We’ve heard it before: the world is getting smaller. Communicating across oceans and time zones is as simple as a keystroke. But those of us who work for companies and clients across borders still find the search for the right international phone plan a hassle, with services that are often lacking or prohibitively expensive.
Whether it’s being tethered to a laptop, hidden costs or spotty service, international phone plans often don’t meet our needs. And the range of options is mind-numbing.
But don’t fret: we’ve put together a list of some great plans with flexibility, quality of service and price in mind.
With more than 338 million users, this favorite of travelers and telecommuters is the world’s best-known Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) carrier. In addition to its free services, which include video, voice and text chatting, you can purchase credit or subscription packages for calls to landlines and mobiles worldwide.
Furthermore, Skype software can be installed on a number of Wi-Fi enabled devices, allowing users to go mobile. And for those in Wi-Fi deficient regions, you can use call forwarding to send calls directly to your local cell phone.
Skype’s features are really open when considering third-party add-ons. For workaholics, there are several productivity-boosting plug-ins for the software, including call recording, fax capabilities and desktop sharing.
There are drawbacks to the service, though. Some people complain clarity in sound and video fall short with frequent lags and dropouts. Skype’s service works best where broadband is fast and reliable.
And those in countries where the service hasn’t made significant inroads with the dominant telephony companies may find that additional fees apply for some of the service’s more robust features, such as call forwarding.
To the uninitiated, Jajah may appear to be just another Skype competitor. But this California-based company aims to combine the best of two worlds: the premium voice quality of a standard phone and the cost-cutting features of VoIP. The result is infinitely more mobile communication for international telecommuters on the go.
There is no headset, no download and no broadband connection with Jajah. After setting up your account through their web interface, Jajah assigns a local number for each of your international contacts.
Save those numbers to your phone and dial it from any landline or mobile, and the call is placed like any other local number.
While a great option for those who prefer to do their business on the run, Jajah is limited in its features and local numbers are only available in a handful of cities – mainly in Europe and North America. Still, it’s one to watch as it expands its coverage.
For those who rely on online networking for business opportunities, Jaxtr is a pretty cool alternative to Jajah. The company expanded on the idea of providing local numbers for your contacts by also providing an embeddable widget for web pages.
Friends, family and potential clients can enter their phone number in the widget and Jaxtr will connect both parties through their normal phones.
If you want to sever the tether between phone and computer, Vonage is a great option. With a Vonage router, you can continue using your existing phone to make and receive cheap local and international calls carried over broadband.
It offers all the bells and whistles you would expect from a traditional landline, but at a much lower cost.
Along the same lines, ooma is a newer service with similar features, but without some of the bad vibes associated with Vonage after its messy legal tango with traditional telephone operators. Its service is cheaper, but the jury is still out on the quality.
Vonage and ooma both suffer from one severe drawback: geography. Vonage serves the U.S., Canada and the U.K. and ooma is U.S.-based, meaning international telecommuters based in those countries will get the most out of these services.
If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with affordable and robust international service, or if you know a great VoIP service not mentioned here, let your fellow telecommuters and expats know about it in the comments section below.