We built this website in 2005 and back then we would recommend PINless, virtual calling cards provided by Cloncom, a popular calling card service 20 years ago. Back in those days calling cards were the hot money saving product for domestic and international calls alike, and dialing without needing a physical card or having to enter a PIN number were helpful innovations.
Much has changed since then. Most people use a mobile phone today and smartphone apps are without a doubt the favorite way to keep in touch, be it through exchanging text messages, voice or video calls.
Without aiming to write an exhaustive article on choices one has for connecting internationally these days, I will simply try to provide helpful information on some of the services I have found more popular and convenient.
Voice over IP or VoIP services are also known as OTT or Over the Top services because they need an existing internet connection to work. In this category there are two main types of services available:
The main drawback of the likes of Whatsapp or Facetime is the requirement for both/all parties trying to connect with each other to have the app installed and a good internet connection. As industry reports show, a large percentage of the population in some poor or developing countries have yet to start using a broadband internet connection on a regular basis.
In the second category, there are a plethora of services available, each of them trying to innovate and lure prospects into trying out their product. The good news with these VoIP services is that the technology behind them allows for lots of innovation and most products offered are packed with useful features. Most services can be used on any device (computer, tablet, smartphone and even landline phone in some cases).
One of the popular VoIP services currently available to US users is Google Voice. Described as an "enhanced call management application", the service can be used with a smartphone or PC to place free calls to phone numbers in the USA and Canada, and very affordable international calls. You have to have a working landline/wireless service and phone number to be able to subscribe to Google Voice.
It is also possible to switch to VoIP entirely - that is to only use a VoIP plan and equipment. This option is especially popular with people operating a small office. Companies like Ooma or RingCentral have been in business for decades, providing various internet phone plans, the former also targetting home users in the US and Canada who are frequent international callers.
A type of service which has become popular in the last 10 years or so, especially with business users, is the use of local or toll free numbers registered in other countries. When dialed, these numbers can forward calls to a phone number of your choice.
Let's say you run a shoe factory in the USA, but your customers also call in to order shoes from Mexico. You can register a local or toll free Mexican phone number and redirect all incoming calls to your US number. You will incur international charges. These international call forwarding telephone systems are also based on VoIP technology so don't expect to pay very high international rates.
One of the oldest provider of International Call Forwarding services is Florida based United World Telecom.
Some US wireless providers, especially MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) have been promoting low cost plans targeting customers who need to make international calls on a regular basis. The large US immigrant community is the main customer base, but the US being such a diverse country culturally and economically, there are many other categories likely to find these types of cellular services useful.
Wireless plans from Ultra Mobile seem to be the most convenient for connecting internationally via a wireless service in 2022. This MVNO was founded in 2011 and uses T-Mobile's wireless network to connect its subscribers. Their plans are reasonably priced and feature unlimited calls to 80+ countries, including calls to mobile numbers for quite a few destinations.
Some of the older calling card providers are still marketing their services, although the technology used these days to connect your calls is in most cases VoIP. Some also offer smartphone apps. Two such companies that come to mind: NobelCom and SpeedyPIN.