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Internet access is widely available to travelers in Australia. Top-end hotels always have some sort of in-room access for laptop users—Wi-Fi is becoming the norm, otherwise there are data ports. Note that sometimes you are charged a hefty premium for using this service.
Australia's main telephone network, Telstra, has wireless hot spots all over the country. McDonalds and Starbucks (iiNet customers only) have free Wi-Fi. Alternatively, you can pay using Telstra PhoneAway calling cards: there's no connection charge and online time costs A$0.20 per minute. Connections can be slow, however. You can buy a card at newsagents, Australia Post, convenience stores, or online. Telstra's website also has hot spot listings.
Telstra (13–2200. www.telstra.com.au.)
The country code for Australia is 61. To call Australia from the United States, dial the international access code (011), followed by the country code (61), the area or city code without the initial zero (e.g., 2), and the eight-digit phone number.
Australia's phone system is efficient and reliable. You can make local and long-distance calls from your hotel—usually with a surcharge—or from any public phone. There are public phones in shopping areas, on suburban streets, at train stations, and outside rural post offices—basically, they're everywhere. You can use coins or phone cards in most public phones; credit-card phones are common at airports.
All regular telephone numbers in Australia have eight digits. There are five area codes: 02 (for New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory), 03 (Victoria and Tasmania), 04 (for cell phones), 07 (for Queensland), and 08 (for Western Australia, South Australia, and Northern Territory). Toll-free numbers begin with 1800, and numbers starting with 13 or 1300 are charged at local rates anywhere in the country.
Calls within the same area code are charged as local: A0.50¢ for an unlimited amount of time. Long-distance call rates vary by distance, and are timed. When you're calling long distance within Australia, remember to include the area code, even when you're calling from a number with the same area code. For example, when calling Canberra from Sydney, both of which have an 02 prefix, you still need to include the area code when you dial.
Local Directory Assistance (1223.)
To call overseas from Australia, dial 0011, then the country code and the number. Kiosks and groceries in major cities sell international calling cards. You can also use credit cards on public phones.
The country code for the United States is 1.
You can use AT&T, Sprint, and MCI services from Australian phones, though some pay phones require you to put coins in to make the call. Using a prepaid calling card is generally cheaper.
AT&T Direct (1800/881–011 from Telstra phones; 1800/551–155 from Optus phones.)
MCI WorldPhone (1800/881–100 from Telstra phones; 1800/551–111 from Optus phones.)
Sprint International Access (1800/881–877 from Telstra phones; 1800/551–110 from Optus phones.)
International Call Cost Information (362–162.)
International Directory Assistance (1225.)
It's worth buying a phone card in Australia even if you plan to make just a few calls.
Telstra, Australia's main telephone company, has three different calling cards. Their Phonecard is a prepaid card you can use for local, long-distance, or international calls from public pay phones. There are many other calling cards in Australia as well, often with better rates than Telstra's. Gotalk and onesuite.com are two popular examples, but there are many more. The best way to find one is to ask in a convenience store or newsagent's: they usually have a selection on hand, and you can compare rates to the country you're calling to. Note that many companies don't even print their access numbers on cards any more, but instead give you a slip of paper.
Onesuite.com (866/417–8483. www.onesuite.com.)
Telstra (13–2200. www.telstra.com.au.)
If you have a multiband phone (some countries use different frequencies from the ones used in the United States) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile and Verizon), you can most likely use your phone abroad by contacting your provider to activate international roaming. This means that, while overseas, your mobile phone will use the network of a carrier in Australia with which your American carrier has a roaming agreement.
Roaming fees can be steep, however: 99¢ a minute is considered reasonable and calls can cost up to $7 a minute. In addition, overseas you normally pay the toll charges for incoming calls. It's almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call, since text messages have a low set fee, and receiving a text is often free; however, you should check with your provider on their overseas charges. The roaming expense to watch out for is the cost of data usage, which can be as much as $3 to look at one Web page on your smartphone. To avoid exorbitant charges, keep data roaming switched off on your phone while abroad and access local Wi-Fi spots when you want to send emails or access the Internet.
If you just want to make local calls, consider buying a new SIM card (note that your provider may have to unlock your phone for you to use a different SIM card) and a prepaid service plan in the destination. You'll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates. If your trip is extensive, you could also simply buy or rent a cell phone in your destination, as the initial cost will be offset over time.
If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old mobile phones or buy a cheap one on the Internet; ask your cell-phone company to unlock it for you, and take it with you as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.
Nearly all Australian mobile phones use the GSM network. If you have an unlocked phone and intend to make calls to Australian numbers, it makes sense to buy a prepaid Australian SIM card on arrival—rates will be much better than using your U.S. network. Alternatively, you can rent a phone or a SIM card from companies like Vodafone. Rates start at A$5 per day for a handset and A$1 a day for a SIM. You can also buy a cheap, pay-as-you-go handset from Telstra, Virgin Mobile, or Optus. Cell-phone stores are abundant, and staff are used to assessing tourists' needs.
Cellular Abroad. This company rents and sells GMS phones, and sells SIM cards that work in many countries. 800/287–5072. www.cellularabroad.com.
Mobal. Mobal rents mobiles and sells GSM phones (starting at $49) that will operate in 140 countries. Per-call rates vary throughout the world. 888/888–9162. www.mobal.com.
Planet Fone. This company rents cell phones, but the per-minute rates are expensive. 888/988–4777. www.planetfone.com.
Virgin Mobile (1300/555–100. www.virginmobile.com.au.)
Vodafone (1300/650–410. www.vodafone.com.au.)