/ Technology

Calling family overseas – why’s it so expensive?

Phone cord wrapped around globe

My sister recently moved abroad and I’ve been shocked by the costs of calling her on my existing phone package so I’m on the hunt for a cheaper solution. Have you any tips to share?

I’ve been looking around for a new mobile phone deal since my sister moved to the Netherlands. I was shocked at how expensive it would be to call a Dutch mobile from my existing SIM only package with Three compared to alternative networks.

Three charge me 46p/min for a call and a whopping 25.2p to send a text to a Dutch mobile. On the other hand, GiffGaff charge 5p/min for a call and a mere 8p a text.

Whatsapp and Skype for overseas calls

To keep my calling costs down, I need to be a bit savvy. I already use Whatsapp and Skype to keep in touch with friends overseas for free, but my sister can’t afford a phone with such capabilities at the moment. Therefore, I need a UK plan that has large enough allowances to prevent me racking up a hefty bill by going over my minutes and data limits, but I also want to be able to call Europe at a reasonable cost. Am I asking for too much?

One of my colleagues, whose boyfriend lives overseas, has devised her own two-phone solution as the internet connection at his end isn’t that reliable. She has a smartphone on a UK contract and a cheaper basic phone with a Lyca SIM that gives her great rates on international calls. This certainly seems to work economically, but surely there’s an easier way?

How do you keep in touch with friends or family who live abroad, especially when using the internet isn’t always an option? Do you carry around multiple phones for calling different countries or do you have a nifty code that you can plug in before you make a call. Have you ever had a nasty surprise due to overseas calls when you’ve received your phone bill?


Errr…..what about using your landline??


Why should one have to use a landline? From a UK mobile, why for example are calls to US fixed lines charged at a much higher rate than calls to other UK mobiles? The termination rates for the former are much lower than the latter, so why is the former charged at more than the latter? It all seems to be about the British xenophobic approach of unreasonably surcharging for anything foreign; the same often applies to banking and car insurance for example.


My point is that the article didn’t even consider using a landline. Perhaps it’s an alien concept to many nowadays.

I doubt that an unreasonable fear of strangers has anything to do with mobile call tariffs. Mobile telephone firms exists for the benefit of their shareholders rather than for you to phone your sister in Holland cheaply: prices are set to maximize profits. Hence all the squealing from them every time the EU tightens regulations on roaming prices.


When I next move home, I’m not even going to bother with a landline; I don’t want or need one. The only fixed connection I need is high speed internet (>50Mbps). I can run a virtual landline over the internet if I really need one.

Peter Morgan says:
5 October 2013

Understandable that you queried using a landline, but many younger people may be in rented accommodation and many contracts for landlines are for 12 months minimum (some are longer if you add broadband).

If you have unlimited internet on your mobile, and the ability to “tether” your tablet or laptop, then a fixed line is less important perhaps for someone young and single… all their friends call their mobile or text them etc…

As to the mobile networks etc, I think they are starting to try to differentiate themselves with the Three PAYG dropping the cost to 3p/min for calling landlines (01/02/03) and mobiles, or bundling lots of minutes etc, but the lowest prices for calls are usually to the most popular destinations, and not on xenophobic grounds, as you point out 🙂

Michael F says:
26 December 2013

“What about using your landline?”
I was with BT and am now with Virgin Media – I have family in Chile and charges on both of these are totally outrageous. I use 2 US-based carriers:
Voxofon http://voxofon.com/
Keep Calling http://www.keepcalling.com
They both provide UK geographic numbers which means calls are included in minutes on a mobile package or “free calls” on landlines.
Keep Calling is slightly cheaper but Voxofon allows you to assign a number to each of your regular contacts, so you can have them on speed dial.
I started with 10 USD dollars paid into each one and it seems to last for ever!

Ken Westmoreland says:
23 March 2014

“The British xenophobic approach of unreasonably surcharging for anything foreign”. Excuse me? While it is anachronistic for international calls to be charged at high rates, this is hardly unique to the UK – in South Africa, it’s also more expensive to call a local mobile than a US one.

When some people in the US and elsewhere in North America give out their phone numbers, they don’t include the international prefix because they assume you know they’re ‘number one’. The irony is that it is still cheaper to call the UK from the US using an international prefix than it is to phone Bermuda or Jamaica, which use the ‘domestic’ prefix.


A good option is http://www.voipcheap.co.uk and http://www.freevoipdeal.com – both the same company. You can make calls using a smartphone app and the call quality is excellent.

If you top up by around £10 every 4 months, you get unlimited free calls to fixed lines in many industrialised countries. Calls to mobiles come out of the credit at very low rates, for example €0.02/min to a Dutch mobile.

You can even use it to make calls for free while abroad. For example, I was in Moscow last week and using the app on my iPhone, I made a 45-minute call to the UK for free, excellent quality even over 3G data. As I was paying the Russian network 47p/day for 200MB/day, the amount of data the call used was not a problem.

Steve says:
7 September 2013

Thank you I will try this, next time I’m in the UK?