Calling Home – The best and cheapest ways.
One of the main concerns whenever travelling is keeping your “lifeline” open with friends and family back home. Many of us are too young to have been through the days of queueing for hours at the one international phone in the country. Trust me, there is always someone you’ll meet while travelling that will tell you the story of paying ~$25 for a 2 minute call home back in the 1980’s… Either way, that doesn’t change the fact that we all need to check-in with the family, make an emergency to call to the bank/credit card company, or just want to say hi to our friends back home. The proliferation of the internet to all the far flung countries, islands, beaches, mountain temples, etc have made it so much easier today.
With a little planning, calling home has never been so easy!
The “granddaddy” of all the internet based messaging and calling programs, Skype is well tried and tested. Overall its a great system with good calling quality on most internet systems. Skype offers an app to be used on your smartphone, is free if your making skype to skype calls, and has reasonable rates for international calling as well. Just keep in mind that those rates are based on your current IP location.
Example: If you are living in Singapore, the Skype rate to call Thailand may be ~$0.03/min. If you are travelling in Canada and want to make a call to Thailand with the same Skype user name/set up, it may cost ~$0.25/min. The prices are made up for this example to point out the prices change depending on where you are located when making a call.
Note: there are internet cafes and computer game shops all over the country. Avg price is 15B/Hour to use a computer.
iMessage/facetime, Viber, Line, WhatsApp, etc
Personal preference is Viber. Its fully featured, meaning you can send txt based messages, make voice and video calls to other Viber users and make calls with phone numbers for a low fee. Line has a Premium calling ability, but I have not tried it out yet. If anyone has tried Line and Viber, please give us your comparison below. WhatsApp seem to be working on getting phone number calling, but I haven’t seen it yet. iMessage and Facetime are apple specific so its limits the people you can contact. Plus there is the lag in iMessage that you don’t get when messaging through Viber/Line or WhatsApp.
ATTENTION ALL AMERICANS AND CANADIANS!!! – This is THE BEST way to stay in touch with the family for long term travlling! For ~$60 you can buy magicJack dongle and first year of service. $35 for each additional year! That includes unlimited calls to the USA and Canada, and a US or Canadian phone number for you. You can take and receive calls from anywhere in the world where you have internet. The dongle can be used with your computer or on its own. Just connect to the internet (there is a LAN and WIFI version) and plug in any phone to the dongle. THATS IT!. If someone calls your US/Canada phone number, its will ring right there into the phone you’ve just plugged in. Even better they have an Apple and Android app(magicApp). You can have the calls come directly into you cell phone (Its works on WIFI, 3G, even better on 4G!)
We personally use the Magicjack dongle for a desk phone at home and use the app on the cellphone. Our family/friends can make a local call to us wherever we are in the world, and we can make free calls to them as well.
Computers for 10 – 15hr where you can log into Skype and use their headset/microphone set up. Some cafes have calling features for ~10b/min. Usually a VOIP of some type for an extortionary price.
Calling cards are still being sold at 7-11, the post office and some smaller “mom & pop” convenience stores and there are still many payphones spattered throughout Chiang Mai. They are good in a pinch, but in today’s world of the internet of things, the options above are much easier. Note: make sure to tell them where you are calling as some cards offer better rates to specific countries.
Use a local simcard/cellphone
Recommendation – get/bring a GSM phone with you and get a local SIM card, it will make life much easier!
To dial a phone number outside of Thailand, you can get cheaper rates by using one of the prefix numbers before you dial the country code. The prefix numbers are 001, 003, 004, 005, 006, 007, 008 or 009. They charge anywhere between 1B and 10B per minute depending on where you are calling, prefix used, and time of day.