5 Cheapest ways to stay in touch overseas
If you're an occasional international traveler, you want to be able to keep in touch with friends and family at home. Ideally, you want to be able to reach them wherever you are and for them to be able to reach you. You also want to make local calls to restaurants, hotels, theaters, airlines, and such. Twenty years ago, you'd pick up the phone in your hotel room, enter the number, and call. Connections were generally good—and costs were generally outrageous, even for local calls. And you'd be connected only when you were in your hotel.
These days you have lots of options. There is no one best option; what's best for you depends on a bunch of factors. But you can generally keep in touch, at little or even no cost to you or to those who want to call you. Here's how.
Use your mobile phone
This is the easiest option. As long as your cellphone uses the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM)—AT&T and T-Mobile phones do—it will work overseas. (Some Verizon phones now use GSM as well.) Check with your wireless provider if you're not sure.
With your regular mobile phone, you can be connected almost everywhere. Wireless networks cover almost the entire developed world these days—you aren't tied down to your hotel.
But if you communicate a lot, this is the most expensive option. Even with an international roaming package, rates can be expensive. AT&T, for example, charges up to $1 per minute for calls in select European countries if you purchase an international calling package.
Warning: Be sure to disable any automatic notifications from your apps as well as automatic e-mail push. If you don't, data charges can kill you.
Get Evcmobi app
If you have a smartphone or tablet, you can make calls at extremely low costs by downloading a Voice-Over-Internet Protocol (VOIP) app. Most make calls directly over the Internet as long as you're in a Wi-Fi hotspot, and when you aren't in a hotspot, they default to the local GSM 3G network.
Depending on the app, calls made through Wi-Fi are either free or they only cost a few cents per minute, depending on a whole bunch of factors.
When you aren't in a hotspot, the calls go through local GSM networks, at data rather than voice rates. If you don't want to risk international data-roaming charges, you can combine this approach with a local subscriber identity module (SIM) card.
Of the many available apps, Evcmobi is the simplest and most versatile approach. It is available for iPhone and Android. Purchase a U.S. number so people can reach you at no cost while you're abroad.
So far, of the big U.S. mobile providers, AT&T seems to be the only one to offer a VOIP app for outgoing calls—but you still have to pay the international roaming rates for incoming calls.
Switch your SIM card
What makes your regular GSM or dual-system phone "your" phone is a tiny subscriber identity module (SIM) card that contains your personal subscriber data.
You can buy local or regional SIM cards in any region that uses GSM, including all of Europe. These SIM cards let you keep almost all the same benefits you enjoy at home. But you pay local rates: With the better cards, you can call back to the U.S. for less than 50 cents per minute—much less, in some cases—plus local calls are less than that, and many incoming calls cost nothing. Regional cards for Europe start at around $20, including $10 worth of airtime, which you can replenish with a credit card. Some programs also include a special U.S. number through which people at home can reach you without paying international rates.
Buying a traveling simcard is the best option so far. If you are a leisure or business traveler that's the way to go, because you won't be paying extortionate international roaming costs and the rates are the cheapest. You will talk like you're home, when other people call you you won't be charged a fortune as well. You will be saving arround 80% of the money you would had spent with your regural carrier. We recommend 360travelsim as they have the lowest rates and all the above.
Get a temp
Rent a wireless phone for the duration of your trip or buy a cheap throwaway phone that works in the places you plan to travel. You can do that for less than $50. Lots of online phone dealers can provide one. In fact, your regular carrier may even offer overseas rentals.
As with a new SIM card for your own phone, this system works both ways, 24/7, with a new temporary local phone number. Typically, those low-cost temp phones will not have full smartphone capabilities.
Use a hotspot
If you don't need full 24/7 connectivity, you can spend as much time as you'd like on social media wherever you happen to be—and it doesn't cost anything, as long as you're in a hotspot.
These days, probably the majority of ordinary hotels in Europe and many in other parts of the world offer free Wi-Fi, and booking sites always specify. Oddly, it seems the higher the hotel price, the more likely it is the property charges for Wi-Fi.
Finding Wi-Fi in small inns, B&Bs, vacation rentals, and gites can be more problematic. If you're planning on staying in a place without Wi-Fi, you often have to rely on some other approach to keep in touch.
By using free Wi-Fi, you can still bring along your mobile phone for emergencies (if it is GSM-enabled), and your cost risk is low. Just remember to disable any automatic downloads.