How Well do US Cell Phones Work in New Zealand?

Knowing New Zealand is one of the most remote countries in the world, a reasonable trip planning question would be – how well do US cell phones work in New Zealand? The good news is – they work extremely well!

What to do with your cell phone plan if you’re going to New Zealand

If you’re going to be traveling in New Zealand and plan to use your cell phone at all, you should make sure to check with your provider to add an international plan.

International Phone Plans & Data Passes from US Companies

AT&T offers an international add-on plan for $12/day while you’re abroad that lets you use your phone (and data plan!) normally.

Verizon has a similar international plan that’s $10/day.

Spectrum also offers the $10/day international plan option.

It’s worth checking with your provider, as some of the budget providers do not offer international plans – and can be quite expensive if you’re using data roaming!

The other thing is – many people don’t plan short trips to New Zealand. If you’re going to be there for a month or more, these charges can add up! But this is where it’s worth reading the fine print. For instance, AT&T’s daily plan stops charging at 10 days – but you can use your phone for the rest of the billing month. Note that if you’re traveling during your billing cutover, you could be charged for up to 20 days (10 in each month). If that’s the case, it could be worth a quick call to them ahead of time to see if you can move your billing date.

One other note is to make sure you’re getting an International Day Pass to use your phone abroad – a lot of the international packages are similarly-named, and you don’t want one that’s just for international calls from the US.

What to do for a cell phone if you’re going to be in New Zealand for a long time

If you’re going to be in New Zealand for a long time, you can buy a SIM card there. Or, you can buy a SIM card ahead of time in the US (for use in New Zealand). The buy ahead of time option lets you know what your number will be if you want to give it to friends and family.

There are pros and cons to both options. With the international day pass plan, you keep your normal phone number so calls and texts come in like normal. The local SIM card gives you a local number which can be convenient. It’s really up to you!

How good is the cell phone coverage in New Zealand?

This is always a big question. The South Island is large and somewhat sparsely populated, so there are definitely areas where the cell phone connection isn’t nearly as strong (or is simply non-existent). I was there in November 2023, and I had great coverage through most of the South Island. This included data coverage as well – my GPS never stopped working!

The North Island, being more populated, had even better cell phone coverage, though there were a few rural areas with somewhat spotty connections.

Overall, the cell service was so good I generally didn’t notice it being different from home.

How to communicate with Kiwis while in New Zealand

One big thing for Americans traveling abroad – Americans don’t use WhatsApp nearly as much as the rest of the world does. Plan to download it to your phone before you go, and know that many tour operators or hotel providers will communicate with you through WhatsApp.

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