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How to: Receive and make calls Abroad for FREE

How do you keep in touch with friends and family back home while on the road?

For me, it’s easy.  Anyone back in the US just rings up my phone number.  The call is routed via the internet straight into my foreign cell phone.  My cell phone rings, and I’m chatting away, anywhere in the world!  Sound expensive?  It isn’t.  Here in Vietnam, this setup costs me less than five cents per minute.  That’s cheaper than I was paying for a cell phone back home.  Oh, and I had to buy a local access SIM card for the cell phone.  That was less than $5.  Peanuts!

Keeping in touch with home was an annoying and expensive pain-in-the-ass 10 years ago.  This was before the internet was common. Back then, you would have to send letters and postcards home. Or you could pay dollars a minute for phone calls. If you wanted to hear from anyone, they could mail something “Poste Restante” to any post-office in the world.  Talk about slow communication.  You wonder why globalization has just now taken off.

But seriously, those days are over! The internet has changed communication, starting with email and finally moving into the realm of voice and even video.

This article describes how I use the internet to keep in touch with everyone back home. I’ve been using it now for about a month with various levels of success.

There are two ways we’ll talk about:

– Free Calling:  Using the magic of the internet you can call home for free.  The quality is dependent on your internet connection of course, and the internet abroad is always hit-or-miss.

– Pay Calling:  I’ll describe ways to use a cell phone to receive calls abroad from your home phone number.  This isn’t “free” per-se, but hey, it’s just pennies a minute and you are likely paying less than someone calling from home on their cell phone (of course they can always call using the internet for free, but that’s another story!)

The Easiest Way: Skype

Skype is fantastic. The software is free.

Positives: The sound quality is good. It works. Most internet cafe’s have Skype. Supports really nice live video chat. Skype is professional grade. If you just want something that works, and you don’t care how much it costs, get Skype.

Negatives: Cost. Skype isn’t free.

Summary: If cost is no object, but effort is, just sign up for Skype. Get a “Skype-In” number for $3/month. You can adjust the settings inside Skype to have this number ring you anywhere in the world. Skype then charges you a per-minute fee for these calls, and like I said, this is where Skype breaks down – their per-minute fees are quite expensive. Not crazy expensive, but double or triple the competition.  Vietnam for instance is $.20/min, but only $.05/min using Localphone.com.  But again, it’s easy to setup and use.

My Way: The Newmanity Way

Ok, this way is a bit more complicated. If you’re going on a trip for a week or two, it’s easier to setup Skype and be done with it. You’ll pay a bit extra using Skype, but it is straightforward and you won’t spend time setting it up. I actually use Skype now and again, but only to dial-out using the really nice iPhone app to the US ($.01/min).

ToDo:

  • Google Voice:  Signup for a Google Voice Account.  Currently, there is a waiting list to join, so sign-up now.  In about two weeks you’ll get an invitation to join.
  • Localphone.com:  Signup for an account with Localphone.com.
  • Buy an unlocked quad-band cell phone on E-bay for around $30.
    • An iphone is useful as it can do free wifi calling but is also pretty expensive and may be a target for theft.
  • Signup for an account with Gizmo5.
  • Download Skype onto your laptop and signup for an account.
  • Write down all your accounts and their corresponding passwords and “phone numbers,” for Gizmo, Localphone, and Google Voice.

See the diagram for how all these work together to get you calling.  It will make more sense when you have everything hooked together.

Setup Google Voice:

Setting up GV is easy.  You sign up for the account.  You get to pick a number:  feel free to search for something interesting like your name or your hobbies.  GV will give you a bunch of options.  You can use PhoneSpell.com to see what the other letters spell out for ya – you might find something interesting in the other letters.

You’ll need a US number to confirm a “home” phone number for forwarding.  This is an easy process to step thru.  Once you have a number setup, you have Google Voice!

Google Voice is interesting:  You go to their user interface, and first select the number you wish to receive the call with.  Then you put in the number you want to dial.  So go ahead and try it:  select your “home” number that you validated.  Then put in another number (say your cell phone) and click call.  Your “home” number will ring, and you answer it.  When you answer, GV will begin dialing the number you are calling, and you’ll hear it ring.  Whoever you are ringing will have your Google Voice number as the Caller ID.  This is very important for Localphone.com

Setup Localphone.com:

First, go into Your Account, and add your Google Voice number as one of “Your Numbers.”  You can also add any other accounts you would like to use with Localphone, say your home phone number.

Next, we need to  validate the Localphone number with Google Voice forwarding.  So create a localphone “Contact” in the Direct Dial section of Localphone.com.  Set this to forward to your home phone number for now.  Localphone will give you a “direct dial” number.  Whenever this number is called, with a caller ID listed under “Your Numbers,” it will forward that call to whatever number you have listed!

Write down this direct dial number.

Go back to Google Voice. Go to “Settings->Phones.”  Click on the “add another phone,” button.   Type in your Localphone.com direct dial number.

Google will then ask to validate it.  It will call you just like you did before, ringing first your “home” number, then you’ll hear it dial the Localphone Direct Dial number.  Answer this call and type in the confirmation codes.

You are all set!  Google Voice is now setup to use Localphone.com.


The Tools:

Laptop: Obviously a laptop will let you harness the power of the internet for calling. Even the netbooks can do this. Laptops are a bit much to travel with, but the bonus is you can score free internet via wi-fi. Tons of hotels and restaurants are now sporting wi-fi to get customers. Quality can be so-so but sometimes you’ll score some good wi-fi. And you save the cost and trouble of heading to internet cafes. Traveling around with your nose stuck in a laptop all the time isn’t the best way to see the world, but it’s all up to you. That’s why I thought I’d try….

iPhone: Ah the magical iPhone. The most overrated and over-anticpated device ever? Probably not, actually. That might be the Coleco Adam (anyone remember that, besides my Dad who bought about 4 of them….). Anyway, the iPhone can do amazing things. It runs Skype, it can do GoogleVoice, it can do VOIP. It’s a phone, so as you sit there and gab, you look like you’re on a phone. Want to check email? Done! Surf the web? Done! Play some games? Done! Want to carry around a $700 machine in the palm of your hand that says “Rob Me?” Well that’s another story….and one I’m dealing with right now. But it works and works well. And what else? Well, it’s also your music player/iPod, packs a GPS if you get a 3G, and is also a quad-band internet phone. Wow, it’s perfect, ’till the battery inevitably runs out as mine seems to do incessently. If not for the battery life, I’d be all over it. But then there’s the pickpockets – you sure you want your $700 phone in your pocket at a club? Hm….

GoogleVoice: GoogleVoice, aka GV, is a service from Google. It allows you to choose a US phone number. (See my guide here to GoogleVoice) This number can then be forwarded to multiple phone numbers. Simultaneosly you can have it ring your home landline, your cell phone, and your work number. Additionally, GV can also ring an internet number. This is the flexibiltiy we need – with an internet number you can now use the power of the internet to get completely free phone calls anytime you have an internet connection!

Unlocked Quad-Band Cell Phone. Pick one of these up on Ebay for about $30-40. Just search for “unlocked quad-band cell phone.” Don’t bother with an auction you’ll never win, find a buy-it-now price you like and pick it up. The entire world besides the United States of Awesome relies on this magic cell phone technology called a SIM (Subscriber Identification Module) Card. Looks like a tiny SD card. Here’s how it works: you hop off the plane. Walk up to any cell phone stall at the airport. Tell em you want a SIM card. Here in Vietnam, you pay about $5 you get a card, and the card for some reason comes with almost $20 in credit. Good luck using that! Now you’re ready to rock and roll. As I said before, an iPhone doubles (or triples) as a cell phone, but I’m starting to think it’s just too energy intensive to trust with your communication. I’m getting a Blackberry or something cheap just as a phone.

Stuff To Sign Up For:

Skype. Go there. Get an account. Tell everyone you know at home to get a webcam. The webcam rocks. If you have a laptop, you can give a walking tour of where you are via the magic of the internet and wi-fi. It’s pretty freakin’ cool.

Localphone.com: This site is what makes it all possible. Localphone.com has the most amazing call-rates of anywhere. Check this: Call via Localphone.com to Vietnam: $.049. Call via Skype to Vietnam: $.20. India is less than a cent a minute, Singapore the same. USA is of course almost free as well.

So what is Localphone and how does it work?

At its heart, Localphone.com is a long-distance phone company that provides the cheapest rates I’ve ever seen. But the days of “dial this number, enter the 20-digit pin, then enter the 11-digit number you want to call,” are over.

Here’s how it works.

You sign up for localphone and add some credit to your account. Might as well start with $5 – it’ll last a long time. Sadly at the moment I forgot my paypal password and have no credit….

Localphone gives you phone numbers in whatever area code you like and each number corresponds to a number of one of your contacts. Confusing? Sorry! It’s actually easy. Pretend that there is an area code called 22. And the numbers in 22 area on

 
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3 Comments  comments 

3 Responses

  1. Thanks for writing this guide—it’s very interesting to see how people are using Localphone to keep in touch. We’ll have to see what services we can offer to replace these other companies in your setup ;)

    In addition to our Direct Dial service that you describe here, you may also be interested in Localphone VoIP, Incoming Numbers, and our new International SMS services.

    Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any thoughts on how Localphone can simplify your communications needs while on the road.

  2. Dave,

    Thanks for the feedback! I am really enjoying using Localphone! The one thing I’m having trouble with is dialing with my cell phone to the US. Are you guys working on a call-back service where you call a local number, hang up quickly, and it then calls you back and connects you to the appropriate number? That would be very useful abroad as I would rather put a lot of credit into Localphone than put it into my SIM card that I might never use…

    I found another company that has such a service but it doesn’t work in Vietnam – I may try it when I go to Cambodia.

    Cheers,
    Ryan

  3. […] Receive and make calls Abroad for Free (A How to Guide!) […]

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