I wanted to share some info about the communication situation on the Mediterranean side of the Atlantic. I can actually say it’s a whole lot better than your North American friends and family have it back in the motherland; for other dual nationals, I can’t say for sure.
It used to be tough to call abroad from Israel (Telecards, anyone?). Back in the day when I moved here, the up-and-coming thing was VOIP; specifically, acquiring a hefty VOIP router like Packet8, taking days to get it set up with your unwilling local Israeli ISP, and hooking it up to an actual phone to use. Could’ve been worse; before those years, we were shoving Telecards into public payphones, praying we’d get the rare card that granted unlimited minutes (right?!).
Anyway, the times have changed for the better. Over the last 8 years I’ve tried probably a dozen options, and I finally found a system that works for me.
Israeli cell phone plans
Nearly a year ago, there was a revolution in the Israeli mobile carrier industry, which was, needless to say, mucho corrupto. Finally, along came a new company, Golan Telecom, and along with the communications minister, the courts, or someone equally as awesome, openness was declared a consumer right, Golan received a tender for operating a 3G service, undercut the established competition by offering 99nis plans and, literally, overnight, the Big 3 – Pelephone, Orange and Cellcom – were offering updated, cheap, and inclusive plans. Basically came down to paying somewhere between 100-130 nis a month for unlimited calls and texts and generous data.
And then another wrench was thrown in – international calling to several countries, including the US, Canada, England, Australia and others – became free and unlimited, too.
So with ten minutes and a phone call, my household was switched over and we haven’t paid more than 30 bucks a month for all my phone use, national and international in… months.
By the way, before that, we used 018, which was something like 10 shekel a month for 80 minutes abroad. There are actually a selection of plans like that, but like I said, I think the phone companies made ’em obsolete (or part of their inherent offering).
Before the big mobile monopoly breakthrough, I had been using MagicJack for years. It started as a small USB device you plug into your computer, and through your desktop or a hooked up phone, you could call VOIP style within North America for free. It was great at the time because it was honestly the best option for when Skype wouldn’t cut it; but as a company, it was pretty primitive. But uber-successful apparently, because It still is frustratingly primitive but the cheapest option out there (apparently owned by a Florida Jew who made a mint off the idea, but doesn’t really focus on developing/marketing/customer service, so you have to stay on top of your account, renewals, etc).
With MagicJack, for a year of service with the USB device, it’s 30 bucks; for a year with the iPhone or Android app, $20.
The benefit today is that it allows my folks to call me from the States, to an American number. I know there are ways to get an American number through the local Israeli companies too; I’ve never actually explored them though.
Speaking of American numbers – to all the mamas and papas of Israeli citizens, who are still back in the Old Country – there’s a very cheap way for you to call Israeli numbers. It’s Shalom972, and it actually goes both ways, too. You can fill up your account and call an Israeli mobile for 3.9 cents a minute, and your Israeli kinder can call you back for just 1 cent a minute.
For video chatting, which has become pretty much ‘it’ since moving here and the smartphone explosion, I favor Skype of course, though I’ll Google chat/Hangout occasionally. If you’re into actually paying for your international calls, Skype has a few different models and plans to try.
Ok, this isn’t calling, but for texting/messaging people abroad, Whatsapp is an excellent smartphone app available to all the major phone OS’s. With the group chat feature, I’m in a constant virtual conversation with my dad in Florida, my brother in Philly, and my other brother across Israel. It’s free for Android, $1 download for iOS but no other costs.
Another one to try is Viber, which has calling options on top of text messaging.
Call me maybe?
It’s never been easier to be in touch with peeps abroad; it’s actually insane how new methods are always coming out. And they are so cheap.
So no excuses, oleh chadash. Call your mama. She’s worried about you.