Disclosure: Please note that we don’t get any compensation from these companies that we recommend with this piece. We name them strictly to share our experience in staying in communication with our family and friends. We do, however, get a small affiliate income if someone orders from Amazon through our site; it is not quite enough to cover the cost of running the blog, but something is better than nothing!
In Keeping in Touch, part 1, I covered how I use Google Voice (GV) for free and the drawbacks of GV.
This post will cover other ways we stay in communication with family and friends, including while traveling internationally, at no/low cost.
Social Chat apps
Besides GV, we use a number of social chat apps that work as long as we have cell data or wi-fi.
I mainly use two main apps – Whatsapp for Spain and the rest of Europe and Line in Asia. There are other social apps that I use on rare occasions, such as Facebook IM and Snapchat, but I will not cover them in this post as WhatsApp and Line can really supply all one needs.
LINE is a communication app. LINE has more than 84 million users worldwide and is used in over 230 countries. LINE has been ranked no. 1 in the free app category in 39 countries including Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Macau, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and more.
In order to communicate through Line, both parties will need to have the app installed on their device, unlike with Google Voice, with which I can call or send text to anyone with a US phone number and they don’t have to have the app installed on their device.
What I like about Line:
1- Group Call is easy to use. I use Line to communicate with my three brothers who live in Thailand and the US. We often do a four-way video call with one push of a button. It is free and available 24/7.
2- I can save important messages, photos, and videos in Keep. I found it saves me time from finding them later.
3- I can easily add friends by QR code or Line ID.
4- I can share photos, videos, voice messages, contacts and my location.
5- I stay in touch with all my Thai friends through line. What is nice about Line is that I can keep notes in Note and create Albums within the group. We use Note to add important event dates like an upcoming reunion or party location. We use Album to share event pictures and anyone can save them onto their own device.
6- It is simple enough that my 81-year-old mother knows how to use it. She sends me emojis daily and gives me updates on my dad. I send her pictures often so she can see what’s going on with me. The video call is free and easy to use for her. She also uses the app to communicate with her friends, from sharing news and gossip to sending each other emojis.
7- All of the functions I use above are free as long as I have data plan or connected via wifi.
WhatsApp is similar to Line. It allows users to upload their phone contacts and message anyone who has the app installed, again at no cost. I can also make a call for free to anyone who has the app installed and on my address book. It is used widely in Europe, including Spain. But WhatsApp doesn’t have are some of the functions that Line offers – Notes, Albums, Group Call, and adding friends by QR code.
How I manage to keep phone costs low when I travel internationally.
Since our family and friends are spread out over 3 continents (Asia, North America and Europe), we travel internationally quite a lot. Being frugal, I found a way to minimize the costs of having a cellular phone while in Spain and traveling internationally.
I have never paid more than $20 a month for a cellular service no matter what country I traveled to (Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Spain, US, etc).
The best and most obvious way to use your phone for free in another country is with WiFi. A lot of hotels, Airbnb, museums, cafes, restaurants, shopping malls, etc. will offer it for free.
Mainly I use a combination of Google Voice, purchasing a cheap SIM card in whatever country I travel to, and using the cellular plan with Vodafone I purchased in Spain.
The total costs a month to use Google Voice is zero; as for the rest, here is how I do it:
1. When traveling within Europe, our Vodafone plan (for 15 euros a month) gives us the same data and phone minutes as in Spain at no extra costs.
In addition, using any social chats (Whatsapp, Line, Facebook, Instragram, Twitter etc) is always free and not counted against data usage.
2. When we travel in the US, our data plan with Vodafone continues to work. If we want to use the phone, there is a roaming charge, but we never use it.
We make phone calls through Google Voice (which is free), Whatsapp, Line, Facebook or send out texts via social chat using wifi or our data plan.
3. Outside of Europe and the US, I always buy a local SIM card to fit my needs because it is much cheaper and more versatile.
For example, I used a Thai SIM card while I was in Thailand for 2 months and bought a Malaysian SIM card for just a few dollars to use for 10 days when we traveled there.
I found Asian SIM card plans are flexible and much more advanced than in the US. I can customize my cell data plan and phone plan any way I want and for the length I want, from only a day, to three days, to a week or monthly plan. I don’t have to commit for a long-term plan or to any one specific plan.
To give a particular example, my last Asian trip started by going to Thailand for two weeks, then one week in Japan, and then back to Thailand for another three weeks.
- First, I bought a Thai SIM card at the airport (or could have at a convenience store like 7-11) and put $20 in my Thai SIM card account. I started off by selecting a two-week plan that fit my needs.
- When I went to Japan, I bought a Japanese SIM card to use for one week.
- When I came back to Thailand, I returned to the original Thai account and SIM card, but changed the plan to use the remaining balance for another three weeks of service.
A couple of last notes:
1) There is a new portable wifi services but I found it is currently more expensive to use ($8-$9 per day). Until the price comes down, I prefer to continue my way as shared above.
2) If you are in the US, you can pay for a temporary international phone plan for international travel. For example, Verizon offers a Travel Pass, which is $5/day in Mexico and Canada and $10/day in over 130 countries.
Again, I think they are still too expensive. For $7, I paid for a plan with unlimited data/phone in Malaysia for one-week, just enough to cover us while we were there.
Let us know how you manage to stay in touch if you travel internationally.
- Do you use a social app and which one do you use the most?
- If you have families overseas or in a different city, how do you keep in touch?
- What do you do to keep communication costs low while traveling overseas?
- Feel free to share your tips by posting in the comments.