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How to divert your mobile through Skype to avoid global roaming fees

By danwarne     Filed under: Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Japan, New Zealand, Indonesia, USA, Malaysia, Global roaming, spain, UK, Korea, India, france, germany, roaming calls, Canada, Ireland, Vietnam, Taiwan, thailand, Skype, data roaming, Philippines, South Africa, MaxRoam, Travel SIM

There's a golden trick that tech-savvy travellers have been using for years to avoid global roaming fees.

Put simply, you divert your Australian mobile number to a Skype number, which in turn diverts to your overseas mobile number. 

As a result, you avoid global roaming fees altogether.

You'll need to buy a SIM card at your destination for this trick to work.

The costs involved with this are:

  • the cost of buying a SIM card overseas (see "Where to buy prepaid SIM cards" below)
  • your Australian mobile telco's per-minute charge for diverting your mobile to an Australian landline number (usually just a standard call rate, included in "cap" plans - but check with your telco)
  • Skype's per-minute charge to call an overseas mobile number: for example, USA 3c, Hong Kong 3c, China 3c, Singapore 3c, Indonesia 20c, Thailand 15c, etc.

Why wouldn't you just use a Travel SIM?

Many "Travel SIM" type SIM cards promote the fact that they come with an Australian phone number, so people can call you while you're overses, and it won't cost the caller any more than a standard mobile call (and often won't cost you anything for the incoming call).

However, while global SIM cards like MaxRoam and Travel SIM are great value for voice calls, their rates for data usage overseas can fluctuate wildly.

This is a huge problem for people with smartphones -- after all, why have a smartphone with all those handy travel-helper apps, if using them is going to cost you an arm and a leg in internet charges?

For example, the Travel SIM brand sold in Australia Post charges a staggering $38 per megabyte for data used in Hong Kong (almost twice as much as Optus, which is infamously Australia's most expensive network for data roaming).

Just 10MB of usage used on a Travel SIM in Hong Kong -- which you could easily use in an hour or two of iPhone use -- would cost you $380.

A much better solution is to pick up a prepaid SIM card from a local mobile network at the destination, which will provide cheap data rates, allowing you to freely use your smartphone, while relying on Skype's call diversion for cheap incoming calls (and Skype on your mobile for cheap outgoing calls).

How to set up your super cheap incoming calls

The basic concept is this:

  • Rent a "Skype Online Number" (previously called SkypeIn) which provides a real telephone number based in Australia which will connect to you on Skype. This costs €15 (AUD$20) for 3 months.
  • Buy a prepaid SIM card at your destination. (If you have an iPhone, see our tips for travelling with an iPhone.)
  • Open Skype on your computer, and in its settings, set up call forwarding to your overseas SIM card's phone number. You can also do it by logging into your account at Skype.com.

  • Divert your Australian mobile number to your Skype online number. With your Australian SIM card still in your phone, dial: *21*[phone number]# For example, if your Skype online number was 02 1234 5678, you would dial *21*0212345678#
  • If you are visiting another country during your trip and need to buy a new SIM card there, simply log in to your Skype account and change the international mobile number the Skype Online number is diverting to.
  • When you get home, put your Australian SIM card back in the phone, and dial ##21# to cancel forwarding.

Using the above method, when people call your Australian mobile number, it will divert to your Skype number, and then divert on to your overseas mobile number.

Cheap outgoing calls too

Now that Skype is available for most brands of smartphone, including the iPhone, Android-based handests, and Nokia handsets that run the Symbian OS, as long as you have a SIM card with cheap data, you can call on Skype instead of paying outbound global roaming rates.

Don't forget you can also directly call other Skype users from your phone completely free of charge (apart from any data costs on the SIM card).

Where to buy prepaid SIM cards

Here are some SIM cards we can recommend around the world:

We're researching more SIM cards in the top countries that Australians travel to, and we'll update to this list as we find the best SIMs for each destination.

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About danwarne

Dan is a tech enthusiast who frequently qualifies for enhanced airport security screening due to the number of cords and gadgets stuffed into his cabin bag.

 

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1 on 9/6/11 by chandi

Dan,

  I have tried doing this but there are some significant draw backs.  First of all it takes about 2-3 rings to divert the call from the Australian network to Skype.  Then up to 3-4 rings for skype to divert to your local handset and about 2-3 rings before the local handset rings.  Which means the caller has heard about 7-10 rings by the time you hear the first ring. 

If you have voicemail enabled either in Skype or your local Australian phone this could lead to the call going to VM before you hear a single ring.

What I now do is to carry two phones.  I have a local skype in number for US, UK, Australia, France, Switzerland, Japan etc.  If I am in my office any one calling that number rings my laptop.  If I am away they redirect to my local (to where I am)  phone.  I have a set of about 10 prepaid or contracted sims for the different countries and have them in the second phone.  In Australia I only carry one phone but when overseas I carry the Australian phone (for incoming urgent calls) and the "redirected" phone.

Having the local phone/sim allows me to use lots of data on the local phone, make local calls (restaurant bookings, cabs business calls etc) cheap.  It also allows me to leave a simple local number for people to call me back.

Chandi

1 on 30/11/12 by Andie

Thanks. Great idea.

On the issue of the number of rings - in Skype you can reduce the divert time to 1 second. I haven't tried to put in a "0" value.

I am on a SG3 and you can opt for the "Always Forward". Thought it would divert after the first ring. Got to give it a try next time

2 on 20/6/11 by Wilf

Thanks for the great article. When you forward your Australian mobile to Skype and then in turn to a local Pre Paid number (or contract), do SMS and MMS originally sent to your AUS mobile come through also?

Thanks

Wilf

1 on 20/6/11 by danwarne

No, they don't, unfortunately -- that's a limitation of GSM mobile networks; you can only forward calls, not SMS/MMS.

3 on 9/8/11 by peajay

Thanks for the many articles on this subject!

Have you any further recommendations yet for prepaid sims for date and phone use? Namely... France, Italy, Israel, India?

Also... re Wilf's query regarding SMS/MMS ... do you have any suggestions?

Peajay

1 on 9/8/11 by peajay

sorry... meant 'data'..

2 on 10/8/11 by danwarne

The only solution to accessing SMS/MMS sent to your Australian number while using another SIM card is to actually carry a second phone and keep using your Australian SIM just to receive SMS/MMS.

There's no way at all that I'm aware of to forward SMS.

Some handsets from HTC do support SMS forwarding (see http://www.htc.com/au/faqs.aspx?p_id=324&cat=78&id=149678 for example) but you have to leave the handset switched on (with the Australian SIM card in it) for the SMS forwarding to occur, as it's a handset feature, not a network one. So you'd have to take a second phone overseas anyway for use with the secondary SIM card.

Regarding specific SIM card recommendations for France, Italy: check out our articles on roaming SIMs for Europe.

http://www.ausbt.com.au/tags/europe,data-roaming

I don't have any info on SIM cards for Israel or India yet, however the abroadband service does cover Israel and India:

http://www.ausbt.com.au/travel-tech-data-roaming-in-50-countries-for-81c-mb

4 on 2/4/12 by mobipassport

you can order local SIM cards for a range of overseas destinations before you depart from mobipassport.com.au

5 on 1/3/13 by TOBES

Has anyone got any tips as to which is the cheapest unlimited plan to sign up for that allows for free diversion to an Australian Skype landline number?

Many plans have additional charges for forwarding...

6 on 30/4/13 by cssaus

I notice that for this diversion to work you need to either have SKYPE shut down on your computer or set your SKYPE status to OFFLINE.

7 on 17/5/13 by moa999

A way to receive SMS's overseas is by using a DualSIM phone - plenty of Androids with this (less in Australia), but use a local SIM for data and calls.

Presently using a Lenovo A820 (an awesome quad core device) puchased for under $200 delivered from etotalk.

8 on 20/3/14 by dan

i can receive free calls from skype with this lemonsim card, you pay a fee and whoever calls you he doesnt pay anything to call you from skype to lemonsim card! really good company!

9 on 15/4/14 by cssaus

It would appear that there's been a change in recent times on how call forwarding works on SKYPE numbers, especially if you're wanting instantaneous call forwarding to occur.

Even specifying a diversion time of zero seconds it can take up to 10 rings before the number being forwarded to will ring. This being the case it could cause callers to hang up before the call eventually reaches the number being forwarded to.

I've now signed up with http://www.tollfreeforwarding.com for a local Australian number to which I will forward my mobile to and then use a local SIM in the country where I will be visiting to which I then forward the provided number to.

It's a bit more expensive that renting a SKYPE number but provides a whole lot more flexibility for call forwarding including the ability to create a time-of-day schedule.

A free 30 day trial is provided to allow people to test out the facility.

10 on 8/7/14 by Boz

When forwarding the Australian SIM to skype , does it matter on cost, setting up the forwarding in Australia or overseas? For example if you set up or Australian SIM to forward to skype from overseas, will it then have an international call fee, as set up overseas. Or is it better to set up in Australia prior to heading overseas,  and remove sim from phone, while overseas? I do like the idea of having the Australian SIM active on a second phone for SMS thou.

11 3 weeks, 2 days ago by Marlene

Dan,

Your post somehow give me an idea.Im in the Phlippines. I was asked by my employer to have an Australian number so that clients from Australia would abe to call me directly with their mobile and land line numbers. 

In connection of what you posted if I will have a SIM from Australia would it be a big help for me? Can I still used the SIM from Australia if im in the Philippines? How much will it cost for me to have incoming and outgoing calls? Thanks!

1 3 weeks, 2 days ago by Chris

Hi Marlene,

This article was published over three years ago, and Dan has since moved on from AusBT.

I'd suggest posting your question in our Q&A section, or alternatively, search for 'international roaming' followed by the name of the mobile network you are considering.

Cheers,

-Chris

 

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