Staying in Touch from Abroad

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For someone who has spent much of his working life in the computer industry, I can be strangely indifferent towards technology. When I am back in London, the extent to which people live their lives plugged into smartphones worries me somewhat. I think life was better when people used to talk to each other.

Staying in touch with family and friends becomes very important when you live in another country, and telephone conversations with your nearest and dearest come to replace what used to be lunches, coffees, and evenings in the local.

While Facebook, Twitter and email keep you constantly aware of what people are up to, these methods of communication are quite impersonal, so for affordable communication with the UK, Skype has been a bit of a lifeline.

Skype: A Lifeline for Expats
Skype: A Lifeline for Expats

Skype has allowed us to have long and inexpensive conversations with family and friends, and the extra services we subscribe to allow us to call UK landlines very cheaply. We even have London phone numbers so that people in the UK can call us at no extra cost-highly beneficial for business as well as personal use.

On a few occasions, we have even had social gatherings with people using webcams, clinking glasses against the cameras and staying online for hours. In the (slightly adapted) words of S Club 7, “there ain’t no party like a Skype party.”

With all this in mind, it is annoying that we still manage to run up at least 40 euros worth of landline calls to the UK on our phone bill every month.

Why is that? Well, using voice-over-IP like Skype isn’t perfect. Quite often, people at the other end say we sound echoey, and when you are talking to anyone with less than perfect hearing this is far from ideal. In addition, using Skype means we are tied to the computer (I know Skype phones exist, but my experience of them hasn’t been great). Now it’s OK to wander around with my laptop, but not ideal, and if I have cause to wander somewhere where my wireless signal is poor, I lose the call.

Due to these reasons, I have got into the bad habit of picking up the landline at certain times and when calling certain people. I then curse myself when the bill arrives.

Now, as an ex-London resident, I am very familiar with the shops all over the city that sell a wide range of pre-paid telephone calling cards. The option of using one of these myself never really occurred to me, but, when I was approached to try one out, it seemed like it could be the answer to my problems.

Using a proper telephone from abroad has benefits
Using a proper telephone from abroad has benefits

The huge advantage of using one of these cards, over a service like Skype, is that you can use any landline phone to make calls, doing away with the disadvantages of Skype. The card I trialed was from NobelCom, who are currently offering a free calling card. The card arrives by email. All you have to do is call a freephone access number, then dial in a pin code, followed by the number you wish to call.

The card I used held US$20 credit, which at their quoted rates is enough for 250 minutes of calls to the UK, just 8 cents per minute. This is significantly less than our Portuguese landline, and around a fifth of the cost of using our Portuguese mobiles. The call quality was crisp and clear, and a test call to my mother revealed that she found me a lot easier to hear than when using Skype.

The only disadvantage, to me, was the large amount of numbers you need to know: the access number, the PIN, the country code, and the UK number. That’s a whole load of dialing. Luckily there is the facility to input speed-dial numbers. Unfortunately, the “PIN Free” dialing option only works in the US, but they do offer a PC-2-Phone application that allows you to dial the numbers automatically via a computer.

Regardless, the calling card is a great addition to our “staying in touch” toolbox, and I now have a piece of paper by the phone, listing the sequence of numbers I need. Now, when I am feeling lazy, don’t have the computer on, or want to call someone hard of hearing, it won’t result in a telling off from the wife when the phone bill arrives. For that reason alone, it is worth every penny.

Before I sign off I am launching a new blog feature this week. As I have now been posting here on Moving to Portugal for nearly three years, my older posts are getting buried behind the new, and this is hiding away information that may be useful or interesting to new readers. To make these posts easier to find I am introducing “At this time in…….” to the end of some of my posts…

So for starters….at this time in…..2009 – I was just nine days away from moving to Portugal, and ranting about the popularity of “X-Factor” on British TV – the post can be found here.

Have a good week.

This time in 2009....We were about to move to Portugal
This time in 2009....We were about to move to Portugal

Image credits: Doodlepress, Stereoit.

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5 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Hi Ben, I remember my dad and step mum had one of those cards and saved a fortune, so a good move I reckon.

    You will be impressed (or not) to know that my husband is possibly the only young (ish) person in London who hasnt got a mobile phone . . . the only time he thinks mine is useful is when we are in Tavira. (and mine is so old that my office colleagues laugh at it). Being a magazine publisher he hates all this new technology – especially when he sees people on the tube playing games on their phones instead of reading his mag !


  2. Yay! My rubbish hearing got a mention!

    It did used to sound like you were talking from a highly-tiled bathroom..

  3. Not really you I had in mind when I said that as it happens, but I guess it does apply! It was my dad I had in mind really who can never hear me properly on Skype.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  4. I love Skype I use it all the time. I too have a UK number which means my friends and family can call me for no extra charge. Generally the call quality is good only maybe 1 in 10 times is it bad. If you hang up and redial mostly it will improve. I also have the Skype app on my iPad which means I don’t even pay to make calls when I am out and about. Long live Skype!

  5. I suppose that you also know this card from PT (only in portuguese, but I think you’ll understand it).
    O PT Hello Europa é um cartão telefónico destinado essencialmente às comunidades residentes e turistas europeus. Por esta razão, oferece um tarifário mais competitivo para a União Europeia, Suíça e Noruega (redes fixa e móvel) e, apresenta no próprio cartão uma comunicação simples e feita principalmente em inglês e espanhol.
    Preço de Venda ao Público (P.V.P) do cartão, Valor facial de €5 (PVP com IVA incluído

    Principal Vantagem:
    Fale a 8 cent/min para a rede fixa da U.E, Suíça e Noruega e a 20 cent/min para a rede móvel.
    É de realçar que este tarifário só é aplicado quando o cartão é utilizado a partir de um telefone com origem no Algarve, nos Açores ou na Madeira.
    Se o mesmo cartão for utilizado fora destas zonas, o tarifário aplicado será o do PT Hello €5 atual. Consulte o preçário aqui.

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