It’s said that the biggest fear one has it that of public peaking. For me, my biggest fear is not having cellular service, and not being able to connect while on the go. Fortunately, Australia has a very modern infrastructure. While our T-Mobile International plan works well when arriving in Australia, and switches immediately to a local carrier (generally Telstra), we are limited to 2G speeds.

So, how does one connect while in Australia?

Some quick tips to staying connected while on the go – it took me a while to figure these out when arriving in Sydney and trying to call our friends in Adelaide:
Telephone Dialing codes:  The country code for international calls to Australia is 61. When dialing from overseas, omit any leading ‘0’ in the area code. For example, the local number for the Broken Hill tourist information is 08-080-3300. The area code is 08 as Broken Hill is in the Central & West area code region.

To dial the number from Adelaide or anywhere else inside the same area code region you can optionally omit the area code, and just dial 8080-3300.

To dial the number from Sydney or anywhere in Australia outside the area code region, you will need to dial 08 8080-3300. If you don’t know your area code region, you can still dial the area code, and it will still work. To dial the number from overseas you will need to dial your local international access code (00 for most of Europe or 011 in the USA and Canada) and then dial 61 8 8080-3300, that is drop the leading ‘0’ from the area code. There can be many ways of writing the same number, as people try to present the number from the caller’s perspective. +61 8 8080-3300 +61880803300 +61 (0)8 8080-3300, (61 8) 8080-3300, (08) 8080 3300, 61 8 8080 3300 8080 3300 are all the same number, and the same rules apply.

If you are dialling within Australia the area code must begin with a ‘0’. If you are dialling internationally, there is no leading ‘0’. Note that numbers are sometimes written as just the last six or seven digits (e.g. 311 202 is used on road signage as opposed to the full number 08 90311202 for the Laverton Shire Council in Western Australia). This occurs due to the change in the Australian numbering plan in the 1990s, where all numbers were changed and made a uniform length. In this change, the old area code was incorporated in to the start of the new, 8 digit number, and thus locals often still regard this as the ‘area code’ sometimes omitting it when written. These numbers are not to be confused with 13 numbers (see Special Numbers).

Australian Area Code List:

01 = Special numbers (satellite phones, dial-up Internet) 02 = Central East (New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and north-eastern fringe of Victoria) 03 = South East (Southern NSW, Victoria and Tasmania) 04 = Mobile phones Australia-wide (higher call charges apply). 07 = North East (Queensland) 08 = Central & West (Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory and far Western New South Wales) The outgoing international dialing access code (+) from within Australia, is 0011 (note that 00 and similar codes common elsewhere in the world, will not work in Australia).

Local calls costs

Local calls are about $0.20 on most fixed lines and $0.50 per minute on all Telstra public phones. SMS from Telstra public phones costs $0.20. If calling an Australian number from a mobile phone outside Australia it is best to use the format +61880803300 with no spaces and no (0) prefixes included. If making an international call from your mobile phone from within Australia use the ‘+’ followed by the country code, followed by destination area code, followed by the local number at the destination. Omit all leading ‘0’ prefixes and do not include any spaces. If dialing from a mobile telephone in Australia it is not necessary to use an international dialing prefix (such as 0011).

Australia Phone photo

Photo by Kartik Malik

The ‘+’ symbol followed by the destination country code is all that is needed to access the international telephone system from your handset. Special Numbers Numbers commencing with 13 are charged at a local call rate, and what they connect you to can vary according to your location. They can be 10 or 6 digit numbers. For example 1300 796 222, will connect you with the Albury tourist information, no matter where you are in Australia. However, 131 008 will connect you with a different local taxi service depending on where you are. 13 22 32 will connect you to New South Wales Railways in Sydney or Victorian Railways in Melbourne.

Calling ‘special’ numbers internationally can be problematic, or often simply impossible. Many locations will provide an alternate, ordinary number for you to call internationally.

Numbers commencing with 18 are free when dialed from a payphone or fixed line, and commonly used for hotel reservation numbers, or tourist information numbers. Numbers commencing with 19 are premium numbers, often with very hefty call charges (make sure you check before dialing).

Numbers commencing with 12 are operator services, and are dependent on what network you are using. Some 12 numbers may charge higher-than-usual rates. Reverse charge (collect) calls may be made by using the 12550 service, or third-parties such as 1800 Reverse (1800 738377). Note that these services may charge very high rates and should be used sparingly – it costs upward of $20 to accept a 1800 Reverse mobile call.

Directory assistance is available on 1223 and international directory assistance is available on 1225. (From fixed lines, 1223 is free of charge, 1225 is upwards of $1.20). Mobile Cellular Phones Australia has three nationwide cellular (mobile) phone networks based on the GSM standard (900 and 1800mhz) operated by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone . There are also four UMTS networks, two of which are nationwide. One is operated by Telstra (UMTS 850mhz, also marketed by Telstra as Next G) and the other by Optus (a combination of UMTS 2100mhz and 900mhz). The other two networks are limited to capital cities, are on the 2100mhz band and are operated by Vodafone and Three . Vodafone have announced a nationwide 3G (UMTS) rollout on the 900mhz band. For those holding foreign SIM cards, international roaming is generally seamless onto Australia’s GSM 900/1800 and 3G (UMTS/W-CDMA) networks, subject to agreements between operators.

Check with your home operator before you leave to be sure. All carriers offer service in major cities, large towns, and major highways on the East Coast. No carriers offer service in unpopulated areas away from major roads. I would say that Telstra’s 850mhz 3G network provides wider coverage in smaller towns and lightly populated areas.

You can buy a cheap prepaid mobile phone in Australia with a SIM for around $40 in most retail outlets, supermarkets, and post offices, or a SIM for your existing phone at around $2-$3. You can then top it up using recharge cards you can purchase at all supermarkets, newsagents, some ATMs, and other outlets. Prepaid calls cost roughly 60c per minute plus 30c , again depending on the network. SMS is generally 25c.

You can buy a seemly infinite variety or packages, caps and bundles, with combinations of data, sms, call time, and SIM cards. Read the fine print, and as a rule, the more “value” that is included in your “package” or “cap”, the more expensive the elements of the package are. For example call charges can rise from 60c to $1.20 per minute . All is fine if you stay within the minutes allowed for the cap you choose, but it can cost a fortune very quickly if you exceed what you thought you would use.

There are no restrictions on overseas residents getting a Australian prepaid SIM card, however take your passport for identification in case it is required.

Satellite phones If you need comprehensive coverage in rural and remote areas, you can use a satellite phone. Iridium, Globalstar and Thuraya satellite services are available in Australia. Expect to pay around $120 per week to hire a satellite phone, plus call costs. Satellite messaging units, which send your location and a help SMS or email, that can be hired for around $80 per week. These units are only available from specialist dealers, often only in major cities (away from the remote areas you may be visiting). You should be able to acquire or hire these units in your home country before departure if you wish. SMS Text messages can be sent from many public phones, using the keypad in much the same way as a mobile phone. Follow the instructions on the phone display.

Other tips on staying connected while in Australia? Please add your comments and tips.