Options for International Calls
Before moving to Costa Rica, my friends and family were very concerned with how we would keep in touch. I soon discovered there were many ways to call home, including international phone cards, and several Internet-based options. The question wasn’t how we would keep in touch – but which would be the most convenient and economical option for my needs.
Costa Rica’s public telecommunications company, ICE (pronounced ee-say), offers international calling to the United States for $0.26 per minute. This seemed a fair rate, but I was renting an apartment and the telephone line was in my landlady’s name. She didn’t feel comfortable activating international calls – if I decided not to pay, she would be responsible for all charges.
Also offered by ICE, Munditel prepaid phone cards allow customers to make phone calls from home or public phones. The rate is competitive – $0.92 for the first minute and $0.26 for every subsequent minute – but I would have to jump through some hoops to get my phone card activated. Instead of loading phone cards via cash or credit payment, ICE charges the amount to a home phone account. Therefore, the company requires new Munditel customers to submit an application form signed by a home phone line owner. Again, my landlady would be responsible for these charges, and I didn’t feel comfortable making that request.
MagicTalk, formerly known as MagicJack, is a Voice over IP (VoIP) telephone service. Connect the company’s box to your computer, attach your home phone, and as long as you’re connected to the Internet, you can make and receive calls to/from the United States and other countries worldwide. The service costs $39.95 for the first year and $19.95 for subsequent years, and you can get your own U.S. phone number (to allow incoming calls from U.S. phones) for an additional $19.95 per year. This was a very affordable option, and I seriously considered it.
Vonage is also a VoIP telephone service, but to me it seemed the most similar to my home phone service in the United States. For about $35 per month, Vonage supplies a router-type box – just attach a phone, and you can make free calls to 60 countries. Best of all: you can transfer your previous home phone number, so you don’t have to notify everyone of a change. I also appreciated their visual voicemail service, which allows customers to receive voicemails as a text message or email.
Perhaps the most well known VoIP phone application, Skype allows customers to make and receive phone calls via their computer. The most basic service is pay-as-you-go (1.9¢ per minute to the U.S.), but packages are also available – like $2.99 per month for unlimited outgoing calls to the U.S. and Canada. You can also purchase an inbound phone number ($20 for three months), so friends and family can call. To make this service even more user-friendly, there are special Skype phones that allow users to make and receive calls without a computer application – but your Internet connection must be active for it to work.
Ultimately, I chose Skype as my main method for calling home. Not only was it inexpensive, it allowed me to choose only the options I desired. Over the last four years, Skype has served me well: I pay $2.99 per month and, though I don’t have an inbound phone number, my friends and family know to email whenever they want to talk, and I call them with my unlimited minutes. Additionally, my Internet speeds – 1,024 Kbps up and 512 Kbps down – were more than sufficient to sustain clear calls.
How do you stay connected to home?