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December 07, 2016

The 4 Best Free International Calling Apps to Call Your Loved Ones This Holiday Season

By Special Guest
Nisha Katti, Marketing Coordinator, SRVR, LLC

The holidays are upon us once more, when we often feel how far away our loved ones are. Many of us live in different cities, states, or even countries from our friends and family.

So, how do we communicate with our family members, and let them know that we are thinking of them? Many apps offer solutions, but each lacks certain features. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who feels this way. I’m preparing myself for the holiday season by researching the best method to reach my family back home in India, and I want to share my findings. Here it is: your guide to the best free international calling apps to use this holiday season.

1. Facebook Messenger

Facebook has its own, native calling platform, which has grown from a social media chatting service to a full-fledged voice and video calling service.. Messenger offers features such as free app-to-app calls and chats, group messaging and video calling. It does not work with your cell phone carrier's minute plan, though —a rather limiting feature.

One annoying thing: Facebook forces users to download the free-standing Messenger app in order to answer incoming messages from Facebook. Some users don't want to or have the space to download another mobile application. Since 52 percent of Facebook users access the social media site exclusively through mobile, they simply might not be accessing their Facebook messages anymore.

2. QuickCall.com

This international calling app is making waves in the communication space recently. QuickCall.com markets itself primarily to immigrants and expats, but anyone can use it. It offers free app-to-app calls and chats, and you can buy cheap prepaid credits to call mobile and landline phones directly. If you have no Internet access Internet, you may make calls through your minute plan. QuickCall.com has its own telecommunications network and relationships with hundreds of international carriers, resulting in low rates and good connectivity worldwide.

One unique feature of QuickCall.com is that you can buy a virtual phone number from the U.S. or another country as a second line for personal or business calls. If you buy a China number, for example, people in China can call you at local rates. Even though it is a rather no-frills experience currently, more advanced features such as end-to-end encryption and voicemail are being developed.

[Disclosure: QuickCall.com is a managed brand of my employer, but my review is based on my own personal experience with the app.]

3. Skype

The best known international calling option, Skype became famous for video chatting capability. It’s got a very robust experience, stable enough that you see it used on news programs. You can make free calls and chats to other Skype users—it allows group chatting and calling options, even group video. You can send SMS messages to people's cellphones directly, if they do not have the Skype app. One very cool feature is that you can pick your own phone number!

Skype offers inexpensive VoIP services with unlimited plan options, but switching from Skype-to-Skype calls to paid calls is not a very intuitive process. You cannot use a regular telephone like you can with other VoIP services—instead, you must use your computer or the Skype app.

4. WhatsApp

WhatsApp got its fame outside of the U.S., and is still not as well-used here as its competitors are. It offers free app-to-app calling and chatting to groups and individuals, which is convenient because of WhatsApp’s large user network. However you cannot call numbers external to WhatsApp—everything has to be app-to-app. You also must use the Internet with Whatsapp—like many apps, you cannot use your minute plan for calls. You can also make video calls with the app, but group video is not yet offered.

Recently, WhatsApp came under fire for privacy concerns. The company, which boasts end-to-end encryption and has claimed it protects user privacy, even after acquisition by Facebook. However, in 2016, Facebook let users know that it would start analyzing data from WhatsApp to aid Facebook and Instagram advertisers in their ad targeting. This and other privacy issues caught the eye of privacy protection groups such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the European Union's privacy chiefs.

In the end, it's all about your needs. I hope you have a wonderful winter holiday and make many convenient and painless calls to your loved ones!

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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