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How to Call the USA from Overseas | Cheap International Calls

Updated on April 23, 2015
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy loves to share her wandering adventures, including her home state of Texas, and the many places she's traveled.

You can make international calls from many smartphones

Many apps allow you to make Internet-based voiceover calls on your cell phone.
Many apps allow you to make Internet-based voiceover calls on your cell phone. | Source

How to Text and Call from Overseas

Are you headed out of the country for a vacation or work? Do you have friends or family living overseas? Don’t pay huge fees to call home or text your friends and family. If you have an iPhone, another type of smartphone, or even an iPod, chances are you can find an app that will let you make international calls for pennies. And if you're traveling, these apps can serve your needs for the entire time you’re gone (or even longer, in some cases).

As an example, last year, I spent seven weeks in Mexico on business, but I had no budget for long-distance fees and I didn’t want to spend hours looking for prepaid calling cards and pay phones.

The solution? I downloaded a free app (more details on that in a minute) that provides free texting and offers Internet-based phone service for about 2-cents a minute. The city I was in (Merida) had ample free Wi-Fi service, as did the place where I stayed, and I felt fully connected the entire time I was gone.

Search App Stores | Make Cheap Overseas Calls with Smartphone Apps

Cell phone apps will let you make overseas or USA calls for pennies.
Cell phone apps will let you make overseas or USA calls for pennies. | Source

Cellphone Apps that Offer Free Calls and Texts

There are several apps that might suit your needs. Here are a few to get you started in your search:

  • Free Calls and Texts by Mo+ (not many ratings, but averaging 4-1/2 stars for the iPhone version).
  • Pinger (formerly Text Free with Voice) - This app has a few kinks but performed well before a few updates. It's still on the playing field.
  • TextNow + Voice (nearly four stars, with more ratings than the above app).
  • Vtok – Google Talk (tons of downloaded users, and a four-star rating).
  • Vonage Mobile – Free (good ratings but appears to be new on the scene; 4-1/2 stars).

These are just a few apps on the market. Check with your friends to see if anyone has used these or other apps. Some apps even work with iPods and allow you to use that device like a phone.

How to Find Apps for Free International Calls

First, search for phrases like ‘free texting plus’ or ‘free calls.’ Some apps offer only free texting (and this is great – if you don’t have one, get one), and some offer texting plus calls. A few might offer inexpensive calls but not texting, so decide what meets your needs and search for the best option. Since hundreds of new apps are released every week, research your needs and compare the ones currently offered.

Read the reviews! Many apps are changed and updated constantly, and at times the new version may not work as well as the original version (at least not until they iron out the bugs). Watch for comments about slow-loading, crashing or other issues that will affect performance or put you at risk of a failure during an important call.

If you’re just looking for a quick fix during a trip, don’t worry about things like customized rings or the color of the background. You can deal with that later; for now, you want good performance and a reliable platform for your calls and texts.

I used Text Free With Voice, and it was great last year. This year, it has been taken over by Pinger and there are problems with crashing, slow loading and other issues that would have greatly annoyed me a year ago. But, in fairness, the app gave me great service during my trip and I continue to use it for texting. It's also clear that Pinger is working hard to fix any bugs in the current version.

The good news is that if you can find Wi-Fi in a foreign country, you can also search for and download new apps. So even if you arrive at your destination and find the app you selected isn't the best one for your location, if you find a hot spot, you can try other apps. Most of these apps are free, because they make money on ads and on the small per-minute fee for calls. Accessing the Internet on your phone only while in a wi-fi spot, even in the USA, will save money on your cell data plan.

How to Make Overseas Calls on a Cell Phone

If you don't yet have a smartphone, consider getting one; access to the Internet is an important element of staying connected while out of the country.

Once you have the right phone, be sure to research and download the best app for your purposes as soon as you know you’re going out of the country, even if your trip is weeks away. This will help familiarize you with how it works, whether the sound quality is suitable and whether you spot any bugs.

Check to make certain it works where you’ll be traveling (some will not work in all countries; others work pretty much anywhere). If possible, try calling the country where you'll be traveling to see if there are issues with static, dropped calls or other transmission problems.

Then, start immediately to temporarily wean your friends and family away from calling and texting you on your other (original) number. The app will probably give you a unique phone number used exclusively for that app. This is okay – people are used to getting secondary numbers for texting now, and your friends will store the new number in their phones and use it while you’re gone.

Hint – you can even switch to the new number permanently for texts and save a few hundred dollars a year on your phone usage. I trained everyone to use only my new text number, and within months I was able to turn off that service on my cell phone.

Use the new service as often as you can before you leave town, so you can learn how it works and get the number into everyone’s hands. At $10 for about 1,000 minutes (plus you can get free minutes by viewing ads and downloading new apps) it was a cheap move for me to contact people and give them the new number.

What about you?

How often do you make International calls?

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How to Avoid Charges for International Calls and Data Roaming

The minute you’re out of the range of your service area (like, as the plane is taxiing for take-off), turn off all the data features on your phone. Put it on Airplane Mode, and also turn off the data plan, roaming and any other feature that grabs for a signal and charges it to your phone bill.

While you’re on your trip, you will connect to everyone through Wi-Fi. Have no fear; you’ll be surprised to find that as long as you’re within range of Wi-Fi (which is amazingly available in many countries now, for free), you can connect to the Internet and your new app will let you call and text. For only pennies.

The standard fees for making international calls the ‘usual’ way on a cell phone can run 59 cents a minute or even higher in some cases. Ouch! Instead, for about $10 (with plans charging 2-cents a minute) you can make and receive calls to other countries almost as easily as when you're at home.

Many apps will work for phone numbers in a variety of countries, so if you live outside of the United States, check for apps that work for your country (or for where you normally call) and the apps should work the same.

After using this app for a lengthy out-of-the-country trip, I would never consider paying huge fees for standard cell phone service on a trip. I also refuse to pay for a text plan, now that I know I can text for free.

These tips may or may not work for your personal situation, but if you only need international calling for a short trip, this may well serve your needs!

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  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Nare - thanks for reading and commenting! That service was a life-saver to me while I was out of the country. It was easy to get Wi-Fi where I was, so that helped quite a bit!

  • Nare Anthony profile image

    Nare Gevorgyan 4 years ago

    Extra useful hub. I have also been using Text Free by Pinger on iPhone when my bf was in US and me in Armenia. However it needed a WiFi so i couldn't really text him, but he could text me, and it was just fine. There was someone even to text me by mistake. He was looking for his gf, lol :D You can also go to their website and have a chat there as if texting :)

    Great info Marcy. Voting up and sharing!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Austinstar - I am on an iPhone (AT&T) and there were no cheap ways to call home from Mexico when I went. There have been a ton of new apps as well as the "to go" phone services since then that have added features for other countries. I'm not sure how texting works on those (the apps I mentioned will also let you text), but it's great that we no longer have quite the boundary issues in getting global phone service!

  • Austinstar profile image

    Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

    I'm with alocsin - my T-Mobile To Go phone says I have the same coverage in Cancun as I do here. I also pay-as-I-go.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Holle! I was in the same boat last year; I'd called various place overseas or across the borders and could almost have flown round trip for what it cost (well - maybe not - but you get the idea). Apparently, you can almost turn an iPod into a phone with these apps. Many thanks for reading and commenting!

  • habee profile image

    Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

    Wish I'd had this info a few months ago, when I was trying to call a textbook company in China! lol. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Alocsin - that's a very interesting piece of information! Every little tip helps with this sort of challenge in our very mobile society! Thanks for reading and sharing!

  • alocsin profile image

    alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

    Interestingly enough, my Tracfone pay-as-you-go phone charges the same amount of international calls as they do for domestic calls. So I can call their listed countries for the same price as calling the corner store. Voting this Up and Useful.

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