By Sharon Senko
After returning home from abroad, the last thing you want to be greeted with is a high cell phone bill. Even if you have an international plan, data roaming charges are EXPENSIVE, potentially adding hundreds to your bill for as little as a 20 minute phone call and a picture message.
For those with smartphones, there are a variety of useful apps that can save you money when traveling abroad. Depending on how accessible you need to be while traveling, you can choose one of the following applications or use a combination to suit your needs:
Skype (Blackberry, Droid, iPhone, iPad) –
Just like on a computer, Skype allows you to make free Skype to Skype phone calls and instant message with other Skype users for free via wi-fi or 3G. You can also call other mobile phones or landlines anywhere in the world for a small fee, which can be paid by purchasing Skype credits or a monthly plan.
Viber (Droid, iPhone, iPad, soon to be available for Blackberry) – http://www.viber.com/
Viber allows you to make free phone calls and send free text messages to whoever also has the Viber application. Unfortunately you cannot make calls to other mobile phones or land lines.
Google Voice (Droid, iPhone, Blackberry, Nokia, Windows)
Google voice assigns you a new phone number, to which you can forward all calls being made to your usual mobile phone, work phone, home phone, etc (make sure to set this up while you are still stateside). A handy feature of Google voice is voicemail transcription, which automatically transcribes any voicemail you receive and sends it to you in a text format. Text messages are free, and calls to other phones can be made at low rates, via wi-fi or 3G.
Face Time (iPhone, iPad) –
If you have an iPhone or iPad, you can utilize facetime to contact anyone in the world who also has the facetime app using wi-fi or 3G.
Line 2 (iPhone, iPad, Droid) –
Line 2 works by assigning you another phone line, to which you can forward all calls (make sure to set this up while you are still stateside). Line 2 offers free unlimited texting, and low international calling rates via wi-fi. It has drawn rave reviews from a variety of publications (http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/30/turn-an-ipod-into-an-iphone/). Available for $10 a month.
It’s important to note that if you use any of these apps through your 3G network, you will incur international fees from your service provider (which may be more or less than the cost of directly placing the call via roaming, depending on location). To save the most money, turn off roaming, automatic data downloading and 3G (for example, put your iPhone in airplane mode) and locate wi-fi hotspots in the areas you are traveling. Hotels and cafés often offer free wi-fi.
Treat yourself to something nice with all the money you’ll save!