Expat Life

Using my beloved iPhone in Australia

This entry could be alternatively titled “I Hate AT&T.” They’re making it hard for me to use my iPhone in Australia.

AT&T is the second largest provider of mobile and fixed telephony in the United States. It’s a monster of a company. AT&T is the seventh largest company in the U.S. and 14th in the world. It’s also the worst wireless provider in the country according to the December 2010 issue of Consumer Reports.

I was a T-Mobile customer for many years and was very happy with that company, but when it came time to get a new mobile phone, I decided I wanted an iPhone. Sadly, I said goodbye to T-Mobile and a begrudging hello to AT&T, the only iPhone carrier at the time.

I already hated AT&T. It’s my landline phone and Internet provider (because it has something of a monopoly on such services). I go through periods where my Internet becomes intermittent, which AT&T refuses to acknowledge, and the company’s idea of customer service is, “If you’re unsatisfied with our┬áservice, I’d be more than happy to cancel it for you.” Yes, someone actually said that.

Nevertheless, the last year with my iPhone has been wonderful. I love love love my iPhone. It’s my mini-computer on the go. I use it for texting, social sharing, photography, editing, keeping track of my calendar, storing contacts, finding directions, listening to music and podcasts, watching videos, reading, and blogging. Sometimes, I even make a phone call. I would love to use my iPhone while I’m in Australia, but I’ve heard horror stories of people who racked up thousands of dollars in cell phone charges. So, I called AT&T to learn about my options.

The international data package begins at $24.99, which doesn’t sound unreasonable until you realise it only covers 50MB. To offer some perspective, downloading an email with a picture would require about 2MB of data. The overage charge is $10/10MB. Then there are additional plans for global and domestic messaging and calls for fixed and wireless plus the per minute rates.

Everything has a separate charge and it all quickly adds up. At the absolute lowest, I was looking at about $55 on top of my regular bill before making any texts or calls. Then there’s all the hidden charges AT&T customer service reps don’t tell you about, but are in its Wireless Customer Agreement. For example:

When roaming internationally, you will be charged international roaming airtime rates including when incoming calls are routed to voicemail, even if no message is left.

If all that weren’t enough, AT&T may “change any terms, conditions, rates, fees, expenses, or charges regarding your Services at any time.”

So how can I use my iPhone abroad without incurring outrageous charges? There are two basic options I could see.

One is to stick with AT&T and the phone as is, but turn off cellular data, data roaming, disable 3G, turn off fetching of new data, all push notifications, and depend exclusively on available Wi-Fi and apps like Skype for calls.

The second option is to unlock the iPhone and stick a local sim card in it upon arrival at my destination. AT&T will unlock some phones upon request by eligible customers. The iPhone is not one of those phones, but I figured I’d try my luck anyway and asked in a store. The rep said no. DENIED. I’ll just have to find another way to get it done.

If you’ve had some experience with AT&T and travelling abroad with your iPhone, please share; I’d love to hear it!



  • alanna

    You wrote this post a year ago…I’m assuming you’ve reached some sort of solution? I’m moving to NZ and Australia this year and I’m contemplated what phone with what carrier to bring. I’ve heard that Iphones need to be brought from the US, but there is so much information. Any updates would be appreciated…


    • Hi Alana. Now that I’m in Australia, I have learned a few things since I wrote this entry.

      There are two basic ways to have a mobile phone in Oz. (1) You can buy the phone outright, which can be pricey if you want a smartphone such as the iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy, but then you’re not bound to a carrier or contract, and you can shop around for the best plan. (2) Like in the U.S., you can tie yourself down to a one or two-year plan, but the phone comes cheap or even free at times. (3) You can also get a pre-paid phone and pay as you go. I think here it comes down to what kind of mobile you want to own. Is a plain ole phone sufficient or do you want a smartphone and all the data bells and whistles that it brings?

      Pretty much every brand and model of smartphone we’re familiar with in the U.S. can be found here. You don’t need to purchase a new phone to bring with you, but if you think that would be cheaper, it might be worth it. An average iPhone or Samsung Galaxy is about $700+ to purchase outright.

      If you have an iPhone already, like I did, you can get it unlocked here and then it’s like #1 above, where you own your phone, you’re not bound to a contract, and you can go to any mobile service provider that you want. This is what I ended up doing. I found someone here in Melbourne who was able to unlock my phone and now I have a monthly plan (without contract) with the company TPG.

      I hope I’ve answered all your questions. If not, feel free to leave another comment and I’ll happily follow up.

  • You can buy an iphone here relatively cheap and stick a prepaid sim in it for even cheaper. But yeah. People here can legally unlock their phone themselves if they have the know-how, and you wont be prosecuted like you would in the US.

    • I don’t know about the cheap part, but unlocking my iPhone was inexpensive and totally worth it. Thanks for your comments!