Telstra Review: Australia’s Fastest But Expensive SIM Card

5.0 rating
Adu from Phone Travel Wiz holding a Telstra SIM Card

Australia is the largest country in Oceania and the second-largest in Asia Pacific. It is also a diverse country, which is understandable considering its size.

Many know about Australia but may not have visited the country yet because it is so far away. Especially when coming from Europe (traveling for at least 24 hours is normal, unfortunately). However, it is still a dream destination for many.

Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Perth, and Darwin – each of these cities have their own characteristics.

Sydney is known as The Emerald City, while Melbourne is a cultural hub. Perth is the most isolated city in the world, and Brisbane has a perfect climate all year round. Darwin is known for its wildlife, while the Gold Coast is famous for… well, its beaches of course!

Whatever you plan on doing, Australia has it all. What you should not plan on doing is going on a road trip for a week trying to get to each of these cities.

Unless you count driving past the city as actually visiting it, a week will not be enough. In fact, I do not even think you could reach all these cities within a week. Unless you are driving 24/7… but that would not be a fun way of exploring Australia – you and your passengers will end up being groggy.

What will also make you annoyed is dealing with an expensive roaming bill you will get from roaming with your provider in Australia. Roaming can be expensive in many cases, which is why many travelers prefer to buy local SIM cards when traveling, such as an Australian one.

Navigating through 3 operators and more than 50 MVNOs sounds like an adventure itself, which it is. However, you will be going on this adventure on your own.

When I was in Australia, I reviewed around 20 Australian SIM cards to find out which one is the best for travelers. In this article, I will share my experience with Telstra to see whether they are a good fit for travelers or if you should stay away from them. Let's do this.

Telecom Providers in Australia

Before I tell you more about Telstra, you need to know about the operator situation in Australia. If you have read my Buying a SIM Card in Australia Guide, then you know what Australia has 3 telecom operators: Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone Australia (officially Vodafone Hutchison Australia).

All these operators, which I refer to as Main Operators but are officially called Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), have various Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) underneath them that operate as separate companies using the networks of the Main Operators.

Australia has more than 50 MVNOs, of which more than 20 offer prepaid services.

One of the pros of going with a Main Operator is that you can get full access to their network. Main Operators often allow MVNOs to use their wholesale network, which is slower and has less coverage than the main network.

Additionally, the Main Operators have many stores you can visit for advice and help, while MVNOs often operate online only.

One of the cons of going with a Main Operator, however, is that the cost of this service has to come from somewhere, which is you – the customer. The Main Operators sell their packages for slightly more than the MVNOs using their network.

For example, ALDImobile, an MVNO using the Telstra wholesale network, offers 18 GB for 25 AUD. In contrast, you would have to spend 30 AUD for 15 GB with Telstra.

As you can see, each type of provider has pros and cons, and it is up to you to decide whether you want to go for better quality or save money.  

Now that you know all of this, it is time to introduce Telstra.

Telstra Logo

Telstra is the largest Australian operator with more than 17 million subscribers. As a comparison, Optus, the second-largest operator in Australia, has more than 7 million subscribers. Telstra is also known for having the best network and speeds throughout the country, especially in the Outback (Rural Australia), where Optus and Vodafone customers may struggle to make calls or use data.

Telstra used to have a monopoly for many years and did not have a good reputation because of poor service and the way they dealt with their competition (as most monopolies do). When David Thode became the CEO of Telstra in 2010, the company transformed into a sales- and service focused company with a big emphasis on customer service.

That, in combination with other initiatives, resulted in Telstra increasing its market share again and being named the most respected company by the Australian Financial Review newspaper in 2014.

A company with such a history makes it an exciting business case. But we are interested in how good their prepaid services are, so it is time to see what Telstra has to offer to us.

Tip: Looking for cheap flights? Book with AirWander and add stopovers! Not in a hurry yet? Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog and get notified when ticket prices for your preferred route(s) drop!

Telstra Video Review

Want to watch the Telstra video review? You bet! Check out this video:

How do I Buy a Telstra Prepaid SIM Card?

You can buy a Telstra SIM card in Telstra stores across the country, kiosks, newspaper stands, grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, and many other types of stores. As a Main Operator, Telstra wants to be shown in many places as possible.

A Telstra SIM card costs 2 AUD and comes with no credit. You can buy starter kits with credit or data from 10 AUD with 1 GB for 7 days all the way up to 150 AUD with 60 GB for 6 months.

Telstra prepaid starter pack

You can also get a Telstra SIM card for free if you order it online. Order it a week before arriving in Australia so that you are sure it will be waiting for you when you arrive. Ask your ho(s)tel or Airbnb if they can keep your SIM card safe for you in case you wish to order them online. Else, they may be wondering why they received a random Telstra SIM card.

New vs. Old Telstra Prepaid starter packs
The new and the old Telstra Prepaid SIM kits.

How do I Activate my Telstra SIM card?

In Australia, you are required by law to show your passport when buying an Australian prepaid SIM card. However, most operators allow you to register your SIM card online.

Activating your Telstra SIM card in a Telstra store

I bought my Telstra SIM card at a Telstra store in Melbourne CBD (Central Business District – Downtown), meaning that they would activate my SIM card on the spot.

However, I forgot to bring my passport with me for some reason, so I had 3 options: come back later with my passport, activate my Telstra SIM card online, or call Telstra customer service at 132200. I decided to go back later because I wanted to see how the process.

So a few days later, I went back to the Telstra store with my 10 AUD starter kit (enough for 1 GB for 7 days). The salesperson entered my personal details into their system, scanned my passport, and even activated the data package and inserted the SIM card in my phone for me.

He also recommended me to use the Telstra app to keep track of my data usage. After that, my SIM card was activated.

Activating your Telstra SIM card online

I bought an extra Telstra SIM card to show you how to activate it online.

Telstra prepaid SIM card activation instructions

First, you have to go to Telstra.com/activate, as shown on the starter pack, and you will come to this page and select Activate your Pre-Paid SIM kit.

Telstra prepaid SIM card activation instructions

Click on Continue as guest under New to Telstra?, as you most likely do not have a Telstra account yet.

Here, you have to enter your SIM card serial number. It is the 13 digit number on the back of the SIM card holder in front of the letter N, but it is also the number on the back of the starter kit next to SIM SERIAL.

Telstra Prepaid SIM card holder - front
Telstra Prepaid SIM card holder - back
Telstra prepaid starter pack - back

After that, you select what your SIM card is for, in this case, for a mobile phone, and click on Get a new number. Note your phone number, starting with 04. Click on Next.

Telstra activation instructions

Here, you select your ID type (International passport) and full in the requested information.

Telstra activation instructions

After that, you have to fill in your contact details, a plan, recharge your card, confirm, and pay with a debit or credit card. As I already have an active Telstra SIM card and do not need another one, I cannot show you the other steps you need to take, but they are straightforward.

If you bought a starter kit with data already, then you (most likely) are not required to select a plan and recharge. However, I cannot confirm this because I bought the barebones starter kit (2 AUD), which does require to recharge.

Congratulations – you have successfully activated your Telstra SIM card!

How and Where Can I Top Up my Telstra SIM Card?

Telstra top-up vouchers are sold in Telstra stores, grocery stores, and convenience stores. You can also recharge online with a credit or debit card, which is probably the fastest way to top-up.

Recharging your Telstra SIM card online

At the time of writing, I was in Taiwan (using my favorite VPN, NordVPN, as I always go). I tried accessing the recharge page, but my access was denied. I changed my VPN location to Australia, and I could see the page again. Perhaps you can only recharge when in Australia (with an Australian IP)? Who knows – you will most likely be in Australia if planning on recharging your account anyway.

Blocked screen on the Telstra website

When you go to the recharge page, you will see this. Enter your phone number. Select whether you have a voucher or not and click on Next.

Telstra recharge page

On the next page, you can either recharge or top-up. Recharges are Telstra’s combo packs, whereas topping up is for credit. In this example, we are only interested in credit, so we click on Top Up and select how much credit we want.

Telstra recharge page

Be aware that the validity of the credit is rather short. The 5 AUD top up last you 4 days whole the 20 AUD top-up will last you 14 days. For these top-ups, Telstra Pre-Paid Max rates apply:

  • Unlimited calls and SMS to Australian numbers
  • 0.50 AUD per MMS
  • No data – need to buy a data pack

Click on Recharge, and you will be prompted with the payment screen. You can pay with a debit or credit card, or with PayPal.

Telstra checkout page (credit card)

Do note foreign currency exchange with traditional debit and credit cards are expensive because banks use unfavorable currency exchange rates or take an insanely high commission, which is almost criminal. Let’s not talk about PayPal’s fees. That is why I use Transferwise for any non-Euro payments (because my main currency is the Euro).

TransferWise allows you to convert your main currency to Australian dollars for a small fee (up to 8 times less than with your bank!) Getting a Transferwise Borderless account is FREE, so you will get an instant return on your investment. I even use my Transferwise debit card when paying for things abroad (with Google Pay as well).

Transferwise Banner

You can also get a Telstra Long Life Plus SIM card (which is hard to find in stores – can be ordered online). However, Long Life Plus does not allow you to buy Recharge Packs, which are Telstra’s combo packs. The following rates are applicable with Telstra Long Life Plus:

  • 0.30 AUD per minute or SMS to Australian numbers
  • 0.10 AUD per MB (or 102.40 AUD per GB)

Because of these unfavorable rates, I would recommend staying with Telstra Pre-Paid Max.

Using the Telstra App

You can also top-up with the Telstra app. You do not have to create a My Telstra account to see your balance and to top-up, as long as you are using mobile data. That is how I kept track of my data usage.

Unfortunately, I did not create a Telstra account, and it looks like I cannot activate it while abroad, so I cannot show you how to recharge online. I do, however, believe it is a straightforward process.

What Prepaid Packages does Telstra Offer, and How do I Activate One?

In the previous section, we learned that Telstra’s Top Up credit does not give a lot of value. Although you get unlimited local calls and SMS, you cannot use data – you have to buy a Recharge pack. What recharge packs does Telstra offer? Below is an overview.

Telstra prepaid packages

If you cannot see the image, below are Telstra’s recharge packs in text format:

  • 10 AUD: 2 GB for 7 days
  • 30 AUD: 10 GB for 28 days
  • 40 AUD: 20 GB for 35 days
  • 50 AUD: 28 GB for 42 days
  • 60 AUD: 38 GB for 43 days
  • 150 AUD: 60 GB for 6 months
  • 300 AUD: 150 GB for 12 months

You will not only get data but the following perks as well

Telstra prepaid packages

Telstra allows you to store unused data in your Data Bank, as long as your pack renews successfully. You can store up to 200 GB indefinitely.

Additionally, you get unlimited local calls and SMS. You are also allowed to make unlimited calls to the following 18 destinations, as long as your call originates from Australia:

  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Japan
  • Malaysia
  • New Zealand
  • Pakistan
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Thailand
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Vietnam

Finally, you get access to Telstra Air, which are Telstra hotspots throughout the country and hotspots abroad. One of the more visible Telstra Air hotspots are old Telstra phone booths.

Select the Recharge pack you want and click on recharge. You will see this payment page, which allows you to pay with a debit card, credit card, or PayPal.

Telstra checkout page (credit card)

What Speeds Will I Get with Telstra in Australia?

I was mainly in (South) Melbourne when I was in Australia. I did 3 speed tests: one in my partner’s apartment in Melbourne, one outside in South Melbourne in front of a Japanese café, and one in the city center of Melbourne, which is also referred to as Melbourne CBD.

Telstra speed test in South Melbourne
South Melbourne
Telstra speed test in Melbourne CBD
Melbourne CBD
Telstra speed test in South Melbourne
My partner's apartment

Look. At. Those. Speeds! I was, and still am, impressed with Telstra’s speeds. I already had high expectations because many were praising Telstra for their quality of service. Still, I did not expect a download speed of 350 Mbps. At the time of writing, no other provider I have tested since starting this blog reached 300 Mbps.

You should, however, not expect these speeds when in the Outback, as your coverage will be worse, and speeds will be slower. However, with speeds like this in the big cities, I expect speeds in the Outback to be high compared to other operators around the world.

Either way, you can expect excellent speeds with Telstra.

Do I Recommend Telstra to Travelers Visiting Australia?

I certainly recommend Telstra to those visiting Australia. Telstra is easily accessible. As in, you can buy a Telstra starter pack in many shops across the country. Activating your SIM card can be done for you when purchasing your Telstra SIM card in a Telstra store, or you can easily do it yourself online.

The thing I love is that the Telstra Recharge packs come with unlimited international calls to select destinations, and the Data Bank, which lets you store unused data instead of it vanishing if not used. You do, however, have to keep recharging your account for this to work, but it is still a good thing. I feel like more operators around the world should do this.

The Recharge packs have good value for the money spent, especially compared to other operators around the world and in Australia itself. Let alone the speeds they offer to prepaid customers.

Therefore, Telstra is undoubtedly an Australian operator you should consider, and they do deserve their 5-star rating.

How does Telstra Compare with Optus and Vodafone?

Now that you know everything you need to know about Telstra, you may be wondering whether Telstra is the best for you or not. I made an Australian SIM Card comparison article where I go through Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone more in-depth, comparing their packages, speeds, and coverage.

It is a good read where I take certain scenarios into account that may apply to you (such as spending a certain amount on data packages like 10 AUD, 30 AUD, and 50 AUD, wanting to call and text abroad, and speeds).

Be sure sure to check out the Best Australian SIM Card comparison post.

The video above is a long video that goes over everything covered in the Best Australian SIM Card comparison post. If you do not have that much time right now, add the video in your Watch Later playlist. For now, watch this video below that briefly introduces you to Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone, and I do a speed test with them at the end.

Buying a SIM Card in Australia Series

This Telstra review is part of my Australian SIM card series, which includes 15 Australian SIM card reviews. Be sure to check out the Australian Main Operator comparison (Telstra, Optus & Vodafone Australia) to learn more about the telecom situation in Australia. After that, you may want to learn more about the Australian MVNOs, like the Telstra MVNOs, Optus MVNOs, and Vodafone Australia MVNOs.

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Ernest Adu

Ernest Adu, going by just Adu, is the founder and editor at Phone Travel Wiz. He has been a traveler for 6 years. Although from Europe, the Netherlands, Adu's favorite region is Asia. In particular, East and Southeast Asia. He currently lives in Tainan, Taiwan.

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