I don’t think I realized the importance of being able to call the US from Ireland until my husband and I had scheduled a trip at the same time my sister was due to have a baby. Typically, we email our families to check in when we are away, but that just wasn’t going to do this time. I couldn’t possibly go two weeks without hearing the news firsthand.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really do my research about calling from Ireland to the US as much as I probably should have on this very special occasion. I had recently rented an international cell phone when I led a group of students to Central America. It worked fairly well then, so I thought it would be fine for our time in Ireland.
On the 6th day of our trip, I got a muffled message from home. While I couldn’t quite make out what my mother said, I assumed it had to the good news. We were on the Aran Islands and reception wasn’t clear. To be fair, the reception might have been bad on any phone carrier since I was on an 8.5 mile wide island in the Atlantic. I couldn’t wait to call back and hear all the details.
However, it wasn’t until several hours later after we figured out all our pins and pass codes and found a sweet spot at our B&B that I was finally able to talk to my mom.
Baby Kaden had arrived! Mother and son were doing great. It was beyond comforting to talk with my family and be apart of this moment of joy from 3000 miles away. (Update– He is just the sweetest thing! No really, the sweetest!)
This experience and emails from a few Infinite Ireland readers sparked me to do some research on cell phones in Ireland. Knowing that most people want to watch their budget and cheaply call home, the below are eight ways to call the US from Ireland. Or probably more accurately, eight ways to communicate with your loved ones while you travel.
Option # 1: International Calling Plan with Your Current Cell Phone Provider
Best for: Those not planning to make and receive phone calls or use data in Ireland, but want emergency back-up.
The most convenient of options is to contact your current cell phone provider to see what international calling plans are available to you. Most have at least one, if not several international plans. The type of phone you have will dictate if you can use it overseas. If yours isn’t compatible with the European network—GSM, some cell phone companies will send one to you if you’re traveling for less than three weeks.
Beware. Using your current provider’s international plan is usually the most expensive option out there. For example, Verizon has a Global Services plan. It costs $4.99/month and $0.99/minute to make a call. Each text you send is $0.50. Receiving a text is $0.05. If you want data, it’ll be $20 for 100 MB. After the first 100 MB, the rate shoots to $25 per MB.
In my budget minded opinion, this is really, really expensive. However if you truly don’t intend on calling home at all and are only using your phone for emergencies, five bucks extra for the month isn’t too much to spend for peace of mind.
Option #2: Unlocked Phone
Best for: Those who want to have an inexpensive cell phone to call people in Ireland and the US; those who will use an unlocked phone in future travels in Europe.
One way to thwart the phone companies all together is to use an unlocked GSM cell phone. Unlocked phones allow the freedom of not being tethered to one particular provider as is often required in the US.
While unlocked phones aren’t as common in the US as they are in Europe, they are really cost-effective if you travel a lot. Amazon seems to have the nicest selection of unlocked phones (be sure to check the sellers approval rating to help ensure the phone is indeed unlocked).
Basically after you buy an unlocked phone, you can buy a pre-paid SIM card in any country you travel to. In Ireland you can purchase SIM cards at the airport, local grocery stores (TESCO specifically), shopping malls or even at newspaper stands. Once you have a SIM card, place it in the back of your phone. You now have a local phone number and will be able to make and receive calls. Top up your minutes via credit card.
Option #3: Buy a Phone in Ireland
Best for: Those who want to have an inexpensive cell phone to call locally and internationally; those who will return to Ireland and use the phone again.
Similar to using an unlocked phone, you can easily pick up a cheap cell phone in Ireland when you arrive. Some at TESCO are as little as €20.00. Once you have your phone with a pre-paid SIM card, you can use your phone in to call in Ireland and the US. Current TESCO rates to call the US are €0.02 per minute to landlines or cell phones.
Option #4: Renting a Cell Phone
Best for: Those that want a pre-paid phone before leaving Ireland; those that don’t mind decoding reading directions.
There are many companies that rent international cell phones for a short time on a pre-paid basis. You sign up and pay for the service/minutes you want online. They ship you a phone with calling card minutes loaded and you send it back when you are done. All in all, this part is relatively easy to do.
However, while the phones worked and we were able to connect home, I didn’t love our rent a cell carrier. I am pretty sure we had enough codes and pins to launch something to the moon. While it wasn’t super complicated, if you do go this route be sure to fully read the instructions completely and know how to use the phone before you leave.
Option #5: Skype
Best for: Those who have a wi-fi ready device and wants to make calls to the US for free; those that want to inexpensively call land lines over wi-fi; not great for those who need to accept or make phone calls immediately.
If you haven’t heard of or used Skype, have no fear. It is an easy online app that can be used on a smart phone, iPad or desktop computer to talk with people anywhere in the world. There are two easy ways to use Skype:
FREE: Video call or voice call someone else who also has a Skype account. All you need to do sign up for a Skype account and be sure the recipient has one too. As long as you have an internet connection you can talk for as long as you like. If you have never used Skype before create an account before you go and do a test run. Both the caller and receiver will need to have Skype open or running to send or receive calls.
Pre-Paid: Call a cell phone or landline with pre-paid minutes purchased with your Skype account (recipient does not have to have Skype to do this). Calling from your Skype account from Ireland to the US is only a couple of cents per minute with a $0.05 connection fee. If you want others to get in touch with you at any time, Skype has a voice mail service. If someone leaves you a voice mail, you will receive a text to whichever phone number you designate indicating you have received a new voice mail.
I travel quite a bit and this is probably our favorite method of communication. I put $10.00 on my Skype account a while back and still have a bit to spare.
The only downside of Skype is that you do need to have internet access to make or receive calls. With most Irish B&B’s offering free wi-fi, Skype ends up being the best and cheapest method of communication for us.
Option #6: Google Voice
Best for: Those who have a wi-fi device and wants to receive voice messages from family and friends ; not great for those who need to accept or make phone calls immediately.
Google Voice is another option that, while similar, is slightly different from Skype. Google Voice’s best feature is its free voice mail service. Simply forward your traditional cell number to your free Google Voice account. When someone calls your number and leaves a message, you can access the message online. You won’t need to use your phone or international calling plan. Read more about Corey’s positive experiences using Google Voice while in Ireland over at Irish Fireside.
Google Voice has many other services like the ability to inexpensively call the US from Ireland and text messaging. By most reports these services are still a little clunky, but Google does have a YouTube channel which does a good job explaining them.
Option #7: WhatsApp
Best for: Those who want to send sms text messages to family and friends.
If you have a wifi device and want to send free text messages back home, you can’t get any better than WhatsApp. Similar to Skype and Google Voice, it’s a free service to send text messages to others who also have the app, WhatsApp, installed. There are only two drawbacks to WhatsApp. The first is convincing your friends and family to install the app on their device. The second is being near wifi to send/receive text messages. Again with wifi being available widely in Ireland, you should be able to check in at least once a day during your travels.
Option #8: Mobile Hotspots
Best for: Those who have a wi-fi ready device; those who are used to and expect to have phone and data all the time.
If you’re the type that wants to be connected a lot while in Ireland, you can opt to have your very own mobile hotspot. Some car rental providers have begun offering this as an add-on to your car rental. You can also seek out companies that will send you a hotspot in the mail before you leave. Pop it back in the mail when you are done. The cost can run $5-$15 per day depending on how much data you expect to use. Jody over at Ireland Family Vacations can give you some advice with TravelWifi, a mobile hotspot service that covers Ireland.
Have you been to Ireland before? What’s your best advice for communicating home?