How to Communicate (from the US) with our Daughter who is traveling to Strasbourg
August 20, 2007 9:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the process of sorting through communication options for my step-daughter who will be spending the next several months in France (We live in the US). I've narrowed it down to a combination of Skype (on Mac OS X at both ends), the purchase of a cell phone locally in France when she arrives, and the use of a prepaid phone card for international calls... I'm hoping for some feedback from those that have tried these methods, and any other ideas you might have, there is, of course....

She'll be in Strasbourg attending school, staying at a host home. We want to minimize her use of the families phone service. I've eliminated purchasing a cell phone for making international calls, the equipment cost is high, the phone wouldn't be compatible with our service here (Verizon) when she returns, and the per minute cost is expensive.

Re: Skype- Have you had good experience making pc to pc international calls with Skype? Is it necessary to use a headset Mic and earphone?

Re: Prepaid Phone Cards- Has anyone ever used Nobelcom? I've read mixed reviews. Would anyone suggest any other "dial an access number" type of prepaid cards for France to USA Calls.

Re: local use cell phones- Is it reasonable to expect that, once she arrives, she would be able to purchase a prepaid cell phone at a reasonable price to make local (in Strasbourg calls to friends and other students)? Would anyone be able to suggest where in Strasbourg she could do this?

Thanks in advance for any and all suggestions, as you can tell, I'm NOT a world traveler, this is all pretty new to me.
posted by HuronBob to Technology (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I use skype for PC to PC and Skype Out for international calls (PC to phone - usually Poland to South America) and I'm very happy with the quality of the connection. You don't need a headset if your computer has a microphone and speakers but it is more comfortable. I don't know about noblecom, but calls to the USA (PC to phone) using skype out cost around 2.5 cents/minute.
posted by juva at 9:28 AM on August 20, 2007

I had a prepaid France Telecom/Orange phone when I was in France and international calls were not crushingly expensive. AND receiving international calls was free! It even did email text to speech through your voicemail.
posted by mkb at 9:32 AM on August 20, 2007

Yeah skype is good...if she has a good internet connection. A headset is worth buying, it only costs 10 Euros. If she has DSL at her host home then you can talk to her for free for as long as you want.
posted by creasy boy at 9:34 AM on August 20, 2007

agreeing with juva. They also offer usb telephone handsets you can plug into your pc for more of a 'telephone' experience.

as far the cell phone is concerned, I picked up a quad band unlocked cell phone off eBay for under $100 in which I use pre-paid AT&T minutes for when I am stateside and a local sim card and provider when in Europe.

(quad band cell phone works off of both US and European GSM cellular signals)
posted by wile e at 9:36 AM on August 20, 2007

I wouldn't worry about prepaid phone card brands right now, just have her look around for a low rate to America on whatever card is readily available. I'm in Romania and have been calling America at a rate of around 5¢ a minute without even really looking for the best rate. This is cheap and easy, and looking around for a good card in America seems like a waste of time to me. My 15 Euro card (roughly $20) comes gets me roughly 400 minutes. Skype's a pain in the butt.

I don't have a cell phone with me and manage okay; they seem kind of expensive here to me, but then again, this is Romania - it may be cheaper in France.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:38 AM on August 20, 2007

I studied abroad in London this spring term, and did 95% of my telephone communicating with Skype. It was a lifesaver. It worked like a charm, was free, and I think my dad got a real kick out of seeing my face over the webcam that he'd bought to work in conjunction with Skype (and, I'll admit it, it was nice to see my family member's faces, too). I also found that Skype had reasonable rates on the rare occasions that I needed to call long-distance from my computer to land-lines in the US. Provided your daughter will have reliable internet at her host family's home, I say go with Skype, hands down. If her laptop (or whatever computer she uses to connect to Skype) doesn't have a microphone built in to it, she'll need one of those too, and I would consider headphones a worthwhile investment -- it'll give her some privacy and save her host family from having to listen to your end of the conversation, too.

If you can (if she's bringing a laptop from which she'll connect to Skype), I'd suggest doing a few test-calls from computer to computer before she leaves to make sure you've ironed out all the compatibility/connection kinks.
posted by irregardless at 9:43 AM on August 20, 2007

I studied in Madrid for a semester with NYU. They set us up with a local phone store that would basically "rent" us a mobile (basically a deposit that was returned when we left, approx. ~45 euros) and we just had to refill minutes from time to time at friendly little kiosks throughout the city. Incredibly easy to use and convenient. It was my understanding that you could also buy bare-bones mobiles (calling, texting) and use them with the same prepaid plans.

As for communicating with the parents stateside, my folks got one of those long-distance ("Big Zoo"?) companies that gives you a code to dial followed by the international number and WHAMO! we were connected for cheap. These calls didn't cost against my prepaid calling minutes and didn't cost the folks a ton of cash. The system seemed to work pretty well.

Might not be the high-tech solution you're looking for, but I didn't have any complaints.
posted by undercoverhuwaaah at 9:51 AM on August 20, 2007

Voipbuster can be cheaper than Skypeout.
posted by adamvasco at 9:54 AM on August 20, 2007

As for the local mobile phone, there are plenty of places she can get one, either at a local Orange Shop (Orange being a mobile phone company) or probably cheaper at a bigger supermarkt like Carrefour.

There are some options here as well. Sadly with my French being quite lousy the cheapest I could find was over a 100 euros. However here in Switzerland they are considerably cheaper so I guess there must be better choices.
posted by sebas at 9:56 AM on August 20, 2007

You could also look at a service like Rebtel. She gets a local phone there, house phone or cell phone even, and you can talk to her anytime. Basically the way it works is that you each dial a local number (and so you pay that part) and then Rebtel connects you using IP the same way Skype does, except in this case you dont need computers.

It looks like they may have changed their rate structure a bit but when I used it last I talked cell-phone in San Francisco to cell-phone in Europe for a couple hours and paid about a buck.
posted by vacapinta at 9:57 AM on August 20, 2007

Computer-to-computer communication will be cheapest because it is free. You don't have to use Skype—Google Talk works fine too.

A basic mobile phone is cheap, cheap, cheap in Europe, especiallly if it is used. Having one is essential if you are a student. You should be able to get prepaid international dialing cards that work with the mobile phone just as well. In the UK there are special prepaid phone plans that have cheap rates to the U.S. without using an extra card. You might look for something like that in France, if it exists.

Calling the mobile phone from the U.S. is expensive. In most of the world, the caller pays for a mobile call, which means you'll have to.
posted by grouse at 9:58 AM on August 20, 2007

Ok, France seems to be a bit more expensive. Here is one for 39 Euros at Carrefour.
posted by sebas at 10:02 AM on August 20, 2007

Skype will work great. As far as international calls on her mobile phone, in the UK at least, it isn't actually that expensive. On the rare occasion where I wasn't near a computer to run Skype, a phone call would be a few dollars, max.
posted by k8t at 10:18 AM on August 20, 2007

If the host home has an internet connection with Neuf or Free, calls to the US will be included.
posted by stereo at 10:29 AM on August 20, 2007

When I was in France for a few months, I just bought prepaid cards at the local tabac. Easy to use, and not expensive for a couple hundred minutes. Granted, those were the pre-Skype days so my options were limited, but it was pretty convenient. Probably a combination of Skype and prepaid cards would be best... That way she has a way to call without having to use a computer. (I called home/friends from payphones a few times for various reasons, so a computer wouldn't always have been handy.)
posted by doubtful_guest at 10:30 AM on August 20, 2007

I bought a cheap Nokia 1108 when I was in Indonesia and I used it for everything local - for a year abroad, I spent less than $100 total on the phone and pay-as-you-go minutes/text messages - and Skype/SkypeOut for everything else. Since I wasn't coming back to the States for a year, it was easier for me to just buy a phone and service there, and now I have a cheap phone that works everywhere outside the US and Canada which is no great liability if it's lost overseas, as it doesn't serve as my US phone with all my contacts and stuff anyway.

Also, perhaps she could pick up a cheap wireless router and hook up their house so the family can use their computer while she's on her computer; here's one for about €35.
posted by mdonley at 10:43 AM on August 20, 2007

Nthing Skype as a fantastic method of staying in touch, and the webcam option is also really nice. I've used Skype to speak to cell phones in the UK, and to call cell phones in the U.S. the UK. The reception is usually pretty clear, but I do think headphones are a good idea, because the volume can be low at times, and there's sometimes reverb/echoing on the computer end.

They sell phone cards locally in France. I always used to get them at the Metro offices and they also had really neat art on them (kind of like Shaq, but Parisian style).

I think it would also be a good idea if she gets a Flickr account and makes an effort to keep it updated. I kept an online journal when I was in London for a semester, and my friends and family back home really enjoyed being able to share the experiences with me. If you also maintain one, she'll be able to keep up with all of the little things going on at home that she'd otherwise miss out on (which was something that I experienced during my semester abroad).

It's a great record to look back on, and it really makes things eaiser when she's sharing stories, instead of having to put everyone through four months of photographs of monuments. :)
posted by lhall at 10:48 AM on August 20, 2007

You have Macs on both ends - give iChat's voice/video chats a shot. If you're using gmail or aim, you already have accounts you can use.

For info using your gmail account with iChat, check out this article.
posted by SemiSophos at 11:59 AM on August 20, 2007

I use Rebtel for calling Europe, and I love it. Plus, you can use it to make free international calls from any phone.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:01 PM on August 20, 2007

Response by poster: Folks...

Thanks to all for the feedback, suggestions, and reviews.. I appreciate the time you all took to respond...

Looks like we'll be sending her off with either skype or google voice chat accounts/software, and instructions on how to find low cost phone cards and a prepaid telephone...

I suspected those were the answer but the confirmation from those of you that had depended on it lets us send her to France with some confidence in the systems we plan to use..

Good work! :)
posted by HuronBob at 6:55 PM on August 20, 2007

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