Where to find a SIM card at Cairns airport, map included
Where to buy a SIM card when arriving at Cairns international terminal from another country. I wrote this guide as I felt it was a little confusing on how to get a SIM card when arriving at Cairns, and which one is good for this part of Australia.
There is only one shop at Cairns airport to help arriving passengers buy a SIM card:
|Shop||Location||SIM Cards Available|
Open for all flight arrivals
|International Arrivals. Straight ahead after exiting customs, slightly to the left||
Of the 3 major mobile phone network providers in Australia (and the many more reseller brands), there is only 1 available at Cairns international arrivals:
- Optus, a booth that greets all passengers arriving from international destinations.
Optus SIM cards start from $10 AUD1, however the airport booth may offer more expensive bundles that suit different types of travellers - calls back home, extra data, longer stays.
Alternatively, a SIM card can be bought while transiting in Sydney Airport. I’ve included how to do this in my guide to Sydney airport here: Where to find a SIM card at Sydney airport.
Which SIM cards are available at Cairns Airport?
The only SIM cards available at Cairns Airport are from Optus. SIM cards from competing networks (Telstra and Vodafone) are available at petrol stations along the highway or shops in town.
Coverage is important in Australia if you plan on travelling outside the major cities and towns.
For Cairns and Port Douglas towns, all of the mobile phone networks have coverage. Highways between the towns are also well covered; on the major roads coverage is sufficient for GPS.
If driving into the outback or the mountains around Cairns town, be careful of reduced mobile phone signal: GPS may not work and it may be difficult to even make a phone call.
- Daintree Rainforest, coverage is available on the main roads to/from the rain forest; coverage is not great at the resorts and accommodation. Drives further north will be met with even less coverage.
- Green Island and Fitzroy Island, coverage available on the Telstra and Optus networks.
- Driving inland, roads used to drive away from the coast do not have good coverage with any network. For example, if visiting Cooktown, the town has coverage but the road between Cairns and Cooktown often doesn’t. Telstra offers slightly better coverage than Optus.
Telstra SIM cards are not available at Cairns airport. There are a few Telstra shops throughout the Cairns town area, they are generally open 9am-5:30pm with reduced hours over the weekend2.
The standard good value data package from Optus is the $30 AUD Prepaid Epic Data which includes up to 35GB for each 28 day period. This includes a bonus data amount that expires after the first few months.
The Optus booth at Cairns airport may offer special deals that provider better value, but it depends on length of the trip.
Better SIM cards for data may be purchased in Cairns itself (such as Coles mobile), see below.
Optus plans typically include unlimited local calls on the Epic Value prepaid plans, as long as the plan lasts (e.g. 21 days for a 21 day plan).
For international calls, a $5 AUD International Talk Add On can be purchased which includes 300 minutes to 50 countries such as Japan, China, Malaysia, Germany, France, UK and US.
Better SIM cards for international calls (such as Vodafone) can be purchased in Cairns town.
Which SIM cards are better value if bought in the town?
For better value data: Coles Mobile for $20 AUD
Coles, a large supermarket chain in Australia, offers a $20 AUD plan that includes 28GB of data3. It is valid for 35 days. Coles has a large number of shops that you can buy this SIM card from. Network coverage is the same as Optus. Unlimited local calls are available though the international call rates aren’t as good as Vodafone.
Any Coles supermarket should sell Coles Mobile prepaid SIM cards.
For better value calls: Vodafone
For calls back home, Vodafone includes generous minutes with its prepaid SIM card to dozens of countries. The price for this SIM card seems to be inconsistent, either it’s $20 or $40 AUD4. I feel it’s a good deal at either price point if you are interested in making phone calls back home.
The Vodafone prepaid SIM includes:
- 500 minutes of calls to: Singapore, Malaysia, China and territories, Japan South Korea, UK, US and territories, and many more
- 100 minutes of calls to: Most of South America, Most of Europe, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and also many more
Vodafone has a shop in Cairns Central Shopping Centre, it’s open 9am to 5:30pm with reduced hours on the weekend. Some service stations may also stock Vodafone SIM cards.
How to get from the airport to the town, while connected
No transport option from Cairns airport to town includes Wi-Fi. The journey typically only takes 15 mins by bus or car however.
By shuttle bus
Various shuttle bus companies are available if pre-booked online. None of these companies have Wi-Fi on their buses (the journey is typically only 15 minutes if going to the centre of town).
Only one shuttle bus is available to be booked at the airport, and prices may be a bit higher accordingly. It also does not have Wi-Fi.
Uber, using the airport Wi-Fi to book
It may be possible to book an Uber using the free Wi-Fi at Cairns Airport. I don’t like this option because:
- Wi-Fi coverage isn’t great once you leave the terminal building - Uber pickup is a short walk outside the terminal building
- Wi-Fi speed, even when connected with full signal, is unreliable and may disrupt the Uber booking process.
Other ride-share apps don’t appear to be available in Cairns.
Taxis in Cairns so not have Wi-Fi. As Cairns is a relatively small town, the taxi fleet is small. There may be a wait for taxis to get in to town from the airport.
Do I need ID to buy a SIM card at Cairns Airport?
Yes, identification is required to buy a SIM card at Cairns Airport and anywhere else in Australia. A passport is sufficient, and the address you’re staying at will also need to be supplied. An activation process may be required for the SIM. The shop that sells the SIM card can do it, or you can do it on your phone once the SIM is inserted - different SIM cards support different activation methods, it’s easy but if you’re not sure ask when buying.
Recording identification is done either when you buy the SIM card, or when you activate. If you’re not sure about the process, buy from a shop where they can help you activate the SIM card.
Is Wi-Fi available at Cairns Airport?
Yes, free Wi-Fi is available at Cairns Airport. Connect to
Airport Free Wifi and follow the pop-up instructions to get connected. Only 1 hour of free internet is included. There may still be an option to pay for more. I’ve heard the quality of the connection is not good, I’ve never used it myself.
Can I roam with my Australian SIM card to another country
Optus offers 5 days of 10GB data roaming with its prepaid sim cards for an extra $20. This is only worth it for trips to New Zealand of 5 days or less. For trips longer than 5 days, local SIM cards can be bought at most airports that have flights from Australia and further abroad.
This Optus prepaid data roaming also works in Hong Kong, Singapore, USA and UK.
Prepaid roaming credit can be added on the Optus recharge website or in an Optus shop.
Most New Zealand destinations are available by direct flight from Melbourne. Direct flights take around 3.5 hours and are available to: Auckland, Christchurch, and Queenstown.
Despite being neighbours, roaming a prepaid Australian SIM card into Indonesia is expensive.
Telstra offers a very expensive $29 AUD for 100MB of data.
Vodafone is slightly cheaper at $25 AUD for a mix of data or calls (up to 200MB data), but it only lasts 3 days. A 7 day option is available for $35 AUD.
I don’t like the idea of taking an Australian SIM card to Indonesia, especially when there are so many local options available.
From Melbourne, Indonesia is accessible directly via Bali and Jakarta.
For short trips of up to 5 days, the Optus prepaid 10GB data roaming plan is $20.
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.