Phone home (cheaply)!

I often get asked about inexpensive ways to call the US from abroad, and  there are some easy steps to take to phone home–and save some money.

Does your phone have the right frequency?

If you are not sure what cellualar technology is being used uin the country where you will be traveling, check an online cell phone site that specializes in unlocked phones.  The cell phone you will use on your travels must “talk” with the country’s technology.  Italy, for instance, has mostly 1800 MHz networks, so a tri- or quad-band will work there.  If you are buying a new phone, go with the quad-band–it will work globally.  Tri-bands work in many countries, but not in the UK.

 Is your phone “unlocked”?

Phones purchased from a telephone provider (like AT&T) are usually locked, which means that the software has been set to accept only that provider’s service.  It is a fairly simple software “fix” to unlock a phone (places in NYC charge  around $25 to unlock it).  Once unlocked, you can use that phone on any phone provider’s service as long as you have their sim card (a small chip that gives you a phone number and membership in their telephone service).

Okay, stay with me here, because the
pay off is,

You can have your own in-country local phone number

for 5 Euros with an unlocked tri or quad band phone, you  have a local phone in Europe with your own European phone number.
Incoming calls to that number, then, are FREE, and only outgoing calls are charged.  You just take out your US SIM card, put in your European  SIM card, and you are good to go.  Presumably you have the chargers and
adapters for the phone already…

How to get a European phone number

So, to get a local European number, take your passport, 5 Euros and your unlocked phone and go to a store that sells phones, or a store with VODAFONE sticker on the window (or TIMM).  My Italian number rang in Morrocco and France, so a Vodafone number should work all over Europe.

You can then send a TXT message to someone in the US, and ask them to call you… (remember, no charge to your phone for incoming calls).  OR, you  can purchase a calling card and punch in a whole bunch of numbers, and call the US for fairly cheaply.
The best calling card company (which my Italian school recommended to their students) is and costs between 2.5 and 3.5 cents a minute, depending on which plan you choose.
ALSO,you can buy minutes on SKYPE and use that to call computer to phone.   You would have to pay a local “Internet Point” (which is what they call internet cafes), and the calls are around 3 cents a minute –plus whatever time charge the internet point levies.  You
would use the computer and a headset, which most internet cafes provide.  You also have VIDEO Skype, which is free–and computer to computer.
If you are going to be in one place for several weeks with dedicated WiFi or internet connection, then I would recommend buying a MAJIC JACK or a Vonage account to use on your travel computer. Both of these hook allow you to call numbers in the US
as if you were in the US–no additional charges.  It is VoIP technology (voice over internet protocol) and doesn’t care about the country you are physically calling from.
It is best to use a phone abroad that you are already comfortable with, so try your phone out in the US.  AT&T has an under-advertised option of a Pay-as-you-go phone, with no contract.  You just pay for minutes.  That’s an easy way to get a SIM card for your now unlocked phone and use the phone in the US before you take it on the road.

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