step-by-step guide:

  1. Choose a long-expiry prepaid plan from a mobile carrier of your choice.
  2. If you’re switching to a new mobile carrier, port your number to the new carrier.
  3. Activate your new prepaid plan.
  4. Top up your prepaid plan once a year.

Frequently asked questions about using a mobile phone overseas

Do I need to unlock my phone to use it overseas?

Unlocking your phone allows it to accept different SIM cards. If your phone is locked to a specific carrier, which may be the case if you have a phone-and-SIM mobile plan, you may need to unlock it to use a local or international SIM card. Contact your carrier for information on unlocking your phone.  

How can I make international calls and send texts without breaking the bank?

Making international calls and sending texts economically is essential. Consider using apps like WhatsApp or Skype, which allow you to make calls and send messages over Wi-Fi, reducing the need for costly international calls and texts. Additionally, research your mobile carrier’s international plans, which may offer more affordable options for overseas communication. 

What apps or tools can help me navigate and translate while travelling?

Apps like Google Maps and Google Translate can assist with navigation and language translation. Download maps and language packs before your trip to use them offline. Consider offline GPS navigation apps for areas without internet access. 

How can I keep my phone and data secure while abroad?

To keep your phone and data secure while travelling, enable device security features like passcodes or biometrics. Avoid using public Wi-Fi for sensitive tasks. Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for encrypted internet connections. Install antivirus and anti-malware apps and regularly update your phone's operating system and apps to patch security vulnerabilities. 

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Compare mobile plans with Savvy

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Savvy is partnered with Econnex Comparison (CIMET Sales Pty Ltd, ABN 72 620 395 726) to provide readers with a variety of mobile phone plans to compare. We do not compare all retailers in the market, or all plans offered by all retailers. Savvy earns a commission from Econnex each time a customer buys a mobile phone plan via our website. We don’t arrange for products to be purchased directly, as all purchases are conducted via Econnex.

Any advice presented above is general in nature and doesn’t consider your personal or business objectives, needs or finances. It’s always important to consider whether advice is suitable for you before purchasing a mobile phone plan. For further information on the variety of mobile phone plans compared by Econnex, or how their business works, you can visit their website.