Here’s why Australians buy phones in the US

May 17, 2010

When Australians travel overseas with their own mobile phone, they can be hit with massive bills when they get home. As a frequent traveler to the US, I have previously purchased $29 throw-away phones with $30 pre-paid cards from drug stores in the US. More recently, I’ve taken my own phone. My recent trips have been fairly short, so taking my own phone isn’t too big a hit to the hip pocket. I *never* use my phone to access email, websites etc. as it’s *way* too expensive even within Australia — I hate to think how much it would be from my Australian phone when I’m in the US.

My American friends don’t understand why I don’t make too many calls or send too many text messages on my mobile phone. And they don’t understand why I don’t check my phone for emails, Tweets, etc. all the time, like they do. I tell them the reason is the cost, but I don’t really think they believe me — they probably think I’m penny-pinching! That’s because the phone/data/cable/bundled plans in the US are incredibly cheap compared to Australia — and the speeds are incredibly fast compared to Australia. No wonder they spend a lot of time checking emails on their phones.

So for all my US friends out there, here’s what it will cost me from 15 June 2010 to make a call in the US from my Australian phone (costs prior to June 15 were similar, but varied according to the US carrier):

Yep. That’s right — these are PER MINUTE charges. So if I want to text anybody, anywhere, it will cost me 75c per message. If I want to call my family or friends in Australia, it will cost me $3.35 PER MINUTE. If I want to call my US friends or family, I think it will cost me $2.19 PER MINUTE (I think that’s what’s meant by ‘National Call’ in the table above). If I receive a call (including voice messages) from anybody anywhere, it will cost me $1.72 PER MINUTE over and above what the caller pays. And if I’m in the US and decide to call anyone who’s not in the US or Australia (e.g. I want to call my Canadian friends), then that will cost me $3.57 PER MINUTE.

Interestingly, they haven’t separated out data charges for sending/receiving emails or Tweets, of checking websites, so I have no idea what sort of charges would be incurred, but I’d have to guess it would be in that $3.35 to $3.57 range.

Here’s quick ballpark figure of what it would cost me to use my Australian phone while I am in the US, working on a rate of say $3.40 per minute for emails/Tweets/websites:

  • Check emails, Tweets, websites for 20 mins per day (working on a rate of  $3.40 per minute; NOTE: 20 minutes is VERY conservative) = $68.00
  • Send four text messages (75c each) per day = $3.00
  • Make four phone calls ($3.35 per minute)  to people within the US per day, averaging two minutes per call = $26.80
  • Receive four phone calls ($1.72 per minute), averaging two minutes per call = $13.76
  • Receive four voicemail messages ($1.72 per minute) = $6.88
  • Check four voicemail messages (call back to Australia @ $3.35 per minute), average one minute per call = $13.40

So, for ONE DAY of very conservative usage, my DAILY bill would be $131.84.

Now let’s say I’m in the US on business or at a conference for 10 days. Suddenly, that’s a $1318 mobile phone bill I’ll have waiting for me when I get home!

You can see why for long trips away, or for heavy phone/text usage to people within the US, I recommend that Australians buy an el cheapo phone in the US, with a $30 pre-paid card (or whatever denomination fits your usage). Your outlay will be about $60, and if you’re not heavy handed with your calls (and if you take advantage of free airtime minutes on weekends that come with many pre-paid cards), you’ll be MUCH better off than using your Australian phone in the US. Sure, you might have to spend an hour or two getting the runaround with activating the phone, but it’s worth it to save potentially thousands of dollars.

BTW, I believe you can flip your SIM card out of your Australian phone and put it into your el cheapo one, though I haven’t done this. This means that you don’t have to re-enter all your contacts etc. However, you have to remember to flip that SIM card out of your el cheapo phone before using your Australian phone when you land back home, otherwise you probably won’t be able to make calls.

See also:

Update June 2010: My Aussie friend Kirsty Tweeted about her data charge for a 6 minute data session while in the US: “Got phone bill from US trip. Ouch. 1*6 MINUTE data session = $AUD 120. Ouchy ouch ouch.”

Update August 2010: Some of the comments on this news story are seriously scary — a $8500 phone bill for ONE WEEK in Malaysia, for example: http://www.news.com.au/technology/telstra-to-cut-off-phone-internet-abusers/story-e6frfro0-1225904652807

Update January 2011: News report on replacing your SIM card when overseas to avoid horrendous phone bills on your return to Australia: http://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-advice/make-the-right-call-when-overseas/story-e6frfqfr-1225993424752

[Links last checked January 2011]

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