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Staying In Touch on the Road: Part 4


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Right! I promised you alternatives to paying high cellphone call rates for calling back home. Using one of these low-cost strategies lets you spend more on data (or dinner!) and lets you choose a SIM by the best local calling rates rather than picking one that offers reduced rates for U.S. calls.


Several of the strategies require wi-fi or other internet connection, and one requires extra hardware. Doesn’t mean they don’t have advantages for some, though.


One of the strategies is an absolute no-brainer—no new software, no new hardware, nothing special at all. Let’s look at that one first. It works because in Europe, unlike the U.S., you don’t pay for incoming calls. Call back services take advantage of that. When you sign up, they give you an access number to call (it might be a U.S. number, it might not—doesn’t matter, because you’ll NEVER connect to it!) to start the process.


You dial the access number, and as soon as it rings, you hang up. That’s enough for their server to recognize you—and it promptly calls you back (free incoming call, remember?). When you answer, you’ll hear a dial tone, and you dial your friend’s or mother’s number just as you would at home. When you hang up, the computer charges you a few cents a minute against the credit card you used to register.


Rates vary, and services differ in whether they cover only calls to North America or can be used to call other places. You’ll find a list of them with links to check out at


Skype, Google Voice or other computer-based calling can work for you if you’re traveling with a computer. Skype offers free international calling, but it’s only free computer-to-computer. Google Voice has a separate voice-and-chat application for international calling. Since I don’t actually use either, and because there are many details and differences, I’ll have to give you a link to a site that compares them!



MagicJack is a small box, a little bigger than a cellphone battery, that plugs into a USB port on your computer. You can then plug a simple telephone in (I use a one-piece model that cost about $8 at a 99c store) or use a computer headset. You pay $40-$50 for the device and one year of service; renewals are about $20/year. Once plugged in, you can call any number anywhere in the U.S. or Canada at no charge—as far as the system is concerned, you ARE in the U.S. (and only U.S. customers can use it, because it’s based on a U.S. phone number).

This solution works best for those who need to do a lot of calling home, or long calls, or travel often enough to make it pay. Some people even use it as their home phone all year and take it on trips! On the MagicJack site ( you’ll mainly see information about MagicJack Plus, which works the same way, but can also plug into a router instead of a computer. It also costs $10 a year more. But the plain vanilla version is available on Amazon and other sites.


Magic Jack also offers an app that lets you make free calls from your cellphone without using your phone minutes—but if you’re calling from Europe you’ll need a data plan, even if you skip a voice calling plan, because the app requires you to start the free call by connecting to MagicJack’s U.S. access number—which would defeat your purpose of avoiding long-distance charges to the U.S. Available for both Android and IOS.



So, here you are now, with a European phone and ready to make calls. We’ll use a French phone (no, that’s not a double entendre!) for these general instructions for three common calling scenarios:

  • Calling another phone in France: This is simple. Just dial the number you want to speak to. No area code, no ‘0’ (that used to be needed, but no more), just the number. But, if the number you’re given has an extra 33 or +33 in front of it, ignore that. That’s the country code and is used for calls from outside the country.
  • Calling another country (either in Europe or to U.S.): Also fairly simple, except that now you will need the ‘+’ key and another number—the country code for the country you’re calling. The plus key tells the system that what follows is a country code and an international call. It’s usually on the ‘0’ key—just hold that down until the ‘+’ appears on the screen. Then dial the the country code and the number. Example: a friend’s phone number in Spain is 651036000. You dial +34 651036000. U.S. country code is 1. For others, here’s a list:
  • Getting calls from a friend in the U.S. uses basically the same method as your international call. Anyone who wants to call you needs to dial the U.S. equivalent of ‘+’ which is 011, and then the country code and then the number. Using the same number above, your friend would dial 011 and then 34 651036000.

So, fellow travelers—Stay in touch!


Links to PART 1     PART 2     PART 3 


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