International Telecommunications

Retire Overseas Glitches, Part 2–Staying In Touch

“There are blips and bumps at every turn, regardless how carefully you’ve researched your move, and staying in touch with anyone outside your new local community can become a major hurdle,” writes Euro-Correspondent Jann Seal from her new home in Monmouthshire, Wales.

“Thanks to 21st-century technology, it’s easier than ever (and ever-easier) to remain in day-to-day contact with friends and family “back home.’ Still, you’ll need a plan.

“Here are my recommendations:

“Before you move, upload Skype (www.skype.com) to your computer (it’s free) and get one of their local telephone numbers that feeds into your computer (US$6 a month). Friends and family can then use this local number to contact you and leave a message while you wait for internet service in your new country. You can retrieve their messages while sipping your favorite brew at the local Wi-Fi pub. Just hearing familiar voices will help smooth any rough edges you may be experiencing during the first few months into your relocation.

“Also, before you move, get your own domain not linked to an internet service provider. Godaddy (www.godaddy.com) is the least expensive provider I’ve come across. For example, you can get the domain www.yourname.com with yourfirstname@yourname.com as the e-mail address. With that, your own e-mail account will be established. Then, again, while you’re waiting for internet service in your new home, www.mail2web.com will allow you to access your e-mail account, sending and receiving e-mail though their site. Another reason to go to the local Wi-Fi pub!

“If you can, apply for your internet, television, and telephone land line (often packaged by one supplier; this is the easiest option in most countries and typically the cheapest) before your move. Depending where you’re moving, it can be possible to make your application online. You’ll find that available installation dates can be days, weeks, or, again, depending where you’re moving, even months down the road, so the sooner you begin the process, the better.

“When you arrive in your new country, one of your first stops should be at a local cell phone store (they’re called “mobile’ phones in some parts of the world). Your new neighbors and fellow expats are the best source of recommendations for which service is most efficient in your area. For e-mail contact “back home’ that you can carry with you, a Blackberry-type device can be the best choice.

“Don’t be surprised to find that getting a cell phone isn’t as easy as just walking into a store. In some countries (Panama, for example), that’s the case. You can walk into any electronics store and find dozens of options, including US$5 to US$10 pay-as-you-go phones.

“In other parts of the world (most of Europe, for example), you’ll find that you have to be accepted as a cell phone customer. This can require extensive financial information (proof of a bank account in your new country and income information, for example) and proof of a permanent local address (most easily accomplished by producing a local utility bill in your name). Stretched truths can be called for as you work your way through the approval process, and, depending on the country and the provider, you may be put onto a limited service plan until credibility is established.

“You may be restricted, for example, from making international calls during your first month of service. Some providers in some markets avoid giving full access to foreign customers, who they fear may be snatching and grabbing international calling access with the intention to flee the country, and the bill, after a short period of time.

“The most important thing to remember when establishing your stay-in-touch infrastructure in your new home is to manage your expectations. It could take a few months for all lines of communication to be in place and functioning smoothly. Your frustration levels will rise. But, as with all the challenges you’ll face during this getting-settled phase, keep your sense of humor and remember the big picture.

“Persevere. Someday, you’ll be the expat to whom new arrivals turn for advice!”

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. Skype is great and calling to other people on Skype is free, but it runs through your computer.

As an addition to Skype (having both is best), consider getting a VOIP service like Vonage. This is another thing you should do before you leave home, as they’ll ship you a router box programmed with your telephone number. Take delivery of this before you take off for your new home, and you can carry the pre-programmed box with you.

The box plugs into the internet in your new house; then your regular telephone plugs into the box. The quality is only as good as your internet, so this isn’t a good option if you won’t have high-speed internet wherever you’re moving to.

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