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17 August 2010 @ 10:27 am
Using a US AT&T iPhone in Australia  
Here's some advice for US AT&T iPhone users bringing their phones to Australia.

The iPhone is a GSM quad band with EDGE, plus UTMS (type of 3G, aka W-CDMA or FOMA) and should work in Australia on the Hutchison, Optus, Telstra, and Vodafone networks. When roaming, the phone will act like a local phone where you are. From some countries, absence of 1 or +1 might mean your speed-dials don't work. To contact AT&T Customer service from outside the US, dial+1-916-843-4685 (free from your wireless phone). Press and hold 0 to dial the "+".

Standard rates for using the iPhone in Australia:
  • $1.69 per minute for voice calls
  • 20¢ per received text message
  • 50¢ per sent text message
  • $1.30 per sent picture/video message
  • $19.50 per MB of data

To minimize iPhone VOICE charges:
  • Keep in mind that if you are outside the US, you are roaming: none of your free included minutes apply. Everything is pay-as-you-go.
  • You can sign up for the "World Traveler" package ($6/month) to lower the per-minute charge from $1.69 to $1.29.
  • Leave phone fully off (not asleep) when you aren't available to answer calls. Messages left while ON will cost you, messages left while OFF won't. (Listening to a voice mail message will always cost you.)
To minimize iPhone DATA charges:
  • Turn Data Roaming "OFF": Settings>General>Network>Data Roaming.
  • Turn Fetch New Data "OFF":
    Settings>Fetch New data; change Push to "OFF" and select Fetch manually.
  • Use Wi-Fi Instead of 3G/GPRS/EDGE (i.e. do not ask for data unless you have Wi-Fi bars)
  • Zero out the Usage Tracker before you travel: Settings>General>Usage>Reset.
To reduce the data charge for using Internet services on your phone, you can sign up for an "International Data Package":
  • 20 MB = $25 per month ($1.25/MB)
  • 50 MB = $60 per month ($1.20 ea)
  • 100 MB = $120 per month ($1.20 ea)
  • 200 MB = $200 per month ($1 ea)
Note that both MB and $$ are PRORATED if you turn the package on or off during the month. Keep the package turned on for a bit after returning, because charges may not post immediately.

You can turn the "World Traveler" and "International Data Package" features on and off online (log into My Account, go to "My Services" tab, click on "Manage Features").

To help you figure out which data plan you want, you can view a graph of your data usage for the last few months (log into My Account, go to "Bill & Payments" tab, click on "Create a Billing Report").

Personally I am signing up for the 200MB data plan. It's expensive, but cheaper than AT&T's a-la-carte data charges and provides the full Internet functionality of the iPhone (invaluable when traveling). A cheapie local phone would cost a lot less but wouldn't give me that. I will definitely keep an eye on my data usage (on the phone: Settings>General>Usage) and use wi-fi instead of 3G whenever possible.
Curtis C. Chensparckl on August 17th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
great advice
Excellent summary of potential charges for international usage.

When I was in London last summer, I turned off 3G data completely and only used wi-fi. Some tips I can recommend:

* download info applications (e.g., tube map) that will work offline
* use Google Maps over wi-fi and take screenshots (hold down home button and lock button; screen will flash white) that you can then view offline. Of course, this depends on you knowing where you're going before you head out.

Have fun down under!
Azahruazahru on August 17th, 2010 06:11 pm (UTC)
Given it's illegal to refuse to unlock a phone in Australia (restriction of trade) I wonder if you can get your iPhone unlocked while in Australia and get whatever plan you want while over there. If you can chuck a local sim card in it should save you lots of cashes. You could give Optus a call/e-mail and see if they'll unlock your phone for you if you grab a pre-paid card with them. Optus is the main provider of iPhone plans, but not the exclusive provider.

I had never heard of being charged to receive a call or text until I came to America, so it might be useful.
Azahruazahru on August 17th, 2010 06:16 pm (UTC)
The telecommunications ombudsman is there for you if you need it http://www.tio.com.au/ Govt provided Australian consumer watchdog. It has lots of FAQs about standards and stuffs. Consumer protection is pretty strong in Australia. Wifi isn't as common as in Portland (at least when I was there), but you can always play it by ear depending on where you are.
Azahruazahru on August 17th, 2010 06:19 pm (UTC)
Aaand while we're on phones, remember dial 000 for emergency services. Or for some mobile phones or pay phones use 112
David D. Levinedavidlevine on August 17th, 2010 07:17 pm (UTC)
I'm extremely loath to unlock my phone. Last time I looked into unlocking a phone (not an iPhone) I was told that the downsides included decreased battery life and the risk of incurring unexpected roaming charges, both of which are avoided by having a phone that only talks to its home network. I haven't been able to either confirm or refute this argument; looking online for information about unlocking an iPhone gets you plenty of information about HOW to do it (some of it even accurate) but nothing about the upsides and downsides. In the absence of hard information, I prefer to take the cautious choice.
Azahruazahru on August 17th, 2010 07:24 pm (UTC)
Jailbreaking might be different to unlocking process-wise. Calling a telephone provider to unlock is a bit different to figuring out a hack. I imagine manually swapping out sim cards would make roaming charges impossible. It could be that AT&T have locked it up so tight that you can't wriggle it. Australian telecommunications aren't as labyrinthine as the USA. Note if you're co-ordinating with Aussies they might text you a lot as it's generally free to receive and extremely cheap to send. You might want to grab a disposable phone and plan for $20-$40.
David D. Levinedavidlevine on August 17th, 2010 07:30 pm (UTC)
I understand the difference between unlocking and jailbreaking. I'm reluctant even to unlock, though I've just sent an email to a more knowledgeable friend asking if the downside of unlocking is as bad as I fear.

I considered a disposable phone and rejected that option because I use my phone about 90% of the time as an Internet device and 10% of the time as a phone (voice and text combined). The iPhone with its Internet features is especially invaluable when traveling and it's worth a lot of money for me to not have to do without it. But that's me -- cash-rich and data-greedy. This solution is not for everyone.
Smofbabe: iphonesmofbabe on August 17th, 2010 11:13 pm (UTC)
I have an unlocked iPhone that I use successfully both here and in the US but it was unlocked by the carrier of the person here who sold it to me. I don't think you'll find a carrier that will unlock an iPhone from another provider, unfortunately.

As for Internet access, you can indeed get prepaid SIMs that provide Internet access by adding different "top-up" plans, for example, at Optus http://personal.optus.com.au/web/ocaportal.portal?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=Template_woRHS&FP=/personal/mobile/prepaidmobile/latestrechargeoffers&site=personal

David D. Levinedavidlevine on August 17th, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC)
"I imagine manually swapping out sim cards would make roaming charges impossible."

The problem here is that, as I understand it, locked/unlocked status is a property of the handset rather than the SIM card. A handset locked to AT&T will never connect to a non-AT&T network even if you put a non-AT&T SIM card into it; the point of unlocking the handset is to allow you to use a non-AT&T SIM outside the US. But when you return home, the still-unlocked phone will happily connect to non-AT&T networks, thus incurring roaming charges, even if you reinsert your AT&T SIM card. At least that's how I understand it.
Azahruazahru on August 17th, 2010 07:39 pm (UTC)
Interesting. We've used an Australian unlocked iPhone in Australia for over a year and haven't inadvertently roamed. We did try to find a carrier other than AT&T for our phone, but that said no other carrier would take the iPhone, even though it wasn't locked. Or they'd say, here sign a big contract, but we make no guarantees that you will ever get data.

We don't have locking in Australia, so I guess we have to have good programming/data management instead! iPhone is the only instance of locking ever. We were horrified and the telecommunications ombudsman declared Optus had to provide unlocking if asked... and I'm not sure, but don't think the new iPhones are locked at all because of consumer pushback.
Azahruazahru on August 17th, 2010 07:40 pm (UTC)
And by Australia in the top line I mean America. Oh gosh, embarrassment.
David D. Levinedavidlevine on August 17th, 2010 07:44 pm (UTC)
So if I were to take my US iPhone to Australia and get it unlocked, what would be my options for a local carrier who would provide me with voice and data coverage for one month?
Azahruazahru on August 17th, 2010 08:02 pm (UTC)
My internet is being super slow for sleuthing - agonising. iPhone carriers include Optus, Telstra and Virgin. You might not be able to do pre-paid, but you might be able to do month to month (ie no contract holding you in so you can have just one month). I think Mike got month to month back when iPhones were new, we didn't know when we'd go to America.

Before my computer went super slow I did find out Optus has prepaid data plans for $69 (or $30 if you already have an approved USB modem)

Azahruazahru on August 17th, 2010 08:03 pm (UTC)
that's $69 dataplans for computers, my typing and sentence making are crap today.
David D. Levinedavidlevine on August 17th, 2010 08:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the info. Buying a Global Data Plan from AT&T is still Plan A but I'll continue to research the upsides and downsides of unlocking.
Azahruazahru on August 17th, 2010 08:26 pm (UTC)
'tis good to have a plan B :-)
David D. Levinedavidlevine on August 17th, 2010 10:06 pm (UTC)
No sign of month-to-month as an option at any of those carriers. They all list at least a 12 or 24 month contract.

All my searches for "us iphone sim australia" and similar combinations find wads and wads of old articles about the iPhone being offered for sale in Australia soon or people who want to save money by buying an iPhone from the US and using it in Australia. Australian vendors of prepaid SIMs don't talk about data plans at all... just phone. I need a data plan!

This is frustrating.

When you came to the US with your Australian iPhone, how did you get AT&T to sell you just a SIM?
Azahruazahru on August 17th, 2010 10:24 pm (UTC)
We said this is what we want and were insistent until they let us sign something without a contract. By we I mean Mike, he is a much tougher negotiator. We're on a contract now and oh boy has the phone line quality dropped.

I know a bunch of providers do prepaid sim data plans, they all have fancy swanky names though. I think Vodaphone has some too. It might be asking for a special package (calling up saying hey, I want to give you money, how can we make this work?)
David D. Levinedavidlevine on August 17th, 2010 10:32 pm (UTC)
I looked at Telstra's site just now and I couldn't figure out how to get what I want (unlock my phone, give me a SIM, and give me 200MB of data and 30 minutes of calls) or how much it would cost. Cell phone plans are very confusing.

I am also considering how much it's worth to me to NOT spend a day of my vacation in some cell phone store trying to make this work...
(Deleted comment)
Smofbabe: iphonesmofbabe on August 17th, 2010 11:17 pm (UTC)
No, if you reinsert your AT&T SIM card when you're back in the US, the phone will recognize that it belongs to the AT&T network. (I use my Cingular SIM in the US and it connects to the AT&T network with no roaming outside it.)

Edited at 2010-08-17 11:17 pm (UTC)
Timapparentparadox on August 17th, 2010 06:31 pm (UTC)
I was under the impression that the "+1" or whatever was just a stand-in for the country code, and that the appropriate way to dial any international call was to do the right thing to get an international dial tone, then enter the country code, then the rest of the number.

I guess the iPhone is trying to know how to get the international dialtone.
David D. Levinedavidlevine on August 17th, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)
This is confusing because the country code for the US is 1, but I think that "+1" means "the following number is a US number"; if you were dialing the UK you'd precede it with "+44" instead. I guess the + by itself tells the phone to get an international dial tone.
Azahruazahru on August 17th, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)
Yup, and +61 for Australia.
Marissa Hatfield on October 24th, 2012 06:18 pm (UTC)
Any Update to Your Advice?
My girlfriend and I are going to be in Austrailia for 3 weeks in December. We both have iPhones - AT&T 4S and Verizon 4.
Can you offer any additional advice? Or should we stick to your original blog?

Many thanks!
David D. Levinedavidlevine on October 24th, 2012 06:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Any Update to Your Advice?
I think the basic idea is still sound, though some of the links above might be dead and the prices may have changed.

Edited at 2012-10-24 06:21 pm (UTC)