Temporary International Calling -- Options?

My wife is taking an unexpected short (5 days) trip to Scotland this weekend. It will be the first time she’s been away from our kids for more than a day, and she’s kind of freaking out and I told her that she should call often. After saying that, I realized I didn’t know the best (most cost-effective) way for her to do that.

I imagine her current cell phone won’t work overseas.

I imagine some options are calling collect from payphones, purchasing a prepaid calling card with international minutes (are these available?) and calling from payphones, purchasing some sort of disposable cell phone with international minutes, etc?

Any recommendations? Ideally I’d like to give her the option to call as much as she wants during that 5 day period.


Will she be staying in a hotel? Calling collect from a hotel, or calling collect from a payphone even seems the most cost-effective method to me.

Many North American cellphones will work in the UK, but this is extremely model- and carrier-dependent.

99.9 percent of these phones are GSM phones from one of the GSM carriers, like Rogers and AT&T, but there are a very few multi-mode phones offered by the CDMA and iDen carriers that will work on GSM.

Second hurdle: even if you have a North American GSM-capable phone, it must be capable of operating on the frequencies that UK GSM phones use: the “900 MHz” and “1800 MHz” bands.

Third hurdle: even if your North American GSM phone will operate on the UK frequencies, either:[ul][]Your carrier must have a “roaming agreement” with a UK carrier that will permit its use in the UK, for which you will pay expensive per-minute rates, or[]Your phone must be “unlocked”, so you can put in an inexpensive UK “SIM card” and use that to make (usually prepaid) calls from a UK number.[/ul].

Has she got a laptop? If so, then Skype, which even has video capabilities (if your computers do), and best of all - FREE!

Except for the internet charges. I paid L6 per half hour (I think) to surf the web in London in 2000, but it might be more expensive to connect your own computer. Check around. There may be a per-hour fee, a per-megabyte fee, or both. OTOH, some places genuinely are free; the internet cost is bundled as overhead into the cost of something else, like food in a restaurant.

Before we got Vonage, my company got a pre-paid calling card from Sprint that allowed international calls. I forget why we went with Sprint - maybe because our company cell phones were through them?

My wife bought a calling card in London that she’s been using for the duration of her month-long trip. It’s relatively cheap per minute, and there’s some special deal where she pays a flat-rate to talk on Sundays no matter how long the call is.

My understanding is that your wife would be far better off buying a calling card once she’s over there.

Where is she going in Scotland?

Most internet cafes will sort her out with a good international phone card for pennies.

I had the same question when I went to London a month ago. Here’s what I found:

  1. International calling cards are available everywhere & very inexpensive. The “America First” card was great.

  2. These cards work well from pay phones.

  3. The amount of minutes that these cards advertise is not even close to correct. A 5 pound card advertised 500 minutes, but lasted maybe 45-60 minutes (still a great deal).

  4. The calling card will likely give you a choice between a free number and a local number that requires a few coins. Have some coins and use the local number - the card’s ‘minutes’ will burn slower.

  5. Some pay phones seem to be operated by private companies that can use up the phone card ‘minutes’ very fast. You’ll want to find one that works well and return to it.

Again, this is based on London experience, but I imagine Scotland will be the same.

Thanks for the wealth of info! It sounds like buying an international calling card once she’s there is the best option for us.

I used my cell phone in New Zealand. I just had the international calling plan added to my regular plan - it was like an extra 3.99 per month plus the per-minute cost. You can cancel the plan when she gets back.

Call you cell phone provider. Most likely you can use your cell phone or rent one for a small fee.

Call cards are handy. The hotel may sell them, many or most local stores carry them. The fee is usually a bit more punitive from a phone box but still reasonable. Probably bought in £5 or £10 units.

I’m going to Europe in a month or two and I just checked with Verizon on this. Yes, they will send you a phone to use in Europe, but carefully look at the charges first! The rental charge for the phone was $3.99 a day – not too bad. But the PER-MINUTE charge was about $1.50 / minute!!! And there was no way of reducing that charge by going on a special plan. In many cases, you get charged the per-minute charge for both calls you make and calls you receive.

In my case, I wanted both my wife and I to have phones so we could communicate when separated. It would have cost me $3.00 a minute in that case: $1.50 for me making the call, and $1.50 for her receiving the call.

Of course, YMMV, and your carrier might be different.