It is a fact of expat life, than when we move overseas we spend much more time chatting on the telephone and our phone bills soar. The introduction of new telephone services such as Skype and Voip have recently made life so much easier, and cheaper, for the expat.
My Great Aunt Gertie hates phoning me in Spain. A long distance call from Manchester to Bournemouth is perfectly acceptable, even at peak rate; however, when it comes to a call from the UK to the Canary Islands, I hear the sharp inward sucking through her false teeth and a breathless “I must be quick, dear, I am calling long distance. It is very expensive, dear.” My usual response of “No, Auntie you have this number on Friends and Family…” makes no difference.
Great Aunt Gertie also complains about, “That Spanish lady. I can’t understand a word she’s saying…”
“No Auntie, you won’t, because you don’t speak Spanish,” is my forlorn defence of Telefonica’s automated response that Auntie will sometimes hear if I am not in. Mobile phone? I hear you say. Sadly not, as that causes an even worse problem for Auntie. “You’ll have to speak up, dear. It is such a long way away.”
I realised long ago that the telephone issue would have to be sorted if I was not to be banished from Auntie’s will. I tried Skype, a wonderful service, but even though I bought Auntie a Skype phone, which didn’t need a computer, thankfully, she still complained endlessly about the call quality. Then I discovered the answer. She always insisted upon putting her false teeth in when using the Skype phone. For some strange reason she claimed that she felt naked without them. Usually she didn’t bother with false teeth, following a very unpleasant argument with her dentist, yet she can still crack a nut like anyone else. Why she had to put her teeth in when speaking on the Skype phone, I shall never know, but I suspect that it was because the magic box looked a little like a camera.
In despair, I turned to a wonderful new system called Voip (Voice over Internet Protocol). Without dealing too much with the technicalities, these clever telephones look and behave just like a normal telephone and can be easily used, as long as you have an Internet connection. You don’t need to have a computer switched on; indeed, you don’t even need a computer. I have a cordless version, which means I can wander anywhere in the house or outside and still be connected. Now this is the clever part. The Voip service that I use gave me a UK telephone number; actually, I bought one with a Bournemouth code, as I used to live there and I still have a lingering attachment to that fine seaside town. I now have a UK (Bournemouth) telephone number that Auntie Gertie and all my friends and family can dial at a local call rate, or free with some telephone packages. The call is diverted to my Voip phone in the Canary Islands, and at no cost to me either. The call quality is excellent and even Auntie Gertie often comments that it sounds as if I am in the next room, and I am not shouting!
The other clever part about this system is that if I am out of the house, but in range of a Wifi or 3G mobile telephone signal, the call is diverted automatically to my iPhone free of charge as part of my mobile Internet package. I can be shopping in my local supermarket and still chat to Auntie Gertie, with or without teeth!
For me, having a UK phone number has proved to be invaluable as publishers, relatives and friends seem to be much happier calling me on my local UK number than calling my Spanish home number. I am not in the business of selling telephone services or equipment, but if you would like further information have a look at the Expat Guide section on my website - www.barriemahoney.com. Great Aunt Gertie is now quite happy with the arrangement and she assures me regularly that I am still mentioned in her will!
These are the Voip Telephony providers that I use and can recommend:
Purchase of a local UK telephone number is about ₤2.00 per month, although both services will give you a national UK number free of charge. Local numbers from other countries such as Ireland, Spain, Portugal and the USA are also available.
For outgoing calls, you can use either of these two services. However, I use the service offered by 12Voip as they offer some of the best call rates on the market, including 90 days of free calls to national numbers (not to mobile phones). Calls to UK mobiles cost around 5 pence per minute.
As mentioned in the article, if you set up your service correctly, calls can be diverted automatically to your mobile phone if you are in WiFi or 3G area, and are included in your mobile Internet plan at no additional cost. I use an iPhone 4, together with the following Apps, which makes this possible:
SIP Softphone by Acrobits or
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.
© Barrie Mahoney