Keeping in touch when you move abroad is something I hadn’t really considered much when I was planning our move to Barcelona. I was definitely caught up in the fluffy side of relocation and all of the admin and practical stuff was sort of pushed to one side until I had to deal with it.
Anyway, we stayed in touch with family and friends using a variety of options, which generally revolved around the following:
- Landline phone (even though I tried to put my wife of this option!)
I’m going to go into each of these in a bit more detail but you’ll notice that the ‘web’ based options are at the top, which just relates to the fact that it is generally cheaper to use options that rely on the internet then the more standard SMS/phone options.
As you may have expected, Skype is at the top of the list. Skype is a fantastic way to keep your relationships strong when you’re living abroad. You can download it for free here – http://www.skype.com. If you don’t have it already I’d recommend getting it, even if you’re not relocating.
Just in case you didn’t already know – using Skype to call other people on Skype is totally free. So, if I have Skype installed on my laptop and you have it installed on yours then we can have a completely free video call for as long as we want. Totally amazing. It took my daughter a little while to get used to talking to people through the computer but it was an absolute essential. It was my lifeline for the month I was in Barcelona on my own!
You can also use Skype to call non Skype users, such as mobiles and landlines. That’s when you’ll need to buy credit though. I’ve not used this part of the service although I believe they have a fairly good international calling plan and it would mean you could manage your phone bill in your native language (apart from the line rental of course).
Just in case you’re not already set up to use Skype, here’s what you’ll need:
- A computer (desktop or laptop), a smart phone, a tablet or some other device you can download Skype onto. There is more information at http://www.skype.com on what devices you can use the software with.
- The Skype software (download at http://www.skype.com) and a Skype account, which you can set up for free through the software or on their site. Its fairly easy to do.
- A webcam (if not already built into your laptop/computer/device). I bought mine last minute at Heathrow airport but would recommend you taking a look at webcams on Amazon. I think mine was a reasonably cheap logitec one but it did the job.
- Access to the Internet, which is a bit of a given now days although setting this up abroad can be a challenge.
- Your relatives/friends to also have all of the above.
That should get you started. Personally I think it’s reasonably straight forward to use although it may not be the same for everyone. I’m happy to try and help people out if you have any questions. Just drop me a note via my contact page.
WhatsApp is one of my favourite applications and I’ve been using it for ages. For those of you that don’t know, it’s an application for most mobile operating systems (Apple, Android, BlackBerry, windows etc) that you can use to message other WhatsApp users using your Internet connection, rather than text messages. The reason this is great is that if you get yourself a foreign mobile contract it will cost you more to send an SMS to your native country than in the country where your contract is set up (Spain for me) but your data/internet cost will always be the same, regardless of whether you WhatsApp your neighbour or someone in Thailand. You will need to be careful about using data when you travel outside of your adopted country as it may be difficult to understand roaming costs if you’re not hot on the language. I won’t go into too much detail in this post about the costs of data etc as I want to cover that separately but rest assured, WhatsApp works out great, especially if you have access to Wifi at work.
Take a look at www.whatsapp.com to download. It used to be completely free but you now get a free trial and then it’s less than £1 a year to keep. Not much in the big old scheme of things.
I’m really hoping I don’t have to go into too much detail about what Facebook is. If you really have been in a cave for the last 10 years and you’re a bit lost then let me know and I’ll fill you in…
Not too much to say about Facebook as I’m sure you’ll already know but it’s great for a few things:
- Keeping all your friends and family up-to-date with what’s happening in your life and how you’re getting on
- Sharing pictures and experiences you’re having
- In a similar style to WhatsApp, the Facebook messenger app is pretty handy too and you can use it independently of the main Facebook application on phones, tablets etc (what I’m doing at the moment)
- Keeping a record of your relocation and a timeline of how things are panning out. I often look back over my photos and statuses as a sort of ‘temperature check’ at different points. It’s an interesting exercise.
One other benefit is that you still feel part of the community that you’ve left behind. You’re still there in a digital sense and you can still participate in the banter and conversations between groups of friends and family.
Just in case, here’s the link – http://www.facebook.com
Very similar use as with Facebook although a bit more short and snappy. Facebook is probably more appropriate for conversations and photos whereas Twitter is great for ongoing punchy updates to keep your followers up-to-date with how you and your family are getting on.
I’ve put this one further down as I’ve not really used it a massive amount but I think it could be a great tool for you if you’re relocating. For example, the google hangouts feature means you can have a group of people all talking together via webcams. And you also have the ‘social network’ element of it too. I think it will take a bit of getting used to if you’ve been on Facebook all your life but it’s worth a look. I’ve just started using it a bit more and it is a very different experience to Facebook (not necessarily a bad thing).
Take a look at https://plus.google.com/
I know what you’re thinking, I’ve saved the best till last! In my honest opinion, although I think it’s important to have a landline for emergencies (and because you’ll probably need it for broadband), I would steer clear of using it wherever possible. There are so many other options that you can use that are better and easier to manage that it’s almost adding unnecessary hassle to an already stressful situation.
I base this opinion on my experience, which was made worse by the fact that I didn’t speak Spanish. So when you get a bill you don’t understand and you can’t speak to anyone about it you’re left frustrated and helpless wondering whether you’ll ever be able to manage it effectively. If you can speak the language and you can get a good deal sorted on international calling then that’s great but for those of us not in this camp just be careful about the potentially high bill landing on your floor that you can’t challenge.
As I mentioned earlier, Skype does offer a service to call non Skype numbers using their software. I believe you buy credits and then use those to make the calls. This seems like a better option to me as you know how much you’ve spent and you can manage it in your native language.
It’s up to you really. I’m just trying to give you tips on how to avoid bill shock.
I hope you don’t think I’m trying to teach you to suck eggs here. I’m aware that most people will know about these tools but it’s worth thinking about how you could use each one for keeping in touch when you move abroad and how different people might prefer different methods. What your parents like could be different to what your best friend likes so have options.
One other recommendation I’d make is to get it all installed/downloaded/purchased before you go (particularly Skype and your Webcam) and make sure all your accounts are set up and you know how to use everything. It’s then one less thing to think about when you’re in a foreign country trying to get started.
Get in touch via my contact page with any questions you have. Or leave a comment on this post if you want any other detail or, of course, disagree with anything I’ve covered. I’d rather people get the right info!
All the best