Phoning home – the search for cheap international call rates
Living on a different continent to my parents and extended family is anything but ideal so I’m glad they’re at the other end of the phone. I ring them every other day at least but it’s been a real struggle to find a reasonably priced phone service. After a chance discovery, I’ve switched from Lycamobile for an eye-watering 5 times saving every month. I get a lot more minutes for my bucks too. I dread to think how much money I’ve wasted over the years!
Before my mum flew the nest (yes she’s the one that left me on a different continent haha), she used one of those scratch card services where you had to dial a routing number, enter various codes before making a call. Long! When she left, it was down to me to call home so I researched what else was out there. The result was usually disheartening as many providers drew me in with taglines such as: International calls from 1p*
*to landlines in a very small selection of countries
This was no use to me as the country I needed to call the most, Nigeria, was never included in this exclusive list. Also no one had a landline – not in my family anyway. My options were:
Dedicated International SIM
Lebara came along as a simple pay-as-you-go(PAYG) option which I quickly switched to from the scratchcard. It was a straightforward “top-up and dial” solution and it still is. The major downside is having to carry around 2 phones. Dual sim phones are very much lacking in the UK.
There are now quite a few international sim providers with Lycamobile being the other popular one. As well as PAYG, they now offer call bundles which are meant to be cheaper and incentives like extra credit for auto top-up. Both put Nigeria in its own bundle which is more expensive than PAYG – 8p* per minute or £10 for a 100-minute bundle! I switched to Lycamobile for the more generous additional credit but their bundles are ridiculous.
Free Online Services
I also considered free calls over the internet using Skype but back in day, home internet connection was very expensive and mobile internet hadn’t picked up yet in Nigeria. Now that every man and his dog has 3 mobile phones (too many inadequate networks), the connection is still not that great. I struggle to maintain a decent conversation due to the bad quality otherwise I have to ring in the unholy hours of the morning. We still attempt the occasional WhatsApp video call though.
Pay-as-you-go Online Providers
A friend from uni introduced me to making international calls via Skype. You need to top up and most importantly, the other person doesn’t have to be online. When I tried it, again the call quality was terrible. Also I had to be home to make calls as back then phone apps weren’t a thing. Yes I’m old! I tried a few other online services but although they were cheaper than Lebara, they were worse for call quality and ease.
Nowadays some like Skype offer a subscription which is 9.9p/min. Still more expensive than the likes of Lycamobile which is about 8p.
Mobile Network Providers
My last port of call was to check if my mobile network provider had any international offerings. Hooray, they did. But it was pitiful. The most expensive of the lot really. Not sure what prompted me to look again but I decided to browse for any new deals on the various networks. I stumbled on EE which currently has an unbelievable bundle – 1000 minutes for £10. That’s 1p a minute! Well, I quickly read the blurb (or so I thought), ordered my PAYG sim and patted myself on the back for such a great fine. On its arrival, I topped up then tried to activate the international pack. Firstly, the sim wouldn’t allow international calls. Tried calling customer service but you have to pay for the privilege. I thought companies had moved on from that! Long story short, turns out the pack is only available to 12 monthly contract customers. I’m not sure how I missed that info but I’m blaming the lack of sleep.
Next stop, my mobile network provider, Vodafone. I saw a page quoting 500 minutes for £7.50 – 1.5p a minute. I read the terms properly this time. Spoke to an advisor via the online chat just to make sure I understood everything though I not convinced they knew much about it. If I got this, I’d be paying £17.50/month including my domestic allowance so I looked into EE again. Their cheapest contract was £14/month making it £24 in total. I very doubt I’d use 1000 minutes so I took a chance on Vodafone. Shame they didn’t point out that it renews on the same monthly date as my allowance as I only had a few days of usage before losing hundreds of minutes I’d paid for!
I’m a few months into it and it’s been great so far. I can see my balance on the Vodafone app. As well as being cheaper, I prefer the monthly cost for budgeting rather than the endless pit of top-ups. Also I only have to carry one phone around as it’s the same sim card.
I’m quite baffled as to why dedicated international sims providers aren’t better value. They probably rely on loyalty and lack of awareness of what’s out there. My network was the last place I expected to find such a good deal and I don’t think I’ve seen it advertised anywhere. I’ll definitely be checking mobile networks more regularly for international call deals. It’s also been added to my list of easy ways to save money.