Australian SIM Cards: A Guide For Tourists, Students, and Visitors
For visitors arriving in Australia for 1 week to 1 year, this guide describes some of the best SIM cards available in Australia. In this guide I compare Australian SIM card providers based on their data, coverage, ability to make and receive phone calls, and convenience of purchase. I’ve written this guide for:
- Tourists: Consider Optus (starting from $10 AUD) or Vodafone SIM card when arriving at an Australian airport, or Boost Mobile which is sold at convenience stores and petrol stations.
- Students: Look for Boost Mobile as well, it includes lots of data and can be a cheap way to call back home.
- Visitors in a rush, such as business travellers: Optus is available at every major international airport in Australia, it’s a safe bet.
Travellers who can leave the airport before buying a SIM card can often find better deals with Boost Mobile (from $10 AUD).
Prepaid SIM cards for travellers visiting Australia typically cost between $10 and $20 AUD, depending on the amount of data, calls, and validity included. These SIM cards can be topped up and expect to spend up $10 - $30 per month on prepaid plans for more data/calls, or for staying longer in Australia.
This guide to Australian prepaid SIM cards for tourists is separated into 3 parts:
This guide below are my comprehensive recommendations for tourists, students, or visitors in a rush arriving in Australia. I’ve written separate guides for each of the major international airports detailing how to find a SIM card upon arrival. The airport guides can be found here:
Sydney | Melbourne | Adelaide | Brisbane | Cairns | Darwin | Gold Coast | Perth.
This part of the guide is for tourists, people who visit Australia for a week, or for 3 months, mostly interested in seeing sights, experiencing the country, and staying in touch with people back home.
When I visit a country as a tourist, what I look for in buying a SIM card is convenience, I don’t want to spend previous time searching for a SIM; cost, since I’m paying better keep the cost down; and enough data/calls to stay in touch with friends and family or perhaps order the odd taxi.
Overall, I find Optus SIM Cards the best experience for tourists arriving in Australia. Optus SIM cards are sold at nearly every international airport in Australia and packages start form $10 AUD1.
Convenience for tourists: Where to buy a SIM card
At nearly all airports in Australia, Optus SIM cards are conveniently available soon after leaving customs. Optus SIM cards are competitively priced as well, starting from $10 AUD.
It’s also easy to use Optus SIM cards as they can be activated and set up at the shop they are purchased from. Some other SIM cards require a separate internet connection to be activated.
Alternatives that can also be convenient:
- Vodafone is found at many airports in Australia, such as Melbourne and Sydney, often located next to Optus. Their SIM card packages can cost slightly more money, but tend to include more data or calls to compensate. I find Vodafone doesn’t offer as good coverage as Optus or Telstra.
- Telstra, the largest of the mobile phone networks, is available at select airports, such as Adelaide and Melbourne.
- Leaving the airport to buy a SIM card. Many providers (see costs below) are available after leaving the airport. I don’t like this option as it takes up valuable holiday time; there are some better deals available however, particularly if staying longer than a month.
- Ordering online: SIM cards can also be ordered online for collection at some airports, such as Sydney.
Costs for tourists: Data and calls
Optus plans good for tourists visiting Australia include:
- $10 AUD for 5GB of data and 100 mins of local calls - 5 day validity, can be extended
- $30 AUD for 35GB of data, unlimited local calls, unlimited calls to select countries (e.g. UK, USA, China, Singapore) - 28 day validity, can be extended.
On the more expensive plans, Optus includes unlimited calls to select overseas destinations, such as those listed above, as well as France, Germany, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and many others. I find this a nice perk for calling friends and family back home.
Incoming calls are free with every prepaid plan I’ve ever seen in Australia.
This part of the guide is for students, those who will be studying in Australia for a semester, a year, or even longer.
Students typically have more time available than tourists and can shop around to save the extra few dollars per month of a cheaper SIM card. Staying in contact with family back home is also likely more important, and the SIM cards listed below include generous amounts of data or international calls to stay in touch with family.
Overall, I found Boost Mobile to offer the best deals for students studying in Australia with its 12 month plan averaging out to a cost of $12.50 AUD per month. For students staying a shorter amount of time, Boost offer a comparable plan for $20 AUD per 28-days. Boost SIM cards can be purchased at 7-Eleven, petrol stations, and supermarkets.
The downside to Boost is that it does not really include roaming. Some students I know like to keep the same SIM card when travelling overseas or back home, and there is no real option to add this to Boost. I’ve included details of prepaid Australian SIM card roaming in the section below.
Costs for students: Data and calls
Good Boost Mobile plans for students staying in Australia to study include:
- $20 AUD per 28-days for 5GB of data, unlimited local calls, and unlimited calls to select overseas destinations.
- $12.50 AUD per month (charged as $150 AUD per year) for 80GB of data to use over the year, unlimited local calls, and unlimited calls to select overseas destinations
Countries included with Boost Mobile’s international calling include UK, USA, Malaysia, Singapore, China, much of Europe, and many others.
- Coles Mobile, $20 AUD per 35-days (slightly cheaper than Boost!) including 3GB of data and unlimited local calls5
- Aldi Mobile, $15 AUD per 30-days, including 3GB of data and unlimited local calls6
- Woolworths Mobile, $10 AUD per 30-days, including 1GB of data and unlimited local calls7
Out of these cheaper options, I consider Coles Mobile the better deal (better coverage than Woolworths and easier to find than Aldi).
Where to buy
Boost Mobile SIM cards can be purchased at 7-Eleven, petrol stations, and supermarkets (including Coles and Woolworths).
Coles, Woolworths, and Aldi SIM cards can be purchased at their respective supermarkets.
Boost uses the full Telstra network and should have the same excellent coverage the Telstra does.
Coles Mobile uses the full Optus network, it has excellent coverage as well but I find there are some parts of Australia where the Telstra network has better coverage.
Aldi Mobile and Woolworths Mobile use a reduced amount of the Telstra network. Coverage is not as widely available, or it may be slower, when compared to Boost or Telstra.
This part of the guide is for business travellers and any other short-term visitors who are in a rush. The focus here is on convenience rather than cost.
Business travellers want a plan that works. I’m frequently a visitor in a rush, usually travelling for business; I don’t mind spending a few more dollars on something I know that will work all the time.
As it is easily available at airports and can be set up and working on the spot, I find Optus prepaid SIM cards to offer the best deal for business travellers and visitors in a rush.
Optus plans for business travellers include:
- $10 AUD for 5 days, with 5GB of data and 100 mins of local calls
- $20 AUD for 10 days, with 12GB of data and 200 mins of local calls
- $30 AUD for 28 days, with 35GB of data, unlimited local calls, and unlimited calls to select overseas destinations
At $30 AUD and above, Optus includes calls to countries such as UK, US, Canada, China, Malaysia, Singapore, and New Zealand. This makes it easy to stay in touch. For most countries I visit, I prefer Skype, though in Australia a local SIM card is a good option; I wrote a guide to all the different options available for staying in contact with family while travelling, check it out here: http://landinglastminute.com/calling-while-travelling-guide/
All prepaid SIM cards sold by local providers include an Australian phone number that other people can call to.
Convenience, where to buy
If arriving in:
- Sydney: Optus, turn right after exiting customs (each door has an Optus shop to the right)
- Melbourne: Optus, to the right after exiting customs
- Adelaide: Proceed outside to WHSmith, any of the major providers are there
- Brisbane: On the right hand side after exiting customs (Optus), behind the cafe
- Darwin: SIM cards only available in the city centre or nearby towns
- Perth: Directly in front after exiting customs
Staff at the SIM card store should be available to help set up the SIM and activate it. The SIM cards sold at the airport are easy to set up however if staff are not available to help.
Every airport listed above also has Wi-Fi available to update messages while waiting for luggage.
Alternative SIM cards for those in a rush:
- Some airports listed above have alternatives, usually Vodafone or Telstra.
- If travelling outside major cities and towns, look for a Telstra or Boost SIM card - they usually offer better coverage.
- For more data, Optus has more expensive plans available such as $40 AUD for 45GB - Optus data can be shared with a laptop as far as I can tell, making it a good option for internet on the go.
Convenience stores and petrol stations around Australia sell other SIM cards such as Boost, which can offer good value. The major supermarket brands (Coles, Woolworths, and Aldi) have their own good value SIM cards as well. While they are cheaper than SIM cards sold at the airport, these shops can be harder to find.
Roaming an Australian prepaid SIM card to another country
Visitors to Australia can find value in roaming their prepaid SIM card to another country.
The big carriers offer better deals for roaming, and typical charges can be as little as:
- Optus: $20 AUD for 10GB with 14 days expiry (that’s $1.43 per day!)
- Vodafone: $5 AUD per day to use your included plan data and calls
- Telstra: $10 AUD per day, including unlimited calls and 200mb of data ($5 for New Zealand)
Short roaming trips from Australia can be cost effective compared to the other options, such as local SIM cards. I wrote a guide on the other options available for making calls while travelling, check it out here: http://landinglastminute.com/calling-while-travelling-guide/
Some of the countries where it can be cheaper to roam with an Australian SIM include:
- New Zealand (Telstra even offers its roaming cheaper to New Zealand)
- Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore
- China and Hong Kong
- US, Canada, UK, and parts of Europe
A local SIM card is typically cheaper for visits of more than a few days to these countries.
Identification required for buying a SIM card
Identification is required for tourists, students, visitors, and anyone else buying a SIM card in Australia.
A passport is usually the best form of ID as it’s not expected that visitors have an Australian drivers license. An address may also be required, though a hotel should be sufficient. Details of an Australian visa are not required for activating a prepaid SIM card.
SIM cards purchased in Australia will need to be activated as part of the identification process. It’s often easiest to have this done at the shop where the SIM card was purchased. If the shop can’t help, detailed instructions are included with the SIM card and I’ve never found the process too onerous. An internet connection, such as Wi-Fi, may be required to activate SIMs of the smaller providers.
Other SIM cards Considered
There are a lot of SIM cards in Australia. I used to work for a small dial-up focussed internet provider; they now sell SIM cards. A lot of these SIM cards are not easily available to short term travellers - they often need to be purchased by post or as part of a bundle with another internet service.
Out of the SIM cards that are available to travellers, these are the other options I considered (and why I do and don’t usually recommend them):
- Lycamobile: Available at newsagents and convenience stores. Lycamobile is a cheap way to call other countries (starting from $15 AUD), but it seems to lack the coverage of some of its competitors - competitors who only cost a few dollars more.
- Lebara: Available at supermarkets and petrol stations. Lebara offers some great value, and includes international roaming. When I first heard of them I was under the impression the network wasn’t great, but it’s likely this has improved since then.
- Amaysim: I used to use Amaysim when I lived in Australia, but I feel the best value here is focussed towards people who will be in Australia for more than a few months.
Written by Chris who travels frequently for work and understands what it can be like to arrive somewhere new and unfamiliar.
I wrote Landing Last Minute to help the hurried traveler get necessary information about any destination.