Prior to internet calling, making international calls to the U.S. from Asia was both frustrating and expensive. Gone are the days of braving call centers with ancient circuits and noisy connections for trying to keep in touch with loved ones back home.
Now, a handful of voice-over-IP services (internet calling) make calling the United States from Asia easy, and in some instances, free!
How to Call the U.S. from Asia Using the Internet
First, sign up for an internet calling service such as Skype. Skype is very popular with travelers.
If your loved ones at home also install Skype on their smartphone or computer, you can begin calling home right away for free. The people you wish to call must also sign up for a free Skype account and be online. To call regular phone numbers, you'll need to pay Skype's very reasonable calling rates.
Skype works the same way as other instant messaging platforms: you can add friends by searching for their email addresses. Skype shows when your contacts are online -- you may either text chat or connect for a voice call using your smartphone. You can also make calls using a computer; having a headset will really help call quality. If the connection is good enough, you've got the option for video calling to liven things up.
Tip: Be careful when using Skype on public computers as it's easy to forget to log off. Also, keylogging software installed on computers in internet cafes can capture passwords.
- Read more about using Skype to make international calls.
Using the Skype to Call Landlines
To call regular phone numbers with Skype, you must first fund your account with a minimum credit of US $10.
Making international calls to the United States on Skype only costs around 2 cents per minute after a small connection fee. The cost is deducted from your initial $10 credit, which tends to last a surprisingly long time. When your credit runs out, you can top it up with a credit card. Skype will automatically top up your account via supplied credit card unless you turn off the feature in your profile.
Tip: When struggling with unreliable Wi-Fi connections such as those in remote parts of Asia, you'll be charged the connection fee each time you reconnect. These fees can add up and drain your credit over the length of a frustrating call!
Skype also offers a variety of subscription services where subscribers can pay a flat monthly rate and make unlimited international calls to the country of their choice. This is obviously the best option if you anticipate calling the same country frequently in the same month.
Important: Although calling the U.S. from Asia is cheap, the calling rates for Skype vary from country to country -- particularly when calling mobile phones. Calls to mobile phones often cost more than calls made to landlines. Check the rate on the Skype website before calling those new European friends' mobile phones.
Mobile Apps for Calling the U.S.
For travelers who take their smartphones to Asia, there are a number of messenging apps that allow you to make free calls over data connections. WhatsApp, Line, and Viber are three popular choices for making calls. Assuming that you have a decent Wi-Fi connection, you can make international calls to friends and family in the U.S. just as you normally would at home.
Note: All messaging apps have their own privacy policies -- which most users rarely read carefully -- and may collect data about your interests and activities. This data is used to customize ads and may be sold to third parties.
WhatsApp -- a popular messaging app that was acquired by Facebook -- is a great choice for calling other WhatsApp users. Although you'll be limited to calling from mobile phone to mobile phone, the connection is often clearer and faster than other options. Even better, WhatsApp offers end-to-end encryption, meaning that theoretically even admins can't see your messages stored on Facebook's servers.
Using International Calling Cards in Asia
A slightly more expensive and archaic option for calling home is to purchase international calling cards. These cards come in a multitude of denominations; each company has their own set of fees and rules. Be aware that most of the cards use “credits” to mask how much you are actually spending per call. Also, a steep connection fee for calling from pay phones is usually added to each call.
The instructions for using international calling cards at pay phones in Asia are not always obvious. If you have never used a particular calling card before, ask how to use it at purchase.
- Read about calling Asia from the United States.
Using Your Mobile Phone to Make International Calls
Although expensive, calling home from Asia on your mobile phone without a data connection is possible. First, you must have a GSM-enabled phone. By default, most mobile phones in the U.S. will not work in Asia -- AT&T and T-mobile are the two best choices for phones that will work internationally.
Next, you'll need to have your smartphone "unlocked" to accept foreign SIM cards. Tech support for your carrier may do this for free, or you can pay for the service in phone shops around Asia. You'll then be able to purchase a SIM card that provides you with a local phone number (and perhaps a data 3g/4g connection) for the country you are visiting.
By adding prepaid credit to "top up" your phone, you can make calls from Asia back to the U.S. Rates vary depending on the country and carrier, but you'll certainly pay more for voice calls that don't use an internet connection.