How to use your mobile phone in New Zealand

Chances are, you’ll want to use your mobile phone when travelling to New Zealand. Join us as we share the different ways you can get connected here.

Being connected by mobile phone is practically a must-have when travelling these days.

Whether you need to check key information about an activity or make a quick call to your accommodation, having a working cell phone makes life easier when on the run.

But, what’s the best way to get your mobile connected when visiting Aotearoa NZ?

Pro tip: We make use of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger when we travel. These apps allow you to stay in contact with people back home without needing to pay for phone calls or SMSs.

Woman swiping on her mobile phone with fingers during nighttime with various lights blurred on the background.

How can I use my mobile phone in New Zealand?

There are several ways to connect your mobile phone in Aotearoa – each with different advantages and disadvantages.

Find out if you’re best to pick up a local SIM card, sign up for an e-SIM or roam with your home mobile provider…

⚠️ If you want to get a local SIM, a travel SIM or an eSIM (basically anything but roaming), ensure your phone is not locked to your home network. Check this before you leave home. If your phone is locked (and it cannot be unlocked), then global roaming is your only option for mobile use abroad.

Get a New Zealand SIM card

Choose a local plan – physical sim or e-SIM

If you’d like to be able to use your phone like a local – cheaply, and with the option to make local phone calls – we recommend setting yourself up with a local SIM card.

This will provide you with a New Zealand phone number, allowing you to make free or low-cost phone calls (in New Zealand, and sometimes Australia) and use affordable data.

Local mobile phone operators include 2degrees, One (formerly known as Vodafone), Spark and Skinny.

For low-cost, reliable service, we think it’s hard to go past Skinny… and with 4GB of free data, it’s even more affordable.

It’s what we use and, based on our recommendations, lots of our members have too.

Thank you for your tips with phones. We are just finishing up our 2 week trip around the South Island, on Skinny sims – couldn’t be happier (unless we’d purchased cheaper plans, because wifi was so plentiful). Appreciate your advice!

Lyndrea Lynch, NZTT member
Pros
  • Super affordable.
  • Make local calls to accommodation and activity providers (generally for free).
  • Receive local calls for free.
cons
  • You won’t be able to pick up calls or SMSs from your home phone number in NZ.
  • Can often only be organised when you land in NZ.
  • You’ll need to inform your contacts of your new NZ number.

Pro tip: If you’re keen to get a Skinny SIM, find out where to pick one up (including from the Auckland and Queenstown airport). Note, Skinny do not currently offer eSIMs.

By a ‘travel pack’ SIM

Travel packs are available to people visiting New Zealand.

These tourist plans include phone calls and SMSs in New Zealand, along with limited calls and SMSs to many countries abroad. They also include a set amount of data.

These plans are more expensive than our normal local plans, but being able to make phone calls back home can be helpful.

They can be purchased through local companies including Skinny (physical SIM only) and Spark (physical or eSIM).

Remember though, if the person you’re phoning/messaging has Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger, there’s really no need for included minutes. You can use your data or WiFi instead.

For this reason, we don’t typically recommend these ‘travel packs’ to travellers – instead, we suggest purchasing a normal local SIM.

Pros
  • Often more affordable than roaming.
  • Local and international phone calls and SMSs.
cons
  • More expensive than a local SIM.
  • You won’t be able to pick up calls or SMSs from your home phone number in NZ.
  • Top ups can be much more expensive.
  • Can often only be organised when you land in NZ.
  • You’ll need to inform your contacts of your new NZ number.
A woman reading her phone for some messages.

Get an international e-SIM

If you’d like access to affordable data, but don’t plan to make local phone calls, an international eSIM could be a good solution.

These data-only eSIMs can be purchased online or via an app at any stage, so you can purchase one before leaving home.

An eSIM does not have a physical chip to install. Instead, you purchase a packet of data online (between 1 and 20 GB) and load the provided settings to your mobile phone.

This will allow you to access Facebook, Google Maps, Whatsapp and all the necessary apps and websites you need when travelling.

Pros

  • Get organised in advance of your trip.
  • Fairly affordable data.

cons

  • Can be challenging to activate.
  • No phone calls or SMSs (unless you also pay for roaming).

Did you know? It is possible to switch between an eSIM and a physical SIM. This means you are able to run an eSIM for data roaming, while using the phone/SMS function of your normal SIM. This requires roaming though and will likely be at an additional cost. It’s a good option for people who need to pick up the odd call on their home phone number though, while mostly using affordable data.

Activate global roaming on your home SIM

Some people prefer to keep their home phone number when travelling – particularly those who do business abroad.

If this is important to you, or you’re travelling for a very short amount of time in New Zealand (and it’s not worth the hassle of setting up a new SIM card), global roaming might be the best solution for you.

Global roaming is arranged through your normal mobile phone network provider. It is typically the most expensive way to use your phone overseas, though it can be the most convenient.

Some charge a daily fee for a certain amount of data/phone calls. Others charge a fairly hefty amount for data/calls/SMS use.

It varies significantly between providers (and the country you’re roaming to), so it’s best to check with your home operator if you plan to use your normal phone number when travelling.

Pros

  • Pick up calls and SMSs on your normal number while away from home.
  • Can be organised in advance of your trip.
  • Works if your mobile phone is locked to your home network.

cons

  • Generally the most expensive option.
  • You will often be charged more for answering/making calls.
  • Local operators will be unlikely to phone you with updates.

How to roam to other countries during your NZ trip – like Australia or the Pacific Islands

Many people choose to combine a trip to Aotearoa New Zealand with an adventure in another country.

This might be a stopover in Asia or North America (on the way from Europe), or an additional flight to Australia or a Pacific Island.

And if you’re planning to visit another location, chances are, you’ll want to be connected there too.

Just like in New Zealand, there are a range of ways to use your mobile phone in neighbouring countries and stopover locations.

Global roaming

If you’ve already travelled to New Zealand, where you picked up a New Zealand phone number, and you’re then continuing on to another location (like Australia or a Pacific Island), you can choose to roam with that phone number.

Or you can set up global roaming on your home phone number.

We suggest comparing prices and inclusions to find the best deal.

Global roaming like this is best for people who would like to avoid picking up another phone number or those only visiting a country briefly.

Get another local SIM in your new country

Just like many people choose to pick up a local SIM card in New Zealand, in order to use data and make calls like a local, the same can be done in other countries.

Just be aware that you’ll get another phone number and you still won’t be able to pick up any phone calls or SMSs sent through to your home phone number.

Get another e-SIM

If you liked the sound of getting an eSIM for New Zealand, why not do the same for your other travels?

Check the cost of eSIMs for countries all around the world and get yourself set up with affordable data.

Travelling to NZ for the first time?

Read this before your trip

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