Living in Sydney

Cellphone [Getting a]

The cellphone is the holder of life and navigator of the world…since we can’t read maps anymore right? Well like everything else in Australia, phone service can either kill you (financially) or be your best friend. Let me tell you how to not go broke while also getting some pretty decent service on a budget.

Disclaimer: The plans and prices outlined below are accurate to the time of publication, and that there are more than these phone plan options available. Prices exclude the cost of buying a mobile phone should you choose to do so. This article is merely a guide to get a better understanding of what I THE AUTHOR have researched and experienced based on phone usage in Australia. There are also more than these four companies to choose from. This is MERELY A GUIDE to pricing a phone service in Australia.

The phone companies

In Australia there are, from what I’ve gathered, four main service providers among the sprinkled variety of prepaid services like Lyca Mobile…the demon phone service:

  1. Telstra
  2. Optus
  3. Vodafone
  4. Virgin Mobile

Oh and a quick note to the Americans, the cellphone options are more forgiving in other countries. Meaning you don’t need to have the credit score or finances of your parents to afford a good and reliable cellphone. Pay as you go (PAYG) is a good option for stays in Oz under a year. Beyond that it might be wise to build up a banking history and then get a 12-month plan with a mobile service. By going on a contract plan you get a discounted monthly rate, but you’ll pay dearly if you break the contract. SIM-only implies that you only want an Aussie number, and you use it with your existing phone.

Now I use Optus because I saw, based on the coverage maps each site provides, that it gave me the best coverage for my budget. It hasn’t let me down so far and I’ve gone into the mountains a few times. So I’m just warning you, I’m inclined to suggest Optus as a fair middle man servicer; but I’ll go over each one briefly and still let you decide as I did research on each one before selecting my company.

A quick note about dead zones in Oz

The dead zone in the centre of the country is true for all servicers, so if you look at the coverage maps yourself you will see a similar pattern of the southeast coast housing the best coverage and the northwest having the least. The centre of Australia is essentially a dead zone, which will kill your phone service and you if you don’t prepare properly and get a signal booster.

Telstra, for those well-off users

Telstra is one of Australia’s largest telephone and Internet servicers, and from not only an American perspective but from a university student perspective it is the most expensive option you have. Now by paying their high prices you’re given the best coverage map in the country, but that could always be mended with a booster you can find here if you do plan on going into dead zones near the centre of the country.

Like the other servicers, the price you pay will depend on three factors that I’ll pose into questions:

  1. Do you need/want a new phone?
  2. Do you want a new SIM card?
  3. Do you prefer a contract or pay as you go?

When answering these three questions your cheapest option with Telstra would be to go on either a SIM card only pay-as-you-go or contract plan, but since you’ve just arrived in Oz you’ll end up with the PAYG option since you don’t have a bank account and bank history in Australia.

The Telstra Prepay plans aren’t the best but you’re paying for the strongest network coverage nationwide. Something to think about…

It’s also worth noting that while they do offer student discount plans, the process of getting a Prepay service from them can look a bit confusing. I’m a journalist…and their plans were confusing to decipher for you…the reader.

Plan PAYG SIM-only PAYG SIM-only PAYG SIM-only
Cost (AUD) $30 $40 $50
Data Amount (GB) 3.0 6.0 8.0
Unlimited Talk/Text? X X
International Credit $5 $10 $15

Optus, the middle man with decent coverage

Now I know I told you that I use Optus, but hear me out. Their coverage map was the second best (based on iPhone ownership) next to Telstra, and their prices are more forgiving to the student wallet. Ideal for those being a little more financially stable than most this option would be ideal for middle-income students who like to travel the country. I say this only becuase their coverage is what you’d be paying for. I attest to how good it is I went hiking in the woods and was the only one of my friends who had cell coverage (they had Vodafone which I’ll get to in a bit). They also offer student discounts.

With Optus those three questions above can be answered more liberally than with Telstra:

  1. Do you need/want a new phone?
  2. Do you want a new SIM card?
  3. Do you prefer a contract or pay as you go?

With Optus you may still need o use PAYG, but you have the option of getting a more reliable phone if you want a new phone or, like me, want to keep your native phone in case of emergencies (parental phone contract for the win!). For example I got a new iPhone 5s with the first month of service free for $399. Steep for some but I think long-term.

Now their PAYG monthly fees are more lenient than Telstra with the lowest package of a generous  3GB, unlimited calls and texts in Oz, and $5 international call bonus for $30 monthly. That’s with a new phone bought outright. SIM PAYG start as low as $35 per month.

Sim-Only plans

Plan 12-month PAYG 12-month PAYG 12-month PAYG
Cost (AUD) $30 $35 $40 $50 $50 $60
Data Amount (GB) 1.5 1.5 8.0 6.0 9.0 9
Unlimited Talk/Text? X X X X X X
International Minutes 300 300 500 500

Phone Prepay Plans (need a phone and a new number)

Cost (AUD) $30 $40 $50
Data Amount (GB) 3.0 + Bonus 6.0 + Bonus 8.5 + Bonus
Unlimited Talk/Text? X X X
International Credit $5 $10 $15

Vodafone, the casual

If you’re just a casual phoner, who uses minimal cell-phone data and you prefer basic calls and text on an OK phone network then Vodafone may be the servicer for you. It offers basic bundles on call and SIM packages that will give you the phone coverage you need to get around Australia without breaking your budget. This and Optus are the student favourites and it’s not hard to see why. Vodafone has multiple phone options, with more forgiving international call plans if you are a frequent caller to your family outside of the country.

Therefore, Optus is good for in-country coverage and calls but not international calling, while Vodafone is best for those who want to phone home often while sacrificing higher-end coverage when travelling to the western and central parts of Australia.

Since this company has the best international call plans, I’ll list those. Phone and SIM contracted 24-month plans start as low as $60 per month, with SIM-only international plans starting at $35.

Plan Phone + SIM 24mo Phone + SIM 24mo Phone + SIM 24mo PAYG SIM-only PAYG SIM-only PAYG SIM-only
Cost (AUD) $60 $80 $100 $35 $50 $50
Data Amount (GB) 4.0 + Bonus 9.0 + Bonus 20.0 + Bonus 1.5 8.0 6.0
Unlimited Talk/Text? X X X X X X
International Minutes 150 300/1,000 300/1,000 300/1,000

Virgin Mobile, the bare boned minimum

Virgin Mobile offers extended plan deals that spread your plan fee across 180 days; a steal for those on Work Holiday visas, and budget tight students (and travelers). But be warned, those long-expiry plans are bare-boned.

Virgin also has limited, unlimited calling; you can only make unlimited calls to other Virgin mobile users, however you get a lot of call credit for your low monthly tariff. Those low prices come with high risks if you’re a long-term Aussie guest, or you’re simply new to non-American phone servicing. This adds questions to ask yourself when you’re at the shop to confirm if you want to be with Virgin for the duration of your stay.

  1. Do you need/want a new phone?
  2. Do you want a new SIM card?
  3. Do you prefer a contract or pay as you go?
  4. Do you want mobile data? Do you use it a lot?
  5. How long are you staying in Oz?
  6. Do you need to make a lot of calls or texts?
  7. How much are you willing to set aside for phone service each month?
  8. Do I need to travel around the country, especially in low-signal areas?

It’s a lot to think about, but I just want to make sure you understand what you need to consider when you get minimal cellphone plans if you’ve never done so before. Below is the bare minimum coverage chart from the website, followed by a price chart for the more usual plans offered. Virgin has the least coverage in the country based on my research, but it’s still good for visiting different cities. Just say out of the wooded areas.


Plan Phone + SIM 24mo Phone + SIM 24mo Phone + SIM 24mo PAYG SIM-only PAYG SIM-only PAYG SIM-only
Cost (AUD) $40 $50 $70 $30 $40 $50
Data Amount (GB) 2.0 4.0 6.0 1.0 4.0 8.0
Unlimited Talk/Text? X X X X X X
International Credit $50 $100 $300 $50 $200 $300


Now I am in no means a pricing expert on phones and cell packages, but having traveled to different countries and had various international phones I think that Optus here has the best of both worlds for seasoned travelers who don’t phone home often. For green travelers Vodafone may be more forgiving on pricing. Check out the links above to do your own comparison and check out their plans, and remember…STAY AWAY FROM LYCA MOBILE!

It’s evil man…so evil…

I hope this helps you find the right phone for you, and stay tuned for more how-to’s and adventure posts! Remember to do your own research on top of the research that went into this guide to ensure you get the most out of your money for the services that matter most to you.

There’s a heatwave going on in Sydney at present…and I tend to not move in the heat so be patient with the postings.

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