cell phones

Phone calls anywhere

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Since I started traveling about a year and a half ago staying in contact with people has been one of the most difficult things for me (the bizarre local calling systems don't help either :)). This is especially true with people who can't get online, like my Grandma. Figuring out a decent phone system has been really tough and I even recently had to change my "permanent" number which I've already written about here and here.

I think I've finally got a great system worked out. Something that will work for anyone who travels internationally a lot. It will get a lot simpler and cheaper when Google Voice goes international or Skype gets SkypeIn numbers in Canada.

The problems:

  1. Over the past 1.5 years I've "lived" in 6 countries and had a local cellphone number in 4 of them.
  2. Roaming for me to call out is prohibitively expensive.
  3. My family never has any idea of how to get a hold of me. All of my friends that I maintain decent relationships with are online so that's not so much of a problem.
  4. In emergencies I need to be contactable.
  5. I don't want my family and friends to pay a fortune just to call me.

The solution:

  1. A local (Vancouver) VoIP number that never changes (ideally)
  2. A US SkypeIn number and SkypeOut subscription
  3. A local cellphone number

I switched to Voice Network in September for my VoIP service and so far have been happy with them. I pay $4.50/month for my Vancouver phone number and 1c/min to anywhere in Canada, 1.5c/min for US.

Skype is really a lifesaver. Without it I don't believe my life would be nearly as comfortable. I have a subscription to Skype "Unlimited US & Canada" which gives me virtually unlimited North American calling for $2.80/month. I recently picked up a US SkypeIn that costs me $4.46/month.

I also make a habit of getting a local phone number for my cellphone in any country I'm in for a decent amount of time just to make my life easier. (A SIM card in South Africa cost me 14c CAD compared to $40CAD in Vancouver :-/ so really most places the local number is virtually free to get and then just pay per use).

My setup:
1. For people who want to contact me... either call me on Skype or call my Vancouver VoIP number listed on the left hand side of my blog. I forward my VoIP number to my SkypeIn number and then either answer the Skype call on my computer, go to voicemail or forward it to my local cellphone number (in SA it's ~30c/min, so I don't do that unless I'm expecting a call).

2. For me to call out has never been a problem, and I just use Skype for that.

The total cost to me is about $12/month which is well worth it for a permanent local phone number wherever I am in the world. (In addition to these services, I also use a Logitech ClearChat Wireless Headset which I use for all my phone calls).

I'm only a bit embarrassed that it took me this long to get going with the SkypeIn number... it really does simplify everything and makes things run so much smoother.

Making phone calls to Buenos Aires, Argentina - AND 3G!

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Calling a friend generally consists of picking up your phone and dialing the phone number your friend has given you. Giving your phone number to a friend generally consists of telling them the same number that was assigned to you by your phone company. This doesn't necessarily apply in Argentina.

Diagram of phone system

This is a picture of a back of a sheet of paper our spanish teacher used to explain the phone system here.

1. The base phone number in Argentina is 8 digits, i.e. 1234 5678
2. The area code for Buenos Aires is 11, so 11 1234 5678
3. Unless you're using a cellphone in which case it's 15, so 15 1234 5678
4. To call a cellphone from a landline (which, btw your landline will need to have a special plan to do) you use 15.
5. To call or SMS a cellphone from another cellphone you use 11, not 15.
6. To call a landline from a cellphone you also use 11.
7. When receiving calls from a cellphone the caller ID will appear as a 11 number.
8. When receiving SMS's from a cellphone the caller ID will appear as the full international +54 number.

And for international (incoming) calls...

1. The country code for Argentina is +54
2. You never use the 15 area code when dialing into Buenos Aires, cellphone or landline, you always use 11
3. You might think.. "ok this is easy enough, so the phone number would be +54 11 1234 5678" and you'd be right... UNLESS you're trying to call a cellphone.
4. When calling a cellphone, the telecom company here has decided to also insert a '9' directly before the area code into international incoming calls. So the number would actually be +54 9 11 1234 5678

So to sum up. My phone number here is 15 3346 9192. If you want to call or sms from a cellphone here it will actually be 11 3346 9192. If you want to call me internationally you'll dial +54 9 11 3346 9192. And hopefully you don't need to call me from a landline in Buenos Aires, cause it probably won't work.

Here's a useful reference I found on the topic: Calling Argentina

== 3G with Claro in Argentina ==

My phone company here is called Claro. A couple quick searches on The Google for an APN username and password and password for Claro were helpful :) . There's no username/password as usual, and the address is internet.ctimovil.com.ar - set that up on your phone and presto! 3G. Much easier than actually figuring out how to call someone. Claro data rates aren't cheap though. I think I'm probably paying close to 10ARS/MB, or roughly $4CAD.

For future reference this looks like a useful list of the APNs for most carriers world wide.