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Cheap International Calls

Call friends & family cheaply

Archived 16 Jun 2009

Calling friends, family or lovers overseas is now dirt cheap or even free. BT charges up to an eye watering 27p/min to Australia and Virgin 32p/min but, you can cut this to just 0.5p/min without even needing to change phone provider.

This cheap overseas calls guide includes free calls via the web and the daily updated International CallChecker, which lists the cheapest number to call any country from a normal phone.

International calls

Find out how to slash the cost of calling overseas

Can you call for free?

There are three ways to speak to people abroad for free, from computers, phones and mobiles. This is all because Voip (voice over internet protocol) or internet telephony has turned the phone world upside down. And in all three cases, wherever your call starts and finishes, it travels most of its path via the web.

Talk PC to PC - are you and the person you're calling near the internet?

This is the easiest system, you'll both need a headset with a microphone that you can plug into the PC, they can be picked up for less than a tenner, or get a phone handset you plug in to do the same job. Then simply download free software such as Skype* connect to each other and start talking for no charge, apart from your standard internet fees that is.

For a detailed explanation read: The Voip: Free web calls guide.

Yet there is a golden rule here which catches many out, don't believe the Skype hype...

It's only free if you're talking PC-to-PC. If you use the service to call a normal phone… you pay! And often there are cheaper ways to do it.

Many Voip providers will try and flog you PC-to-phone calls, where you call someone's normal phone via your computer, though a few small providers like Voip Cheap and Voip Stunt do provide free calls to some countries PC-to-phone, provided you top up your account. This often isn't as good a bargain as it seems, before paying for it, check the price compared to the ‘cheapest normal overseas calls' which will often win.

Talk mobile to mobile - only free if you have unused inclusive minutes

If both you and the person you're calling have inclusive minutes, a nifty piece of kit from Rebtel* will allow you to make free calls. It's slightly more complicated than just picking up the phone; while the call is routed through the internet for the main part, it works via a callback system so you're effectively dialling a cheaper local rate at both ends.

There are 37 countries you can call, mainly in Europe, Israel, North America, Australasia and the Far East. If you don't have inclusive minutes you'll each be charged the cost of a local call.

For a detailed explanation read: The Free International Calls From A Mobile Guide.

Cheapest calls from a normal home phone

This is all about taking advantage of specialist cheap overseas ‘override' phone companies. These allow you to massively cut the cost of calls, without changing phone line, and without setting up an account - costs are as little as 0.5p/minute. Unless you have a home phone package that includes free calls to some international destinations, (see Cheap Home Phone guide) they're unbeatable.

How override providers work

There are a few types of override provider, so-called as you 'override' your home phone provider so you pay their charges rather than its. They all work a slightly different way; but in a nutshell the process is usually something like this.

Step 1: Dial their access numbers. This means they give you a special phone number to call from your home phone, which then connects you to their network.

Step 2: Once connected dial the number you're calling. Now simply dial the number you want to call through their network, remembering the 00 for calling overseas followed by the country code.

The two types of override number

There are two main types of override provider, both are very cheap but they work in slightly different ways.

Simply Dial Providers. You access the service via a special type of phone number which can be dialled from any phone. This access number is at a fixed tariff (e.g. 0844 123456 costing 2p/min) and billed via your home phone company, then all you pay is the call costs (i.e., 2p/min) plus whatever connection cost your main provider charges eg BT is 8p. The override company then gets a cut of your phone provider's call revenue.

Pros: No account needed, simple system, easy to change override provider. Cons: You start paying as soon as you're connected to the override provider, thus even if the person isn't in, you'll have paid for a minute's call. You need a different access number for each different country.

Account Needed Providers. Here you set up an account, access their service via a freephone access number (e.g. 18185), and then are billed for the call.

Pros: One number for all calls, you only pay when connected. Quality and reliability is usually better. Cons: You need to set up a web account.

Find the cheapest provider for each country in seconds

Even amongst override providers, prices can vary enormously. To help, use the free International Callchecker, which daily compares 37 override providers to find the cheapest for each country and also includes details on the types of providers.

The 37 override providers were picked after surveying a massive range of companies. The cheapest providers as well as the biggest, (for the sake of comparison) were then included. Yet do note prices change frequently, so check back once a month, or if the provider you're using increases its price, to see if you can do it cheaper.

International Call Checker

Often these companies have ultra cheap promotions lasting just a few days, making it the perfect time to call friends.

An example of the International CallChecker results

International CallChecker Results Example

Sometimes you won't be connected

Be under no illusions, override providers are no-frills companies, there's no customer service and their capacity is limited. This means that sometimes you'll call and not be able to get through. Quite simply that's the nature of the beast and why they're so cheap. If it does happen, then just use the next cheapest provider from the International Callchecker.

What's the call quality like?

The line quality and connection ability generally aren't too bad, though it varies as providers underbuy line capacity to keep costs low and utilise the internet to route calls to make them cheaper. Bigger providers can't risk such problems, so they must overbuy capacity. For most non-business calls though, override providers should be fine, and they'll save you a fortune. If you're happy to compromise on price for reliability, the account needed providers such as 18185, tend to be more reliable. Though you'll need to sign up for an account and they will be slightly pricier.

Heavy overseas caller? Get a bundle

If you spend long hours on the phone overseas, some pay monthly packages with inclusive minutes may work out cheaper than using override providers. Here you simply pay a set fee per month, usually for a 12 month contract and all calls to certain destinations will be included.

Get home phones, broadband plus international calls for £21/month.

If you're not locked into a current phone or broadband contract, sign up to TalkTalk's* Essential package and opt for the International boost and you can get almost unlimited broadband, line rental and evening & weekend calls in the UK and abroad for only £21/month. Calls to 36 destinations are available with the package, including most EU countries, the USA and Australia.

For a detailed explanation read: Cheapest Home Phones.

Call more than 6 hours to the EU or 13 hours worldwide?

If you're willing to make calls to normal phones using your PC, Skype has some dirt cheap packages for calling abroad. Sign up to its Unlimited Europe* package for £3.39 and you get inclusive calls (up to 10,000 minutes per month fair usage) for 20 European countries or if you're calling further afield opt for the Unlimited World* package for £7.99. Even better, you aren't tied into any long contracts, simply pay per month.

Cheapest way to call overseas mobiles

To make a cheap call from a normal home phone to an overseas mobile works exactly the same way as calling a landline. Yet the cheapest provider for calling a country's landline won't necessarily be the cheapest way to call a mobile in that country – so treat it as a separate destination.

To find the cheapest way, again simply use the International Callchecker, but click the ‘see prices for calling mobiles' box.

Don't use this to call a UK mobile abroad

This method is for calling overseas mobiles, e.g. the mobile phone of a friend who lives in the USA, it isn't for calling the UK mobile of friends or family who are travelling abroad. If you're doing that, then your call still counts as a call to a UK mobile (see Cheapest Way To Call Mobiles article for how to cut the cost of that). The real cost of using a UK mobile overseas is borne by the owner of the phone and is known as a ‘roaming' charge (see Roaming: Cut the cost of using Mobiles Overseas article).

Cheap calls overseas from a UK mobile

Mobile phone company prices for calling overseas would make even BT blanch. First see if you can call for free using your mobile; if not similar cheap call methods using override providers are available here too. Be careful; get it wrong and it can cost you, never assume 'what's cheap from a home phone is cheap from a mobile too'.

As this is a detailed subject in itself read the full Free Int. Calls From A Mobile guide.

The size of saving

The cost savings are huge. At the time of writing, use BT to call a Jamaican landline for example and it's 24p-26.5p/min depending on the time. Use TalkTalk and it's slightly cheaper at 20-22p, yet with TopUpNow it's just 2p. For three 10 minute calls every week for a year, that's a saving of £356!

BT Standard rates v CallChecker cheapest
Country (calling a landline) BT CallChecker Cheapest Annual Saving over BT
Per Minute Annual(A)(B) Per Minute Annual(A)
Australia 11.5p-27.5p £272 0.5p £17 £255
India 25p-28.5p £418 1p £25 £393
Israel 53.5p-59.5p £875 0.5p £17 £858
Jamaica 24p-26.5p £397 2p £41 £356
USA 11.5p-17.5p £220 0.4p £16 £204
TOTAL - £1,290 - £121 £1,175
Costs taken 13 May 08. (A) Three 10 minute calls weekly. (B) BT prices vary peak/off-peak/weekends, the annual figure assumes an equal number of each. Call set-up fee – BT is 6p, Call1899 is a 4p connection charge, Call18866 is a 5p connection charge. If your main provider is different connection charges may vary.