International Calls

Tips for making free or low cost international calls

In partnership with Ofcom accredited broadband comparison site

Using a mobile phone you brought with you to make and receive calls from abroad can be hugely expensive. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can make low cost or even free international calls to friends and relatives back home.

Here are some of the cheapest ways to keep in touch:

Free face-to-face video calls with VoIP

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services are transforming the way we make international calls. VoIP allows you to make free video calls to people anywhere in the world. There are several providers to choose from but the one you will probably be most familiar with is Skype.

To start making free video calls you (and the person you want to speak to) need a PC, tablet or laptop with broadband internet, a webcam and working microphone – this is usually inbuilt in most laptops and tablets but a desktop PC may need a headset and microphone.

Once you’ve installed the free software from the VoIP provider’s website you can start to make cheap, or even free video calls.

If fixed-line broadband isn’t available where you live, it is easy to have it installed. There are lots of providers offering broadband packages in Bangor. To see what’s available where you live and to compare broadband deals visit an Ofcom approved comparison site.

If you own a smartphone you can also download VoIP apps to your phone so you can make free voice and video calls to anyone with same software downloaded on their device.

However, if you use VoIP on a mobile device, the call will be deducted from your data allowance. As most UK mobile providers charge for going over your download limit, be sure to check your monthly data allowance and extend it if necessary.

Low cost ‘PC to telephone’ calls

Obviously not everyone you want to call will have a computer and broadband connection. In this case you can also use your PC or laptop to make low cost international calls to landlines and mobile phones abroad.

Two providers currently offering favourable international rates are Localphone and Skype.

Skype offer two payment choices. The first is to take out a call subscription, where you buy a bundle of call minutes in advance to your chosen destination each month, the second method is ‘Pay-As-You-Go’ (PAYG), where you buy an amount of credit online or from certain retail outlets and use it as and when you want to make a call.

Purchasing a monthly subscription to a certain country, or countries, is the cheapest option as Skype doesn’t charge a connection fee for these calls. For example, if you want to call friends or family in China, calls with a 60-minute Skype subscription cost 0.8p per minute, whilst PAYG calls cost 1.3p per minute.

Calls to Middle Eastern countries can be considerably more though. For example, Bahrain costs 14.0p per minute on subscription, and 19.5p per minute on PAYG, with Saudi Arabia cheaper at 7.8p and 8.4p respectively.

However, other countries such as the US, India and Nigeria are relatively cheap, costing under 3p per minute irrespective of how you choose to pay.

If you like to speak to people regularly from several countries, you may want to consider one of Skype’s international call plans – just check with them to ensure they’re all included in the plan you’re considering.

Before you settle on one particular VoIP provider be sure to spend some time comparing tariffs to save you money.

(Call charges correct July 2015)

Purchase an International Calling Card

If you are looking for a convenient, low commitment way to make low cost calls abroad, buying an international calling card might suit you. International calling cards are available from a range of local retailers in Bangor, including supermarkets, mobile phone shops and post offices.

International calling cards offer the same low rates as VoIP services, with calls to destinations such as China starting from as low as 1p per minute plus a one off connection fee of a few pence.

To use a calling card you simply dial an access number, enter the PIN number provided and dial your destination number. If you are dialling from a landline try to use the 0800 access number as this usually has a low surcharge of 1p per minute. Try to avoid using your calling card at UK payphones as these can add an extra surcharge of around 20p per-minute which will quickly consume your credit. 

Using your landline

If you have an active landline at your student home, make the most of it by obtaining a cheap international call plan. Landline providers such as BT offer international call add-ons for a set monthly fee of a little over £6 to a variety of popular call destinations, including China and USA. 

Another way to make low cost calls abroad from your landline is to use an ‘override provider’. These are widely advertised online and all you have to do is dial an access number followed by your international destination number.

Usually you don’t have to subscribe or open an account, you can just dial the number, hence they’re also often known as ‘simply dial’ numbers. If you aren’t required to set up an account then the cost of the call is added to your landline bill.

Whilst override providers offer the convenience of allowing you to dial straight away, prices can vary greatly between companies, particularly when it comes to calling mobile phones, so always read the terms and conditions beforehand to avoid any unexpected charges.     

Buy an International SIM card

If you want to continue using a mobile phone you brought with you to the UK you can avoid high roaming charges and get generous call rates by purchasing an international SIM card. These are available from most UK mobile providers.

Depending on which provider you choose, you can obtain a variety of international SIM deals, from a bundle of free international minutes every time you purchase ‘top up’ credit with a PAYG mobile, to SIMs which allow you to call certain destinations for as low as 1p per minute.

Bear in mind that if you want to use an international SIM you may have to pay to have your phone unlocked from your home network. You can check if it is locked by inserting the new SIM and making a call. If the call is allowed it is unlocked.

Call into one of the local mobile phone shops in Bangor’s city centre to discuss your options and to find the best international tariff for the country you want to call.