London calling! The United Kingdom is one of the biggest overseas destinations for Australians (and UK expats now residing Down Under). But when it comes to international roaming with your phone, costs – especially data use – can add up quickly.
But keep calm and carry on: if you're planning a trip to the home of the BBC, the Beatles and Buckingham Palace, here's our quick round-up of all the best roaming options out there.
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 UK 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.
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 UK. 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 UK 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 customers on any postpaid plan can use their monthly talk, text and data allowance for roaming in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales 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 UK – 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 rate for UK roaming: $1.00 per minute to make or receive calls, $0.75 per text message sent, and $1.00 per megabyte of data used.
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 UK!) 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 while in the UK. 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 UK 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 and receive 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 UK
Fortunately, your unlocked Australian-issued mobile phone should be compatible with the GSM networks used throughout the United Kingdom, so you may want to replace your home SIM card with a local prepaid or pay-as-you-go plan.
If you opt for a UK SIM, you'll need to make sure that your tariff (plan) doesn't auto-renew, and that the service is contract-free. You should be able to pick up a local SIM at airports or convenience stores once you touch down, but make sure your mobile is unlocked from its Australian network before you leave (click here to find out more on unlocking your phone for travel).
To get an idea of the prepaid and PAYG plans on offer in the United Kingdom, you can browse through WhistleOut's UK site here.
We've compiled a whole guide on roaming and travel SIMs here, but if you're looking for quick picks, Travel SIMs Direct offers a 28-day European roaming pack. The $64 SIM includes 4GB of 4G/3G data, plus unlimited 2G data roaming, and provides coverage in England, Scotland, and Wales, although Northern Ireland doesn't appear to be included.
Flexiroam's products allow you to keep using your Australian SIM within the UK: 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.
If you're really looking to save on data, you can also hop on the free public WiFi networks available in hotels, cafes, attractions and city centres throughout the UK.
London landmarks photo via Pexels