Backpacking 101: Cheap International Calls

It’s no secret that you can make free voice and video calls from Skype to your friends and family. But it only works when the other person is logged into Skype and both of you have a reliable broadband connection. What if you want to call someone’s mobile phone or landline? Here’s how:

Calling Cards
These dinosaurs still exist and still offer relatively competitive rates. You can buy them in just about any convenience store or kiosk around the world. But you still need to find a landline which you can use for free and there’s also the annoyance of having to punch in the access number, the pin code, and finally the number you’re going to call. Personally, I never use them.

Google Voice
This service is free to use and better yet, you can make free calls and text messages to the US and Canada from anywhere in the world directly from your computer or mobile device. To call other countries, simply add credit, dial the number you want to call, and start talking! On a mobile device, you’ll need to sign up for Google Voice first on a computer, then install the Talkatone app on your device. Calling rates can be found here:

Did you know that you can call tollfree (freephone) numbers for free from Skype? For example, if you need to call your bank you can call their 800 (0800 if you’re from the UK) number for free directly from Skype. To call mobiles and landlines, simply add credit to your Skype account and use the keypad to place a call. Rates are competitive (around US$ 2.6c/min to Australia) and comparative if not identical to Google Voice.

The ubiquitous London phone booth

The ubiquitous London phone booth

Mobile Roaming
Unless you don’t mind arguing with your carrier over the massive bill you’ll get when you return home, leave your phone in airplane mode while you’re abroad. Or better yet, remove the SIM card. In airplane mode, you can still use wifi.

International SIM Cards
Buying a prepaid SIM card in the country that you’re in allows you to stay connected on the move. You get cheap rates for local calls and in most countries (other than the US), incoming calls are free. You’ll still have the convenience of being able to make calls as you please (for that last minute restaurant reservation) with the security of knowing that you won’t get that huge phone bill when you return home. Don’t forget, you’ll need an unlocked phone for this.

Borrow Someone Else’s Phone
If you’re in a pinch, it never hurts to ask to borrow someone else’s mobile phone to place a local call. I got stuck at the Guatemala – El Salvador border and a money changer was kind enough to let me use his mobile. What a guy!

Do you have any other money-saving phone tips? Share the love!

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