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The best New Zealand prepaid SIM cards for iPhone, iPad & Android

By John Walton     Filed under: internet, iPad, smartphones, New Zealand, mobile broadband, SIM cards, Micro-SIMs, Global roaming, roaming calls, data roaming, prepaid SIMs, mobile internet, Vodafone New Zealand, Telecom New Zealand, Telecom XT, 2degrees

Want the best prepaid SIM card for your iPhone, Android device, Windows Phone, iPad, tablet or pocket 3G-wifi device in New Zealand?

Avoid costly trans-Tasman roaming fees on Telstra, Vodafone or Optus, and pick up one of AusBT's roadtested SIM card recommendations for your business trip.

Regular SIMs, microSIMs (for iPhone 4, 4S, iPads and many newer Android devices) and nanoSIMs for your iPhone 5 are fairly available.

For the business traveller looking for a prepaid SIM, the real choice is between NZ Telecom's XT 3G network and upstart 2degrees. A price war between the two has yielded new great deals over recent months.

(Third option Vodafone NZ is about as good as its Australian counterpart -- not very. The network's weak and the pricing isn't competitive, so we don't recommend it, but note that Vodafone AU has some relatively inexpensive data roaming bundles in NZ)

All three major telcos (Telecom, 2degrees and Vodafone) have basic prepaid SIMs available -- but the real value and convenience comes when you add on one of the prepaid bundles that comes with minutes, texts and data for $19 (A$16) or a big slug of extra data.

Don't forget -- you'll need to make sure your phone is "unlocked" from your network before it'll work with another network's SIM! For more on that, check out our article outlining everything you need to know about getting a local SIM for your phone.

How NZ prepaid SIMs work

Things work a little differently in NZ than they do back home in Australia.

You buy your SIM in standard, micro and nano variants. Telecom's SIMs are $5 (A$4), while 2degrees' SIMs are $10 (A$8).

(Vodafone's cost $30 (A$24), but that includes the first month of your minutes, texts & data add-on.)

Once you have your SIM, you can use the basic pay-as-you-go rates:

  • 2degrees: 44c a minute and 9c a text (same rates to Australia), 50c per MB of data. Calling rates halved to 22c a minute if you top up once every 30 days.
  • Telecom: 44c a minute and 20c a text (91c a minute and 30c texts to Australia), $1 per day for up to 10MB of data, then $1 per extra MB on the same day.
  • Vodafone: 49c a minute and 12c a text (to Australia), $1 per day for up to 10MB of data, then $1 per extra MB on the same day.

It's all about the bundles

But it makes much more sense for smartphone users or anyone looking for mobile data to get one of the add-on bundles.

The add-on bundles are either pure data or a mix of minutes, texts and data. They auto-renew if your account is in credit, unless you instruct your provider otherwise. You can add extra data bundles on as well, with some limits -- check out the terms and conditions for more.

We've outlined the best bundles -- for smartphone users and for people who need gigabytes of data -- below.

If you're picking up your SIM in a 2degrees or Telecom store, ask them to activate the bundle you want then and there. You'll need to credit your account beforehand, so it's a little convoluted to do over the phone.

Pick Telecom for at-the-airport convenience too: there's a store in Auckland Airport's international terminal arrivals area.

2degrees' Auckland Airport shop is outside the terminals, near the Ibis Budget hotel (previously the Formula 1 hotel) -- convenient enough if you're driving, but not if you're taking the airport bus or a cab.

Or:

Best smartphone bundle for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone

Both networks have a decent $19 (A$15) pay-as-you-go combo pack, great for smartphones (and even tablets).

Telecom's $19 Big Value Pack gives you 60 minutes, 5000 texts and 500MB of data.

2degrees' $19 Combo Packs include one for 50 minutes, 5000 texts and 500MB of data, or 30 minutes/3000 texts and 600MB data. (Bonus: 22c per minute calls to Australia if you top up once a month. Check with the store for details and conditions.)

(Network number three, Vodafone, has a similar smartphone $19 plan for 50 minutes, 5000 texts and 500MB of data, if you really want to be on Vodafone's poor network.)

Best data bundles for mobile data

2 degrees is far in the lead here: 1GB for $20 (A$16) 3GB for $50 (A$40), 12GB for $99 (A$79).

That 12GB deal is too good to pass up, especially when you take into account that you can avoid getting rorted by hotel Internet packages every night.

Note that this is only valid in the city areas where 2degrees operates -- although this is now most of populated New Zealand. We roadtested it in Wellington and have no complaints.

Telecom offers add-on data bundles, useful if you're heading out into rural NZ and need some Internet: 2GB for NZ$50 (A$40), but up to a max of 4GB per month.

Whether you're slipping a SIM into your pocket wifi/mifi device, laptop or USB dongle, 2degrees is definitely the way to go unless you're heading out into rural New Zealand, where 2degrees' coverage isn't as wide as Telecom's coverage.

Some more for your bookmarks...

Among Australian Business Traveller's extensive expert roadtested guides that help you get online when you're on the road, check out:

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About John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

 

Have something to say? Post a comment now!

1 on 24/3/12 by Ronmazz

This is an excellent article Dan for travellers to the Land of the Long White Cloud. This update from March 2012 will help new Australian travellers to NZ with Telstra iPhones taking up a Telecom NZ SIM option.

First you must unlock your iPhone before you leave Oz [even if you are still on contract this works]. Check out and read carefully including linking to iTunes to seal the unlock deal:

http://exchange.telstra.com.au/2010/10/15/telstra-removes-unlock-fee-for-apple-iphone-for-jet-setting-aussies/comment-page-5/

In Auckland airport the Telecom NZ booth is right opposite your exit door from Customs and Immigration. It is open pretty much all hours even weekends till late at night!

The staff will suggest you buy a Plan Only Pay as you go with a NZ mobile number (free). You need to buy a TNZ SIM (NZ$29.95). The iPhone 4 uses a microSIM which is normally $10 more but they didn't charge me this. This gets 500MB Mobile Broadband Prepaid. It is a good idea to get a $40 Telecom Prepaid Mobile E Voucher which gives you 40 minutes NZ talk time plus 5 minutes from the SIM purchase and 1000 free texts. You will get reminders every time you call that you only have 5 min talk time left but a TNZ website shows your actual 40 minute balance.You can top up as in the article above.

This is a good deal - our car hire company had 500MB Broadband 'packages' for $150 and no calls included. Calls in NZ are normally not cheap so again the TNZ package for NZ$69.95 is good traveller value. TNZ coverage is pretty good throughout the North Island where we travelled but limited in National Parks and low population areas.

2 on 2/4/12 by mobipassport

You can order a 2 Degrees SIM before you depart from mobipassport.com.au

3 on 2/11/12 by sdwylie

I've had a 2degrees Sim for a while now and love it in AKL and WLG - however worth noting it didn't work in Rotorua last week when I was over there...

1 on 2/11/12 by John

Weird -- 2deg says it covers Rotovegas. What did you try to get it to work while you were there?

4 on 2/11/12 by richie9x

5 on 2/11/12 by richie9x

It seems unusual that you are so willing to dismiss Vodafone so quickly. They are the largest mobile telco in NZ by market share with just under half of the market.

They don't have the same performance issues as their Australian counterpart has.

Telecom NZ had some very bad outages on their network a couple of years ago.

2degrees has a small network covering only about 20 cities/urban areas. Outside of that 2degrees roams on the Vodafone network.

1 on 2/11/12 by John

Sure, Vodafone's big, but they're worse value than the others and their network's the worst of the three in the major cities.

They certainly do have similar performance issues to Vodafone AU -- worse, in some cases -- and that's current, tested-last-week-in-Wellington (plus reports from Auckland, Christchurch and rural NZ), not two years ago.

And yes, as I said, 2degrees is best for cities: the detail that it roams onto Vodafone's exceedingly patchy network is why.

1 on 3/11/12 by nicksname

I've got to agree with richie9x. Vodafone is by far the largest player in the mobile telecommunications market in NZ, and has a very stable market. I wouldn;t be too quick to dismiss this major player, who offers packages identical to those mentioned in this article.

Being Kiwi based, I have used Vodafone for years and I've yet to encounter any kind of the patchy network which described, and is just as reliable as Telecom. In fact, I recall when Telecom's XT network was launched and there was a plethora of complaints about network failures with it. 

Another small-time telco which most business travelers will probably look past is the Telecom subsidary called Skinny. It is largely targeted at the teen/young adult market but has weekly "combos" priced at only NZD4. That's not half bad considering it includes data, minutes and txts, depending on the combo. It runs on the Telecom network, so should have no major network issues. Probably not the first option for many business travelers due to the marketing and combo packages available, but a good option nonetheless.

1 on 3/11/12 by John

Nick, I've spent several months a year in NZ for the last three years -- mostly in Wellington, but with multiple trips to Auckland, Christchurch, various wine hubs and across rural NZ.

I tend to travel with a Telecom SIM in my phone, a Vodafone SIM in my iPad and a 2degrees SIM in my pocket wifi router to compare the lot frequently, swapping them around when I want to compare them a little more scientifically.

Vodafone's packages aren't identical as you suggest.

Vodafone's network is worse than Telecom's (there are still problems in Wellington, let alone the rural network) and its bundles are marginally worse value (by ten minutes of included airtime). Why would anyone pick Vodafone instead of Telecom?

As I mentioned in the article, Vodafone does have a $19 package. But its mobile broadband packs are the same price as Telecom for 2GB, at which point value gets worse because you can only purchase 512MB for $30 (compared with Telecom allowing you two bites at the 2GB-for-$50 cherry). 2degrees blows Vodafone (and Telecom) out of the park on urban data value. Why would anyone pick Vodafone?

Whenever I take straw polls of mobile networks from people I talk to in NZ -- friends, travel industry pros, wine folk -- they nearly uniformly slate Vodafone, and are only with the network because they're on a long device-related term or they've a work phone via a corporate contract. I'd be interested to know why you're with Vodafone.

I omitted Skinny for the marketing reasons and more -- the sales points aren't as one-stop convenient (being mainly Dick Smith/The Warehouse type big box stores) as the network shops, plus the weekly packages (and overage rates) seem like a lot of faff. I do like their $4 per week plus $8 for 600 MB a week as value, though, and I hope they succeed and shake up the market enough that I can pop them in when I next come to revise this guide!

1 on 5/11/12 by nicksname

I my experience trying to find a sim card upon arrival in LAX, there are two key factors travelers look for when choosing a mobile provider: Price and convenience. Due to the similarity of prices between networks, convenience is the deciding factor for me.

Due to Vodafone enjoying its status as the largest provider within NZ, it has some competitive advantages over its competitors. Travelers arriving at Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown airports ware able to take advantage of the on-site Vodafone store, whilst I believe Telecom only has a presence at Auckland Airport. And from my experience, I have found there are many more places which sell Vodafone products, so adding money to your balance is comparatiely easier. However this may be due to the popularity of Vodafone within northern NZ, so may not be true of the rest of the country.

Another nice thing about Vodafone is the ability to top-up prepay balances via ATM machine.

Similar to your experience, I have also used both Vodafone and 2Degrees (not Telecom however), and find no noticeable differences in cover throughout my travels. I have never had a dropped call from either network, and time I have encountered difficulty in sending a txt was during the RWC in the heart of Auckland, when the city was swamped by hundreds of thousands of keen rugby goers!

A good article, however I feel that more information should be given about Vodafone, due to the reasons outlined, should the article be updated.

1 on 5/11/12 by John

You're right about the convenience: on first glance it might indeed make sense for Christchurch and Queenstown business travellers to pick up a Vodafone SIM from the airport.

The problem is that those business travellers are very likely to be using CHC or ZQN as a launching point for rural NZ -- at which point Vodafone's weaker network becomes a serious drawback.

My take is that most business travellers will be topping up with a card over the phone -- I certainly find that more convenient than having to find an ATM or somewhere to buy a voucher.

And of course you wouldn't notice a coverage difference between Vodafone and 2degrees -- anywhere 2degrees has coverage Vodafone is bound to, and anywhere 2degrees doesn't have coverage it roams onto Vodafone!

I'm still comfortable with my call that Vodafone is the least attractive network for business travellers, with the slight proviso that Vodafone AU customers may find their data roaming bundle convenient.

6 on 8/2/14 by Lugszthomas

Please look into Data and how strong it is . Telecolm and Vodafone are stronger by far than 2 degrees outside the cities . No good if  want make sale out of town . Price is not everything . 

Same with cell phones. They are working on apps to help us make more sales but how about a phone battery that lasts a couple of days even after surfing the net . Now theres a thought ...

7 on 20/3/14 by dan

for travelling abroad i always use lemonsim cards, they have no roaming fees in more then 140 countries and the price rate is very cheap, 0.19euro/minute, the call quality is high and i am happy with that...

 

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