It's possible to call anywhere in the world free. If you've a steady broadband connection, free internet phone calls (VoIP) can slash the cost of calling abroad.
It sounds complicated, but making VoIP calls is easy, especially if you've a smartphone. This guide includes apps that let you call for nowt, how to make free calls from your computer, and the best way to call friends who don't use VoIP.
If you and the person you're calling have the internet, you can make free internet calls (barring any web access costs), no matter where in the world you both are. It's geekily called "VoIP", short for "voice over internet protocol".
You may not have heard of it, but you've probably used internet telephony without even realising it. It's increasingly used as the background technology for normal calls. It's usually free to make calls to people who use the same service.
Never automatically use VoIP to make a phone call
While it's free when calling someone else using the same VoIP provider, many are tempted by VoIP's promise of cheap calls to real phone numbers abroad. However:
VoIP is only free for calling people who also use VoIP. If you want to call someone directly, other ways usually beat it.
For cheaper calls to a landline or mobile, use the MSE CallChecker.
How does VoIP work?
With traditional phone calls, there's a constantly open pipeline with information streaming both ways, like this:
Make a free internet call using VoIP and your voice is split into tiny packets of data, using high-speed technology and computer processing power.
These are then bulleted along the line and decompressed at the other end. Other people's conversations are also bulleted along the line at the same time, so one line carries much more information, making it cheaper to operate.
VoIP pros and cons
As well as cutting costs while at home in the UK, using VoIP cuts costs if you're travelling abroad and need to call home. DON'T use 3G data while abroad though, as this will cost BIG. If you've free or cheap web access, you can call at no or low cost (depending on provider), via a PC, your mobile or a tablet. This saves massively on hotel phone charges, and often beats overseas phone cards.
There are a few drawbacks to VoIP though, so it's probably not wise to ditch your landline or mobile completely.
VoIP calls require an internet connection. If your power goes or your broadband breaks, you won't be able to call.
Call quality depends on your broadband connection, and that of the person you're calling. Tempremental broadband could mean poor call quality.
Not all VoIP providers let you call emergency numbers - you would have to dial 999 from your mobile or a landline.
There are different ways to make VoIP calls. Each requires an internet connection, though depending on the service, you can make calls either via a computer, your mobile or even using your landline.
The best route for you depends on which service your friends/family use, because using the same as them will get you free calls. Here are the key options (we then list the top apps and services below):
- Smartphone-to-smartphone. If you've got a smartphone with web access, free apps will get you free calls as long as your friend's using the same service.
- Computer-to-computer (and tablets). If you've got a computer or tablet you can likewise use your internet connection to make free calls so long as your friend's using the same service.
- Tablet/computer-to-phone (and vice versa). You can use a computer to call a phone for free so long as it's a smartphone using the same service. It works the other way too. But if you're calling a landline or mobile from your computer it WON'T be free - and you may be better off using an override provider instead.
Can I make VoIP calls via a landline?
You can use your landline to make VoIP calls, though this tends to be pricey, and you'll need a special £20+ adapter that plugs into your home phone and broadband, which re-routes the calls.
How much does it cost to call a landline via VoIP?
Someone using Skype on a smartphone in the UK to call someone using Skype on a smartphone in the US can call for free. However for web-to-phone calls, you'll pay.
For example, use Skype on an iPhone in the UK to call a US landline and it would cost 1.7p/min. A Vonage package costs £11/month for unlimited landline and mobiles calls to 70 countries, including Australia, the US and Canada.
The MSE CallChecker shows that the cheapest override provider (depending on who your home phone provider is) doesn't charge by the minute but has a 15p connection-charge per call. So if you're calling someone from your landline or mobile who doesn't use VoIP, this is the cheapest route.
Can I receive VoIP calls from landlines?
Many providers allocate you a number on which to receive calls. Some even provide an adapter that bypasses the computer altogether and plugs into your normal phone handset.
When using VoIP for free calls, providers are pretty similar, and the best one for you is really a personal preference. The crucial thing is to ensure you both have the same app. Also factor in your handset type and if you want to make video calls.
To make completely free calls, you and the person you're calling needs to use the same provider. If not, you'll pay. Here are our VoIP provider top picks:
Free video calls to other Apple users
If you've got an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, you can make free video calls to other Apple users who also have the app.If you have a Mac computer with Mac OS X v10.6.6 or above, you'll also be able to FaceTime.
All new Apple devices come with FaceTime already installed, so you can start using it straightaway, without setting up a user name or password.
iPhone 4 users can only use FaceTime over wi-fi, however other iPhone users (4S, 5 and 5S) can use the service over both wi-fi and with a data allowance. However be wary of eating into your data allowance. Using the 3G connection will eat into your data limit, but the cost is minimal. Vodafone says a 10-minute FaceTime call will use about 30MB of mobile data.
Those with the iOS 7 operating system on their iPhone or iPad can use FaceTime Audio. This lets you make voice calls in the same way as above. Handily, it tells you how much data you've used on each call, helping you avoid eating into your allowance.
- Type of calls: iPhone-to-iPhone video calls
- Cost to use: Free to download, calls are free (but will use minimal 3G data, or wi-fi)
- Can be used on: iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches, Macs
- Feedback: FaceTime feedback forum discussion
Use a landline to make VoIP calls
Sign up to Vonage and you can make free calls to other landlines and mobiles using Vonage, anywhere in the world, via your landline handset. You just need to plug an adapter into your broadband router.
If you make a huge number of long phone-to-phone overseas calls, a package with Vonage may be the most MoneySaving route.
Make just a few overseas calls per year, and a no-frills cheap override provider will be cheaper (see the MSE CallChecker).
- Type of calls: PC-to-phone, phone-to-phone (using an adapter), phone-to-phone smartphone app
- Cost to use: Calls free from Vonage-to-Vonage, other calls are chargeable. Price plans start from £7/month for unlimited UK landline calls, and from £11/month for unlimited landline calls to 70 countries (excluding India).
- Can be used on: Landlines, Windows computers, Macs (with additional software)
- Feedback: Vonage feedback forum discussion
Good for non-smartphone mobiles
You can use Rebtel on smartphones, iPads and Android tablets via an app using a mobile internet connection (wi-fi or 3G) or PC.
Like Skype and Viber, calls are only free to other Rebtel users. However, it's by no means the cheapest way to call non-Rebtel users.
For example, someone using the Rebtel app on their mobile in the UK to call a mobile in the US (not using Rebtel) would pay nearly 0.99p/minute. The cheapest specialist override provider listed on the MSE CallChecker doesn't charge by the minute, there's just the 15p connection-charge per call.
- Type of calls: Phone-to-phone, video and voice calls(plus instant messaging)
- Cost to use: Free to download, free to other Rebtel users via the web, cheap calls to international destinations, plus data costs if using 3G
- Can be used on: Home phones, Windows computers, iPhones, Android phones/devices, iPads
- Feedback: Rebtel feedback forum discussion
Free Skype-to-Skype, other calls not very cheap
Used by over 600 million people around the world, Skype* is the biggest name in VoIP, letting you make free voice or video calls to other Skype users.
You can use it on PCs and Macs (with speakers and a headset) and even on some smart TVs. To use it on your mobile, download the free mobile app (works on iPhones, Android phones and Windows phones). You can also make Skype calls using your landline via a home phone adapter, or a cordless home phone with Skype already built in. Whichever way you choose, if the person you're calling has Skype too, you won't pay. So someone using Skype on an iPhone in the UK to call someone using Skype on their TV in the US is free, for example.
Never automatically use Skype to make a phone call
While it's free to call a Skype contact, using Skype to call real phone numbers abroad is by no means the cheapest way. For example, using Skype in the UK to call a US landline would cost 1.7p/min. Yet the cheapest override provider charges 15p/call. To find the cheapest provider for each country, use the MSE CallChecker comparison service.
- Type of calls: Phone-to-phone, computer-to-computer and computer-to-phone voice and video calls
- Cost to use: Free to download, calls are free to other Skype users, or chargeable if calling a landline/mobile number not on Skype
- Can be used on: Windows computers, Macs, mobiles, tablets, home phones, some smart TVs, some games consoles
- Feedback: Skype feedback forum discussion
Free Viber-to-Viber and beats Skype on mobile call costs
About 600 million people now use Viber after a rapid rise to global popularity. Like Skype, it lets you make free voice and video calls to friends and family who're fellow users.
You can use it on PCs, Macs, all mobile phones and tablets. To get it on your phone, just download the free app and you can call Viber users anywhere in the world for zilch.
When you're calling from an iPhone or Android device, use wi-fi, as 3G can incur big charges. To use Viber on a tablet or computer, you have to install it on your phone first.
While you can't use Viber to make calls on a landline, its rates are at least cheap for calls from mobiles to non users. There's a 'Viber Out' option, for iPhone and Android devices, which lets you buy credit to make these calls on a pay-as-you-go basis.
If you used Viber in the UK to call a mobile in Australia it's 0.1p/min. The same call via Skype costs 1.7p/min.
To check that you're always using the cheapest provider for each country, use the MSE CallChecker comparison service.
- Type of calls: Mobile-to-phone voice calls, computer-to-computer video and voice calls, computer-to-phonevoice calls
- Cost to use: Free to download, calls are free to other Viber users, or chargeable if calling a landline/mobile number not using Viber
- Can be used on: Windows computers, Macs, mobiles, tablets
- Feedback: Viber feedback forum discussion
Smartphone app that works across most devices
Another popular VoIP provider is Vyke. Like others here, it has a free smartphone app, which you can use to make cheap calls to landlines or mobiles over wi-fi, or using your mobile 3G/4G connection.
You can use the app on PCs, iPhones, iPads, Android devices, Blackberrys and tablets. Currently, new users can also get £5 credit for topping up just £1.
Vyke works by transferring you to a network provider first (ie, BT), then transferring you to the number you called. The company says this improves the quality of calls, as opposed to a straight wi-fi connection.
It also means you can call any mobile or landline globally either via the web OR using a phone signal. The latter could be an expensive option for some though.
Unlike most other VoIP providers, its rates to call real phone numbers abroad can be competitive. For example, using an iPhone in the UK to call a US landline would cost just 9p hour, compared with 15p on the cheapest override provider. Though always compare rates using the MSE CallChecker to find the cheapest way.
- Type of calls: Mobile-to-mobile or landline,computer-to-mobile or landline
- Cost to use: Free to download app, cheap calls to mobiles and landlines.
- Can be used on: iPhone, Android mobiles, Blackberry, Windows computers, iPads, tablets
- Feedback: Vyke feedback forum discussion
App for iPhones and Androids
Localphone offers cheap calls to other Localphone users and a number of ways to make calls. You can call phone-to-phone, PC-to-PC, or PC-to-phone (though, as always, this can be chargeable).
Rates for calls to non-Localphone numbers are very competitive though. You get a free call for five minutes when you sign up.
We've received good feedback about Localphone, so it's worth trying. It often runs free call promotions to normal phones too (when it does, they'll be featured in the free MoneySaving email). These usually give unlimited calls for free to a certain destination, with no obligation to continue using the service.
- Type of calls: Phone-to-phone, computer-to-computer, computer-to-phone
- Cost to use: Apps free to download, service, calls are cheap to other Localphone users, or chargeable if calling a landline/mobile not using Localphone
- Can be used on: iPhones, Android mobiles, Windows computers, Macs, landlines
- Feedback: Localphone feedback forum discussion