6 Ways to Call Home While Abroad Posted May 6, 2016
While some travelers happily leave their mobile phones at home, many of us must remain connected when abroad. However, considering the often staggering call and data expenses, coverage issues, and the fact that some phones won’t function in other countries, international phone usage poses challenges for even the savviest of travelers. You can’t simply step off a plane, power up your phone, and use it as you would at home – unless you have a specific phone and are willing to pay steep roaming charges.
Here are some tips for maintaining phone access on your journey at a reasonable cost and without excessive hassles. Please note that we are not recommending any particular option; please consult directly with your cellular provider for the best solution for your needs.
Utilize a calling card: The simplest, most inexpensive way to make international calls is purchasing a calling card when you arrive in-country and using it with your hotel phone (or a pay phone). A significant disadvantage of calling cards is the inability to receive international phone calls. Also, many hotels charge for local and toll-free calls; check before you dial.
Go online: The internet provides a plethora of ways to connect vocally to your friends and family back home. If both parties have an Apple device (iPhone, iPad, etc.), you can use FaceTime (and its voice-only version, FaceTime Audio) for voice calls anywhere in the world. If both parties don’t have Apple devices, Facebook’s Messenger app and the popular messaging app WhatsApp both have voice call functions that are easy to use. Skype is another popular option for online voice calls.
Get an international plan: Another simple – though more expensive – option is expanding your existing phone plan into an international one. Talk to your cell phone provider and see what kind of plans they offer. Lately, the major service providers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile) have been competing to offer better international plans, so it’s worth checking around to see who offers the best plan for you.
Buy a prepaid SIM card: This is a cost-effective option, as most providers offer free incoming international calls (dependent on the country/s) and texts. Contact your cellular provider to determine whether you have a quad-band GSM phone, and if so, can it be “unlocked” for use with other networks. Once your phone is unlocked, simply swap out its existing SIM card with a local SIM card from your destination country or purchased from a company such as OneSimCard (www.onesimcard.com) or Cellular Abroad (www.cellularabroad.com) then purchase additional minutes as necessary.
Rent a travel phone: While phone rentals cost more than SIM cards, they likewise eliminate costly roaming charges and other service fees and typically provide free incoming calls (dependent on the country/s) and texts. As with SIM cards, both country-specific phones and phones for multiple-country trips are available; companies offer prepaid and pay-per-call options. Mobal® (www.mobal.com) and Cellular Abroad are among the reputable companies offering travel phone rentals. Also, Sprint and Verizon offer their customers such rentals.
Use an international calling service: After signing up online with one of these services such as the popular Rebtel (www.Rebtel.com) or United World Telecom (www.uwtcallback.com), you can dial an assigned access number(s) and make international calls at local rates as you would with a calling card. You can use acalling service with either a fixed phone (hotel or payphone), or with your cell phone and a local SIM card to avoid roaming fees.
Switch your smartphone into Airplane Mode: If you are traveling with your smartphone and you are not using a prepaid SIM card, activate your phone’s Airplane Mode. By doing so you will prevent potentially high data roaming charges for internet usage that many travelers only learn about upon returning home. Also, this setting still enables your phone to access WiFi when available (note that some establishments impose a charge for WiFi access).
With all these options, we’re confident you can find one that helps you stay connected while traveling.
Phone booth image via Flickr