ZapTel - Phone Calling Tips and Advice for International Students
Phone Call Tips
For international students

Studying in another country is a once in a lifetime experience...

Calling home to talk about it shouldn't be

Studying in a foreign country is an exciting experience, one you should share with your family and friends back home. This guide was designed to help you make informed decisions about the many calling options available and to avoid costly mistakes.

International calls can be very expensive unless you plan in advance. If you are living in a university dormitory or an apartment, you will most likely have a calling plan in place or will be required to subscribe to one. These plans are offered by the university or local/ long distance companies and often do not offer low cost international calls.

Students are often shocked by their first huge phone bill, which may charge up to several dollars per minute for international calls.  Never pick up a telephone and make an international call without knowing the costs involved first.

Great news - There are better options!

Each calling option has some positive features and some features you should be aware of. When making a decision, you should consider the following:

Budget - How much do you want to spend each month? Do you want to limit your spending? Prepaid phone cards are good for budgeting, because they only allow you to spend what you've already paid for.

Convenience - Are you willing to take a few extra steps to save money? Prepaid phone cards require that you enter an access number and PIN prior to calling but save big money. Also, Internet calling sometimes requires a download or special equipment, but often saves big money.

Quality - Are you willing to compromise call quality to save money? Prepaid phone cards are sometimes inconsistent in quality standards. Internet calling can also be a poor quality connection.

Calling Options Chart

Prepaid Phone Cards
Calling time is purchased in advance and is delivered in the form of a plastic or paper card with a PIN (Personal Identification Number) printed on the card. Prepaid phone cards usually have a face value of $5, $10 or $20. Callers dial an access number and enter the PIN before making a call. The cost of the call is subtracted from the phone card's prepaid balance as calls are placed. Phone cards can be used from any phone.
  • Typically offer very competitive international rates
  • No surprise phone bills, since rates are known in advance
  • Readily available for purchase - stores and Internet.
  • Many options -purchase low denominations to try the
  • service; purchase connect fee or no connect fee cards to maximize minutes.
 !       Be aware - many cards have "hidden" fees, taxes,  
         expiration dates
 !       Call quality is great with some brands, poor with
Dial-around Programs ("10-10" numbers)
Calls are routed on an alternate network using a toll-free or "10-10" access number which is dialed prior to placing the call. These calls are usually charged on your local phone bill and can only be placed from your home phone.
  • Some programs offer very good international rates

 !      Typically can only be used in the United States
 !      May impose monthly fees, etc. that raise the price of
        your calls
 !      Often cannot be used from university dorm rooms.

Internet Calling (IP Telephony)
Long distance calls are placed using a computer that is connected to the Internet, rather than a traditional telephone. Your voice is transmitted over the Internet as data, and translated back into voice at the receiving end of the call.
  • Often very inexpensive or even free to selected countries.

 !      Some services require special equipment for your
 !      Call quality is often poor
 !      Free calling is not available to most countries

Standard Long Distance
Calls can be placed from your home telephone by simply dialing 1+ the number, or 011 + the number for international calls.
  • Very easy to use-all you have to do is dial
  • Call quality is generally good

 !      Usually VERY expensive for international calls
 !      Service is not available on all phones (e.g. dormitories,

Standard (billed) Calling Cards
Calling cards are often issued with a long distance calling plan for use when traveling, etc. They are used much like a prepaid phone card, but you receive a bill for your calls.
  • Most cards can be used from any phone, in many countries
  • Call quality is usually good for cards from reputable carriers

 !      Often charge a much HIGHER rate than the standard

While each of the calling options described in the chart offers advantages and disadvantages, many students have chosen prepaid phone cards as their preferred method of making affordable international calls.

Why Phone Cards are the preferred choice among students

Save Money —  Phone cards offer rates up to 70% lower than traditional services.

No Need for Credit History —  Many calling plans require a credit history to sign up for service. Phone cards don't require credit and can be used by anyone.

No Surprises — You always know what you are paying per minute for a call. No surprise bills!

Planning and Budgeting —  Control your costs. Prepaid phone cards allow you to set limits on your spending, as you are only able to use what you have already paid for.

What to know when buying a phone card

Rate Comparison — Most long distance carriers offer prepaid phone cards with a special rate for a given country or region of the world. Use the Internet to search for the best phone card for your home country. Several web sites, like, offer rate comparisons to help make your decision easier.

Connect Charge — Many phone cards charge a fee ranging from $.49 to $2.00 upon initial connection of a call, allowing them to offer a lower rate per minute. If your calls are generally longer than 15 minutes, you could benefit from a phone card with a connect charge and lower rate per minute.

Billing Increments — Are calls rounded to the nearest second, minute, or three minutes? Look for a card that rounds your calls to the nearest minute or less. Otherwise, you may be charged for a longer call than you actually made.

Expiration Date — Does the card expire? If so, when? Will you have enough time to use the full value of the card before it expires? Cards typically have 3 or 6 month expirations, sometimes 1 year. Look for longer expirations, or purchase a lower face value card to be sure that you will use it up before it expires.

Customer Satisfaction — Were previous customers happy with the card? Purchase your phone cards from a reputable source. Ask retailers if customers are pleased with the card. If purchasing on the Internet, visit sites that offer Customer Ratings and Feedback such as

Service Fees — Is there a monthly or weekly service fee taken off the card balance? If so, when- at first use or on the 30th day of every month after first use? If there are fees but the rate is still good, consider buying a lower face value card so you can use it up before the service fee is deducted.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a billing increment? Billing increments are the unit of time that is taken off of your card as calls are made, ranging from 6 second increments to 6 minute billing increments. Shorter billing increments always work to your benefit.

What if I buy a card and then I lose it or forget my PIN? Your PIN is active and is considered to be the same as cash. If it is stolen or lost, it generally can not be replaced. When buying phone cards over the Internet, some web sites, like, allow you to recover a lost PIN number from your personal web site account.

Can I use a phone card from a pay phone? Yes. However, your phone card will be charged a payphone surcharge according to US laws. This fee ranges from 49 cents to $1.15 depending on the carrier issuing the phone card.

Can I use a phone card with my cell phone? Yes. Follow the phone card instructions for use. You will still be charged for the cellular airtime as if you are making a local call. (Example: call from US to UK and talk 10 minutes using a phone card on your cell phone; you will be charged for 10 local minutes on your cellular calling plan and 10 minutes of phone card time at the applicable rate.)

Can I call a cellular phone using a phone card? Yes. Most carriers charge more for calls made to cellular phones than regular phones. This is because the termination charges on a cellular network (in Europe) are often higher than on traditional networks. You should always check with the carrier of the phone card for cellular rates to avoid surprises.

First phone card purchase suggestions

Calling from the USA to other countries?
We'd recommend:
  • International Student's Choice $20 rechargeable phone card
Calling from other countries back to the USA?
We'd recommend:
  • Study Abroad Student's Choice $10 phone card

To order, visit You may use a U.S. or international credit card. Your access number(s) and PIN are delivered instantly on the screen and by email.

Continue Shopping

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