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Cheap UK and International Calls
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Updated 12 Jul 2017
Calling friends, family or lovers overseas can cost a fortune phoning Australia on BT can be up to 90p/min and with Vodafone it’s an eye-watering Ј1.50/min. But if you know the RIGHT way to call you can pick up the phone for next to nothing, or even for free.
The best way to go about this depends on your circumstances. This guide explains the options, with step-by-step instructions on how to make cheap or free UK and international calls, from mobiles and landlines.
In this guide.
It used to be all about override providers – what happened to them?
Until recently a key trick when making cheap international and UK calls was using what’s known as an ‘override provider’.
These are firms that give you a special ‘access number’ which you dial first – then once connected you dial the number you’re actually calling. (We used to list these providers in our UK Callchecker and International Callchecker tools, which unfortunately have now been removed following the changes described below.)
However in July 2015 Ofcom introduced new rules on non-geographic number charges, which hiked the cost of calling many override providers. As a result, in most cases override providers AREN’T the cheapest option any more, though as we explain below they do still beat simply picking up your mobile or landline.
This is the first incarnation of this guide please give us feedback and suggest improvements in the Cheap Calls forum thread.
What sort of calls are you making?
The guide below explains all possible calling options and makes it clear what’s cheapest. But it’s not just down to price – convenience is a factor too, particularly if you’re only making the occasional international call.
The best option will depend on lots of factors, including where you’re calling, how you’re calling, how often you’re calling and how much effort you want to put into cutting the cost.
Always check first if you can call for free. Otherwise, as a general rule:
- Making a one-off call? Use an ‘instant dial’ override provider with your landline or mobile. This isn’t the very cheapest option – but it does involve minimal hassle in terms of setting up accounts.
- Making occasional calls? Use a paid VoIP service, or ‘18185’ from a landline or a mobile. This will take slightly longer to set up, but it’s cheaper so probably worth it if making several calls.
- Making regular overseas calls, especially to a single destination? Get a bundle. This requires you commit to a monthly plan but the savings can be significant.
First, check if you can call for free
Before you look at the best options for making a cheap call, there’s one very important point to understand – if you’ve access to the internet it’s possible to call people for free.
What’s geekily known as VoIP (short for ‘Voice over Internet Protocol’) has turned the phone world upside down. So long as you and the person you’re calling are online, there are lots of ways to call them completely free of charge.
We’ve listed a few ways of doing this below, though you can find a longer list and a full explanation of how they work in our Free Web Calls guide.
Via a PC/Mac: Connect to the internet through Wi-Fi or a wired connection and desktop programs like Skype or Facetime (Mac only) are easy to contact other users on. Most laptops come with a microphone (and often a webcam, if you want video too) built-in. Otherwise you can pick up a headset for less than a tenner.
Via a smartphone/tablet: The advantage of portable devices such as these is they usually have access on-the-go so you can call via 3G/4G or Wi-Fi (the former will use data, though, so watch your allowance).
Many of the same free services you can use on PCs and Macs are also available as free apps (including the two above) via the App Store, Google Play store or Windows Phone store. There are also options specifically geared towards use on a mobile, like Viber (also possible to use on desktop) and WhatsApp.
Yet there’s a golden rule here which catches many out:
Remember, Skype and similar services are only free if BOTH you and the person you’re calling are online.
If you use the service to call a phone number, you pay – this is how VoIP providers make money. But often there are cheaper alternatives to the likes of Skype, as we explain below.
Calling a UK number? Use inclusive calls/minutes
If you’re calling a UK number and have inclusive calls/minutes with your landline provider or mobile network, the simplest option is to use those. (These aren’t really free, of course, as you’re paying for the overall package, but since you’ve paid for them you may as well use them.)
Inclusive calls packages which come with a landline rarely cover calls to mobiles, and even calls to other landlines are often only included at certain times of day and with a time limit on individual calls (typically 60 mins – if so, just hang up before the hour’s up and dial again). With mobile allowances there are rarely limitations on the call type or length, though if you call a non-standard number eg, one starting 084, 087 or 09 additional charges likely apply.
If you call a UK mobile which is abroad at the time you dial, you won’t pay any more to call than if the phone was still in the UK – it’s not the location of the recipient that matters, but the nationality of their number. Bear in mind, however, that the recipient is likely to have to pay to pick up the call see the Mobile Roaming guide for more on this.
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Paid calls via the web cheapest but requires an account adding credit
If you can’t make the call for free eg, if the person you want to call isn’t online or doesn’t use a free service like Skype you can still slash the cost of calls. We mentioned above that Skype lets you pay to call non-Skype users (ie, an actual phone number), but there are lots of other companies out there that do it MUCH cheaper.
The way it works is you sign up with a VoIP provider and top up your account with credit, usually added through its website (if you’ll be making regular calls to a particular destination, it may be worth getting a monthly plan). You pay a per-minute rate for the call; some providers also charge a one-off connection fee on top.
Costs depend on where you’re calling and from which provider, but when we checked prices for calling mobiles in 10 countries in Nov 2015 the following were cheapest:
- Vyke (cheapest for Ireland, France, Germany, Poland, India, Pakistan, Australia)
- Localphone (cheapest for USA and Canada)
- Rebtel (cheapest for China)
You can use this method to make dirt-cheap calls if you fit into one of these categories:
- Calling from a smartphone? Download the VoIP provider’s smartphone app most apps can access your phone book, so you can call straight from the app. Calls are usually made via Wi-Fi or 3G/4G (in which case keep an eye on your data allowance).
- Have inclusive calls on a landline? If you’re dialling a mobile or calling overseas, you may not be able to use your inclusive minutes directly – but you can still use them to call for less via a VoIP service, through its ‘local access number’. Enter the number you want to call into your account on its website and it’ll give you an alternative local number to dial.
If you don’t fit into one of the categories above though, this WON’T be the cheapest option.
If you’ve a non-smart mobile phone, you can use a paid VoIP service via a local access number like you can with a landline, but you’ll use up your inclusive minutes, or if you have none left, will be charged the standard rate. If you’re on a landline and can’t use inclusive calls, you’ll pay the local rate to connect to the access number.
In both cases you’ll also have to pay the VoIP provider’s rate, so it isn’t worth it see below instead for landline and mobile alternatives.
What it costs to call via the internet
This table compares the cost with a VoIP provider (we used Localphone for a full list see the Free Web Calls guide) to calling directly from your landline or mobile. Rates vary by country we’ve used UK, German and Australian recipient numbers as examples.