October 30, 2014

International Roaming With the Verizon iPhone 5

Connectivity overseas can be a real pain. Roaming is prohibitively expensive, so a local SIM is best. But most American mobile phones are “locked” to a carrier, and American phone companies use different network technologies and frequencies than most other countries. That’s why I was excited to test my Verizon iPhone 5 abroad.

The Verizon iPhone 5 works perfectly on Vodafone Australia’s 3G network

Using the Verizon iPhone 5 on the Vodafone Australia GSM Network

switched from AT&T to Verizon with the iPhone 5 mainly for local reasons: Verizon’s LTE network remains over 100 times faster than AT&T’s backward 2G in my home town! But Verizon offered free “Personal Hotspot” tethering, a real money-saver.

Another great thing about the Verizon iPhone 5 (and LTE iPad, for that matter) is that it is “unlocked” out of the box, making it simple to use it while traveling internationally. This is all the more remarkable since Verizon uses a completely different network technology than the “standard” international GSM. But their iPhone 5 and iPads work just fine on these networks!

Although I was pleased to hear that the Verizon iPhone 5 was unlocked, I was concerned it might not work overseas. So much so that, before I left, I had AT&T unlock my out-of-contract iPhone 4S so I would have a “fallback device” in case my iPhone 5 didn’t work during my trip to Australia.

I needn’t have worried. The Verizon iPhone 5 is indeed unlocked and works perfectly on Vodafone’s GSM network in Australia. I’m sure it would also work great on most other international 3G networks as well. I simply purchased and inserted a Nano SIM, reset my network settings, and got back to work!

What About LTE in Australia?

I picked Vodafone because they were the first company I spotted on landing at Sydney airport. Their A$49 plan includes 2 GB of data and plenty of calling and texting, and they don’t restrict Personal Hotspot. But I could just as easily have purchased an Optus or Telstra Nano SIM from the store next door.

Note: Prepaid SIM cards are widely available in the International Terminal at Sydney Airport. There are Vodafone and Optus stores outside security and customs near exit C/D and another Vodafone store inside security in Terminal 2. These stores stock prepaid SIMs for phones, smartphones, and mobile broadband, including Micro SIMs and Nano SIMs. I didn’t spot a Heathrow-esque SIM vending machine, however.

Unlike Optus and Telstra, Vodafone doesn’t yet have an LTE network in Australia. But this doesn’t matter for an American iPhone user like me, since the Verizon iPhone won’t work on Australian LTE networks anyway. I would be stuck with GSM regardless of which SIM I picked.

The iPhone 5 comes in three varieties: A GSM/LTE version for North America (including AT&T), a CDMA/GSM/LTE model for CDMA countries (including Verizon in the USA), and an “international” GSM/LTE model for most carriers outside North America. Confusing the situation, the CDMA and international LTE versions have the same model number but different modem firmware. So, although they use the exact same hardware, the CDMA model will not work with the LTE networks found in most countries outside the USA.

Stephen’s Stance

I’m pleased that Australia, like the UK, offers convenient prepaid SIM buying options right in the airport, but I’m even happier that it works perfectly in my Verizon iPhone 5. I also brought along an unlocked Three MiFi, an unlocked ex-AT&T iPhone 4S, and a Verizon LTE iPad 3, all of which work perfectly on Vodafone Australia as well. But with free Personal Hotspot on the iPhone, I decided a single SIM would be enough connectivity, even for me!

  • Dilip Naik

    great information to have! I find that nano SIMs are harder to find in Asia, so many people travelling there prefer an unlocked iPhone 4 or 4S. The vendors in Asia stock the regular SIM, but they will happily use a staple like cutter to turn the regular SIM into a micro SIM.
    Thx for the post!

  • Tom N.

    I am on my way to Australia as I type this on my Verizon iPhone 5. What do you mean about “resetting your network settings”? Reset to what? I assume that once back in the U.S., one has to reset back to “factory defaults”?

  • http://blog.fosketts.net sfoskett

    Go into General -> Reset -> Reset Network Settings

    This wipes out all your WiFi logins, too…

  • [email protected]

    Dumb question as I am confused….I currently have an iPhone 4S with Verizon service. Am going to Australia (in the Sydney area). A rep from Verizon said my phone will not work with another carrier. Is it just the Verizon iPhone 5 that is unlocked and can be used in Australia?
    Thanks for any help!

  • Ann

    This is the FIRST clear, concise, info. I’ve read on this “travel sim + iPhone5″ issue and I’ve been looking for hours on the internet. Thank you.

  • Steve

    This is pretty good, thanks. One thing I am unsure about is what happens to my US number? Does the Aussie sim card give me a new number? Can I receive calls from the US at local rates? Maybe everyone knows already, but thanks for your help.

  • http://blog.fosketts.net sfoskett

    The SIM card gives you a new Australian phone number. Your Verizon number just won’t work while you’ve got the SIM out, I believe. But once you take the Aussie SIM out and put the Verizon back in, you’re good to go once again!

    You can make and receive calls at Aussie rates while their SIM is in it, but not at US rates. That’ll be an expensive international call.

  • http://blog.fosketts.net sfoskett

    The SIM card gives you a new Australian phone number. Your Verizon number just won’t work while you’ve got the SIM out, I believe. But once you take the Aussie SIM out and put the Verizon back in, you’re good to go once again!

    You can make and receive calls at Aussie rates while their SIM is in it, but not at US rates. That’ll be an expensive international call. The Aussie SIM basically makes it an Aussie phone.

  • Steve

    Thanks so much, very helpful!