Call abroad for less: the cheapest international plans
Making international phone calls is no longer a case of dialling the operator, asking for a line to New York and re-mortgaging the house to pay for it.
No sir, today it's a cutthroat business with competitors slashing the cost of calls right down to our favourite price: free.
Whether you want to get in touch with Costa Del Grandma, or the kids on a gap year, you can take full advantage.
Read on, or skip ahead to:
- Find out more about VoIP
- Get the cheapest rates from landlines for occasional calls
- ... or for frequent calls
Call online for free
One of the greatest developments to spring from the internet has been the ability to communicate instantly and for free with anyone, anywhere in the world.
We're talking about Voice Over IP services (VoIP).
There are an enormous number of different online call providers all offering free international calls.
Here are a few of our favourites:
- Skype: the classic. Use the service from any device whether PC, smartphone, tablet or even a normal mobile or landline.
- Rebtel: Free calls between users and very cheap international rates to landlines and SMS worldwide (more on that below). Apps available for iOS, Android and Windows phones.
- Viber: a popular mobile-based service compatible with iOS, Android, Blackberry, Nokia, Windows phones and now Windows 8 computers too.
- Fring: Another similar service, and one of the few, like Viber, that offers an app for Nokia phones.
How it works
VoIP services let you make free phone calls in two ways: by installing an application onto your PC or laptop and using the microphone (built in, normal, or Britney style, it's up to you) or via an app on your smartphone.
Either way they take the analogue call data - your voice - and convert it, often along with video, into a digital stream which is much cheaper to whizz around the world via internet traffic than traditional telephony networks.
The big advantage of this is that all VoIP providers allow their users to make free voice and video calls to people using the same service.
If both you and Auntie Sheila in Oz are using Skype, you can chat away without the call costing either of you a single penny.
The data warning
Remember, however, that while the call may be free, these services use data - and that can be costly.
Be careful if you're connecting using a home broadband connection with a monthly download allowance, and extremely cautious when calling using your mobile's data plan.
We've got more detail on how quickly VoIP services munch through data in our usage guide here.
International calls from landlines:
Skype and the like are great, but aren't much use if the person you're calling doesn't have them for some reason, or can't get a decent internet connection.
Don't despair: there are still many ways to cut the cost of calling international numbers from your landline telephone.
One of the best options is using an override provider.
The best thing about override providers is they don't care which telephone service you use.
No matter your landline company, you're just a few quick steps away from cheap international calls - and you can choose whether to pay for those calls separately, or bundle them in with your standard bill.
The best override providers (18185, for example) will ask you to sign up online - and that's it, away you go.
The access number you're given is essentially a login to the override service. Dial that, and then the number you wish to call.
You're then charged for any calls made through the override number, usually once a month.
Pay with your bill
If you don't fancy having another bill to keep track of, or signing up for a separately charged override service, some will charge the cheap call cost to your home phone provider.
That means it'll be added to your normal bill, but you still benefit from the reduced price.
Again, you dial the access number provided, then the number you want to call.
How to find override services
This site is a great place to compare the cost of the various override providers.
International calls from landlines:
Overriding services are great because calls abroad using standard rates are usually monstrously expensive.
They needn't be, however. Well priced inclusive international call plans are available, which may be the best bet for those making frequent calls overseas.
They're a lot less hassle, and they have the best and most consistent call quality - and when we say they beat standard rates, we're not kidding. Have a look further down for examples.
Bundles and bolt-on deals charge a flat monthly fee for the most popular international destinations. These tend to include:
Increasingly providers also include calls to American and Canadian mobiles.
If you decide to go for a bolt-on deal make sure to check which countries are included, sometimes a few popular choices are conspicuous by their absence.
TalkTalk customers, for example, can get unlimited calls to 58 destinations for £5 a month - but that doesn't include China.
BT's International Freedom package offers free calls to 36 countries - but not India - and discounted rates for the rest for an extra £6.20 a month.
Sky Talk offers inclusive calls of up to 50 minutes at a time to 50 countries for £10 a month.
Meanwhile the Post Office offers unlimited calls to its top 40 international destinations, and the somewhat vague promise of 50% off calls to all other countries, for £4 a month on top of its Home Phone package.
Virgin Media offers the poorest deal: £2 a month deal gives cheaper call rates, but no free call time at all.
VoIP to VoIP calls are always going to be the cheapest options but who offers the cheapest calls to and from landlines and mobiles?
Let's take a quick look at how much it would cost to call an Indian landline using the different options discussed above.
|pence per min||so for 1 hour...|
|BT standard rate||35.7p||£21.42|
|BT International Freedom bolt-on||6.1p||£3.66|
|Cheapest override on 07/01/15||0.5p||30p|