How Do I Avoid A Large Phone Bill When Travelling?

Mobile Phone

Dear EssentialTravel.co.uk
Hi, my daughter is going on a month-long trip to New Zealand and I would like to keep in contact with her. I know that if phone charges are expensive, she will neglect to call home and I don't want to spend a fortune calling her. What is the cheapest way to keep in contact with her? Sally Cavill, by email

Our Answer

Dear Sally,
We completely sympathise with your situation. There is nothing quite as scary as letting your child travel and constantly having to worry about what may happen. Coupled with the fact that children rarely ever call home, you have a recipe for sleepless nights. Here are some of the cheapest ways to stay in contact whilst abroad. With money-saving travel plans from the big five mobile service providers, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol - calls made over the internet) and call cards there are plenty of options.

Pre-Departure Checklist

Before your daughter leaves, she should do the following:

  • Enable international roaming and voicemail by contacting her service provider
  • Check that her phone is compatible with foreign networks. If your phone is quad-band it will work everywhere. Dual and tri-band phones may not work on some networks. To find her phone's band type go to the manufacturer's website
  • Visit her service provider's website and get familiar with call and text charges for her destination.
  • Avoid making calls from New Zealand to other foreign countries. She may end up paying international charges twice over.

Mobile Operators

O2 Logo

O2 has an International Favourites programme for travelling abroad. The programme offers 3000 minutes of call time to three predefined international numbers. It comes with a foreign number that people may call you at and only pay their local rates. If your daughter buys a local SIM card, this is a great way to sidestep international call charges.

For more information on this offer, see O2.co.uk

Vodafone Logo

Vodafone Passport charges a 75p connection charge and then normal rates apply on calls to the UK.

For more information on this offer, see vodafone.co.uk

Orange Logo

Orange's World Traveller programme charges a small monthly fee for discounts on international calls. Calls are discounted by up to 30% depending on where you call from.

For more information on using your phone abroad, see orange.co.uk

T-Mobile

T-mobile has a detailed breakdown of costs from over 180 destinations. Their WorldClass tariff is a free add-on that offers low international call rates across the board.

For more information, see t-mobile.co.uk

3 Logo

3 offers Skype-enabled mobiles that provide all the benefits listed below. For normal calls, International Saver has the best rates. Rates vary depending on which band your destination fits into. Band 0 countries (EU contries) pay a third of the rate of Band 3 countries (like Morocco).

For more information, see three.co.uk

VoIP Service Providers

Skype Logo

The largest international long-distance provider offers an unbeatable price. Skype-to-Skype calls are free excluding data fees. If you can find yourself a free wi-fi hotspot then your calls are entirely free. Otherwise most cafes and eateries offer wi-fi for the price of a cup of coffee. What's more, video calls between Skype contacts are also free (this requires that you both have a webcam and uses more data than voice calls).

Skype's best feature is the range of platforms it is available on. You can Skype from your PC, your Mac, your iPhone, your Android smartphone and your Nokia. Unlike other VoIP Service providers, Skype can also make calls to landlines and mobiles. This feature is not free and requires Skype Credits. Download the appropriate application and preferably get your daughter at least £20 of Skype credits for emergency calls.

To sign up for a free Skype account and buy Skype credits go to skype.com

Yahoo

The Yahoo Messenger service offers similar functionality to Skype. PC-to-PC calls are free, but there is no way to make calls to mobiles or landlines. If you already have a Yahoo, Facebook or Google account this service is a login away.

To sign up for a free Yahoo Messenger account and download a Yahoo Messenger client go to uk.messenger.yahoo.com

Jah Jah

Unlike the above, Jajah requires no software download. You can make calls directly from your web browser using your current phone. Jajah also allows you to tweet and Facebook call another Jajah member. This may embarrass your daughter, but that's what parents are for.

To sign up for a free Jajah account go to jajah.com

Fring

Fring is an exclusively mobile VoIP (or a MVoIP) offering the same feature set as Skype. Video and voice calls are free, but your phone needs to have the bells and whistles for the more advanced features. The app's killer feature is four-way video chat. Now the whole family can join in.

To download Fring go to m.fring.com on your phone's browser.

Call and SIM Cards

Story Telekom

Story offers two convenient services - international calling cards and travel SIM cards. The international calling cards allow you to make cheap calls from the UK. The calling cards work with landlines and mobiles. The TravelTalk roaming SIM card gives great discounts without the hassle of changing phone settings. The pay-as-you-go feature makes sure that you're always in control of your spending.

For more information, see storytelecom.com

IDT

The GlobalCall pre-paid calling card allows you to call international numbers from your UK mobile phone at discounted prices. This service's special feature is the ability to use the card from five different phone numbers.

For more information, see idt.net

Last Updated: June 2011

Gugulethu Hlekwayo

Gugulethu Hlekwayo

A timid traveller, but a traveller none the less; Gugulethu is in his element lost and without a map - preferably with a companion willing to listen to his tall tales. He's our resident expert on the best muffins in town.