Calling Abroad for less
When traveling to a foreign country, making a phone call doesn’t have to empty your wallet anymore. Roaming fees are often high and the service is bad. Using a mobile phone is usually not your best option.
One method is an unlocked mobile phone, a phone that’s not tied to one particular carrier. (In the United States, some carriers will unlock your phone if you ask; abroad, most phones come already unlocked.)
Another option when you arrive in a new country, if you do not have an unlocked phone, you may buy a pay-as-you-go phone that usually costs no more than $30.
If you want to use your mobile then you can buy a local SIM card (the tiny, interchangeable chip inside the phone that lets you connect to a local carrier; they’re sold at mobile phone stores and kiosks for $2 to $25, depending on the country) and make local phone calls and send text messages without paying exorbitant international roaming fees.
Simple enough, but for folks back home to reach you, Skype is an option.
In the last few years, Skype has revolutionized how global nomads keep in touch. Install its software on your Mobile Phone, Tablet, Mac, or PC, and as long as you’ve got an Internet connection, you can make high-quality audio and video calls to other Skype users almost anywhere on earth. (A few countries, like the United Arab Emirates, unfortunately, block the service).
Skype, however, also lets you call out to mobile phones and landlines (a service called SkypeOut) and enables you to have your own phone number in any of 23 countries, including the United States, Hong Kong, France, and Italy (this is called SkypeIn).
Both SkypeOut and SkypeIn carry a relatively low fee.
SkypeOut calls to landlines can be as little as 2 cents a minute, while calls to mobile phones are usually a bit more. In Italy, for example, the cost of a call made to you will be 30.8 cents a minute (not including tax). A SkypeIn subscription, meanwhile, costs $60 a year or $18 for three months.
All you have to do before you leave home is set your American cellphone (cell phone capabilities vary) to forward to your SkypeIn number, and all you have to do when you arrive in a new country is get a SIM card, go online and set the Skype software’s preferences to forward all calls to the new number.
So, here’s how a call would work:
Your regular American cellphone number is called, which forwards to the SkypeIn number, which, in turn, forwards (via SkypeOut) to the new local cellphone number in a foreign country.
Cost to the caller: zero. Cost to you: about $1.58, plus some small fraction of the money you credited your foreign mobile phone. In theory, the call could have been made for a bit less — if, for example, an international calling card is used, but that can create a hassle and confusion for the caller.
Another option with this system lets anyone, anywhere, reach you, at a minimal cost to yourself. National Geographic Talk Abroad Phone Rental