If you've got a decent mobile phone plan, then calling and texting to other numbers in the UK is pretty cheap these days. But if you've got lots of friends and family that live abroad, then calling them might get pricey. Rates for calling abroad do vary quite a bit, which is why we're looking at your calling abroad options. Which way is cheapest? Read on to find out…
Disclaimer: Rates for calling abroad will depend a lot on which country you're calling. In general, the further away a country is, the more expensive it will be to call. The two exceptions to this are generally the US and Australia (both of which tend to get discounted rates because many customers call there). We can't possibly tell you rates for every single country, so you'll need to check actual rates before calling!
Option One: Use Your Operator's Standard Rates
Obviously, you can call abroad using your regular mobile plan and phone. Be aware of the fact that if you're using Pay As You Go you may need to contact customer service to enable calling abroad (and calling rates may be a little higher than the below). Of course, different operators have different rates. As an example, we're looking at rates to call Australia, the US, Japan, and France (since this covers most of our bases, Japan standing in for all of Asia, and France for EU countries). Standard calling rates per minute with major UK operators are:
- EE: £1.60 to Australia, £1.60 to the USA, £1.60 to Japan, £1.00 to France
- O2: £1.50 to all countries
- Three: 2p to Australia, 56.2p to the USA, £1.02 to Japan, 46p to France
- Vodafone: £2.00 to Australia, £2.00 to the USA, £2.00 to Japan, £1.50 to France
- TalkTalk: 20p to all countries.
This is a pretty expensive option, depending on which operator you have a contract with, so choose your operator carefully!
Option Two: Use Add Ons or Operator Packages
However, if you do call abroad often, you might want to look into special packages that most operators offer. These packages tend to be cheaper than simply using their standard rates, but you won't get them by default, you'll need to request them and possibly even sign a new contract. They will save you money though. Here are the options with the UK's top operators:
- EE: You'll need to ask for the “call abroad add on” and you will then pay 5p a minute to Australian landlines (15p to mobiles), 5p a minute to the USA (landline and mobile), 5p a minute to Japanese landlines (15p to mobiles), and 5p a minute to French landlines (15p to mobiles)
- O2: There are a couple of options here. O2 offers a £5 pre paid international calling card that will charge you 2p per minute to all landlines abroad and 10p to all mobiles, no matter where you're calling. Alternatively, the “International Favourites Bolt On” costs £10 a month (on top of your normal contract price) and gives you 1000 calling minutes to landlines and 100 calling minutes to mobiles to any three international numbers that you choose
- Three: Three make things simple. Ask for the “International Saver Add On” which costs £15.32 a month, and you get 3000 minutes to call anywhere you like
- Vodafone: Ask for the “Vodafone International” package, which costs £5 a month, and you'll be able to call landlines anywhere in the world for 5p a minute, and mobiles for 15p a minute
- TalkTalk: Ask for the “International Saver Boost” which costs just £2.50 a month, and you'll get discounted rates for international calling. With this boost calling Australia is 2p a minute, the USA is 2p per minute, Japan is 3p per minute, and France is 2p per minute.
Option Three: Get an International SIM Card
We need to be a little careful here. What we DON'T mean is that you get a Japanese SIM card and just try to use it in your UK phone, for example. There are two reasons why you shouldn't do this, one is that it might not work at all, the second is that you might get charged roaming fees on that Japanese network when calling, which will end up costing you a fortune. However, if you often call abroad you might want to consider switching away from a major UK network and instead going with a specific “international” operator.
Prices and reputations for these operators vary a lot, so you'll need to be a little careful. But you'll nearly always end up saving money as long as most of your calls are to abroad. Check out Truphone or Lebara Mobile for international SIMs. You'll probably want to keep your UK mobile operator as well if you call both inside the UK and abroad, but switching out SIM cards is pretty simple…
Option Four: Go VoIP
For most people the cheapest option is going to be VoIP services. These are apps like Skype, Viber, or WhatsApp that give you free calling to anyone else that has the same app. Do be careful though. If you're on WiFi then these calls will be free, but if you're using 3G or 4G then calls will subtract from your monthly data limit pretty fast, and bills will add up. You'll need to download the free app and persuade your friend or family member to download the same app, but after that, you should be ready to go.
What about calling to landlines? Well, most VoIP services will also let you call landlines, but they do charge. You'll need to put credit into your Skype account (as an example) using your credit card, PayPal or other payment method, and you can then use that credit to call abroad. As with any other operator, call rates vary by app and by country, so you'll need to look into that. As a general rule costs are cheaper than standard operator rates, but not quite as cheap as rates with operators when you have an international calling add on. But again, that varies, so check rates carefully.