Receiving Calls While Overseas: Complete How-to Guide With Costs
I recently had to set up my phone to receive calls from another country. I found out this wasn’t easy. After a bit of research, I put together this guide to help anyone else in the same situation. This guide aims to help anyone receive calls on their phone if they are in another country.
It typically costs between $1 and $5 per minute to receive calls while overseas using roaming. Many providers offer daily or weekly roaming packages that include receiving calls as one of their features, these can range from $5 to $12 per day. Alternatives to roaming include using Skype, an app, VOIP, or a local SIM card.
In this guide I’ve included details on:
- How to set up incoming calls while travelling, for each of the different options
- How much it typically costs for roaming, particularly if you’re coming from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or Singapore
- Cheaper alternatives to save money instead of roaming.
In summary, setup of each option is as follows:
To receive calls using roaming: Activate roaming with your provider and then receive calls as per normal.
To receive calls using Skype: Register a Skype number, then you can receive calls using that number while logged in to the Skype app.
To receive calls using apps: Download the app, have the other person download the app, then you’re free to call each other as long as data/Wi-Fi is available (note, roaming data can be expensive! Try a local SIM instead).
To receive calls using a local SIM: Buy a local SIM card, activate the number and give it out to people, receive calls; the person making the call may be charged a high rate for making an international call.
I’ve gone in to each of these steps in further detail below, I’ve also looked at the costs of roaming and the alternatives in this guide.
To receive calls while overseas activate roaming or install an app that can be used to call. If roaming, people can dial your number as if you were at home. If using an app, both parties will need the app installed. Alternatives can include Skype or other VOIP services to register a number that you can be reached on, or to purchase a local SIM card in the country.
This section contains further detail on how to get stated with each of these options. Further below I’ve included the typical costs to pay. While roaming is the most common, I’ve also included details on the costs of these alternatives.
To receive calls while roaming: Activate roaming with your mobile phone provider, this may need to be done prior to leaving. You do not need to tell anyone you are roaming, anyone calling you will be able to dial your number normally. Significant charges may be incurred when receiving calls, I’ve included a list of these costs below.
If someone calls you overseas and you have roaming active, they will be able to reach you as normal and you may be charged to receive the call. If you are overseas without roaming active, the call may go to voicemail or the person will otherwise be told you are unreachable.
Roaming typically costs $1 to $5 per minute depending on which country the SIM card is registered in and which country the phone is roaming in. See below for further details, including how much it costs to roam for Americans, Canadians, Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, and Singaporeans (click here to skip ahead).
There is no need to let other people know if you are roaming. To them, it will seem like you haven't left the country; they will dial your number and you can receive the phone call. The person making the call is charged a normal rate, and you are charged the roaming rates (see below for more details).
To receive calls using Skype: Register a Skype number on their website and pay the monthly subscription fee. Then anyone can call you using that number as long as you are logged in to Skype. There seem to be no additional fees other than the subscription fee for the number.
Skype costs approximately USD 7 per month depending on account region. Discounts are available if subscribing for 3 or 12 months at a time.
To receive calls using an app: Download and register with the app, and ensure the person wanting to call you has done the same. Apps can include Facebook messenger, Whatsapp, Line or many others. Follow instructions within the app to call each other.
Using an app is typically free for calling.
To receive calls using VOIP: Sign up with a VOIP provider, register a dial-in phone number, download a VOIP app, connect to the provider using the app, and then anyone can call you on the dial-in phone number.
VOIP costs approximately USD 5 to USD 18 per month with an additional charge for calls (e.g. 17 cents per minute).
To receive calls using a local SIM card: Purchase a local SIM card upon arrival in the country; activate the SIM card; give the number to people who wish to call you. Calls will be charged at an international rate for the person making the call; the majority of providers around the world do not charge for receiving calls, in my experience.
Receiving calls on a local SIM card is typically free for the person receiving the call; the person making the call likely has to pay international call fees.
|Receive calls by...||Benefits||Drawbacks|
|Roaming||Easy to set up||Expensive|
|Skype||Cheap and easy to set up||Isn't widely available|
|Apps||Free||Requires both parties to have the app|
|VOIP||Very cheap||Incredibly difficult to set up|
|Local SIM card||Cheap for you||Expensive for the person calling you; difficult to arrange|
I’ve compared the costs for people from different countries using popular providers. This section of the guide will be helpful for Americans & Canadians, Brits, Aussies & Kiwis, and Singaporeans.
In another guide I wrote about who pays for call costs while roaming. Check it out here: landinglastminute.com/calling-someone-roaming.
Roaming is expensive, further below I’ve included details on cheaper alternatives (click here to skip ahead).
For Americans and Canadians
This is a brief summary of the options for receiving calls for those who are coming from the US or Canada.
|AT&T||USD 1-2||USD 10 per day for unlimited incoming calls|
|Rogers||Charges the daily add-on||CAD 8-12 per day|
|Telus||Charges the daily add-on||CAD 8-12 per day|
|Bell||Charges the daily add-on||CAD 8-12 per day|
AT&T includes receiving calls in its $10/day International Day Pass1, there is no additional cost to receive a call from someone in the States. I couldn’t find any other details on the per minute rate for those using the AT&T’s roaming passport or pay-per-use rates - I’d take a guess it is roughly $1-$2 per minute, based on their outgoing costs.
T-Mobile seems to charge 25 cents per minute to receive a call if roaming abroad on a Magenta, ONE, or Simple Choice plan2. The terms and conditions have some strange wording, though this is how I interpret it.
Rogers allows its Canadian quotas to be used when travelling to the US for CAD 8/day or for anywhere else at CAD 12/day3.
Telus includes receiving calls in its Easy Roam plans. This costs CAD 8 per day in the States or CAD 12 per day in other destinations4. Telus explicitly state receiving calls are treated this way (i.e. Easy Roam activates as soon as you receive a call).
Bell includes receiving calls with its Roam Better plans. The cost is CAD 8 per day for the States or CAD 12 per day for its other covered destinations5. Unlimited incoming calls is explicitly stated as a feature of these plans.
The cheapest roaming option for Americans to receive calls appears to be T-Mobile with its 25 cents per minute plan. I couldn’t confirm details with AT&T to verify their costs though. Money can be saved however by using apps or VOIP (see below for further details).
Canadian providers all seem to charge the same for incoming calls while roaming, typically costing CAD 12/day. Local SIM cards might offer a cheaper alternative, see below for further details.
|Vodafone||Charges the bundle||£6|
|EE||£1.20 to £1.80||None for outside Europe|
|O2||Unknown||£4.99 per day|
Vodafone includes receiving calls as per the UK allowances for its pay monthly customers at a cost of £6 per day6 (or no additional cost on Unlimited Max plans). For pay as you go customers, the cost is typically 36p per minute, though this varies by country you’re in.
EE charges £1.20 - £1.80 a minute as a standard cost for receiving a call abroad7, this can vary by country you’re in.
O2 offers a travel bolt on for £4.99 per day on pay monthly plans; it includes 120 minutes of calls that can be made or received8. I couldn’t find reliable details for pay as you go.
The UK still participates in the EU’s roam like home programme at the time of writing this guide; this means that when travelling to the UK, receiving calls costs the same (should be no charge) as it does when in the UK.
For Australians and New Zealanders
|Telstra||AUD 2-5||AUD 5-10 per day|
|Vodafone (AU)||Charges the bundle||AUD 5 per day|
|Optus||AUD 0.50 - 1||AUD 10 per day|
|Spark||NZD 1||NZD 20 for 7 days|
|Vodafone (NZ)||Charges the bundle||NZD 7 per day|
Vodafone (AU) charges AUD 5 per day to use the Australian quota in another country. As receiving calls is typically not charged in Australia, all Vodafone plans should have free incoming calls when the $5/day roaming is activated11.
Optus offers unlimited incoming calls with its AUD 10 per day roaming pass12. Alternatively, receiving a call while roaming overseas with Optus typically costs $1.50/minute for those on a plan or 50 cents to $1 per minute for those with prepaid roaming.13
Spark includes 200 minutes of incoming calls in its 7 day roaming pack for NZD 2014 in supported countries. Otherwise expect to pay $1/minute to receive a call.
Vodafone (NZ) charges NZD 7 per day to use the New Zealand quota while travelling abroad, this should mean all incoming calls have no charge15.
MyRepublic and TPG offer an alternative for incoming calls using their app. As far as I can tell, there is no additional charge for using their app to receive calls, even when you are in another country1920.
I’ve put together a list of some of the cheaper alternatives to roaming. You don’t have to roam to receive calls while overseas, and here are some of the alternatives you can use to do so.
A local number can be registered with Skype that allows you to receive incoming calls for a flat fee.
It costs roughly 7 USD per month at time of writing, with discounts available for purchasing 3 or 12 months at a time. I had to sign in with my account to get this quote, the price may change based on your account (it seems to consider local taxes). There seem to be no additional fees for receiving phone calls using Skype.
Supported countries include:
- US and Puerto Rico
- UK and Ireland
- Germany, Denmark, Finland, Poland
- Australia and New Zealand
A full list of supported countries is available here
I’ve found Skype to be the best option to receive calls while overseas, as long as you’re coming from one of the supported countries. If your home country is not supported (and unfortunately there are many not supported), using an app or VOIP may be a better option.
How to use Skype to receive calls
- Download Skype here and register an account.
- Select the country and phone number from this page
- Give that number to people to give you a call
Instructions on Skype’s phone number registration page allow you to choose which part of the country the phone number is located in. This allows you to select a number suitable to the location of people you expect to be calling you (e.g. If people calling you typically live in LA, choose an LA phone number so they don’t have to pay long distance charges).
Video and voice calling apps work wherever an internet connection is available that allows the apps to connect. I’ve used apps to receive calls including:
- Facebook messenger
- Skype (using Skype to Skype)
There are no fees to use messenger, Whatsapp, Line or other apps to receive calls while travelling overseas apart from any data or WiFi charges incurred in using the internet to make the call.
Apps allow you to make and receive phone calls while travelling. If you’re interested in finding out more about how apps work to make and receive phone calls while travelling, I’ve gone in to further detail in my calling while travelling guide. Check it out here: landinglastminute.com/calling-while-travelling-guide.
I found VOIP to be the cheapest yet most complicated way to receive calls while travelling overseas.
VOIP typically costs USD 5-10 per month to register a phone number, and then may cost an additional 10-20 cents per minute to receive phone calls. Phone calls are either received by a corresponding VOIP app on your phone, or can be redirected to another phone number in any supported country (most of them).
Here are the steps I went through when I first signed up with a VOIP provider to receive a call overseas:
- Choose a VOIP provider - I chose voip.ms as they supported the country I wanted to register the phone number in.
- Sign up to their plan - this includes a separate step of having to register a DID number
- Provide ID - as I was registering a new number, I had to provide ID
- Download a VOIP app and enter the settings
- Give people the new number to call
It took a long time to sign up as they had to manually approve my payment and ID. I don’t recommend VOIP for most people; check out an app, Skype, or roaming instead.
Get a local SIM (and pass the costs to the other person)
Buying a local SIM when travelling in another country usually gives you a phone number that you can receive calls on. Give this phone number to people back home and they can call you.
In most countries it is free to receive phone calls. This means the people back home need to figure out how to dial the international number to reach you.
While calling an international number is generally easy (try the
+xx prefix), it can be costly. I’ve found it can cost anything from a few cents per minute to a few dollars per minute. Each country I’ve lived in though has an option to make international calls for those few cents per minute. These can include:
- Prepaid international calling cards
- Opt-in mobile phone plans which include international calling minutes
- International calling minutes included in phone plans
In order from most preferred to least preferred, here is my preference on the best ways to receive calls while travelling overseas:
- Roaming - good if you are already roaming or have a cheap roaming plan from a provider, otherwise it can be expensive
- Local SIM - these days it can be cheap for people back home to make phone calls overseas, it does involve giving people a new phone number though to contact you on
- Skype - if your home country offers a Skype number, this is a great way to get people to call you
While I do have VOIP as well, I really don’t recommend it. It’s complicated to set up and isn’t easy to use. If you want some pointers on how to use VOIP, head on over to my contact section and get in touch - I’ll gladly help you out.
Written by Chris who travels frequently for work and understands what it can be like to arrive somewhere new and unfamiliar.
I wrote Landing Last Minute to help the hurried traveler get necessary information about any destination.