Sunday, January 26, 2014

Staying connected by phone when you travel, for cheap

It can be extremely expensive to stay in touch when travelling, at least if you want more than a Skype connection in an internet cafe.

I finally found a solution that works for me. It took a little bit of time and effort to setup, and outgoing calls aren't as easy as they could be, but the price is fantastic, and the flexibility of being able to use a cell phone means I no longer find myself stuck in my hotel room or at an internet cafe making calls.

What you need

  • A dual-SIM, no frills phone. I bought the Blu Tank, which can be purchased new from various eBay sellers for around $25. The killer features are support for two SIM cards, as well as an extremely long battery life.
  • A SIM card from Piranha Mobile (can be purchased directly from the company, for £12.00). Their killer feature is the ability to do "off load" call backs, which lets you initiate 3rd-party call backs to and from arbitrary numbers. 
  • An account with, $5.00 minimum credit required to sign up.
  • An account with, which can initiate (via their Android app) call-backs to a Toggle number. €10.00 minimum credit required to sign up.
Getting it working

: £12.00
: £12.0)
  • Activate Toggle SIM and sign up for an additional permanent number in Denmark . By default you receive a permanent UK number that people can call, but you can also get a "local" number in 9 countries. These local numbers are for 30 days, but for £5 per year, you can get a permanent number in another country. Of the "local number" countries supported by Toggle, Denmark seems to have the among the cheapest incoming calls. (Note, people are reporting on forums that the Toggle US numbers are not as reliable as others in other countries).
  • Sign up for, and  "activate" the Toggle Denmark number with the account. This is a simple process that requires that they make an automated call your phone to verify that you control the number. 
  • Register a new US number with Localphone, which will cost 99 cents per month. Configure localphone to forward all calls from this new US number to your Toggle Denmark number.
  • Register account with VOIP calling service You can use VoipYo to initiate calls to your Toggle UK number, or the Denmark number (which seems a little bit cheaper right now). Total cost about 3 cents per minute for these calls.
  • Activate the Piranha SIM online.

How I use it
The Localphone service allows me to have a US "landline" number that anyone can call me at, at no cost to them, which will then reach me in 20 countries, for approximately 3 cents per minute

This is what I use for incoming calls. For convenience, I forward my Google Voice number to the localphone number, which means that people can call me on my "main" Google Voice phone #, and it reaches when I am traveling.

For outgoing calls, I have two options. The cheapest and easiest is to use the VoipYo Android app to initiate calls, but this requires an Internet connection, either at my hotel or somewhere with WiFi.

When I don't have internet, I can use the Piranha call-back service to initiate the call (the piranha SIM initiates the call-back and part of the calls is billed to my piranha account, but the incoming call actually comes in on the Toggle SIM...this is why having a dual-SIM phone is important).

The Piranha call-back is a bit of a pain, as it requires you to enter a long-string of numbers: *110*localphone_number*number_to_call#

(note, both the phone numbers above need a country code, such as 001 or 0044)

This isn't the most convenient for a quick call, but it is easy to program in frequently called friends and family, after which, it is no effort at all to initiate callbacks.

If I am feeling lazy, and just need to make a quick call, it is generally cheaper to use the Piranha SIM. I try to avoid this though.

With this setup, I can make incoming and outgoing calls, at extremely low cost, and no longer waste time and money buying SIM cards in every country I visit (which is time consuming, can be expensive, and must be repeated every time I go back, since the SIM cards and the credit on them tend to expire after a month or two if they aren't used).

If you find something better that works for you, please leave a note in the comments.

Note for using it outside of the Toggle free 20 countries

People on the forums report that you need to use the UK Toggle number for incoming calls when in the 16 countries where incoming Toggle calls have a connection fee (but are otherwise free). Be careful, or you could get a nasty bill.

Potential for improving this setup

This scheme would be much, much easier if I could get rid of localphone, and have a Toggle permanent US number, rather than a permanent Denmark number. This would save me the $0.99 I pay per month for the Localphone US number each month, which is only used to forward calls to the Toggle denmark number.

I'll keep my eyes on the forums. If Toggle's US numbers prove to be stable, I may ditch the Denmark number, and cancel my Localphone account.