A common question from both current and prospective cadets, so here's a blog post to answer it. Enjoy!
I don't think any of us truly appreciate how valuable the internet and smartphones are to our modern lives until we're suddenly without them and I'm certainly no exception to this! On arriving to New Zealand you quickly realise that questions such as "where are the cheapest supermarkets?" or even "How does car insurance work here?" suddenly take much longer to find the answer to. Similarly, finding your way around becomes more difficult without Google Maps or equivalent. So, with that in mind we set out on our second day here to find SIM cards for our phones. The most important selling point for us was data as who truly needs minutes and texts anymore when you've got iMessage, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger?
With the help of Google's offline maps and knowing that back home it's impossible to find a phone shop without their competitors being close by, we set off to the nearby shopping centre called Chartwells. Lo-and-behold, we found three of the above networks nothing more than a few metres away from each other. The fourth, Skinny Mobile, I've since learnt is is a similar proposition to that of O2's GiffGaff, has no brick-and-mortar outlets and is owned by Spark.
My top tip to anyone going to NZ or AZ for their training would be to make sure your phone is unlocked before you leave. I say this as one cadet spent nearly 4 hours on the phone to Vodafone back in the UK to get his phone unlocked in order to use a Vodafone NZ SIM card. It's not worth the hassle. Other cadets had dual SIM phones so simply popped a NZ networks' SIM into their phone and were on their way. In my case, I have an unlocked iPhone 6 which worked straight away once the SIM was inserted.
The plans we were looking at are known as Pre-Pay and are a mixture of the pay-as-you-go and SIM only deals you see back home. In essence you pick a plan and then have to top-up to ensure there is enough credit to deduct your chosen plan from. You must then continue to top-up the account monthly to ensure continued service. If you wish to cancel, you give 30 days notice.. it's as simple as that. This is akin to the old pay-as-you-go top-up packs I remember Orange offering a few years ago in the UK.
4G / 3G Coverage:
Whilst most networks offer 4G, Clearways Accommodation seems to be sat in the centre of a black spot meaning we only tend to get 3G here. That's not the end of the world though really, at least you have mobile coverage and can make calls, send texts and access the internet if not around WiFi.
On first popping in to 2Degrees the prices were extortionate. We're talking $19.99 a month for 500MB of data. It then worked out at roughly $20 per additional Gb. This was far too much for me, especially considering I used an average of 3-4GB a month back home such prices would cost me close to $100 a month! Safe to say we moved on.
Visiting Spark next we were offered a 30 day pre-paid SIM card for $59.99 a month. This offered 4GB of data, unlimited NZ/AU minutes and texts, inclusive Spotify Premium, 1GB Public Wifi and some other TV catch-up service I can't remember the name of. For a little extra you could also include 100 minutes of calling back to the UK too. However, at $479 for the duration of my time in NZ this package was also considerably out my price range. At this point I was starting to think mobile plans in New Zealand were ridiculous and didn't hold out much hope for something cheaper!
Our next and final stop was Vodafone. I was somewhat hesitant to even consider them as their brand has been damaged in my eyes as a result of their UK customer service, however we were pleasantly surprised by the offering they had. Called MyFlex, we were allowed to build our own 30-day pre-paid plans and were given the ability to alter the plans calls, texts and data on a monthly basis should it not suit. The entire process was managed within their Vodafone app once we'd bought a SIM - which cost $5. What's more, if you were under 25 Vodafone provides an additional 500MB of data for free. I opted for the largest data offered at 3.5GB, which then became 4GB with the 500MB bonus. I picked 150 minutes and 250 SMS messages as I felt I wouldn't need anymore than that given WhatsApp etc. The price came to a very reasonable $37 dollars a month and at roughly $296 for my time here, that made Spark about 60% more expensive by comparison.
I've now learnt that so long as your account has enough credit to auto-renew at the end of the month your unused data will rolls over. This is good as it means you can alter your plan month-by-month to ensure you keep the same data as the month before by only buying a smaller amount. For example, I initially bought 3.5GB but still had 2 left over, so dropped my plan down to 1.5GB for the new month saving me about $8. Next month i'll review it and potentially make more changes to the plan once again. UK networks... take note!
I didn't even consider Skinny Mobile as I needed the SIM there and then in order to provide the number to CTC in our induction. However, if you could wait for a SIM to arrive or perhaps ordered one before you got to NZ you could maybe benefit from Skinny's offering. However, I'm not too sure on pricing etc as I never even considered them. I'd recommend visiting their website if you were interested.
I hope this post has answered any questions you might have about how mobile networks work out here. It's safe to say they're not as cheap as back home and I always thought I was being ripped off by our networks too, but then again I'm quickly learning that nothing is as cheap as back home here. We'll leave that for another time though!