International phone calls: I’ve been searching for a new international calling solution. My old throwaway cell phone died. My old favorite SIM card that was useful in several countries seems to be giving me fits. While I’m perfectly happy making calls via Skype (and that’s still the cheapest way to call out, less than 3 cents a minute to the US), my wife is less than happy with the call quality. Plus it’s not a great solution when you’re out and about without internet, or for people who want to call you who aren’t themselves going to be online when doing so. So it’s not enough.
Backing up a little bit here, I Skype all the time — for work or to make calls when abroad. I don’t mind it at all, and I always travel with a laptop. I’m currently traveling with my Samsung Series 9 which is as thin as a legal pad and not much heavier, but powerful enough to be my every day computer. The only thing I don’t really like about it is the track pad, but I’m getting used to it.
Years ago I used to have about the most complicated international calling regimen possible. I had an old cell phone which I unlocked (I got the unlock code from my service providers). It was tri band, meaning it worked on several frequencies and thus several networks and in several countries. So I had no problem throwing a local SIM card into the phone and going from there.
The cheapest way to make and receive calls is almost always going to be a local SIM card. Going to Hong Kong? Buy a Hong Kong chip for your phone. Going to Singapore? Buy one there. But that can be a pretty inefficient strategy if you’re only going to be somewhere for a few days and not regularly, if you’re going to strand money on the card, the cards themselves often cost money and may expire from inactivity. Plus – and though I have a neat little case for my SIM cards (they make ’em for flash memory cards but they work just as well to hold SIM cards), they can be easily lost too. They’re small!
So it’s much easier to have a single SIM card that is going to provide reasonably priced calling options most anywhere you travel. My own ‘regular’ blackberry service is from AT&T and while they charge about $3 a minute internationally, even with their ‘international’ plans that you pay extra for they’re usually still over $2 a minute. Ouch.
I used to use a SIM card from a company called 09 Mobile, they were out of Iceland and when that country’s financial system collapsed they disappeared. But they were great because you had free incoming calls in more countries than I had ever seen anyone offer.
And I could leverage that to make outgoing calls as well. I used a company called CallBackWorld. I would dial them, they would dial me back and then call a number for me. I was always getting an incoming call wherever I was in the world, even when I was calling out.
And CallBackWorld charged me less than 9 cents a minute to call an Iceland phone number, which is what I was using. So anywhere that had free incoming calls, I paid 9 cents a minute for outgoing calls.
But the really complicated thing about it was the double call back. Most international SIM cards work on a callback basis already. They provide cheap service by treating everything as incoming to begin with, you dial out, hang up, they call you back and connect you to the number.
Here I was actually dialing out, getting connected, calling out, getting connected. It was a double callback. But boy was it cheap, less than 9 cents a minute throughout half the world to be making calls from my cell phone. That was worth it to me.
With 09 mobile no longer effective, I gave up on CallBackWorld. I used an eKit SIM card for awhile, but that gave me a UK phone number and Callbackworld wanted about 44 cents a minute to call me. So I would double callback and still be paying almost 50 cents a minute. Not worth it. I would often just pay the same 50 cents with a single callback using that eKit SIM. The one upside, though, was that eKit gave me a US number as well to use for free.
I was fiddling around over the weekend and had a look at OneSimCard. What I especially liked about them — most of these offerings have free incoming calls in Europe, but are usually very expensive in Asia and I travel to Asia, several countries, at least a couple of times a year. Free incoming calls in Hong Kong. Cheap incoming and outgoing in Thailand. “It’ll work” in Singapore and the Maldives.
And the pricing isn’t crazy, $30 to get started or $45 if you want reasonable calling options for Canada too. I do, since I occasionally find myself up in Toronto especially, so I plunked down the dollars and they sent me the card. Testing it out so far works well.
Here’s the cheap old Motorolla quad band phone I’m using, it’s 5 year old technology but small/portable and gets the job done on most any network, along with the OneSimCard solution.
They send you an Estonian sim card. Now, those Icelandic cards were ‘da bomb’. But Estonian cards have always offered cheap calling solutions. There are networks which don’t like them. CallBackWorld won’t even dial them.
For an extra $20 a year (ouch) they’ll give you a US number. And someone calling your US number adds 20 cents a minute to the call. But you’ve got to have one of those, at least the way I use the phone. Because I’m giving the phone number to my wife’s parents, to my dog’s boarding place. It’s not the cost of the international calls I’m worried about, it’s that international dialing confuses the uninitiated.
But truth be told, they had me at “free incoming calls in Hong Kong.”
Their website is functional, you can set the SIM card to auto-reload or can be reloaded manually, you can check your voicemail online for free instead of calling in. So far I’m happy. And I’m happy to try out a new calling solution.
- Calling internationally with your US based cell phone is expensive.
- The cheapest, and to me best, option is just to call out using Skype.
- But when Skype isn’t an option — not online, near a computer, etc. or for people who would call you without Skype, you want an unlocked cell phone that works on various international frequencies (eg. “quad band”).
- And you want to stick in either a local SIM card which you’ll need to load up with money, or a SIM card which offers you rates which aren’t as good as a different SIM for each country but that are good enough that you don’t bother getting a different one for each country.
For now, I’ll play with my Estonian SIM card from OneSimCard.com and my Motorolla Pebl U6. Should be good enough.
How do you handle international calling on the road? Satellite phone? Local SIM cards? A favorite international SIM? Or does your ‘normal’ cell phone provider offer decent enough rates to use them while abroad?