Just because your planning on hitting the road in New Zealand, doesn't mean you should be without your favourite socials or have to miss out on what's going on with friends and family back home. Some campervan hire companies provide WiFi bundles in their vans, but if you are looking for a more robust mobile data solution for your time in NZ, we research who is offering the best voice and data services for those who want to use their own handset while on their adventure.
When you touch down in New Zealand, you're probably going to start looking for network service on your phone. Let's face it your going to need to make calls, connect with people on social media, schedule your activities, book accommodation, surf the internet … the list goes on. So we take a look at ways of getting data and talk time on your own handset for your adventure in New Zealand - but the short answer is... you're going to want a New Zealand SIM card.
What Are Your Data Options in New Zealand
Realistically, here are the 3 most obvious options for your road-trip...
- Global Roaming on your home contract
- Wifi bundles that come with your campervan hire
- Temporary SIM card from local Telco
But for most people the cost of global roaming on their home contract can be exorbitant. Even if you're just paying $5 a day for the service a month in New Zealand will cost you $150. The data levels available to you are normally pretty stingy and your telco at home will sting you like Mohammed Ali if you go over any of their voice or data roaming threshold.
At the end of the day, the cost and efficacy of Global Roaming will entirely come down to your contract details with your home provider and the length of stay in New Zealand. A 5 day trip to the country would probably suggest that Global Roaming is the way to go, but for those planning 2 weeks or longer, then this is probably the most expensive option.
Wifi Bundles With Your Campervan Hire Company
Some campervan hire companies provide WiFi in their vans. Some of the more notable companies are Freedom Campers; Bay of Islands Campervans; Euro Campers; and others such as Walkabout Rentals and Apollo Motor Homes who partner with Wellington-based firm, Romp to provide wireless internet and hotspot services for their campervan rentals. Wilderness Motorhomes, for instance, charges NZ$10 (US$6.5) a day while Freedom Campers charge as much as NZ$100 for a 3.5GB data option.
This option is only ideal if you intend staying in the country for around 2 weeks as most campervan rentals in New Zealand last for about that long, but if you are staying longer, the appeal starts to wain. Also, if you are a heavy internet data user, you will be averse to the idea of paying NZ$100 for 3.5GB worth of data.
Cellphone Network Providers in New Zealand
For a more robust mobile data solution in New Zealand, we researched Telcos offering the best services for tourists who need mobile data and want to make local & international calls on their phone while travelling in the country.
The 3 major carriers hold sway in New Zealand:
Some smaller providers, also called Mobile Virtual Network Operators, MVNOs, rent the towers from the big three and resell their services at discounted rates. These operators include the following:
- Skinny Mobile — Spark Network
- Compass — Spark Network
- Slingshot — Spark Network
- Warehouse Mobile — 2Degree Network
SIM Card or Data Card: Which Is the Best Option?
As a foreigner in NZ, you might elect to purchase a data card instead of a SIM card. Don’t do this! Data cards provided by Vodafone and other providers will not allow you make traditional calls on it; you can only surf the Internet. A better choice is to purchase a local SIM card with a data package.
Exploring Various Cheap Options for Calls and Data
Pay As You Go (PAYG)
PAYG is perfect if you don’t need bundles. When you choose a “Pay As You Go” option, you’ll pay for every minute, every text and every MB (megabyte) of data you use. PAYG is recommended for people who plan to make use of their handset sparingly. The rates of the major providers are
- 2Degrees & Warehouse Mobile: 44c per mins/50c per mb/20c per text
- Vodafone: 30c per mins/20c per mb/10c per text
- Spark: 49c per mins/$1 per 10mb/20c per text
- Skinny: 20c per mins/20c per mb/20c per text
Please Note: Prices for minutes and text above only apply to calls & texts to and from New Zealand numbers.
The Best Plan for Phone Calls in NZ
This option is great for making calls only, and you can access the Internet via WiFi spots in cafes, hostels, libraries, and others:
- 2Degrees: 200 mins/1.25 Gb/Unlimited text/Price: $19 per month
- Vodafone: 200 mins/1.25 Gb/Unlimited text/Price: $19 per month
- Spark: 200 mins/1.25 Gb/Unlimited text/Price: $19 per month
- Skinny: 200 min/1.25 Gb/Unlimited text/Price: $16 per month
The Best Phone Plan for Internet Data in NZ
This option only contains data for surfing the net and using social sites like WhatsApp, Twitter, Skype, and Facebook:
- 2Degrees: 200 mins/2.5Gb/Unlimited text/Price: $29 per month
- Vodafone: 300 mins/2Gb/Unlimited text/Price: $26 per month
- Spark: 300 mins/2Gb/Unlimited text/Price: $29 per month
- Skinny: 300 mins/2.5 Gb/Unlimited text/Price: $26 per month
They all have a 30-day validity save for Skinny which has a 28-day validity.
The Most Cost-Effective Options
This option will help you save a few bucks and allow you browse the Internet and call from time to time.
- 2Degrees: 200 mins/1.25Gb/unlimited text/Price: $19 per month
- Vodafone: 50 mins/250mb/50 text/Price: $15 per month
- Spark: 50 mins/1Gb/500 text/Price: $19 per month
- Skinny: 100 mins/250mb/unlimited text/Price: $9 per month
Making Overseas Calls
There is no prepay plan in NZ that covers calling overseas. Majority of travellers will elect to make such calls on Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, or Facebook using their data instead of minutes. But if you prefer calling overseas through traditional phone call, you have the option of buying international calling add-ons from your network of choice. On Skinny, for instance, you can buy add-ons to call specific countries; calling Australia using such add-ons costs NZ$9 for 120 minutes.
All carriers have different “Overseas” minute add-on; for example, Spark provides 200 minutes plus 100 Text to 20 select nations for $10, and Skinny gives 300 minutes to 20 select nations for $10. Calling cards are your final option for calling overseas. You can buy these in departmental stores such as Kmart, The Warehouse, Warehouse Stationery, and Pak ‘n’ SAVE. You can also get the SIM cards for your preferred network from your nearest retail outlet. These packs allow you to make cheap calls to selected countries.
- For tourists who visits NZ and plan to stay for 30 days, they can buy a 30-day prepaid SIM card (NZ Travel SIM card) from Spark containing 1GB of data, 200 NZ minutes, 100 international call minutes, 50 international texts and 200 NZ text messages, and 1GB of free wifi daily at designated spots throughout New Zealand. All these cost NZ$29 (US$21.05). Call *333 from your mobile
- to activate the Spark NZ Travel SIM card on purchasing it. Download the Spark App to buy extra data or minutes if you ever run out.
- The International minutes and text can be used to call Hong Kong, Canada, China, USA, South Africa, India, Australia, UK, Ireland, Malaysia, Philippines, Japan, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Portugal, Spain, Japan, Thailand, and France. It might also interest you to know that the NZ$49 and NZ$99 dollar variants of the travel SIM offer higher international call minutes and are valid for two months. However, the Travel SIMs can’t be used overseas.
If you are one who wishes to use your SIM card overseas, you might consider going for the NZ$29 2degrees Prepaid Sim. While the plans as shown below won’t offer you international call minutes, the data allocation makes up for it. If you are one who can connect with friends and family using WhatsApp, Facebook, Viber, and other social networking apps, you might want to try a 2degrees prepaid SIM. At the same price that Spark offers its travel SIM, you can get a 2.5 GB data allocation on this plan. Also, if you plan to come into New Zealand before October 2018 runs out, you can take advantage of their double data promo, a very good value for money.
We’ll be doing you a disservice if we fail to mention the Data Clock app offered by 2degrees. It enables you access unlimited data for a specified period of time ranging from 15 minutes to 7 days. This option is particularly useful if you need to carry out a data-intensive task without chewing away the data in your mobile plan. In the pictures below, we give you an idea of how much it costs to get these when you use the app. However, please note that you can’t tether the data you buy from the data clock app, and fair use policy applies.
Another worthy mention among our top picks is Warehouse Mobile.
As mentioned earlier, Warehouse mobile is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MNVO) under 2degrees. The Telco is owned by The Warehouse Group (TWG), the largest retail operator in New Zealand. You might want to give their service a try as they have cheaper prepay rates. If you are unable to get a Warehouse Mobile SIM card at the airport upon arrival, you can get it at any of their departmental stores. You’ll find one in almost every suburb here in New Zealand.
Network Coverage of the 3 Providers:
Vodafone’s 3G market covered 97.5% of NZ’s population, as of 2015, and its 4G market covered 84%. The carrier offers 3 SIM card packages for tourists, containing minutes and texts that can be used to call/text numbers within New Zealand and 19 others countries outside NZ, including the US.
Its 3G service has 97% coverage, but there is no 2G fallback. Spark has launched 4G/LTE capability in several NZ cities.
This carrier joined the industry in 2009, and its cards are usually found at grocery stores in popular cities. It covers about 98.5% of the locations where New Zealanders enjoy working and playing.
Pros and Cons of the Providers
- No registration is required to purchase a SIM card
- All 3 main service providers support 4G/LTE coverage
- Skinny Mobile is directly linked to your credit card, so if you do not cancel it, it’ll continue billing you automatic every month for top-ups.
- Compared to others with 30-day validity, Skinny offers a 28-day validity period.
- Some great deals are created solely for NZ residents, so you’ve to work around the rules to purchase a card.
- Unlike other telcos like Vodafone and 2degrees that you can roam, you can’t use a Skinny SIM anywhere else except NZ.
- The Spark Travel Sim is not voicemail compatible for at least one month, and it can’t be used overseas.
How Much Do the Sim Cards Cost?
A 2degrees Prepay (Prepaid) SIM will cost you about NZ$5. You can then activate your account by calling 200 and loading your preferred voucher amount to access your mobile plan. You can also log on to the 2degrees website to use your credit/debit card for topping up. Skinny SIMs cost between NZ$2-5. To activate a Skinny SIM, dial 456. Topping up requires a voucher or credit/debit card if you wish to purchase from their website. Spark SIMs cost NZ$5 for the prepaid option, the Travel SIM pack comes free of charge as you pay NZ$29 for the package we mentioned earlier. Just call *333 from your phone to get your line activated. Follow the voice prompt, select your value pack if using prepaid, then top up using a voucher or debit/credit card on their website. To activate a Vodafone SIM, call 777, and they’ll get you set-up. Remember to select one-off payments so that you don’t get charged the second time for a service you won’t use, particularly if you have 30 days or less to spend in NZ.
How to Get Wi-Fi in NZ
Purchase Wi-Fi Box for Campervans & Cars
You can buy an onboard WiFi box for campervans as well as cars. While this gadget is great for connecting multiple devices, it is quite costly and, like handsets, will not work if there is signal outage. The best option is to get a data plan on cell phones as well as tablets.
Use Free WiFi in Hostels
This option is also available to you as a tourist in NZ. But such free WiFi connections are usually slow. You may not be able to use it to make Skype calls or upload loads of photos onto Facebook. Occasionally, it could be worth it to pay a little sum for good WiFi. Making such payment over a period of time is often cheaper than paying on a per MB basis.
Global Gossip is an Internet service you could try if you’re staying in Nomads or Base hostels. You can pay NZ$4 for 24 hours or NZ$12 for 1 week. Subscribing to this service will offer you unlimited WiFi at any Global Gossip hotspot as long as your plan is valid.
Use WiFi Connection in Towns and Cities
Buying a coffee is the best way to get WiFi service in an NZ town or city. Several cafes offer free WiFi, decent enough for uploading photos as well as videos. In some cafes, there are WiFi limits based on time or MB. To use this method, you have to pay between NZ$3 and NZ$6 per hour.
Other Places with Free WiFi
Apart from the locations stated above, you can also get decent connections in these places:
Te Papa, Wellington
YHA hostels for YHA members
And so on.
With a bevy of captivating scenery and wildlife in New Zealand, as a tourist in this country, you will find sharing your experience on the Internet irresistible. Gaining access to the web lets you stay in touch with family, friends, and colleagues at home — whether it’s by taking travel selfies and posting them on Instagram or chatting on WhatsApp with friends.
The Wrap Up
New Zealand attracts over 3 million visitors per year, from countries all over the world. Due to this great influx of people into the country, there is stiff competition among SIM card providers.
The 3 major cellphone network carriers in this country are:
Getting a travel SIM card that provides call time plus data will help you cut down on expenses of global roaming with your home provider in most cases – but it will depend on the plan you have at home. You can also opt for prepaid SIMs if you’re a data buff.
Due to Spark’s wide network reach, comparatively faster network service, and cheaper cost, we recommend you consider purchasing its Travel SIM card package, though the packs of the other 2 are good also.