The best way to make calls overseas

The cost of staying connected when you’re travelling overseas can be a bit of a concern for many travellers. I recently put both Facebook Messenger and standard international phone calls to the test to see which worked best and I was pleasantly surprised by the result.

Firstly, there are a number of ways to stay connected when you travel. You can buy a local SIM – a good option for which you’ll generally pay an upfront fee for a SIM, then choose an ‘as you go’ weekly or a monthly plan. This means that you’ll have a new phone number that you’ll need to send to your loved ones, because the added cost of call forwarding you’re your existing number pretty much negates the value of buying the local SIM.

The second way you can stay connected is for you and your loved ones to download apps such as WhatsApp, Facetime and iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Skype or CallApp. All of these use 4G, 3G and wifi to make voice and video calls. This means that, given your access to free wifi, you could be making calls for nothing – or at least for less than international rates.

You can also contact your local provider see if they have an international phone plan. Some are pretty good depending on the length of your stay and how much phone access you actually require.

Or, assuming you’re handy with a map and know the terrain, you can go without a SIM altogether and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Seeing as most of my contact back home was to be via email and social media, I just paid $55 for a 1GB international data roaming pack (which I needed for work) and chose to suck up the 50c per minute for calls I made or texts I sent, and the 10c per minute for any calls or texts that I received.

Anyway, cutting to the chase, I received a couple of international calls via standard phone (4G and 3G) and I made and received many calls via Facebook Messenger and Apple’s Facetime app. Which one came out on top?

For call quality and connectivity, Facebook Messenger won hands down. I was in the desert most of the time, with limited signal and not much wifi. The phone signal was average at best, but somehow, using the Messenger app to make and take calls came up trumps over standard 4G and 3G calls. There was no lag, great clarity of voice and instant connection. I could even switch to video calls during a voice call, which was nice – it meant I could kiss my baby goodnight and I could see the quizzical look on my dog’s face when he was shown the phone.

The connection on Apple’s Facetime lagged a bit and the clarity of voice wasn’t the best. Not bad, just not as good as Messenger.

Standard international phone calls had a bad signal as well as that annoying three to five second lag between sentences that just make international calls so frustrating. And they cost a bloody fortune too.

The best part was that when I had wifi in hotels, which was where I made my Messenger calls, my voice and video calls went for ages and were completely free of charge!

The only catch is, whomever you’re calling must have Messenger too. Anyone with a smartphone, tablet or computer can download Messenger and if you’re looking to save money on international calls, I highly recommend it. The next time I travel overseas, I’ll save a fortune knowing that I can buy a cheaper data pack and use the free wifi in hotels and public areas to make my calls.

Have you got any recommendations for staying in touch while overseas? Have you ever successfully used any of the aforementioned apps when travelling?

Related articles:
Avoid overseas roaming issues
Finding free wifi overseas
Travel SOS: no more bill shock

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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