cheap international communication?
April 4, 2005 11:03 AM   Subscribe

Please help me figure out an affordable way to keep in touch with my girlfriend - I'm in the US, she's in Samoa.

She'll be in Samoa for about 18 more months, serving in the Peace Corps. We email often, and talk when we can, but we'd love to keep in closer, more frequent touch.

I have a phonecard, and it works pretty well, but even the cheapest phonecard is not too cheap (for me), and it costs a fortune for her to call the US from Samoa. VOIP is impossible because she has only a poky dialup connection (38.6 kbps -- internet is not a priority in Samoa, so far as I can tell).

Are there ANY ways for us to talk more frequently and without great expense? Dedicated cell phones? (Meaning: Can I get a deal on cell phones if we only use them to call each other?) A low-bandwidth IM-type program? Two tin cans and a 10,000-mile piece of string? I'll take what I can get at this point. Muchas gracias!
posted by Dr. Wu to Technology (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
For a while, my sister, who lives in another province (not nearly so epic a distance away, but still considerable) and I had a shared blog where we'd post messages to one another about what was going on in our lives every day or two. That wouldn't be all that taxing in terms of internet resources, and I found it to be a nice, fairly intimate-seeming way to keep in touch. YMMV, of course.
posted by ITheCosmos at 11:31 AM on April 4, 2005


As a former Peace Corps Volunteer, I'm very sympathetic to your problem (although I was lucky--I had my husband with me!). The Peace Corps can be very hard on relationships because communication is often so difficult.

What's the cell phone situation in her country? In my country cells were fairly prevalent (especially among young people) and were pretty affordable, so having a cell was a realistic luxury on a volunteer's stipend (and also didn't make the volunteer feel out of place in his/her community). However, there's probably not the shared cell-phone plan you describe available: you would likely have to find a company that does business in both the U.S. and Samoa and offers a shared-international plan (which, if it existed, would still probably be very pricey).

IM's not bad, and if you can't find a suitable program you can also try sitting down at email at a certain time and sending messages back and forth. However, if Samoa's anything like my country was, in two months a goat will chew through a key cable, severing her internet connection for the next six months. I guess my point is that you may not want to rely too heavily on computers, simply because they are so unreliable in a lot of countries.

This isn't exactly what you are looking for, but snail-mail letters, postcards, and even small packages are probably the most reliable way to go. Try to get into the habit of sending one letter or postcard a day--number them to make following the conversation easier--and see if she can do the same. You may wind up getting a dozen items on the same day depending on how reliable mail service is, but at least you will be in touch. You can also get things called "aerograms" from the post office, which is an international postage-paid self-folding mailer (so you don't have to run to the post office to mail every letter).

Good luck!
posted by handful of rain at 11:45 AM on April 4, 2005


I mean to add--you might also want to look for other ways to stay connected to your girlfriend. Read the same book. Plan to cook the same meal on a certain day, or take a walk or a hike, and then write a letter and tell each other how it went. You might want to try to understand more about what she's experiencing by reading books or travel guides about the area, or volunteering with Samoan nationals in your community (maybe as an ESL tutor?). If you're planning to visit, this could prove very helpful. You might also find exchanging pictures fun--and anything you send her will likely find a great secondary purpose as aids in explaining about America to people she interacts with.

I guess my point is that staying "connected" in the sense of having a daily phone conversation may prove logistically or financially impossible. But there are other things you can do that don't rely as much on technology, which can be spotty and pricey. Might be worth a shot, though I admit these things don't work for everyone.
posted by handful of rain at 12:04 PM on April 4, 2005


Skype? According to a poster at DSLreports: "I use Skype to other Skype users and also Skypeout to normal phones all over the world. I live in the middle east and have a poor 28.8 k dialup connection."

What's the phone card rate you're paying now? Maybe someone will be able to point out a card with more favorable rates...? OneSuite is sort of like a phone card without the card. Depending on whether there are local access numbers for either/both of you, the rate for American Samoa would be 15 or 27 cents per minute.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:07 PM on April 4, 2005


You really need to specify whether this is American or Western Samoa.
posted by grouse at 12:25 PM on April 4, 2005


Is there cell phone infrastructure? If so, a GSM phone may work. GSM works in Europe and maybe in the Pacific as well. They have a "SIM chip" that contains the caller's ID info. A friend of mine took his GSM phone to Europe and bought a Euro SIM chip for about $20. He made several calls to the U.S. using the plan of the SIM chip (I think it was pre-paid) and didn't run out of minutes over a two-week trip (including several teleconference calls I think). When he came back stateside, he simply threw the Euro chip away and put the SIM chip from his American provider back and it was like he never left.
posted by Doohickie at 1:02 PM on April 4, 2005


As an addition to the methods listed above, how about a simple still image webcam feed so you can actually "see" each other?
posted by tommyc at 1:20 PM on April 4, 2005


Thanks, everyone! Please keep 'em coming!

grouse: She's in Western Samoa, though I believe it's now (as of sometime in the last decade) officially called just Samoa. American Samoa keeps its adjective, but Western Samoa has dropped it. (Though when I mail stuff to her, I send it to Western Samoa. So go figure.)
posted by Dr. Wu at 1:55 PM on April 4, 2005


AOL instant messenger says it works on a 28.8k modem. Yahoo Messenger voice chat and MSN messenger say nothing about requiring broadband. All are free.
posted by cillit bang at 2:03 PM on April 4, 2005


I've used AOL, MSN, and long long ago, ICQ over a 28.8 connection with no trouble. And there's always IRC for really bare-bones chat.
posted by soviet sleepover at 2:14 PM on April 4, 2005


I'd definately try an IM client first. I like Yahoo's best myself - has a nice friendly look & feel that makes it fun to use. And even a modem connection should pass lines of text back and forth plenty fast for real-time conversation.
posted by Tubes at 11:32 PM on April 4, 2005


vonage, no doubt.
posted by adampsyche at 6:28 AM on April 5, 2005


How about ameteur (ham) radio? Someone with a 40, 80, or 160 meter radio would, I'm sure, be thrilled to teach you how to use the equipment allow you air time.
posted by kc0dxh at 7:26 AM on April 5, 2005


In terms of keeping a long-distance relationship healthy and fun, I got some great responses to a question a few months ago. It doesn't specifically answer the phone question, but it does address many other aspects of long-distance dating.
posted by fionab at 9:09 AM on April 5, 2005


As far as Skype goes, here's a nifty little add-on.
posted by blendor at 2:21 PM on April 5, 2005


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