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Economical Ways to Call Home from Overseas

Mike Schatzki

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Several months ago I asked for suggestions about economical ways to call home from overseas. I received lots of input but decided that I would try out the ideas before reporting back. Since then I have traveled to the U.K., Italy, Germany and France in Europe and Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Singapore in Asia. My conclusion is that the best approach is to have a primary, low-cost card and a rock solid, although more expensive, backup.

For the low-cost card I took Dale Collie's suggestion and purchased a card from Nobel. They call it Enjoy Prepaid and they have four different plans to consider. I choose the "EZ Plan" since it has no weekly fee. Go to www.enjoyprepaid.com/enjoyprepaid/jsp/ratesandplans/ratesandplans.jsp

Pros: Very cheap. Calls back to the U.S. were in the 6-10 cents per minute range from both Europe and Asia. (More remote places cost more.) You can also use it inside the U.S. (2.4 cents) and to the rest of the world (Europe is about 3.5 cents). You can also register up to five phones in the U.S. so that when you call their access number from your phone, it does not ask for your pin. This also makes easy to use a cell phone to call internationally. You can also sign up for automatic reloading so that it never runs out. (Be aware that when you dial most overseas access numbers you get about 10 seconds of dead silence before it asks you for you PIN.)

Cons: Some pay phones block Nobel, including those in Germany and Italy. About 5% of the time the system is busy. And if you need to use the * or # key to access voice mail or for some other reason, you can't because if you hit either of those keys, it thinks you want to make a new call and cuts off your existing call.

Bottom Line: It is great but you need a rock-solid backup.

For the backup option, I took Bill Conerly's suggestion to buy the MCI prepaid phone card from Costco.

Pros: It worked with no problems in Europe including all pay phones (I did not have it yet in Asia). There are no monthly charges; and it can be reloaded.

Cons: It is more expensive overseas (about the same for inside the U.S.). There is no setup charge but calls averaged about 20 cents a minute.

Other suggestions that I did not try but that may work for you are listed below.

-- Bill Stainton

If you plan to do a LOT of calling, you might want to look into buying an inexpensive cell phone once you're in your destination country. Just make sure it's one that can call to the U.S.

-- Donna Earl

Cheapest way to phone home is to purchase prepaid phone cards locally. You can buy them at small local shops (our version of convenience stores) or hotel gift shops. Local shops tend to have cheapest/best selection. Look for a phone card that gives you the best rates back to US.

[Mike: But be sure you can return it if it does not work, as some of them don't in my experience.]

-- Jack Sims

I reside overseas for most of the time, commuting to jobs in the US. I have found that www.Vonage.com is a fantastic and cost-effective choice for phone calls inside the US from overseas.

[Mike: I called Vonage. To use this you must be a domestic customer.]

-- Mark Mayberry

When in London and Paris a couple of summers ago, I was able to buy phone cards, where a call back to the States was only about 10 cents a minute.

-- Melinda Batchelor

If you're an ATT customer, sign up for ATT One Rate Global Plus Plan. It is 17 cents per minute and $4 per month, as opposed to the several dollar per minute fee you'd otherwise pay. You can drop the program when you return from the trip and reinstate it again at a later date. One week in Paris and our total investment in staying in touch with our office several times a day was under $40!

[Mike: This is the backup I used on my Asian trip. It is rock solid and even works in the Philippines. However, they have raised their prices substantially. There is an 89 cent setup charge per call and per-minute charges range from 40 to 80 cents. If you do want this service, you have to call ATT to sign up. When you do, avoid your key pad at all costs. Once you admit you have a touch tone phone you will never find the service. Simply hold on and eventually they will give up and transfer you to a person.]

-- Mike Podolinsky

We live in Singapore and my wife is the genius about this stuff. Buy a calling card at a local 7/11 or most phone shops. (TONS of them in Asia) You prepay like $10. Then your calls are around 3 to 5 USA cents a minute. We registered our line in Singapore with 1511 and pay 3 cents a minute. (Don't know if you can do that with a hotel phone but I think you can with a cell phone. You can rent the cell phones at the airport.) When we went to Canada, before leaving the US, she bought a card for calling the USA off the net. Again, it was way cheaper.

-- Mitch Krayton

The cheapest way to communicate from anywhere to anywhere is Voice over IP (VoIP). Apple includes this capability with all of its machines with iChatAV. You can send text instant messaging and with a microphone have a clear telephone call, too. If you add the $149 iSight Camera to each end, you can even have free video conferencing so you can see you kids on the road and they can see you. The cost is the cost of connecting. There are no extra charges. Text and voice will work on a 56K modem connection. Video requires a broadband speed connection. All computers can use AOL Instant Messaging and Yahoo instant messaging. These two services are adding voice calling as well.

-- Resli Costabell

I live in London and have a Talk box. This routes all calls through Talk. Check them out at www.Talksense.com. Very cheap -- costs just a few pence a minute to ring most landlines I want to ring: Switzerland, USA, Canada, France. Another goodie is OneTel. www.onetel.com

-- Ronald Wroblewski

I've used AT&T direct from China and the Philippines. It works great *IF* they have the service in the country where you are traveling. Look up the codes before you go. They are different in every country. In Kenya they don't have this service, so I was forced to pay almost $10 per minute using the hotel phone. What a rip off! Luckily my host issued me a cell phone and that was only about $5 per minute using prepaid scratch cards, but it was still too expensive to really stay in touch with home.

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