As if you didn’t know, I totally kick it olde skool when it comes to phones. I am not really a big fan of wireless, though of course, I see its positives and glad they exist, but if they weren’t everywhere, I probably wouldn’t notice.
As part of my starter pack, it included a New Zealand SIM card. The phone I had in the US, I had already had for 3 years before leaving and couldn’t make one call without it being plugged in (pointless!) and wasn’t tri-band anyway. I tossed it before I left. So when I arrived, I had the card, but no phone! Since the card was a Vodafone, I went to the nearest Voda store and bought the cheapest phone they had, and old skool Nokia that I don’t think they even sold in the States anymore. I loved it! Classic green screen, non-flip, can’t do anything but make calls, do text and play some games. Why don’t they sell these anymore? Anyway, the biggest downside was that it wasn’t tri-band so I was either going to keep it to only use overseas or toss it when I left. I had just arrived and wasn’t thinking that far ahead.
In New Zealand there are really only two cell phone companies, Vodafone and Telecom. They are pretty much the same and get the same reception everywhere, the only way you can tell the difference is by your number. 021 area codes are Voda and 027 are Telecoms. One thing that I love about international numbers that we don’t have in the US is you can tell by the area codes if the number is a cell or landline. When I told people that we didn’t have this in the US, they were shocked, how do you know the difference? they asked. I said we didn’t and you just had to know. Thinking about, this is crazy. How many text messages are wasted every year, just sent into outer space? It’s kind of weird that no one has complained about this yet.
My Voda SIM card was pay as you go and it was perfect. You always knew how much you had. Everything was just a straight payment. Incoming everything was free! Text within NZ were dirt cheap. Text to the US were like NZ$0.20, which is cheap. Calling was hella expensive, so I rarely did it. My parents always called me and it was cheap for both of is. Sometimes there were sales and it would cost like NZ$3.00 to call the US for 30 minutes and I would take full advantage of it. When I first arrived, you had to top up NZ$20 every 3 months or your number would expire and after I got my living and job situation sorted, I rarely had to make any calls, so my top ups would pile up. The last top-up I bought before I left when my work permit expired said it wouldn’t expire for 12 months, so something must have changed in the 18 months I was there. NICE! I got to use my same number when I came back to NZ after 6 months in Australia, no top-up needed.
The pay phones on the other hand, where owned by Telecom. When I first arrived, the hostel I stayed at told me how to make a call. You can buy two cards, one Telecom card with money on it and a phone card on top of it, or, instead of the Telecom card, just toss in NZ$0.70 per call and make as many local calls as you want on that money. 0800 numbers in NZ are expensive and it was a better deal to call the local number, but it was hard with no permenant landline, hence the extra money for the phone booth. For about 10 months this worked well for me when I would call my sister. We would text a time to meet up and I would head to my local phone booth, put in my Telecom card, it would take off 70cents, I would then dial the local Auckland number on my phone card and everything would connect. Even calling her cell in the US, calls were like 5cent a minute. Just another fun experience of being overseas!
When my sister and parents were in NZ about 10 months after I arrived, my sister wanted to call her boyfriend while she was here and I told her how to do it. After like one call of about 20 minutes, she was like, “That Telecom card was counting down money and we are almost out”. I was like, “no way, it should just take off 70cents a call and that’s it!”. I didn’t believe her. But after a few more calls, we were out of Telecom card. I even stood in the booth with her once while she was on the call to see. What the hell?!? I can’t afford this!
When I got back to work after the family left, I searched far and wide on Telecoms website for an explanation on what was happening. I couldn’t find anything, so I emailed them and they said they would respond within 7 days. In true New Zealand fashion I got an email response back the next day telling me what changed. Turns out THE DAY AFTER I made my last call via the payphone to my sister before she arrived, they changed pay phone fees and now charged per minute on top of the local calls. This was going to suuuuuck. It was a while before the hostels caught on to this change and for the rest of my time from January until June 2008, I had to make all my calls at work. And because of the winter time difference and we went on a 5 hour change, I had to wait until 6pm to call my sister and we talked a lot less in those months, but txt’d a lot more. Annoying, but part of going with the flow of traveling and learning to adapt to new environments.
When I returned for a holiday 6 months later, hostels had caught on to this new trend and most offered public landlines to make local phone calls only, which is helpful. I know what you are thinking, just use SKYPE! But to me, that is even more expensive. My parents nor my sister use it and I would then have to pay for computer time in a public hostel (like $3/hour) plus Skype fees on top of that. Not worth it, in my opinion.
I feel like such an idiot! In searching all my pictures, I can’t find a single picture of a New Zealand phone booth! This used to be my thing, I loved taking pictures of all the local phone booths in countries I traveled in. And I can’t find a single picture!! I wonder if I just never did, always thinking that I’d have plenty of time to do it, I’ll just do it later and I just never did. So weird of me! If I come across a picture, I’ll post it.
Moral: I wish Telecom had stuck to their old prices but in their email to me, they said they hadn’t raised prices in like 10 years, so in that way, I can understand the change. But people are always going to find ways around them and hostels have done it by offering free local calls on landlines. And in a choice on mobile phone in NZ, doesn’t really matter which you pick as they are both really smiler.