How to Call Australia from the USA – on the Cheap

by on May 2, 2012 · 6 comments

We've come a little way since the old brick cell phones

Yes, it’s 2012, and like it or not, phones are starting to become obsolete for social use. A quick text, facebook message or email will usually be sufficient to arrange a meeting or relay some kind of information, and it’s usually more convenient. But to someone living a world away from their friends and family, a traditional voice call is still by far the most important – and closest – contact we have to our loved ones.

That’s why we’re lucky to live in America, because talk here is cheap. Literally. Phone plans are unlimited (or have plenty of minutes with rollover) and long-distance calls pretty much don’t exist, but this can be a little confusing for calling home, where mobile phones are still a lot more expensive than landlines. That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide to some cheap options to call Australia.

One note we should add: even though calls are cheap, hopefully you’re aware that it still costs you money to receive a call in this country. So if you don’t have an unlimited plan – or at least one that has plenty of minutes – and you expect to receive long phone calls, be sure to monitor your usage closely.

1. Skype

Most of us know Skype as a way to speak to family members via the computer. It’s great because not only can you use your voice (via the computer’s speaker and microphone), but you can also use video if you have webcam or one is built into your computer. What some people don’t know, however, is that Skype not only offers you a way to call landlines or mobiles from your computer, but you can also use it to call Australia from your own landline or mobile for MUCH less than your phone company will charge.

Option 1: Using the computer OR mobile device to make Skype calls (or ‘Skyping’)

Cost: FREE
Pros: Free, can use video
Cons: Requires wi-fi*, and both parties require a computer, Skype and broadband

To Skype, all you need is a broadband-connected computer with speakers (or headphones) and a microphone (either one that’s built in or external). If you’re using your phone, you’ll have to have a smartphone and be connected to a wi-fi connection*, or you could use an iPad. Once both yourself and the person you wish to call has one of those, you’ll need to download the Skype software on your computer or the Skype app your phone or iPad. One you open the program, it will prompt you to create an account, and your username is all you’ll need to know to connect to the other person (though you can search for people by name or location.)

*Note: certain Verizon phones will allow you to use Skype with video on a 4G connection. You can get more information about that here.

Option 2: Using Skype to call a landline or mobile

Cost: Skype credit – 2.3c/min, Skype subscription – 1.2c/min (plus a small connection fee)
Pros: Much cheaper than using the telco, can be cheaper than a calling card
Cons: Requires wi-fi and either pre-paid Skype credit or a subscription

To call a mobile or landline using Skype, you should open the Skype app on either your computer or your smartphone, and enter in the number you wish to call (preceded by 011, then 61 for country code, then area code). On the computer, you do this where you’re prompted to enter the Skype name, and on the smartphone, you’ll need to press call and type the number on the keypad. As noted above, you’ll need to have purchased Skype credit or a subscription, which you can do using a credit/debit card or PayPal online. When credit is low, you can set it to either prompt you to refill it or auto recharge.

Option 3: Using Skype to Go

Cost: Skype credit – 2.3c/min, Skype subscription – 1.2c/min (plus a small connection fee)
Pros: Doesn’t require special equipment, wi-fi or even a calling card; can set specific ‘Skype to go’ calling numbers for certain people
Cons: Can only be used locally, will incur charges if you’re abroad. Will still count towards your cell phone minutes if you call from a cell.

Skype to Go is a service from Skype that lets you set up a number and use it to make phone calls through Skype from any phone, wherever you are. Basically, you sign up for an account, register your phone (you can register more than one phone), enter in the number of the person you wish to call, and Skype will assign that person a local number. From then on, any time you call that number from your registered phone, you’ll be connected at Skype’s low calling rates.

You’re also allocated a number, and when you call that number, it will give you options to call anyone by dialling the complete phone number.

This is a great option for people on the go who wish to call Australia from their cell phone, or those who would prefer not to have to use a computer or smartphone only in a wi-fi enabled spot. It’s the closest thing to actually just dialing the person from your own phone.

2. Google Voice

Cost: 2c/min to landlines, 14c/min to mobiles
Cons: Can be slightly more expensive than Skype, depending on plan
Pros: Easy to use by calling Google Voice number

Similar to Skype to go, Google voice is a service from Google that supplies you with a number that you can use in a few different ways. You can keep it as an online-only number that acts as a digital mailbox, an extra service/number that connects to your cellphone and landline, or as a cheap way to make international calls. To make international calls with Google voice, all you have to do is make sure there’s money in your account (do this by logging into your account with your Google ID), and call the number that’s been assigned to you. Follow the prompts and voila – just don’t forget to dial 011 before your call.

3. Calling Cards

Cost: Varies
Cons: Need to physically purchase one before making calls
Pros: Simple to use

Calling cards have been around for years, much before the new-fangled voice-over-the-internet service, so they’re still a viable option when calling home from the USA. They’re most prevalent and easy to buy in drug stores such as CVS, Walgreens and Rite-Aid, but of course can be found at Walmart, K-mart or even at some grocery stores around the States. They require no accounts, apps, voip or cell phones, and they’re pretty reliable.

[update] Thanks to a number of reader suggestions, we have some more ideas for calling home. Not all of these have been verified by us, so feel free to give them a try yourself and let us know!

Jeremy writes: Also remember for Skype, you can get unlimited calling to Australia for about $5 per month with Skype Premium. You can also get an Aussie number so people can call you. That goes for about $30 a year. (We here at Ustralian love this option and actually use it for our own Aussie number. Skype premium offers a discount when you bundle a local number with a monthly payment, so it’s definitely worth your while for major calling)

Michael notes: Jitsi is an open-source alternative to Skype, with an advantage – your calls cannot be screened by a third party. In the smartphone department, Whatsapp is also great for messaging, while Viber lets you message and call other numbers.

Vanessa(more in the comments below) uses Windows Live Messenger (MSN),  but also notes that Vonage or MagicJack offer services that you can not only subscribe to, but also purchase here and mail home so that your relatives can call you via a US number for free.

  • Vanessa Oldsen

    I personally use MSN (Windows Live Messenger) to talk to my family back home. I’ve never had any problems with it and it’s also free.

    There is also Vonage. The plans aren’t always cheap but if you call home a LOT they’re a lot more reasonable than some other plans. You can get Vonage on your cell phone so you can call people from your cell phone as well (very handy for when you’re out and about). The Vonage phone looks a lot like a normal phone and the computer does NOT need to be left on to use it, and it doesn’t take up a computer to use it.

    Another suggestion is MagicJack (VOIP service). It’s $30 a year (free for the first year, $30 thereafter). Buy it from BestBuy and mail it home. It gives them a US number for you to call so it’s included in your usual mobile minutes to call them, and they can call you for no extra charge but the $30 per year fee). It does require the internet/computer where it’s connected to be on all the time to receive calls/leave a message.

    My mother has a calling card to call me from back home (and very cheaply with a “Say G’Day card) but now that she has a new computer we just talk on MSN.

    I also have a phone plan with Verizon that allows me to call home on my cell phone. I use it for emergencies or to call home to tell them to hop online or something. It’s less than $5 a month and small a per minute use. I’ve never spent more than $10.

    Just a couple more ideas :)

  • Joe

    When I call Aus I dial 1010987 then the 01161   cost is 45c to connect and then 15c per min no need to sign up for a plan

  • Gstaad76

    been using magicjack since 2007 and its totally awesome. Now i just add the application on my iphone!!

  • Alfy Lay

    Try out Rebtel’s free dialling service… its better than all the options above!

  • Timbo

    This is a bit wrong. Calling Australian mobile phones from Skype is NOT 2.3c a minute. It’s 18 or 19c a minute. Much cheaper options out there. The cheapest I’ve found so far (I just started researching a few days ago) is to have the person in Australia call me. She has an unlimited plan (becoming more popular now) through Amaysim, and all she had to do was put credit on her account, and she can call me for 6c a minute. Super cheap.

  • mr.b

    VPN into the USA and use google voice for free!