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BUG New Zealand travel guidebook
BUG New Zealand travel guidebook


BUG New Zealand travel guidebook

Destination guides > New Zealand & Pacific Islands > Travel essentials > Keeping in touch > Telephones in New Zealand

Telephones in New Zealand

The phone is still the easiest way to keep in touch and having your own number means that people can call you (which will save you a fortune in phone calls). Your own local phone number is also essential if you’re looking for work.

Mobile phones

Virtually every backpacker travels with a mobile phone. If your mobile phone works with the GSM system (most European phones do) and is unlocked (not locked into your home network) then you can simply buy a $35 Vodafone New Zealand SIM card and stick it in your phone. If you don’t already have a compatible phone, then you will need to buy a prepaid starter pack including a phone and SIM card for around $100-150.

There are three mobile phone network operators in New Zealand: 2 Degrees, Telecom New Zealand and Vodafone. Of these three companies, 2 Degrees and Vodafone use the GSM standard so you’ll need to buy a SIM for one of these two networks to put in it your own phone or buy a new phone if you want to go with Telecom.

It is relatively expensive to use a mobile phone in New Zealand with Telecom and Vodafone charging around 89c per minute although 2 Degrees works out much cheaper and cheaper calls are also available if you’re calling another number on the same carrier.


Roaming (leaving your home SIM card in your phone when you travel abroad) is the most expensive way to make calls. Not only are you charged exorbitant rates for your calls but you are also charged international rates when receiving calls. Usually roaming is something you use in isolated cases, such as a one-day stopover when it doesn’t make sense to buy a local SIM card.


Roaming does give you the advantage of having a single number (usually in your home country) that people can contact you on regardless of what country you are travelling in. There are many cases when you need to offer a single point of contact so you can receive important calls, this is especially the case if you do freelance work and you don’t want your clients to know that you are travelling down under.


One of the easiest and cheapest options is to use a SkypeIn number (or another VoIP service) that is diverted to your mobile in New Zealand. You still have to pay for the incoming call but it is a lot cheaper than roaming and you don’t need to update everyone with your new number every time you visit a new country. To save on call costs give your New Zealand mobile number to people who call you frequently so they can call you directly.

Another option is to use an international SIM. This is a SIM from a small country (they usually come from Estonia, Liechtenstein, Iceland or the Isle of Man). It is free to receive calls in most countries, although New Zealand usually isn’t on the list of countries with free incoming calls, and making a call is also reasonably priced. However the quality is dire and many travellers give up on the service (or lack thereof) after they realise that it is almost impossible for people to contact them.


The best option is to simply buy a local SIM in every country where you spend a week or longer and combine this with a SkypeIn number so you don’t miss those really important calls.

Calling cards

Despite the popularity of mobile phones, calling cards are still the cheapest way to call home. Virtually every service station, newsagent and dairy (corner store) sells calling cards.
Rates are generally cheapest if you call a local access number rather than the toll-free number on the back of the card but this means that you may have to pay for a local call on a payphone in addition to the calling card rate.

Skype & other VoIP services

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is one of the cheapest ways to make a phone call but the quality isn’t so great if you have a bad internet connection. Generally VoIP lets you call other customers of the same VoIP service for free, which gives the biggest VoIP services the advantage of more people you can talk to for nothing.

Skype is the biggest of the internet-based phone services and Skype software (and webcams for video calling) is installed in most internet cafes and in many hostels, which makes choosing Skype a no-brainer even though many of Skype’s competitors are cheaper.

Although many travellers just sign up for the free Skype account so they can talk to other Skype users for free, it is worth the money to go for a fully fledged account with a SkypeIn number (a proper number that anyone with a phone can call) and even opt for the €3.95 monthly subscription that gives you free calls to landlines either at home or in New Zealand.

Of course you still have to pay to use the computers at the internet cafe so it’s a better deal if you’re staying at a hostel with free internet access or if you have your own notebook computer and a free Wi-Fi connection.

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