How to make cheap international calls from the UK

A lot of students find that the cost of calling international numbers from the UK can be very high. Fortunately there are some clever ways around this that can save you a small fortune on call charges.

Get online

Students are free to use the hundreds of University computers to get online and keep in touch completely free of charge. There are plenty of options for contacting friends and family back home using the Internet such as email, Facebook and instant messaging. You can use the University computers to keep in touch in this way, but please don’t stay on a computer for too long if other students are waiting to get on with their coursework, and please don’t try to install any software as this contravenes university guidelines.

If you’re living in private accommodation and have web access and a computer then Skype or any other reputable VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) software will let you make free calls to anyone else using the same system, wherever they are in the world. You can even make video calls if you’ve both got a fast enough connection. If you haven’t yet got broadband you can find deals by visiting an Ofcom approved broadband comparison site.

You can also use Skype to call people on their home or mobile phones at a fraction of the cost of calling from a telephone. You can pay in three ways; after you’ve made the call (the most expensive option), by buying a block of 60 minutes to a specific country, or by subscribing to one of three international calling plans:

Unlimited Europe incl. UK – Unlimited calls to landlines in 23 European countries.

Unlimited World incl. UK and China – Includes unlimited calls to landline and mobile phones in China and the USA and to landlines in Malaysia.

Unlimited World incl. UK, India and China - Includes unlimited calls to landline and mobile phones in China, India and the USA.

Unfortunately some countries including Nigeria don’t fall into any of these packages, so your best option for calling those is to buy blocks of minutes.

It’s worth noting that although Skype is by far the UK’s most popular VoIP provider, others are available. As with any purchase you should carefully weigh up your options before you buy credit from any specific provider.

Get a deal on your mobile

Try not to use your mobile phone to call international numbers if you bought it with you when you moved to the UK. Instead try to get an international SIM that you can use in your existing phone in place of the one provided by your operator back home. If you choose to do this make sure you choose a SIM from a reputable provider, such as the O2 International SIM or the T-Mobile International Plan.

If you’ve got a phone from a UK provider then you may be able to get discounts on a range of international calls, or calls to a specific country. Different providers offer different discount options so our advice is to call your provider for advice before you do anything else.

Get an international calling card

With an international calling card you buy a set amount of credit in advance and then dial your friends or family via an access number. The cost of the call is then taken off the card’s balance, usually along with a small connection charge.

The trick to getting the most from an international calling card is to find the one which offers the best rates to your chosen country, and which has the cheapest access number. If you’ll be calling from a landline phone look for a card with a free 0800 access number, but if you’ll be using your mobile it may actually work out cheaper to look for a “geographical” number beginning with 01, 02 or 03.

With a good international calling card you should be able to call landlines in countries including China, India, Malaysia and USA for just 1p per minute plus connection charge and the cost of the call to the access number (if applicable), while calls to mobiles can be made for as little as 1p-4p per minute. Calls to some parts of the world including Nigeria and other parts of Africa cost more, but still work out a lot cheaper than usual.

‘Simply Dial’ websites

If you can’t find an international calling card you can use an access number instead. These work in pretty much the same way in that you dial via an access number, however all charges are added to your phone or mobile bill instead of being deducted from a prepaid balance.

On the whole access numbers (or “simply dial” as they’re often known) tend not be as cheap as calling cards, especially if you’re calling from a mobile. Having said that, if you're stuck they’re certainly better than nothing and they can come in handy if you find yourself unable to add credit to a calling card when you need to make an urgent call.

Information provided by Ofcom Accredited comparison site