One of the best things about my job is that I get to spend half of the year travelling and blogging around the world, meeting new people, learning different cultures.
One of the more challenging things is still staying in contact with friends and family back home.
Communication is incredibly important to me so I make sure that I’ve got all of the necessary tools available so I can stay in contact with everyone including friends when I arrive in different countries.
Phone apps and other platforms like Skype and Facebook messenger are great but the tool I use most is actually a phone card.
The best part is that you can order them online from sites like phonecardpoint so you can get your phone card information emailed to you right away, there are plenty of these online calling card sites, so just shop around.
Even though we’re about to step into 2021 I still use phone cards about 80% of the time.
Why? Firstly, because they’re more reliable and secondly, some of the countries I visit and friends I call come from locations that either have no internet or unreliable internet making any VoIP options a no go.
The best thing about phone cards is that virtually everyone has a mobile phone or at least access to a landline which means I always have a way to contact them.
Phone cards use the copper phone lines, the very same lines that a lot of us used decades ago before mobile phones really took off.
This makes the calls more reliable, no need to worry about lagging like with the internet and the voice quality is just as good as internet if not better.
What is a phone card?
A phone card isn’t really a card at all it’s really a phone gateway that operates through what is called a local access number.
A local access number is a standard local number, exactly like the one you’d call to reach a friend on their landline.
The difference is that it works similar to a proxy in that once you call that local access number you can now make cheap international calls without your telecommunications provider knowing that you’re making an international call.
As far as they’re concerned, you’re making a local access number.
Are phone cards legal?
Yes. There is nothing illegal about this type of service I is 100% above board but I will say that the big telco companies would prefer it if phone card companies didn’t exist.
Downsides to phone cards
Like any product or industry there are downsides.
The process it takes to make a call can be a hassle, for example it takes 3 steps just to make a phone call.
Step 1: call the local access number
Step 2: enter your PIN
Step 3: dial the international number
This can be challenging for elderly people who would use these cards to call friends and family in a different country.
Sometimes the call quality may not be good due to the carrier lines the phone card provider is using for example, noisy static lines or echoing.
The final downside is that there are unfortunately phone card companies that use borderline or outright unethical practices. I’ll cover these off in the next section so that you know what to look for when purchasing your phone card.
How to purchase a phone card (without being ripped off)
Go with online phone card companies
The reason I say to go with online phone card companies is because the retail shop owner isn’t able to help you much if there’s a problem outside of giving a refund and that could be tricky in some countries.
Call the online card company and ask these questions:
What happens to my credit once my phone card expires?
It’s common practice for phone card companies to take any credit left over that hasn’t been used once the card expires.
There are some card companies that will however never delete your credit.
Can I reactivate an expired card?
Some companies will allow you to reactivate your expired card as well as reinstate you’re your previous balance.
Do you charge connection/disconnection fees?
It is very typical for phone card companies to charge connection or disconnection fees. This is when the company deducts a set fee from your card upon successful connection. I would avoid these cards unless they offer reduced phone rates which a lot of them will have.
If the company only sells connection fee cards then this may be a sign to go elsewhere but this depends on the per minute rate and how much the connection fee is.
What if there is a problem with my call?
There are a few problems that you can run into when using phone cards:
- Noisy static line
- The other person not being able to hear you or vice versa.
- Not being able to connect but still being charged
- Being overcharged
Either way, you want to ask the customer service team how long it would take to resolve these issues. Good phone card services should be able to fix these problems (excluding being overcharged) that same day or even faster.
If your card is charging you more per minute then this could take longer – probably best to try and get a refund.
Are there any hidden fees?
The most common type of hidden fee might be the administration fee. The admin fee is a fee that they deduct from your card every month or so it’s kind of like a bank fee it is just a way to skim money from your card.
Can you call mobiles and landlines?
Some cards will be all-rounder type cards that offer a generally good rate for phone both mobile phones and landlines and some will be a lot cheaper for phone mobiles or phone landlines.
Also, you want to know if it costs you extra to call from your own landline or mobile as well.
What is your refund policy?
Finally, you want to know how their refund policy works. Some phone card companies do not allow refunds on partially used cards, so you want to make sure that if you use the card and the call has technical issues through no fault of your own that you can get an immediate refund.
Phone cards are a fantastic option for making cheap international calls but you do need to know how to buy them because there are more than a few companies following unethical businesses practices but if you take the time to call up the customer service team and ask them a few basic questions you’ll be able to find great phone cards.