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International Students

How to make cheap international phone calls

Got family and friends abroad to keep in touch with, or going abroad and looking for ways to call home on the cheap? We've got you covered!

cheap international calls

Credit: oneinchpunch (left), ProStockStudio (right) - Shutterstock

Having loved ones abroad doesn't mean you're doomed to a life of expensive calls and scary phone bills.

To prove just how easy it is to stay in touch without making a serious dent in your student budget, we've compiled our top tips on making cheap international phone calls.

No more excuses not to call mum and dad, then!

Make free online calls

make free online calls

Source: Deviant Art

As long as you and whoever you're calling have got access to the internet, you can chinwag to your heart's content at no extra cost. It doesn't matter whether you're both in the UK, one's abroad or you're both in a far-flung corner of the globe – you can call for free online.

Note that both you and the person you're calling need to be signed up to each app to contact each other through it. Some of them offer "real world calls" to landlines and mobile phones if you buy credit, but this isn't cost effective. If you want to call someone on their phone number from an online service, skip to the next section.

Otherwise, here are our top picks for making online calls.

Best free online calling apps

  1. Skype

    skype calls onlinePerhaps the most well known video calling platform of them all, Skype is free to download on any computer and phone.

    Skype is so popular that it's used for job interviews, so it's definitely worth signing up for an account if you haven't already.

    It's also worth noting you don't have to video call all the time (audio calls are acceptable too), and you can hold conference calls (either video or audio) with up to 25 participants!

    Check out Skype »

  2. FaceTime

    facetime callsAny Apple device – whether it be an iPhone, iPad, iPod or iMac – has Facetime built in, allowing you to call any other FaceTime user.

    Of course this relies on both parties being Apple-ed up to to the eyeballs, but if you are, it's a really good shout as it comes pre-installed and the line is generally pretty decent.

    Check out Facetime »

  3. WhatsApp

    whatsapp callPretty much everyone is on WhatsApp nowadays, and unlike FaceTime, it's available to Apple and Android users alike.

    You can do video and voice calling (including conference calls) through WhatsApp, and we're sure you don't need us to tell you that you can use it for day-to-day messages too (including roasting your mates in the group chat).

    Check out WhatsApp »

  4. Viber

    viberIf we haven't exhausted you enough already with options, it's well worth checking out Viber for your calling abroad options.

    A nifty little purple app that works on pretty much all the platforms you could ever think of, Viber lets you call or text on WiFi for free.

    Check out Viber »

  5. Google Duo

    google duo free callsIf you and the person you're calling both have Gmail accounts, Google Duo is an excellent (and, frankly, underrated) options.

    Whereas the likes of Viber and Skype have their occasional glitchy lines, Google Duo is practically flawless.

    The app is available on all mobile devices (Apple and Android) and has its fair share of cool features, like the option to leave a video message if your friend doesn't pick up, and the ability to see a video preview of your caller before you pick up.

    Check out Google Duo »

  6. Facebook Messenger

    facebook messenger free callsYou'd be forgiven for forgetting that calls and video calls are also available via Facebook Messenger. Just have a look out for the phone or camera symbol next to their name in your chat box, and click to call.

    Facebook Messenger calling is available on the desktop website as well as the mobile apps, and there are a couple of little fun touches, like ridiculous filters where you wear a cat on your head. Cool.

    Check out Facebook Messenger »

  7. Line

    LINE logoLine is one of the lesser-known online calling apps in the UK, but it's massive in Asia. This is a fun one to use to, as the app has the most ridiculously massive catalogue of stickers to add into your chats.

    One issue is that you can't be logged in multiple devices, as (like WhatsApp) you can only assign one device to a phone number.

    Check out Line »

Paid online calling providers

paid internet phone call service

Credit: Aaron Yoo - Flickr

As we touched on earlier, a few of the free online call services (like Skype) let you call real-world phone numbers at a cost. In other words, you could use your Skype account to call your mate's actual phone number, and it'd be just like a normal phone call – perfect if they're not signed up to any calling services!

However, while some of the big-name brands have this functionality, there are plenty of lesser-known outfits who will let you do this for much, much less.

Companies like Localphone, Rebtel, KeepCalling and Vyke allow you to call phone numbers in exactly the same way that Skype does, just at a fraction of the cost.

Different companies will be cheaper depending on where you're calling from and to, so it's worth comparing the costs from a few providers before signing up. Fortunately, most of them list their prices and make them pretty easy to find!

If your access to WiFi is patchy, make sure you keep an eye on your data usage! These services use the internet to make calls, and if you're not careful, you may end up paying an arm and a leg in excess 4G charges.

These providers all have mobile apps, too – many of which can access your contact list, meaning the process of actually making the call is about as seamless as it gets.

Regardless of who you go with, you'll be paying in broadly the same way. You can either top up your account with credit or, if you reckon you'll be making regular calls to a specific country, go for a monthly plan (this may work out cheaper).

Once you're on a call you'll pay a certain amount per minute (often as little as 1p), while some services will also charge a connection fee too.

Override providers

override provider call abroad

Credit: Universal Pictures

Override providers allow you to call abroad from any phone by dialling what's called an 'access number', followed by the actual phone number you'd like to call. Since an Ofcom ruling back in 2015, most override providers are now pretty pricey – except for one.

18185 is still more expensive than paid online calls and free online calls (duh), but it's still cheaper than calling an international number straight from your phone.

Rather than having to add credit to your account (which can be annoying, as sometimes you'll add too much and never use it), with 18185 you simply set up a direct debit and get charged at the end of each month based on your usage.

To get started, you just need to create an account with 18185, register your number and set up a direct debit. To make a call from a mobile, you'll need to dial the access number (0808 1 703 703) for free, and then enter the actual phone number you'd like to call.

You’ll only be charged the cost of a normal phone call in the region you're making the call to (the full list of rates is here), plus a 4p connection charge (5p for UK calls). So while these calls aren't free, the savings are huge. You're talking about knocking an expensive call down to as little as 1p/min!

Note that you can still use 18185 if you're calling from a landline – it's just that the process is a little different. You'll need to set up an account and direct debit, but to make a call you'll have to dial 18185 and then the number you want to call.

International calling cards

cheap international calling cards

Credit: 20th Century Fox

If you're the kind of person who prefers to play it simple, and don't want to spend money you don't have, an international calling card is definitely a goer.

You can buy an international calling card online or in some shops, like the Post Office. You'll usually have the option to buy one with a preset value (like £5, £10, £20, etc.), and depending on where you buy your card, you'll either have to scratch back of the card to reveal a unique access number to call or have it emailed to you instead.

Again, once you've dialled the access number you'll then need to enter the actual number you'd like to call. Rates will differ depending on where you're calling to/from, but typically you'll only pay a rate per minute with no access charges.

One of the most popular international calling cards comes from your friend and mine, Tesco. You can either buy a Tesco International Calling Card in-store or over the phone (call 0330 0010 252 and follow the prompts) and you can top it up in the same places.

International SIMs and tariffs

cheap international sim card

If you're going to be making a lot of calls on a regular basis, it might be worth getting yourself a special mobile bundle to accommodate this.

You can pick up international SIM cards cheaply (often for free) and you just top up as you go. Alternatively, you can speak to your mobile contract provider for the cost of a bundle to call home.

  1. Lycamobile

    lycamobile cheap international callsThe biggest name in international SIMs, Lycamobile will dish you out a SIM free of charge. You can then choose to go PAYG, topping up credit when necessary, or go for one of their international bundles.

    Conveniently they even have a student plan, which includes 2GB of data, EU roaming and 100 international minutes, at a cost of £10 for 30 days.

    There are plenty of other plans, too – just make sure the region you're calling is on their list, otherwise this will be a waste of your cash!

    Check out Lycamobile »

  2. O2

    o2 cheap international simO2's international SIM offers the cheapest rate of all the major mobile providers, with rates from 1p/min.

    Again, you'll be able to get your hands on a free SIM – and as contract lengths are only 30 days long, you're able to renew or cancel whenever is suitable.

    When you top up you'll also get an allowance for O2 usage in the UK. A £10 top up will get you 3,000 texts and 100MB of data, while a top up of £15 or more will get you 3,000 texts, 3,000 minutes and 200MB data.

    Check out O2 »

Check out our guide to the best bank accounts for international students and get the most from your money.

Fancy a trip to visit the family? These are our top tips for getting cheap flights.

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