It’s amazing how inexpensive it’s become to make international calls from home or while traveling. It shouldn’t be a surprise to me given how we all rely on (relatively) free email to connect with people across the globe. Naturally all of this communicating is going to drive the prices down.
Up until recently, I relied mostly on email to contact people abroad. But I have been slowly getting turned on to some options that don’t make me shake my fists at the phone company.
SIMple Calling USA SIM Card – Living just a couple of hours’ drive from the Canadian border, it’s not unusual for us to head north for a weekend getaway. In the past, I’ve just turned off my phone once I cross the border so that I don’t incur roaming charges. It’s not a bad thing to be cut off from my phone every once in a while but I do start to get antsy at some point, wondering if there are any questions from clients I need to answer PDQ.
A pretty good solution I’ve discovered is the SIMple Calling USA SIM Card from Telestial. You simply pop the SIM card into your unlocked phone and activate it. When calling within or to/from the U.S. or Canada, the first minute is 59 cents and subsequent minutes are just 9 cents. A bit pricey for a short call but far cheaper than the roaming charges you might incur from your cell phone provider.
A phone number is automatically assigned so don’t expect it to work with your usual number. I don’t give out this number but using this service on a spare unlocked phone allows me to call my own cell phone (or office phone) for messages and to make calls without hesitation. Great when I need to return calls or to make a dinner reservation at a restaurant that a Vancouver native has just recommended.
You can also use this in 160 countries. Calling rates are higher than if you were to purchase a local SIM card but cheaper than most roaming charges.
Upside? You don’t need an internet connection.
Downside? You need an unlocked phone but, really, these are easy enough and cheap to find these days.
MagicJack – I’ve had a few people recommend MagicJack to me in the last couple of years but I now have my very own since Ed, one of the fabulous folks on the Papua New Guinea tour, gave me one as a gift.
Basically, MagicJack allows you to call any landline or cell number for free through your computer. There are lots of options with this service, making it more flexible than many landline service providers (it will send you emails of your messages, forward to other phones, etc.). Ed used his MagicJack throughout our trip and as long as there was a strong Wifi connection, the call was as good from a landline.
Upside? Free calls once you’ve purchased the small USB unit ($40 with first year free) and $20 yearly.
Downside? You can’t receive calls unless your computer is on.
Skype – This is the obvious choice for most people with an internet connection. Simply sign up for this free service and, with an internet connection, you can call any other Skype user for free. Calls to landlines and mobile phones are at greatly reduced prices compared to if you called from a landline or cell phone.
Previously I had only used the free Skype service to schedule calls to other Skype users. Recently, however, I had 2 occasions to use it that made paying for calls well worth it. The first time was in Mexico when I had no phone service at all but I had a Wifi connection. I simply used the Skype app that I had downloaded to my iPhone. The other instance was when I had to book flights using an agency in the UK. I’m sure I saved at least $10 by using Skype on these few calls.
Upside? Super easy to use, no extra equipment needed other than your laptop or iPhone.
Downside? You need to be signed in to SKYPE to receive calls and other users need to be signed in to receive a call if you want the free service.
Using Your Cell Phone Abroad
Phone booth: bluelineswinger