Long gone are the days when you would travel abroad and stay mostly disconnected to avoid paying for those expensive international calls. With our current technology and considering how globalized we are, today we have the accessibility to make free calls to anywhere in the world, and from anywhere.
If you’re still not sure how to do this, I’ll explain everything in this post. For the purpose of this article, I will assume that you will be traveling with a smartphone (or tablet), which is one of the key components to connect while abroad.
It’s hard to give an absolute answer for this one since it varies based on the type of cell phone carrier you have back home, your current plan, and if they offer international plans. In the US, for example, most major cell phone companies offer an international plan that allows you a limited amount of minutes for calls to the US, text messages, and limited data (internet). This plan add-on can be activated when you travel and removed once you get back home. Naturally, this will incur an extra charge to your regular plan.
This option tends to be cheaper and convenient for people who already have family plans since costs tend to be lower when several lines are bundled. On the other hand, if you have a single line in your account, it could turn out to be expensive. One good advantage of going with your carrier is that if you’re traveling to several countries, you won’t need to change SIM cards every time you cross borders.
The other option is buying local SIM cards at your destination. When you travel abroad, IF your phone is unlocked, you can just buy a prepaid SIM card with your preferred package of minutes/text/data, put the SIM card in, and you’re connected. Most countries offer plans much cheaper than what the US offers. In my experience as a solo traveler, this is cheaper. As a family, it could vary depending on your carrier’s plan back home.
The downside of this option is that if you’re crossing through several countries in a short period (like a country each couple days or every week), it could be more expensive since you’d have to buy a new SIM in every country.
Calling cards still exist! They can still be useful to make calls abroad via a landline, but you should check the current rate per minute as it varies drastically depending on the country you are in and to which country you’re calling.
Considering you have your Internet set up, let’s move forward with the best methods or platforms of contact.
Google Voice is one of Google’s multiple connectivity branches. It allows you to have a local number (USA and Canada at the moment) to be paired with your primary number. What Google does is forward those calls you get via your Google Voice number to your primary number. This is excellent if you’re receiving calls from abroad while in the US, or to make calls from abroad (using Wi-Fi) since most calls to the US and Canada are free. Android phone users will find this option very user-friendly.
If you don’t have Android, there are iPhone apps that allow you to use the Google Voice number, including Hangouts, which you can also install on your computer to make calls via your laptop.
With Skype, you can chat via text and make audio or video calls to anyone with a Skype account for free. Additionally, you can call any number, anywhere in the world, for a fraction of the cost per minute of that which any regular carrier might charge.
If you want to be able to receive calls to your Skype account from a regular phone number, you can buy a local Skype number (currently costs $18 every three months) and have the Skype app available on your phone. Anytime someone from home calls your number, to them it will be a local call (so it’ll be free for them) even if you’re all the way in Thailand. To you, on the other hand, the cost will be almost nothing.
Almost everyone has a Facebook account these days, and with it comes the opportunity to call anyone with a Facebook account via its messenger, for free. You can do video chats as well as audio calls, and as long as you have a decent Internet connection (preferably Wi-Fi), these will be free and with pretty good quality.
Whatsapp operates similarly to Facebook but with every person who has a Whatsapp account. While in the US not a lot of people have Whatsapp, when abroad, you’ll notice most people do. It is also free to chat and make calls, as long as you have an Internet connection. Unlike Facebook, Whatsapp does not make video calls.
For most people in the US who don’t have Whatsapp, this is the standard option (if you have an iPhone). You could be anywhere in the world and send a text message via iMessage for free as long as you and the recipient have the service enabled, and are using an Internet connection. Be careful that if there’s no Internet, the text will go via regular text messaging services, which will incur some costs.
Facetime is the go-to video chat for iPhone users since it is integrated into the iOS. Like previous services, as long as you have a decent Internet connection, and both users have FaceTime, the video chat will be free.
While most of the options shown above are free, have in mind that they will be completely free if you’re using a Wi-Fi signal. Should you be using your data package bought with a SIM card abroad, know that it will consume your data, so in truth, it costs you something.
What’s your preferred method to stay in touch with family while abroad?
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Norbert Figueroa is an architect who hit the pause button on his career in 2011 to do a round the world trip. He's been blogging for over three years at globotreks.com, where he shares his travel experiences, budget travel tips, and a good dose of world architecture. From hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to diving with great white sharks, he is always on the search of adrenaline and adventure. Norbert is originally from Puerto Rico and he is currently based in Milan, Italy... when not roaming around the world, that is. He has traveled to more than 80 countries in 5 continents and his goal is to travel to all 193 U.N. recognized countries. Follow Norbert on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.
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