Why You'll Want to Use Apple Pay on Your Next Trip to Australia
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Now that Apple Pay on the iPhone and Apple Watch has hit Australia's shores, TPG Special Correspondent John Walton tested it out down under with his US-based Chase Sapphire Preferred account.
For US travelers in Australia, Apple Pay is a huge improvement over actually having to use your physical credit card. With a wave of your iPhone or Apple Watch, no longer do you have to explain that your card might not have a chip — let alone a PIN — in the Land Down Under, where swiping a card or having to sign for a purchase feels like faxing a message to somebody's beeper. But there are a few tricks you need to master to use Apple Pay successfully in a place where only American Express (Amex) is currently enabled for Australian market folks.
Let's start with the good news: Apple Pay works more widely than it does in the US, even though it's only just started to be issued to Amex cardholders here. Any retailer with Paywave (the brand for NFC-enabled tap and pay touchless payments) will take Apple Pay. Just ask "Paywave?" and tap your Apple Watch or iPhone. Paywave terminals (often called EFTPOS machines in Australia) are very widely used, even at the smallest wineries and cafés.
Please note that the limit (for Paywave, and thus Apple Pay) in some outlets is A$100, which is just more than $70, but this seems to vary: A large supermarket recently accepted Apple Pay for an A$150 charge.
Apple Pay is still new enough here that you're probably the first person the retailer has seen using it, so be prepared for them to remark on it or mention that they don't take Amex — if your Apple Pay is linked to a Visa or MasterCard, it will work normally with the Paywave system. If you're an Amex cardholder, American Express is generally only accepted at large retailers, so make sure that you have a Visa or Mastercard without international fees as a backup.
A word of warning: Bendigo Bank, a common merchant provider, hasn't been playing well with my Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Plus accounts, and throws up a "Comms Error" message on terminals when using either Apple Pay or the physical Chase cards. This has happened to me in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia, so it's pretty clear there's a system-wide issue between Bendigo Bank and Chase. The terminals work just fine with other card issuers, but merchants have never seen this error before, so be aware that you might have to explain the issue, or if you see the Bendigo Bank logo on the terminal just start off with another card.
I'm currently in touch with both Bendigo Bank and Chase to try to find a way around this. Bendigo Bank's Twitter customer service team told me that the merchant you're trying to use can call their Card and Merchants team at 1300 132 741 to try to resolve the issue or put it through manually.
In any event, make sure you carry either cash (along with your brick-sized cellphone and 90s-style snap bracelet!) or another issuer's card — remember that an Amex card isn't enough of a backup in Australia since it's so rarely accepted.
Be aware that almost all Australian cards have PINs, so don't expect to be able to use your credit card at the automatic pump payment at gas stations ("servos" here), train ticket machines or parking machines — always carry cash. Most servos default to pre-payment, but you can usually get the attendant inside the minimart to unlock the fuel for you with a friendly wave or by heading inside and explaining the situation.
Note also that the credit card surcharge is alive and well down under, even for ridiculous things like car rentals, airlines and hotels, so be aware that your calculation for when to use a card vs. cash may be different.
Important Tips for Using SIM Cards Abroad
While Apple Pay itself doesn't require your phone to have data active, it's 2016 and you'll probably want to have connectivity. Using a US credit card — and being a non-Australian user — has a few pitfalls, so learn from my experience with these tips, below.
If you don't have a cheap roaming option, make sure you:
• Pick up a SIM card when you arrive at an airport
• Activate it then and there
• Purchase your data plan and top-up
• Know how to purchase extra data
There are three main networks: Former monopoly operator Telstra, plus Optus and Vodafone. The latter two are a bit cheaper but don't have great reception outside cities or main inter-capital highways. Most US users will find Aussie data rates a great deal — around A$40 (~$29) for 4GB of data on Telstra, for instance.
Australia also has stringent identification requirements for pay-as-you-go SIM cards, which require numerous points of ID from a list that doesn't include any international IDs beyond passports with Australian visas. The network stores at airports are used to this and have ways to get around it, but the shops in cities don't, as I discovered in a rather frustrating experience. Lesson learned: Definitely buy your SIM card on arrival, even if you're tired from the flight.
Ensure you activate the account then and there for similar reasons. If you're traveling on the eVisitor Visa (the free online one that most Western tourists use when visiting), be aware that you may not be on the Australian database that the networks' systems use to verify your identity, so you may not be able to activate it outside the store at all.
Buy your data at the same time as you buy the SIM, especially since the automated top-up systems are unlikely to accept your international card. Over-the-counter purchases will work fine (and even with Apple Pay). Make a note of how to purchase extra data too — for the same reasons, topping up online or over the phone is likely to be frustrating.
If you play your cards right, it's actually easier to use Apple Pay in Australia than most US credit cards. Always carry cash as a backup just in case, and stick to my SIM card strategy of buying your SIM card and data at the airport no matter how jet lagged you are — and have a great trip!