Traveling abroad can be stressful for everyone at home that would like to stay in touch with you. Depending on where you are headed, it can be difficult for your friends to get in touch, time consuming to enter all of those unfamiliar phone codes (don’t miss any numbers!), and more than anything, it has the potential to be shockingly expensive. In the past, I mentioned that using an American cell phone abroad can cost upwards of three dollars a minute. Before you max out your credit card, however, there are some tricks that can save you a small fortune. The most common of these is to purchase a cell phone within the region that you will be staying. In China, an international call from a cell phone can cost between 50 cents and a dollar for every minute of talk time. Not great. Another common option is to purchase an international calling card. A good solution when in a pinch, but still not that cheap and incredibly irritating to dial such a long string of numbers every time you call home.
The method I will discuss in this post involves using Skype as a third-party service to connect a local number in one country (in this case, the United States) to any number in a large selection of other countries. In the case of China, this method is incredibly cheap, relatively easy once it is set up, and allows you to call both land-lines and cell phones within the P.R.C. Pretty cool.
Step 1. Create Skype profile and account if you don’t already have one- It’s easy to do and completely free.
Step 2. Purchase a ‘Skype to Go’ Number – This is a local number that allows anyone to call you on Skype using a land-line or cell phone. For example, if you were to purchase such a number, I could use my home phone to call you on your computer. Better yet, I could call you on your cell phone if you have a smartphone that is Skype compatible. I would suggest purchasing a number that is local to the area from which most people will be calling you, thus allowing your friends at home to pay the lowest amount. You can buy a number in Three and Twelve month increments, though the twelve month is quite a bit cheaper.
Step 3. Purchase Skype Credit/Subscribe to a calling plan – Although your friends at home will be the ones calling you, you will still be responsible for some of the charges associated with forwarding a call to your international phone number. If you decide that you would like to pay as you go, it will cost you about two cents for every minute of call time. If you decide that you would like to go with a monthly plan, you can get the cost as low as a penny a minute. Not too bad.
Step 4- Enter the number that you would like to have your calls forwarded to– Here it is! The final step in our quest for international calling victory! Once logged in to your account page, you can see an option on the far right that says ‘Call Forwarding’ Simply select the country that you would like to call (China, of course), and enter the number that your calls will be forwarded to. As an example, I have entered the number to the American Embassy in Beijing. Once you hit save, everything is in place. If I were now to dial my Skype-To-Go number (845-688-XXXX), it will forward my phone call to the American embassy in Beijing. When I purchase a local cell phone number in China, all I will need to do is enter my China number as the call forwarding number, and voila! Friends and family are now easily connected, no crazy country codes and phone bills required. Just remember that by selecting the country that you want, Skype automatically adds a regional code (in this case, 86 for China). Be not to add redundant numbers, or the call won’t go through!
Are there any disadvantages to this method? It depends on how you look at it. You will have to find yourself a phone no matter how you work it out. Whether it is cell phone of land-line doesn’t make a difference, but you must have one. In addition, you are still required to pay for the cost of local conversation on whatever phone you use, and in the case of cell phones this can be quite expensive in some regions. China is not one of them. You are also limited to receiving phone calls using this method. Should you dial out on you phone, you will still end up paying international charges. If your friends and family are willing to do the dialing, this could be a great way to save money. A year of unlimited call connection service through Skype will cost just over $200. In other words, two months of your standard cell phone contract.