TRAVEL TIPS: HOW TO MAKE CHEAP INTERNATIONAL PHONE CALLS
Nowadays, practically everyone has a mobile phone and I’m guessing that a majority are using smart phones. Personal mobile phones make connecting with people internationally super convenient. Not only can we call anytime from practically anywhere/to anywhere, but we can also choose to text, send/receive emails, skype, and chat online. All by personal phone! This was unheard of just 10-20 years ago. Thanks to mobile phones, now international travelers no longer have the issue of how to stay in contact friends, family, or business colleagues.
But the cost of international calling and texting still often remains an issue. Once we step outside our home country (or more accurately, our phone provider’s home country) roaming services kick in and suddenly international communications are very expensive. Roaming fees for both sms/text messages, outgoing calls, and receiving calls can be astronomical. Even worse, you’ll also get billed at those high rates if someone else calls/text messages to you while you’re on roaming service.
Luckily, there are several ways around roaming fees. Here are five options:
1. Buy a new sim card in each country you visit
As long as you didn’t buy your phone in the USA, your phone will readily accept sim cards from most other countries in the world. Once you have inserted a local sim/phone number, calls are suddenly very inexpensive once again. New sim cards in most countries are extremely cheap and also include some phone credit. For example:
Malaysia 8.80 Rm ($3 US)
Indonesia 20,000-50,00 rp ($2-5 US)
In most countries, there’s no need to sign up for a 1-year or 2-year contract and pay monthly fees. Pre-paid top-up service is quite standard: simple, convenient, and cheap. You can top-up / add credit at convenience stores and phone shops. Most phone providers in each country offer very inexpensive international calling services. Generally, you simply have to dial a special number in front of your contact number. Your new phone service provider can give you the details. Some sample rates calling from SE Asian countries to USA, Australia, and other Asian countries:
from Malaysia $4 US/hour – from Thailand $10 US/ hour – from Indonesia $6 US/hour
The only drawback to this tactic is that you’ll have a different phone number in each country you visit. To stay connected with people, you’ll have to remember to tell everyone your number each time you switch sim cards.
And, if you have a US phone, you simply can’t do it.
This isn’t as crazy as it might sound at first. You can pick up a new basic mobile phone in most Asian countries for $20-$50 US. If you don’t absolutely need a smart phone, buying an inexpensive mobile phone and using a local sim can save you lots of money in roaming fees. With your new mobile, you’ll be able to change the sim/phone number in every country you visit, something you can’t do with an American phone.
If you need to keep your original phone number for important calls like business, you could always also carry your American phone with roaming service and limit its use to business/emergency calls. Then use your new inexpensive phone for all other calls and text messages. As above, just remember to tell people your new local phone number each time you get a new sim.
3. Smart phone with 2 sim card ability
I recently discovered that some smart phones take 2 sim cards at once. You keep your original, home country sim card inside the phone as the primary number. Each time you go to a new country, you buy a local sim card and place it in the phone as your secondary sim/phone number. That way, you can make most of your calls and texting with an inexpensive local number, but can also keep your regular phone number for business calls, emergencies, and people who only know your primary number. Just remember that anytime someone calls the primary number or you use it, you’ll be charged roaming fees. Minimizing your primary number usage will save you heaps of money.
3. Skype calls
I’m sure everyone knows about skype’s wonderful free skype ‘calling’ between computers. Did you also know that you can make skype calls to phones, both landline and mobile? Those calls are not free, but they are extremely inexpensive. To take advantage of that skype service, you simply have to transfer some money into your skpe account, via paypal or a credit card. Then any skype calls you make to phones are credited against your balance.
In addition to that, do you know about skype phones? With skype phones, you can make skype calls to computers or other phones from a phone rather than a computer. The advantage is that you don’t need to be at your computer to make the calls. Your skype phone just needs to have internet connection. You pay a low monthly fee for unlimited skype calling.
While researching smart phones and international calling options, I also found out about an international online calling service that offers super cheap international phone calls. It’s called RebTel. From what I can make out, it’s the phone version of skype. With RebTel service you can place international calls to any country at local rates because they reroute the international numbers through the internet. It works with every kind of phone, including land lines, simple mobile phones, smart phones, and even tablets, computers and pcs.
Checking through their rates, it looks like they’re actually considerably cheaper than using local sim cards. (option 1 above)
I haven’t had time to try it out yet, but I’m going to suggest it to some friends and family back home as well as try it out myself. I’ll get back to you with a follow up report soon.
Do you really need to use your phone while you’re traveling? How about using your vacation time to disconnect for a change and really de-stress.
You might also like:
My 10 Free Things to do in … Series, with heaps of free things to do in major cities around the world.
Which of these techniques do you use for cheap international phone calls?
Do you know any other nifty options?
Have you tried RebTel? If so, how is it?