If you are using a smartphone running Skype you may be able to call back home to friends and family very inexpensively by using a wireless Internet connection while traveling in a foreign country. While I am specifically talking about using Skype on your cell phone, just knowing about Skype Credit and how it works will allow you to set up your Skype account to call home from a computer at an Internet cafe (which are plentiful and cheap in most countries outside the US).
You can buy a SkypeIn number which will allow other people to call you, but you won’t need it if you are traveling and not in constant contact with the Internet like you would be at home. You will, however, need to pay for Skype Credit which can be bought for as little as $10 at a time. Since the credit does not expire you won’t have to worry about losing extra time that you buy if you don’t use it on your trip. Skype has recently raised its per-minute rates, but you can still call a US landline for 2.3 cents a minute plus connection fee. Using Skype Credit and paying per minute is a nice option since you won’t be required to sign a contract, nor spend a certain amount of money to keep your account active.
Skype on the iPhone
When traveling in a foreign country and using Skype on the iPhone you will want to put the phone in airplane mode so that you don’t get charged international data or roaming fees. Once the phone is in airplane mode you will have to manually turn the WiFi back on in your phone’s settings. Then connect to a wireless connection and turn on Skype. At this point you are able to use the Skype software just as you normally would. You can call friends who also use Skype for free, or use SkypeOut to call regular and mobile phones which deducts time from the Skype Credits you previously purchased.
Skype on Symbian (Nokia)
Skype works on certain Symbian based Nokia phones just like it does on the iPhone. Remember to switch your phone into offline mode so that you don’t get charged the international roaming fees. You will then be able to manually switch the WiFi portion back on.
Skype Mobile on Verizon and Android
The Skype/Verizon situation is currently quite different than using Skype on other smartphones which makes it impossible to use for our purposes [See UPDATE at the end of the next paragraph].
This goes for the current state of Android phones too. Skype Mobile (their software for use on the Verizon network) uses the Verizon cell network to make calls. You are not able to make calls over WiFi. Even though they fixed an earlier problem of needing to switch WiFi off while Skype was running, they still limit you to using Verizon’s cell network. This means that all of your calls over Skype using Skype Mobile is costing you cell minutes. Because of this, taking your Verizon phone running Skype to another country to make cheap calls back home is not possible since it requires the Verizon network to function.
Unfortunately, the agreement to lock down Skype calls on Verizon to their network spills over to all Android and Blackberry devices. If you are an Android user in a country that does not have Verizon as its provider then you are not able to use Skype at all. There are rumors that this situation will change by the end of 2010, but I have not read anything official stating that. UPDATE: Skype for Android is now available which will allow you to use Skype over WiFi or 3G without locking you into the Verizon/Skype agreement. This makes the use of Skype on Android the same as the iPhone. However, for Blackberry users they are still locked into the Verizon/Skype agreement.
Fring to the rescue
Keep your eye out on the Fring service. They have Android and iPhone versions of their software, but they can’t call landlines yet. However, they recently announced that they will be rolling those out soon. They already have a working version for the Symbian platform running on the Nokia S60. The Fring service is significantly cheaper than Skype in some countries.
The last time I depended on this method to keep in touch was on a trip to Guadalajara, Mexico. Each day I was able to call my wife from the church I was working in. Also, for fun, I called my brothers and parents from the main square using public WiFi connections.
While WiFi may not be as prolific in some countries as others, the freedom of knowing you can contact family members easily when traveling is a nice feature. Depending on the country you are working in permanently, you might find that using Skype to call your friend across town is even cheaper than using your local cell phone to make the same call.