Best phone plans for travelling in the US


WhistleOut
30 May 2017

Best plans for roaming in the USA


Ready to swap emus for bald eagles, lamingtons for apple pie, and your Akubra for a red #MAGA baseball cap? The United States remains one of the most consistently popular travel choices for Australians abroad, but if you're hoping to take your phone overseas, it's not always cheap.

International roaming can be expensive, especially if you're using data outside Australia. Depending on your telco and plan, you may get lucky with free roaming inclusions or add-on travel packs, or you may be stuck with pricey pay-as-you-go rates.

If you're planning to visit the land of guns, God, and the Grand Canyon, here's a quick telco-by-telco overview of your best roaming options – including travel packs, roaming offers, and more. 

Optus


Customers on Optus’ high-end $130 and $160 postpaid plans respectively receive 1GB and 1.5GB of roaming data to use each month in all ‘Zone 1’ countries. The good news? The US falls into this category, so you’ll have a full gigabyte-and-a-half of fast data to use each month on your travels.

If you’re on a somewhat more budget-friendly plan, you can purchase an Optus Travel Pack for $10 per day while you’re roaming. Each 24-hour pack comes with unlimited talk and text, and 100MB of daily data use in Zone 1 destinations.

Customers can accumulate data by purchasing multiple packs at once, so if you buy seven passes for $70, you’ll get seven days of unlimited talk and text, plus 700MB to use over a week of roaming. It’s not cheap, but still better than Optus’ pay-as-you-go roaming rates: $1.50 per minute to make and receive calls, $0.50 per sent SMS, and $1.00 per megabyte of data. 

Telstra


Like Optus, Telstra offers customers on its priciest plan extra roaming perks – free unlimited calls, unlimited text, and 1.5GB of roaming data each month in selected countries, including the US. The roaming bonus is only available to subscribers on Telstra’s $195 per month Premium Plus plan.

Other customers can buy an optional Zone 2 Travel Pass for American roaming. Each pass includes unlimited talk and text, with data and expiry times determined by price.

  • $30 Pass: Three days of unlimited talk, text and 225MB of data
  • $70 Pass: Seven days of unlimited talk and text and 525MB of data
  • $140 Pass: Fourteen days of unlimited talk and text and 1.03GB of data
  • $300 Pass: Thirty days of unlimited talk and text and 2.20GB of data

Telstra does offer SMS usage alerts when you’ve reached 50%, 85% and 100% of your data allowance, but these are unlikely to be sent in real time. If you have to go with a PAYG roaming option, you’ll be notified for every $100 you spend on data.

Vodafone


Voda customers on any postpaid plan can use their monthly talk, text and data allowance for US roaming under the telco’s $5 Roaming deal. You’ll pay $5 for each day you use your phone in included countries, for up to 90 days per calendar year until February 2018.

Keep in mind that if you activate this service, you’ll be charged $5 for every day you use your phone in the US – even if it’s just to send one text or answer a call. Data use is also limited to whatever’s included on your monthly domestic plan.

Vodafone also offers a standard pay-as-you-go rates for US roaming: $1.00 per minute to make or receive calls, $0.75 per text message sent, and $1.00 per megabyte of data used. 

Virgin Mobile


If you’re on a Virgin postpaid plan of $70 per month or more, you may have a 500MB Roaming Bonus available on your account. The bonus gives you 500MB of roaming data to use in Virgin’s Zone 1 countries (including the US!) in your first twelve months on selected Virgin plans.

The 500MB is currently available as a one-off on Virgin’s $70, $80 and $100 postpaid plans, so it doesn’t renew every month like your other plan inclusions. Once you’ve used up your free roaming data – or your first year of your plan is up – you’ll need to buy an additional Roaming Data Pack for overseas use.

Roaming Data Packs are available to customers on any postpaid Virgin plan. Each add-on pack comes with a 30-day expiry, but customers can buy multiple packs at once to accumulate data. Prices and data inclusions are as follows:

  • $25 Pack: 300MB of data
  • $30 Pack: 500MB of data
  • $55 Pack: 1GB of data
  • $100 Pack: 2GB of data

Virgin doesn’t offer roaming packs for talk or text, so you’ll need to pay per-use to call and send messages in the US. You’ll pay $0.50 per minute to make calls, $0.10 per minute to receive them, $0.50 per SMS sent, and $0.20 per megabyte of pay-as-you-go data.

MVNOs and prepaid


Some MVNOs and prepaid brands allow for US roaming. Generally, if you’ll travelling with an MVNO plan, you’ll be charged pay-as-you-go rates for all phone use – and these add up quickly.

If you’re with ALDI Mobile, Amaysim, Coles Mobile, OVO Mobile, TPG, or Yomojo, you’ll pay $1.00 per minute to make calls, $0.50 per SMS sent, and $0.50 per megabyte of data used (that’s $50 per 100MB, or $500 for a gigabyte).

More info on travelling with a prepaid plan can be found here

Telcos in the US


If you’re looking for an easy option for prepaid US roaming, American carrier T-Mobile has recently launched its Prepaid International Tourist Plan.

For $30 USD, you’ll get three weeks of T-Mobile service with unlimited domestic and international texting, 1000 minutes of talk within the US, and unlimited data, with 2GB at 4G LTE speeds.

As long as you’re got an unlocked, GSM-capable device, you should be eligible to use T-Mobile’s tourist service. You’ll need to order your SIM kit online with a US shipping address, or pick one up at a T-Mobile store upon arrival.

The downside? T-Mobile’s Tourist Plan will expire automatically after 21 days with no option for renewal, so if you’re planning a stay longer than three weeks you may need to consider additional options.

Travel SIMs


We've compiled a whole guide on roaming and travel SIMs here, but if you're looking for quick picks, Travel SIMs Direct offers three US roaming packs, each with unlimited calls and texts. Prices include $99.00 for 6GB of data, $64.00 for 4GB of data, and $99.00 for unlimited fast data.

Flexiroam's products allow you to keep using your Australian SIM within the US: you'll just attach a thin microchip to your SIM card and buy data as needed. Starter packs include 1GB for $29.99 USD, 3GB for $79.99 USD, and 5GB for $129.99 USD. 

Couple at Golden Gate Bridge photo via Shutterstock


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