If you want to buy a contact or prepaid SIM card for your mobile in New Zealand you have a limited selection of only three operators : Telecom, Vodafone, and 2Degrees. This guide will give you an overview of which company to select during your visit.
Telecom mobiles never used to have SIM cards so until recently Vodafone pretty much had a monopoly for travellers wanting a local SIM card. Now all three phone companies offer SIM cards whether for fixed contracts, or Pay as You Go / Pre Pay. If you have arrived in New Zealand from Asia or Australia, it may take a bit of adjustment to get used to the limited number of included minutes in plans, and the relatively high cost of Prepay. Per minute call rates can still be up to 90 cents (NZD) per minute, and included minutes in contracts can be as little as 30 minutes a month. 2Degress however is competing hard in this market so longer term it can only be a good thing and result in lower prices.
If you have a smartphone such as an iPhone, Android device, or another internet connected phone, data packs can be added on in 50 or 100MB increments, which are rigidly monitored by the telcos.
If you are travelling with others it is worthwhile getting connected to the same network as there can be different rates calling cross network depending on your plan.
So what do you need to consider, and which one is the best for you? Here’s a summary of the main three :
Vodafone offer Prepay (Pay as you go) and contracts. Vodafone offer a huge range of options which can help the traveller from a simple phone and text SIM card with many add on packs. Coming as standard with prepay and contract are $2 for 60 minute international calls to 30 countries, and you can add on features like paying $8 for 100 international texts which could save you a lot. Although this isn’t as cheap as phone cards, it is far more convenient.
If you have friends you are travelling with, or call regularly it can be worth getting a ‘Best Mates’ add on which costs from $6 per month to give you more than enough texts and calls to a nominated number.
Calls costs start from 49c per minute outside any inclusive minutes.
2Degrees are the new kids on the block on the mobile market in New Zealand and their deals tend to be simpler, with less options, but can offer significantly cheaper calling rates. Pay monthly deals have just been launched in late 2010 and prepay rates are competitive. Although their basic prepay packages give you the cheapest costs, there are less addons available but I’m sure this will change over time. There are some attractive addons if you will be calling China or India giving 120 minutes for $10.
Standard Per minute Pay As You Go / Pre Pay rates are 44c and texts are 9c which is the cheapest available at the time of writing. If you are considering 2Degrees, check out their latest deals as they are changing all the time and are already starting to shake up the New Zealand mobile market.
Telecom never used to be an option for getting SIM cards in non-Telecom phones or devices, but they are available now. The standard cost for a SIM card is $29.95 and rates are 89c a minute(!), 20c a text and $1 a day for internet access allowing a measly 10MB. Both contract and prepaid phones are available. If you plan to use your own phone check before you purchase, although its likely Vodafone or 2Degrees will give you a better deal.
Using Your Own Phone – before leaving home get it Unlocked
As everywhere in the world you’ll get better deals if you have your own phone unlocked which will allow you to use other companies SIM cards in it. Ensure you have your phone unlocked before you leave home and test out your friend’s SIM card in it before you leave to ensure it was done correctly. You will often have to contact your current phone provider to do this, particularly if you got your phone ‘free’ with a contract, and there may be a fee.
If you are on working holiday visa or are staying in the country for a longer period of time, it may be worth considering a contract. Vodafone has a minimum 12 month term for a contract phone but you can come out of it at any time for a fee, and after three months it’s only about $40 to quit your contract. When you sign up you currently (October 2010) get your first month free, a free SIM card ($30), and you may be able to negotiate a data pack and ‘best mates’ add ons for free for a number of months (each month is $10) so even if you cancel it can be worth taking out a contract over Pay As You Go.
2Degrees monthly contracts offer more minutes as standard and during their early launch you could get double your minutes, and carry over unused minutes for up to a year.
Note that some of the providers offer monthly contracts at a higher rate so you have no long term tie in.
Compared to your home rate you may be charged extra for things you took for granted as included. Additional costs can be incurred for retrieving voicemails etc. If you use international texts check the rates. Inclusive minutes an internet allowances may not be as large as you are used to back home.
This guide was written in October 2010. Please check the current deals when you arrive in country as they are always changing. If you have any other information to pass on to others, you should leave a comment below. If you are looking into what you need to do to establish yourself in New Zealand, you should read our article about opening a bank account in New Zealand. If you end up signing up to a Vodafone contract via their online shop as a result of this article, let me know as we may both get an incentive 😉