Australia is probably on your bucket list because of its beautiful sandy beaches, stunning arid landscapes, and laid-back culture... not to mention cute kangaroos and koalas.
If you’re visiting Australia from Asia, Europe, or North America, then chances are you'll want to use your fancy new smartphone on vacation. Think about all those priceless memories (and selfies) you’ll capture. And, of course, share jaw-dropping videos with friends and family back home.
But what if you don’t have a local SIM card? How can you stay connected? No problem – just buy an eSIM for Australia, and you can get online without any hassles. eSIMs allow you to connect to the internet and make calls without fussing around with a local physical SIM card.
These can be bought online before you leave home or even while you’re in Australia. But selecting the right one for you requires a little research. And cutting corners can end in a vacation disaster, rolled in a fetal position on the floor, cradling your device, gently sobbing.
Ok, that’s a bit dramatic.
Anyway… here’s everything you need to know about choosing and using an eSIM in Australia.
TL;DR: Just want a link to my recommended eSIM provider for Australia? Ok, done.
Is eSIM Available in Australia?
Let’s start at the very beginning with a sensible question. Yes, eSIM is available in Australia and supported by major telecommunication providers. However, for decades Australia has been behind the technology curve, and when it comes to eSIMs, it’s no different.
If you’re used to easy, affordable local plans with many options to choose from, then you might need to re-adjust your expectations in Australia. However, don’t worry, I have a solution for you later on. Keep reading.
What Phones Support eSIM?
This is the next smartest question. There’s no point comparing eSIM providers if your phone doesn’t support it.
The first eSIM-compatible handset was released in 2017, and almost all new top-tier smartphone models released in 2020 (and later) supported eSIM. Here’s a summarised list of compatible phones from Apple, Samsung, Google, and Oppo:
- Apple: iPhone XS / XR (and newer)
- Samsung: Galaxy S20 (and newer), Galaxy Fold (and newer), Galaxy Z Flip (and newer)
- Google: Pixel 3a (and newer)
- OPPO: Find X3 Pro (and newer), Find X3 (and newer)
And for smartwatches:
- Apple: Watch series 3 (and newer)
- Samsung: Gear S2 (and newer), Galaxy Watch 4 (and newer)
- Huawei Watch 2 Pro (and newer)
Can You Buy an eSIM Online in Australia as a Tourist?
Now comes the juicy part. The short answer is “yes”, but it’s not so straightforward.
Buying an eSIM in Australia is a different game for locals versus tourists. Most local eSIM plans are designed for permanent Australian residents, with lock-in contracts for 12 to 24-month periods. Prepaid options are harder to find, although this is constantly evolving. And for some bizarre reason, the telcos focus on services that bundle standalone smartwatch Internet access with a phone. Unfortunately, that doesn’t suit most short-term travellers.
Since you’ll probably be in Australia for only a few weeks, then it’s unlikely one of the lengthy or bundled plans will suit you.
But don’t give up yet.
Australia eSIM Provider Options
The 3 major telecommunication networks in Australia are Telstra, Optus, Vodafone. Fortunately, they all support eSIM-compatible handsets.
But rather than any of these, you’re better off choosing an international provider that offers affordable, flexible prepaid plans designed especially for tourists. The other upside is that these providers often cover multiple countries, so you don’t have to waste time hunting down a new eSIM provider when you travel to another destination, such as Thailand or Singapore.
The best options for international tourists in Australia are eSIM providers like eSIM Australia by WHIZ. They offer prepaid country-wide data plans for just:
- US$12.99 for 4GB (valid for 8 days); or
- US$15.99 for 6GB (valid for 10 days)
After those full-speed data allowances are used up, you still get unlimited access, although at a slower speed, so you’re never stuck high and dry.
Mobile Network Coverage in Australia
Australia is a vast country, but around 64% of the 26 million-strong population is concentrated in the 5 largest cities, sprinkled on the coastline. This is the opposite of countries like the US, which have relatively dispersed populations. This dynamic affects mobile coverage as it’s more cost-effective to concentrate on larger cities, and the vast, thinly populated “Outback” has little-to-no coverage, except for regional towns.
The largest network, Telstra, tends to perform better in rural areas in terms of coverage, but for urban centres, all networks offer a strong signal wherever you go. If you plan to head out of the major cities, check this interactive map showing coverage by provider.
Tip: If you’re travelling into The Outback with a small group or on a road trip, I recommend buying an affordable mesh device, such as goTenna Mesh, as a communication tool. It might just save the day.
Benefits of an eSIM in Australia for Travel
Paying expensive international data roaming fees in Australia is a complete waste of money and completely unnecessary. That cash could instead be spent on once-in-a-lifetime adventures such as camel riding around Uluru.
A travel-friendly Australia eSIM offers these perks:
Instant delivery – there’s no waiting for an old-fashioned SIM card or portable hotspot device in the mail, and zero shipping charges.
Super-fast data speeds - you’re not a second-class citizen using an eSIM. Use all the same 4G and 5G networks when you hop around Australia.
Peace of mind - the most important aspect when travelling… you can focus on enjoying your much-needed vacation rather than searching for a SIM card seller at the airport when you land.
Keep your original physical SIM card - it might be useful for roaming calls and/or texts from your home provider, and you can switch back to it when you get home without reaching for that flimsy, bent-out-of-shape paperclip. Remember to turn off data roaming on that SIM, as most traditional providers charge like a wounded bull for international data roaming.
Dual SIM - if your phone supports 2 eSIMs or 1 eSIM plus 1 physical SIM card, it’s easier to keep work and personal calls separate - potentially turning off work calls after business hours. Now you can really enjoy your holiday in Australia!
Easy top-up - no need to go to a provider’s physical store or a minimart to add more phone credit. Just tap a few buttons on the eSIM provider’s app or website.
Fast, easy switching – Found a better deal? Jump between service providers in seconds, without removing or adding a physical SIM card.
Only pay for what you need - most travel-friendly Australia eSIM providers offer shorter periods like 1 week, 2 weeks, or a month. Much better than paying for a local SIM card upfront for a whole month when you only need a portion of that.
No bill shocks - You’ve heard the gut-wrenching stories from travellers. eSIM prepaid data plans give you control over how much you spend, so there are no unpleasant surprises when you get home.
Keep your existing WhatsApp number - you don’t have to worry about missing important text messages from loved ones or work colleagues. Other IM apps like Telegram, iMessage, and Facebook Messenger work perfectly fine too, as they just use the Internet.
No losing SIM cards - yes, those fiddly little pieces of plastic can get dropped or misplaced easily when doing a switch. True story.
Improved security - no need to rely on risky insecure public wifi networks at airports, malls, and restaurants. These are common targets for hackers.
Limitations of an eSIM in Australia for Travel
There are bound to be a couple of drawbacks to eSIMs in general, and specifically in Australia.
Expensive - Australia’s major telcos charge a premium for the privilege of using eSIM. The easy solution is to use an international provider instead.
No fail-safe - if your phone is damaged, a physical SIM can be quickly pulled out and installed into a secondary phone or backup device. An eSIM… not so much. But the chances of that are pretty slim. Just make sure you’ve got a sturdy phone cover.
Handsets - currently, eSIM-compatible phones tend to be the more expensive high-end models, while cheaper models still have physical SIM slots.
Not all devices support eSIM - even some newer iPhones that you expect to offer support, such as those purchased in China, Hong Kong, or Macau. Check with your phone seller if in doubt.
Still rolling out – while it’s fine in Australia, you might not be able to use eSIM in other countries where carriers don’t support it yet, and telecommunication network growth is lagging.
Data only – most international eSIM providers do not include a local phone number on data-only plans. That may or may not be important to you. If you need to make calls or send texts, I recommend using WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, or Facebook Messenger.
Take your turn - most compatible handsets allow you to download more than 1 eSIM, but may use only 1 at a time. Apple fans will be happy to know the iPhone 13 (and newer) supports 2 active eSIMs simultaneously.
Take it easy - data limits might be lower than what you’re used to at home, so use your data carefully.
How to Choose an Australia eSIM Plan and Get Started
Firstly ask yourself often you use your phone (a light, moderate, or heavy user). Then consider how long is your trip to Australia. Now you’ve got a starting point to compare eSIM providers and plans.
1) Check if voice/text is included (if that matters to you), and most importantly, how much data allowance is included. If the provider offers additional data, look for the upgrade prices. If you’re unsure how much data you need, try this free calculator.
2) Not all telco networks are the same. So, check your eSIM provider’s website if they clarify which networks are used in Australia.
3) Look for customer reviews on Trustpilot – with an emphasis on network coverage and customer support (just in case you need a little help).
Tip: Even if the sticker price looks good, don’t just choose the cheapest eSIM plan. Reliability and ease of use is far more important in a travel-friendly eSIM.
Still unsure? If you need an eSIM recommendation, I suggest eSIM Australia by WHIZ.
How to Install and Activate an eSIM
Once you’ve checked that your device is compatible, simply follow the checkout steps on the eSIM provider’s website or mobile app. These tend to be pretty typical – provide contact details, phone, and email, followed by payment details. Within a few minutes, you’ll receive an email that contains a unique QR code.
Scan the QR code or follow the next steps in your provider’s app to download your eSIM to your device instantly. Some eSIMs will ask you to enter a confirmation code (which is provided to you at the same time as the QR code).
This is the location on your smartphone where a new eSIM is installed:
- iOS: Settings > Cellular/mobile data > Data plans
- Android: Settings > Network & Internet > Mobile Network > Carrier > Add Carrier
Tip: To avoid wastage, only complete the QR code scan when you’re ready to start using your plan. I suggest doing this the day before you depart on your trip. Remember you’ll need an internet connection (like wifi or 4G) to do this.
Tip: Never delete your eSIM before your plan is finished – this cannot be undone. While your data plan may expire, your eSIM never will, so there’s no need to delete it (unless your eSIM provider instructs you to).
The Bottom Line
Now you are ready to explore Australia. A well-chosen eSIM will become completely invisible – you will forget all about it because you’re focused and immersed in the sights and experiences… rather than crying over your wretched smartphone with no 4G reception.
Your long-awaited Australian vacation is far too important to scrimp on mobile data. And your precious travel memories will last a lifetime… especially the koala cuddles.