There's a golden trick that tech-savvy travellers have been using for years to avoid global roaming fees.
Put simply, you divert your Australian mobile number to a Skype number, which in turn diverts to your overseas mobile number.
As a result, you avoid global roaming fees altogether.
You'll need to buy a SIM card at your destination for this trick to work.
The costs involved with this are:
- the cost of buying a SIM card overseas (see "Where to buy prepaid SIM cards" below)
- your Australian mobile telco's per-minute charge for diverting your mobile to an Australian landline number (usually just a standard call rate, included in "cap" plans - but check with your telco)
- Skype's per-minute charge to call an overseas mobile number: for example, USA 3c, Hong Kong 3c, China 3c, Singapore 3c, Indonesia 20c, Thailand 15c, etc.
Why wouldn't you just use a Travel SIM?
Many "Travel SIM" type SIM cards promote the fact that they come with an Australian phone number, so people can call you while you're overses, and it won't cost the caller any more than a standard mobile call (and often won't cost you anything for the incoming call).
However, while global SIM cards like MaxRoam and Travel SIM are great value for voice calls, their rates for data usage overseas can fluctuate wildly.
This is a huge problem for people with smartphones -- after all, why have a smartphone with all those handy travel-helper apps, if using them is going to cost you an arm and a leg in internet charges?
For example, the Travel SIM brand sold in Australia Post charges a staggering $38 per megabyte for data used in Hong Kong (almost twice as much as Optus, which is infamously Australia's most expensive network for data roaming).
Just 10MB of usage used on a Travel SIM in Hong Kong -- which you could easily use in an hour or two of iPhone use -- would cost you $380.
A much better solution is to pick up a prepaid SIM card from a local mobile network at the destination, which will provide cheap data rates, allowing you to freely use your smartphone, while relying on Skype's call diversion for cheap incoming calls (and Skype on your mobile for cheap outgoing calls).
How to set up your super cheap incoming calls
The basic concept is this:
- Rent a "Skype Online Number" (previously called SkypeIn) which provides a real telephone number based in Australia which will connect to you on Skype. This costs €15 (AUD$20) for 3 months.
- Buy a prepaid SIM card at your destination. (If you have an iPhone, see our tips for travelling with an iPhone.)
- Open Skype on your computer, and in its settings, set up call forwarding to your overseas SIM card's phone number. You can also do it by logging into your account at Skype.com.
- Divert your Australian mobile number to your Skype online number. With your Australian SIM card still in your phone, dial: *21*[phone number]# For example, if your Skype online number was 02 1234 5678, you would dial *21*0212345678#
- If you are visiting another country during your trip and need to buy a new SIM card there, simply log in to your Skype account and change the international mobile number the Skype Online number is diverting to.
- When you get home, put your Australian SIM card back in the phone, and dial ##21# to cancel forwarding.
Using the above method, when people call your Australian mobile number, it will divert to your Skype number, and then divert on to your overseas mobile number.
Cheap outgoing calls too
Now that Skype is available for most brands of smartphone, including the iPhone, Android-based handests, and Nokia handsets that run the Symbian OS, as long as you have a SIM card with cheap data, you can call on Skype instead of paying outbound global roaming rates.
Don't forget you can also directly call other Skype users from your phone completely free of charge (apart from any data costs on the SIM card).
Here are some SIM cards we can recommend around the world:
We're researching more SIM cards in the top countries that Australians travel to, and we'll update to this list as we find the best SIMs for each destination.
Dan is a tech enthusiast who frequently qualifies for enhanced airport security screening due to the number of cords and gadgets stuffed into his cabin bag.