Access to quick and reliable means of communication is usually very important for those venturing overseas. As a traveler, you start to miss your friends after some time. Your family members may begin to worry when they haven’t heard from you. In addition, when on a business trip, your co-workers might need regular updates of your progress. You want to just pick up the phone and call, but what about the cost?
The Cost of International Roaming & Long Distance
Thanks to the expansion of GSM coverage worldwide, most modern cell phones will work practically anywhere, provided you get a signal. Many wireless providers (including AT&T in the United States) offer their subscribers “International Roaming” packages, for an additional monthly charge. This doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good idea to use your cell when outside your home country.
For instance, AT&T subscribers in the U.S. currently have the option of paying an additional $30 per month for a package that allows incoming/outgoing calls in Canada and Mexico; 80 minutes are included every month, but overage is billed at $0.50 per minute. Although these prices might seem high, they are practically a bargain when compared with calls made from their "Rest of World" Region – $30/month for only 15 minutes of service ($2 for each additional minute). International Roaming without a plan at all could cost up to $2.50 per minute.
What about calls from family and friends to your hotel room landline, or to a prepaid cell phone you bought when you arrived? The good news is that International Long Distance rates are slightly more affordable for those calling you from back home –that is if they have the right calling package enabled, of course.
For example, with AT&T’s World Connect plans (currently $3.99/month), a U.S. to Israel call would only cost $0.09 per minute if made to a landline ($0.18/minute to a cell). Without this package, however, the price jumps to $1.49 and $1.58 per minute, respectively. Special calling packages can cut the cost of your international phone calls, but wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to reduce costs made from any phone?
Using Local Numbers and VoIP to Bridge International Calls
As a more affordable alternative to roaming and traditional long distance, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) can’t be beat. Thanks to VoIP, which can be easily provisioned to work with phone numbers (DIDs) from all over the world, there are a number of tricks you can use to save on international calling.
Home to International Bridge
As mentioned earlier, it can be a good idea to buy an international prepaid cell phone (or prepaid SIM card) upon arriving at your foreign destination. Having the right prepaid phone lets you make calls affordably to local numbers in a particular country or region; however, calls from back home will probably remain expensive for those calling.
To get around this problem, you might consider using a local home number and VoIP service to forward all calls to your international one. For example, instead of spending $1.62 per minute to call your prepaid French cell phone, people back home can call your VoIP forwarding number at local rates. Beyond VoIP forwarding charges, which only amount to about 5 cents per minute, your costs to receive the calls remain the same.
International to Home Bridge
You can save money calling home from your foreign prepaid cell phone as well. Although calling cards have long been a popular way to enjoy lower international calling rates, many VoIP services have taken things a step further.
For example, Callcentric gives users access to low VoIP rates by using their calling card feature. After calling one of their many shared “Global Access Numbers” and verifying their identity, users can then dial internationally at low rates. The company also offers customers the ability to provision a dedicated number, anywhere in the world, for their own use.
Another option would be to register an international number and have it forward directly to a particular number in your home country. This is inherently less flexible than the calling card option; however, it makes sense when most of your outgoing calls will be to one destination, such as your household number or that of your company.
The Bottom Line
Whether you are flying to Brazil for a weeklong business conference or studying abroad in the U.K. for several months, traveling to another country can be a valuable, worthwhile experience. At the same time, many travelers struggle to balance cost and convenience when keeping in touch with family, friends, and colleagues back home. Along with video chat services (such as Google Voice and Skype) and email, VoIP is among the best ways to save money when communicating internationally.