I’ve been an expat for several years now. I don’t currently live in Thailand but I obviously have an interest in the country and have a lot of friends who live there. Calling Thailand could get very expensive. Very fast. Likewise, calling home from Thailand could be just as expensive if not more.
But I’ve never had to worry (too much) about the costs of calls. Many years ago I started using a service called Vonage. If you’re familiar with Skype it’s similar in concept but with a lot more features.
Basically it’s a box that you plug into your internet network. Once plugged in you attach a regular phone to it and you can make phone calls that travel from the phone, to the Vonage box where your sounds are digitized, out over the internet, to a Vonage center where they are sent over regular phone lines to the person you are calling (or who is calling you).
The beauty of this setup is that if I have a phone number in Los Angeles and someone in Los Angeles calls me while I’m in London they call my Los Angeles phone number and I receive the call in London. The caller pays the local rate (if any) for the call. I have a US package which means that I can call anywhere in the US, Canada, Puerto Rico, Italy, France, Spain, UK and Ireland at no additional charge. I simply pay my $24.99 a month fee for the service and I can call any of those places for one fee. Of course, if someone from the UK calls my Los Angeles number they will pay long distance fees but there’s even a way to get around that.
Up until that point it sounds a lot like Skype. But the big difference between Skype and Vonage is that Vonage acts like a real phone service. You have voice mail, call forwarding, and all of the advanced services you might expect from a telephone operator back home.
Plus the box is so small (about the size of a book) that you can take it with you wherever you travel. Don’t want to miss a call while you head down to Australia for a little sun and fun? Take your Vonage box with you and plug in a telephone and you’re set. Nobody will even know you’re not at home.
I said earlier that I would tell you how to get around toll charges for people calling you from various locations. Here’s the trick; Vonage allows you to have virtual phone numbers. Let’s say my Los Angeles phone number is +13105551212. That’s great for anybody in Los Angeles who wants to contact me and it’s relatively cheap for anybody else in the US to call me but I do a lot of business in Europe as well so what now? Well, I purchase a virtual phone number. Prices range from $4.99 to $9.99 a month depending on the country. I have a UK virtual phone number which costs me $4.99. Now I can give out my Los Angeles phone number and a London phone number so people on both sides of the pond can call me at local rates.
That’s all fine and dandy but this is a blog about Bangkok and Thailand so what does that mean for a resident of Thailand? Well, you can get the Vonage service and get a phone number back home. All your friends and family will be able to contact you as if you lived back home.
When I visit Thailand I go on the Vonage website and tell them to forward my calls to my mobile in Thailand. The forwarding is long distance because as far as Vonage is concerned they’re forwarding a call from Los Angeles to Bangkok but I added the Asia package to my plan so I pay an extra $10 a month and I can make unlimited calls to 17 Asian countries, and Thailand just happens to be on that list. So, in effect, someone can call me on either my London or Los Angeles phone and I pick up on a mobile phone in Thailand.
They also have other calling plan package with different pricing which nearly cover the entire planet so there’s really very few places where you can’t get a calling plan that would be substantially cheaper than any phone card or other discount service.
One possible downside to Vonage is that the quality of the call will be as good as the quality of your internet connection. Sometimes the calls can be a little scratchy but I’ve had the same over regular telephone lines so I’m not all that sure it’s a major issue. Just something to consider. And when I forward to my mobile it’s not passing over an internet connection (maybe within Vonage but they’ve got the capacity to handle it) as the call is from the caller to Vonage who then sends the call to the mobile.
All in all it’s a pretty good service. I’m not pimping them or anything. It’s just that I’ve lived overseas in Europe for several years and I don’t know how I would survive without it. I’m also seriously considering relocating to Thailand in the near future and on my last trip back to the US I picked up a brand new slimmer and sleeker Vonage box as mine was about 5 or 6 years old and I didn’t want to get stuck if it finally wore out. Plus the old one had seen a lot of abuse in suitcases over the years so it seemed to make sense not to take the risk of being without.
I know for sure you can buy Vonage in the US and UK (UK, you need to go to vonage.co.uk instead of the .com in the link above). I think you can also buy a Vonage box in Spain, Ireland, Italy, and France but you’ll have to check on that. I don’t believe they’ll ship to any countries outside of that so if you don’t qualify you’ll probably need someone to either go buy one (they sell them in most electronics shops in the US) or order it online and then forward it to you. You might even need a billing address in a valid country but they bill my credit card which has a US billing address so I’ve never run into that issue and can’t tell you what the rules are there.
Well, that’s all I have. Feel free to ask questions and I’ll try to answer as best I can.