There are three mobile or cell phone networks in Australia operated by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.  Other smaller telcos are hosted by one or other of these three networks. The smaller telcos include Lycamobile, Virgin, Amaysim, Lebara, TPG, Boost.  The smaller telcos can be slightly cheaper than the main network operators, but it can also be more difficult to find retailers of their sims.

Depending on where you’re travelling in Australia, it’s best to check the mobile network coverage maps as some telcos have better coverage than others. You can find the mobile network coverage maps here: Telstra, Optus, Vodafone.

Vodafone, Telstra and Optus all have similar network coverage of the major population centres of Australia, but Telstra and Optus is somewhat better in remote areas.

Unless you intend to remain in a capital city, it is important, therefore, to get a sim card from Telstra or Optus or a smaller telco which is hosted by Telstra or Optus. 

It can be difficult to work out which network hosts the smaller telcos. Check the Coverage page on their website.


Getting Connected

The cheapest and easiest way to get yourself communicating is to bring your own UNLOCKED phone and buy a sim card.

You can organise your pre-paid sim card before you travel to Australia. Certain marketplace websites like eBay or Amazon will have individuals selling local SIM Cards, this can work although you will not receive much support after purchase, websites such as FindMyPlan specialise in this field and also provide international shipping. All you will need is your Passport to activate the sim card online.

If you forget to organise your sim card before travelling to Australia there are phone shops at most airports and in almost all shopping centres. Alternatively, if you don't have an unlocked phone you could buy a new phone with a sim card, but this is an expensive option.

If you buy a sim with a pre-paid credit limit (probably the cheapest option), you can recharge on line or buy recharge cards for the main telco's sims at any supermarket or post office and at most service (gas) stations. Check the smaller telcos' websites for recharge retailers.  Recharging on-line is an easy option.

Australia requires you to have positive photo ID to buy a sim or phone. A passport is sufficient. The process of activating your sim online is quite easy, all you will need is your passport.

If you buy your sim at a phone shop, they will register and activate it for you. This is a good idea and is sufficient reason to buy your sim at a phone shop.


Phoning Home

Most pre-paid sim cards plans will come with international calls. for example, the Vodafone $50 sim card will give you 90 minutes’ worth of international calls, you will also get 1000 minutes to their super 1000 countries. You will also receive 7.5GB of data, so if you find yourself running out of call minutes you will be able to use apps like Skype or WhatsApp.

If you want a sim card solely to phone overseas, TravelSim is useful. Note there are two vendors for this product: Australia Post and TravelSim itself.  It is the same initial price (currently $49.95) but AusPost gives a $20 call credit and the other only $5 call credit. AusPost has its own app and marketing material but it appears the parent company product is identical.

Note your phone must also be unlocked to use TravelSim.

There's more information on TravelSim rates for various countries here.

Data prices with TravelSim are considerably more expensive than either Telstra or Optus.