Mobile Phone - Calls + Data When Travelling from Oz to USA

I am looking for the best and most economical way to utilise my own mobile phone whilst travelling in America.

I want to use my phone as a GPS whilst travelling around different locations during the day, finding point A to point B, and I’d like to receive Australian calls on it (as I have a small home-based business and will have to work a little whilst away), as well as not miss any updates re flights, trains and car hire that I have in America (assuming this information will come from America, and not Flight Centre in Australia).

I have read online there is Telway which give you an American phone number and you transfer your Australian mobile phone number to that so you don’t miss out on calls and so you don’t have to give business, friends and family another number to contact you on, however, further reading says it doesn’t work, epic fail.

Then going online and reading AT&T, I had an online chat with a rep from there who confused me even further by trying to get me to order an American sim with no confirmation that I could forward my Aussie number to it.

The Australia Post sim, provides a new number which I need to insert into my phone. Not quite fitting the shoe.

What is your best advice please from your personal experience?

Many thanks in advance.


Check out this link. It has info re your query:

Also if you are going to actually use a US carrier Verizon have the best Mobile Coverage of the providers there but it can be hit and miss depending on the areas you are travelling. Look at the coverage maps for Verizon Sprint and AT&T and others here


When we were last in the US a couple of years ago, we found it a real problem. Unlocked phones are - or were, at the time - virtually unknown in the US so very few carriers sold SIMs. Most of the time, the carriers’ reps that I asked had no idea what I was talking about.

We ended up with, IIRC, Verizon SIMs which were very expensive and had dreadful coverage - so bad, indeed, that we decided to cut our losses and simply throw them out. Our travelling companions (US citizens) were on another network which, while all the reserach I’d done said it was inferior, had excellent coverage wherever we had none, so we went into a shopfront for that carrier and asked if we could buy SIMs. The bloke looked at us with a pitying expression. “We get a dozen requests for them from tourists each week,” he said. “But, like most US carriers, we don’t sell SIMs outside taking out an annual contract.”

To add insult to injury, when we needed to top up our SIMs, the Mexican call centre we spoke to had no idea what we were talking about. Finally an American friend who was a Verizon subscriber managed to find someone who seemed to know. I spoke to them for a long time and give them a lot of money to top up our SIMs for another month (though we only needed a few days) and the nice lady swore on a stack of bibles that everything would be fine, she understood our need and would personally make sure that our accounts were topped up. It never happened and our money was flushed down the toilet.

That may all have changed in the last couple of years, of course.

In my thread, which Grahroll linked above, I mentioned Woolworths and SIM Corner. I suspect that they’re going to be your, and my, best bet.

1 Like

If your mobile carrier provides call forwarding / call diversion to international, just buy a US SIM (easy to find! AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile) and forward to it. Not necessarily the cheapest option but it would get the job done as simple as possible. AT & T cannot confirm it would work because it is a function of the Aussie telco.

etc. My US travels are in areas where AT&T or Verizon have the best networks, but the best carrier is not always the best carrier in every place.

1 Like

Depending on the volume of calls you expect to receive, you could allow your phone to roam in the US, but turn off the mobile data, and use a rental pocket wifi (mobile hotspot) device to give you internet access.
I’ve done this in Asia many times (although not as yet in the USA), but I don’t ever receive many calls, so it’s economical for my circumstances. I’m happy to pay $1/min. to receive calls from Australia, as they’ll most likely be very urgent ( and if not, I can quickly explain where I am and hang up ).
You order your pocket wifi device online. If you order from a US-based company, you collect it (along with a charger, often an additional battery, and a postage-paid mailing satchel) at the airport on arrival, or have it delivered to your first accommodation. When you’re returning to Australia, you pop it into the mailing satchel, and drop it into a mailbox.
If you order from a company with offices in Australia, they’ll mail it to you before you depart, and you mail it back when you return.


Hi @nerrel.loader,

The other option is to use WIFI to make calls if you have a smart phone/tablet/other WIFI connected device. There are apps like LINE or Skype that allow one to make calls to landlines and mobiles in Australia.

We have used Line which can have free calls to landlines (free subject to advertising and 3 minute call duration limitation) and also (cheap per minute) calls to mobiles/long duration landline calls. We found it works okay but is limited to places which have wifi access. Only downside is it won’t receive calls or messages using the mobile network…unless the user at the other end also has LINE and uses LINE for such purposes.

WIFI is becoming more available but remember there are security risks with using open wifis and the suggestion would be to set up a personal VPN (if your router allows or who you work for has one you can use).

Some carriers also may allow voice and text messages to be accessed without using a mobile.

Also check with your carrier if voice messages can be sent also by email. These can then be accessed by email through wifi.

The other thing to remember is the time difference between Australia and the US(they sleep when we work and visa versa)…so think about what option best meets your needs.

1 Like

How long will you be travelling for? With my carrier, there is the option to roam at $5 per day and use everything you get in your normal plan. I find for short trips this is an economical way to go about it (anything up to about 10 days usually works out to cover the cost if I’d need to pick up a phone there).

In the US, WiFi coverage is amazing so you’ll never find it too hard to access emails. It’s worth turning off data roaming and leave the phone on to accept incoming calls.

If you use Google Maps, you can download the maps of the cities you’re heading too and with your data roaming turned off, still access your GPS location. You won’t get public transport connections or other detailed information, but you will know where you are! Very useful feature.

1 Like

That it is in comparison with Australia, big time, but. We drove from Georgia to Toronto with nary a blank spot, and heading westward did not pay attention, but coming back into the US at Michigan and heading toward Houston, when outside metro areas, it was reminiscent of Gippsland. Signals were often spotty and even with a full 5-bars the poor ISP systems response and data rates often made it unusable.

Rafferty and Murphy agree that signal strength, ISP systems response, and data rates are inversely proportional to the importance at the moment.

1 Like

Thanks, Tilly
We are going for 28 days.
If our experience is good, then next year the plan is to go to the UK (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales).

Ah ok - a bit long to roam, but @ScottOKeefe’s idea of a pocket WiFi device is a great one. A quick google should come up with some good options! Otherwise you’ll find free WiFi at every Starbucks & MacDonalds. There’s a Starbucks on almost every corner in some cities.

Enjoy the trip, I’m sure you’ll be planning your next trip before you’re even back. I’ve never been up to Scotland (I went around the UK with my parents as a kid) but I hear it is beautiful!


Many thanks to everyone who has offered me so much advice. It is greatly appreciated.



Last year in the US we used HERE (app, download, free) for getting around. It works offline. You download maps before you go, and it basically turns your phone into a GPS. You can also use Google Maps, on which you can download maps that work for a month off-line. For communication and internet access, we just used Wi-Fi when available, which was most of the time that mattered. Trying to get a SIM card or even a cheap new phone proved to be too much of a hassle and too expensive.


I have been to the US twice in last 18 months. The first for 4 weeks driving across the country. I used the TravelSim card and had no problems. You can monitor your usage and request top ups from the phone. There are many free wifi places in most areas so that you can simply go into KFC (eg) sit and do what you need to do therefore saving your own data.

1 Like

The US cell system is not like Australia. Cell companies cover bits of the US and only a couple of majors cover most of the US. The majors are ok for US citizens but not necessarily the best for international travellers.

If you have an unlocked mobile phone, then you can buy a SIM card for the period covering your trip.

Unlike Asia or Europe, it is impossible to pick up a SIM card at a US international terminal say on landing. Those sort of shops are not there. Instead you have to find a shop in a shopping centre - one with Walmart usually has SIM card shops (often camera shops, electronic shops). Try and find one near your first hotel - you can do this by searching before leaving Australia, or even asking at the hotel. For example there are a number of these outlets within 10 miles of LAX.

But before buying your SIM it is important to work out where you will be in the US and then to check which cell companies operate in that bit of the US where you will be. It might take two companies to cover your journey. Again you can search this out before leaving Australia.

There are many options with the deals with these SIM cards. Some offer internal cells calls only; some offer data and cell calls; some only offer data - and then there is every variation imaginable. The people in the shop will only understand about the US cell system and won’t be able to get their minds around a non-US system. But make sure you ask and ask questions to get what you want to fit your needs. Americans tend to be a bit local and dont know how things work in the next county let alone in the next state.

That said, Americans are pretty knowledgeable so ask about. I was going to some northern states and asked a couple of young guys on the street for the whereabouts of a shop and they took me to a shop and negotiated a very good and effective deal on my behalf.

Make sure you use the term ‘Cell’ and not ‘mobile’. ‘Mobile’ can be something else.

Once you have your SIM, install it in the shop and try it. Usually there is a bit a a procedure of logging in and getting going. Usually works ok.

Remember that free WiFi is very available unlike Australia, and I have got by in driving across a number of US states without bothering to get a cell service. I just told people to contact me by text or email. Much cheaper than being stung by insidious global roaming fees.


Thank you to everyone who provided their experience/opinion. I have now returned from the USA for a month. I bought the first local Sim at the first local shop (Union Square, San Francisco) I found and it worked brilliantly throughout all of America. The SMS service they provided for checking balances and to top up was so simple. I could phone, sms, text, internet. All for $49. The company I used was “Ultra”.


I have used a TravelSIM card for the last few years. It originally had an Estonian number but recently i was issued with a new sim with an Australian mobile number. The trouble is that now you have to add credit every 6 months, minimum $5 to keep the sim alive which is a bit rough.

We have tried travel sim cards twice - both with disastrous results. Had to go out and buy a local sim in Europe and just manage without in Japan. Bought a tourist sim in California from T-Mobile (needed it for navigation) and must have given them my email address - now I get junk emails from CVS Pharmacies, Target America, Amazon, etc etc.


To kick us off until we got the American sim card, we also bought an Australia Post sim card which worked perfectly fine. It is in the same boat as your TravelSIM though, as I still have a bit of credit on it but to retain that credit I have to recharge for $5. Bit of a rip off I think. They are out to make as much money out of the customer as possible. Have a great day.


We will be going to Ireland and Scotland next and will buy whatever they sell locally to their people. That logic worked perfectly for us in America. While I used Ultra when we were in America (and it worked perfectly), they had my email address, but I did not receive any junk mail. Lucky me. I hope you have better luck on your next travels. Have a lovely day.

1 Like