INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS: CONTACT HOME FOR LESS

Provided in partnership with Ofcom Accredited comparison site Cable.co.uk

Moving to a new country is an exciting time – especially when you’re living and studying in a city like London. Although there are lots of opportunities to make new friends when you’re here, we know it’s also important to keep in touch with your friends and family back home (who are sure to be missing you as much as you miss them and eager to find out how you are).

The main problem with phoning home and calling international numbers from the UK is that it can sometimes be very expensive. Fortunately, there are some really easy ways to save money on the cost of contacting home – and we’ve collected the best ones together into this useful guide.

A quick note before we start, however: if you’ve brought a mobile phone with you when you came to the UK you should try to avoid using it to make international calls - the costs can be unbelievably high. Read on to find out ways to contact home cheaply, including how to make it much cheaper to use your mobile for making international calls.

Staying in touch electronically

Since there are over 1,300 computers available for you to use at QMUL, as well as an extensive Wi-Fi network and access points in Halls of Residence that you can use to get online, it makes sense to use the internet to keep in touch.

You can use the University computers to connect with home via email and with social networking sites such as Facebook – but all we ask is that you don’t stay on one for extended periods for social use while other students are waiting to do their coursework - and please, don’t try to install any software on them.

Make calls online

If you’ve got your own computer, laptop or tablet and access to broadband, there’s a range of programmes that you could use to call home. Big-name services like Skype or the lesser-known Vonage enable you to make free calls to other web users anywhere in the world. If you have an iPhone or iPad you can use Facetime to call other Apple product users for free.

If you need to find a broadband service first, try visiting sites that have an Ofcom accredited comparison tool – for example, you can compare broadband deals here.Many internet service providers offer special student broadband deals that run for the duration of an academic year, so it’s worth having a look to see if such a contract would be right for you.

Skype me

Packages like Skype use VoIP (or Voice over Internet Protocol) technology to send voice and video calls across the web rather than via the telephone network. Before you can call you'll need to visit the official site, register for a free account and download and install the software – and the person you want to call needs to do the same. When you’ve both done this you’ll be able to send and receive text, voice and even video messages 24 hours a day, and completely free of charge – assuming the person you want to speak to has an appropriate device and a fast enough internet connection.

You can also use Skype to make calls from your computer to landline and mobile phones. You'll have to pay to do so, but it works out significantly cheaper than calling from a telephone.

You can either pay for your calls before you make them by purchasing Skype Credit (in either £10 or £20 bundles), or alternatively subscribe to a Skype Unlimited World deal which for a fixed monthly fee allows to you to make unlimited calls to international landlines and mobiles.

The best payment method for you will be determined by where you'll be calling, and how often. The pay-as-you-go option is the most expensive and will eat up your credit but it does offer the greatest flexibility, while the monthly options can work out cheaper if you know you’re going to be making calls frequently.

If you're likely to be calling home several times a week, the cheapest option will probably be to subscribe to a Skype Unlimited World deal.

Get a good deal from your mobile provider

If you’ve already got a mobile phone from one of the UK networks, it’s easy to add an international ‘bolt-on’ to your current plan. Alternatively, if you’re on a pay-as-you-go deal, you can order a SIM preloaded with credit that you can use straightaway. If you shop around, you may find that some providers add free bonuses including international call minutes or extra broadband allowances.

Pick up an International SIM

Many mainstream UK mobile phone providers including O2, Three, and Vodafone also offer international SIMs that you can use in your existing phone to make cut-price international calls. Specialist international mobile providers such as Lebara and Lycamobile also offer cheap international SIMs. These SIMs are also widely available across Mile End and London as a whole.

Depending on which country you are going to be calling, you can choose the SIM that’s best for you just by doing a little online research. 

Get an international calling card

You can use international calling cards to make calls from landlines and some mobiles at prices as low as a penny per minute.

There are dozens of different cards to choose from, but they all work in pretty much the same way: your card will come with some initial credit on it, or you may get the card for free and have to add credit to it.

To make a call you will dial one of the access numbers printed on the card, enter your PIN and dial the number you want to call including the two-digit dialling code. The cost of the call will be deducted from the credit you put on the card, as will a connection fee for each call.

You can get international calling cards from many shops in London. We can’t recommend any specific card to you as it’s up to you to compare your options, but one of the UK’s most popular is provided by Tesco. You can pick one up in any of the many stores across Mile End, Bow, Limehouse, Bethnal Green and other areas.

You need to choose the right access number when you call. If you’re using a landline phone, look for an 0800 freephone number, while a number beginning with 01, 02 or 03 may work out cheaper from a mobile. Be aware that some mobile operators won’t let you use international calling cards, so it’s best to check before buying.

Use an access number

Finally, you can also use international access numbers (often called “Simply Dial”) to reduce the cost of calling international phone numbers. Using this method all charges will be added to your phone bill including a per-minute charge for the call and a connection charge.

There are so many different access numbers to chose from that it’s impossible for us to recommend the best one for calling your home country. On the whole though, access numbers don’t offer the same level of savings as international calling cards so we advise that you only use them as a last resort.

Shop around

If you’re unsure which option is right for you, there are lots of online student guides to help you stay in touch while keeping the costs down. Once you’ve found the right one, you can relax knowing how easy it is to catch up with your friends and family at home.