Calling cards used to be the way to save, but now there's a new standard to avoid high international roaming charges. Skype is a simple service that allows users to chat, talk, or video chat over the Internet. Best of all, Skype-to-Skype calls are free, though there's a small fee to call a landline or mobile number.
Even if your phone works internationally, remember to check with your provider before you travel to avoid surprises when you return. At this writing, there is a proposal in Western Europe to bring down costs, but roaming rates would not even begin to decline until July 1, 2012. (See details on The New York Times: In Europe, a Move to Slash Phone Roaming Calls
To avoid high rates for simply receiving voicemails and text messages, don't forget to turn off international roaming on your phone before you arrive.
1. Download the free program on laptop or app on your smartphone.
Download the computer program at Skype.com
or through your app store. The mobile apps can be used on iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, and iPod touch 4th generation (with iOS 4.0 or above), as well as on Blackberry, Android 3G smartphones, and certain multimedia phones. For video chat, you'll need a forward-facing camera.
2. Create a Skype account for free.
When you join, you'll choose a Skype name and set up a password. Contacts can be added manually or imported from sources such as Facebook, gmail, and MSN. To save the most, make sure your key contacts have Skype accounts too.
3. Decide between free and subscription options.
Skype-to-Skype calls are free but to call a mobile number or landline, you'll need to buy credits. Prices range from pay-as-you-go calls to the U.S. for 2.3¢/minute up to an unlimited world plan for about $14/month. There are special plans based on regions, countries, and also options to enable group video calling.
4. Find and connect to wi-fi.
This step is key to avoid charges from your cell phone carrier. If you don't have access to free wi-fi, you can also pay by the minute with skype credits at over 500,000 locations worldwide.
5. Call family and friends.
Use Skype to chat, call, or video call your friends worldwide. Just don't forget to factor in the time difference!