The sing song do de doo of skype is familiar to many of us. It's easy to see the attraction for the over 663 million registered users. Being apart from loved ones is always difficult and a simple phone call can make all the difference. You can use it for local calls or to connect with friends and family across the world. Whether it is during the holidays or just for a chat, connecting with our world is becoming easier than ever.
Skype offers the ability to instant message, send files, conference calls, voice mail, and video chat with other users through the internet. Services online are free, with the ability to make phone calls to non-users or mobile phones and land lines usually only costing pennies. Registered users of Skype are identified by a unique Skype Name, and may be listed in the Skype directory.
NOTE: Skype does not provide the ability to call emergency numbers such as 112 in Europe and 911 in North America.
Also realize that the service is not available in all countries. For example, users in China trying to download the Skype software client have been redirected to the site of TOM Online, a joint venture between a Chinese wireless operator and Skype. The TOM client participates in China's controversial system of Internet censorship, monitoring text messages between Skype users in China as well as messages exchanged with users outside the country.
We are expats ourselves at EasyExpat and use Skype services for business and personal use. But it wasn't until we started producing our series of "Expat Interviews" that we noticed the amount of expats that use the service. Here are some of our expats answering the question,
"How often do you communicate with home and how?"
From California to Chile: Memoirs of a Gringa
The internet makes it incredibly simple to communicate with people back home. Someone should erect a statue commemorating the inventor of Skype. I honestly can't imagine living abroad and not being able to stay in constant contact with people back home. Both Skype and email have allowed me to stay in contact with family and friends on a daily basis. And of course, Facebook is useful too.
From Florida to England to Kuwait: Educated Abroad
We're constantly in contact with both our families and loved ones back in Europe and America. Email is the main source of communication. We occasionally phone one another but this method can be extremely expensive. While Skype is publicly forbidden here in Kuwait, most people do use it. Kuwait does have functioning mail system. However, it's unreliable and painstakingly slow. Very few people use it. On the two rare occasions that I did use the Kuwaiti Post to send a letter back home, my letter arrived one month later. FedEx and DHL are available here in Kuwait, but at a hefty price, depending on what it is you want to send, and where you're sending package to.
From Texas to Penang: Malaysian Meanders
We have weekly Skype sessions with my parents and my in-laws. Since moving here, I think we're actually in closer communication than when we lived a 3-hour drive away from them. The only hard part about Skype is the 13-14 hour time difference between us.
I email a few of my close friends whenever the mood strikes. We were doing this even when I lived in America because we lived in different states. Even though the distance between us has increased, I think we're still just as close emotionally.
Facebook has truly turned out to be a remarkable way to keep in touch with a large circle of friends and acquaintances. I feel in tune with the town that I'll be moving back to because I know all the big news and inconsequential details, too.
From New York City to the South of France: Blaxpat and Loving It
We communicate with home quite frequently. We have had visitors, but not as often since 9/11. So we basically keep in touch by telephone, and email. Few people write letters anymore. I miss that intimate touch. We travel to the States as often as possible.
From Wisconsin to Chendu to New Delhi: Hot Pot
Before our son was born, we called home on Skype about once a week. Now that we have Will though, we are all over the webcam. The grandparents really miss their grandson and so we send a lot of emails and photos and chase Will around the house with my iphone camera for a Skype or Facetime video call at least 2 or 3 times a week. Honestly, what did people do before the Internet?
From Atlanta to Madrid: Pass the Ham
I'm kind of embarrassed to say that I don't talk to my family as much as I should. I'm thankful to have Skype, but the truth is that seeing the faces of my family and friend and hearing their voices just makes me miss them more when we do video calls. So, I usually keep contact through emails and Facebook and we save Skype for special occasions like birthdays, holidays, and bail money requests.
From Florida to Liverpool: American. A broad.
Every day in some way or another. I use google voice or Skype to call my family and friends back home. Plus with emails, Imessage, chats, facebook, etc., I always feel connected. The time difference can be tricky. People forget and text me and it's the middle of the night, but I never care. If I pop up in their mind, I always want to know, regardless of the time. I love how I can Facetime with a friend in California and because of the 8 hour difference, she is just waking up and I'm getting ready to make dinner. It helps make the distance seem to disappear for a moment.
From Melbourne to Ho Chi Minh City: Channel Steve
I am not a regular communicator with my family and friends back in Australia, but use Skype or email to stay in touch every few months. I prefer to blog about my daily experiences, and feel that's the best way to let people know what's going on in my life. Like me, my family is very busy and active and doesn't have a lot of free time to devote to staying in touch. We have recently started a private family blog, in the hope of reducing the distance between us virtually.
From San Francisco to Brisbane: Pieces of Wendy
Multiple times a week, mostly with my sister in Southern California. We use Skype on our phones, which has it ups and downs. Well, really only one up: it's basically free. The downs include dropped calls and delays so bad I often answer a question she asked a full minute after she asked it, which makes for some hilariously tangled conversations. Another communication measure, which absolutely has to be mentioned, is What's App, a free app that allows you to text for free. I use it to send and receive texts to family members and friends scattered across the U.S.
From Massachusetts to Madrid: Spanish Sabores
I call home a few times a week using Skype. Sometimes we talk for hours and other times for five minutes-- Skype is amazing and I am so thankful it exists. My parents also keep up with me through my blog Spanish Sabores, where they can see pictures of some of the things we've been chatting about.
From California to Cameroon: C'est La Vie
I have regular access to internet and cell phone service, so frequent communication is possible, yet at any given time, the internet and cell phone network does go down. I'm one of the 5% of Peace Corps Volunteers in Cameroon that can video Skype (albeit very slow!) from my home. That being said, I also went three months without a computer as I waited for a new one to be brought over and when you're traveling in country, internet can be non-existent. It all depends!
Skype is obviously not the only way to stay connected. Along with the classics of letters, e-mail, texts, and long distance calls, programs mentioned included:
Google Chat face to face with family and friends with voice and video chat. It's free and installs in seconds. Video chat right from Google Mail, iGoogle, and orkut. Get started easily -- all you need is a webcam.
From Canada to Mexico: Jay in Cancun
Google, Google, Google! Google video chat is reliable & free. I also use Google to make local calls. It's about 50% cheaper than Skype.
One funny story: The country code here is 52, many numbers in Cancun start with 998, and you need to add a 1 if it's a mobile phone. So if you're using google, you usually end up dialing 011-521-998... Early on, I made the mistake of reversing the numbers and dialing 011-998-521... Now I can proudly say that, if ever I feel inclined to randomly dial one of Borat's neighbors in Uzbekistan (after a late night out, for example), I can do that without having to look up a country code!
Btw, I don't remember who I was trying to call but I do remember the gist of the "conversation." I was using google to translate my request into Spanish and my Spanish was so bad that it took me a minute to realize that I wasn't actually conversing with a Mexican! I was a Canadian in Mexico, speaking broken Spanish to a confused villager in Uzbekistan. God only knows who he thought was calling...
From Arizona to Oknawa: More Things Japanese
Thanks to Google Talk it has been very easy to stay in contact back home. Even on the smaller island, I had access to the internet and could usually do a video chat at least once a week. Living in such small communities gives me hugely unique opportunities to participate and learn about Japan. I've been lucky that I've never felt homesick or culture shock. Perhaps it's due to the variety of learning I did before I came, or the helpful and welcoming people I've met here.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other services not only help you share what is going on in your life, these tools can help you keep connected with friends, family, and acquaintances on a day to day basis.
From Surrey to Minneapolis to Dubai: Circles in the Sand
My mother has always worked with computers and uses Facebook and Twitter! We communicate via email, Facebook updates and Tweets, so it feels like we're in touch the whole time. Social media is invaluable for expats and really helps you keep up to date with the daily lives of your family and friends back home. I really can't imagine penning letters, though I did spend years writing to an Australian pen pal when I was younger and loved learning about her life downunder â€“ like embryonic, pre-internet blogging! It's much easier to keep in touch now.
From New York City to Moscow: Impressions of an Expat
I keep in daily contact with friends and colleagues, primarily in NYC where I am from. Even the simplest social networks â€“ like instagram, keep me feeling connected. Just seeing my friend's 4th of July snapshots give me a real sense of peace. Most everyone I know follows my weekly blog posts, which keeps them aware of our latest struggles and triumphs. It is a two-way street.
From the USA to China to Singapore to Paris: Expat Edna
I don't communicate with home as much as I'd like, but when I do I use Google Voice and Skype. My family usually â€œstay in touchâ€ with me by checking my twitter account. I'm not the greatest at calling and emailing but I'm always updating twitter, so that's how they stay up to date on my adventures and make sure I'm alive.
However, I do always make sure to send a postcard to my parents from each city that I live in and travel to.
FaceTime is a videotelephony software application developed by Apple Inc. for supported mobile devices running iOS, in addition to Macintosh computers running Mac OS X 10.6.6 and higher.
From the USA to Kenya: One Trailing Spouse
My husband and I have moved 4 times in the past 5 years, so we're adept at keeping in touch with friends and family. I use Skype and Facetime when my internet connection is fast, and I use email when it's slow. I also do silly things, like play Words with Friends and Draw Something (apps on my ipad). Those small, frequent interactions help me feel closer to people when I'm away.
From Cincinnati to Czech Republic to Switzerland to Kuala Lumpur: Katie Not in Prague
I'm not sure how people lived abroad in the world before the internet. I'm in almost constant communication with home, be it through games on my phone or Facebook. I use FaceTime or Skype pretty regularly, although it's pretty cheap to call the US from cell phone so I do that quite often as well.
WhatsApp Messenger is a cross-platform mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. Because WhatsApp Messenger uses the same internet data plan that you use for email and web browsing, there is no cost to message and stay in touch with your friends. Viber for iOS lets you use your iPhone make free calls and send free text and photo messages to other Viber users, on any device, network and country! (Not Available in all Countries)
From Idaho to Buenos Aires: My Beautiful Air
I am in constant contact with my friends and family back home. With Gchat, Facebook, Whatsapp and Skype it is to easy to stay connected with my friends and family back home. I communicate with them nearly every day.
From New Mexico to Zagreb: Hungry Little Elephant
Thanks to Skype, I talk with my mom once a week or so, but I'm still trying to get the rest of my family to jump on the bandwagon. I also Gchat with friends, and we use applications like WhatsApp and Viber to text each other. Of course, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are also great for keeping up with friends and family, albeit on a less personal level.
From Indonesia to Scotland to Australia: Finally Woken
Very often! Indonesians are obsessed with their mobiles so I keep in touch with friends and family mainly by text or blackberry messages or whatsapp. They prefer that rather than talking on the phone. Sometimes I do facetime or skype with my friends who live elsewhere. My parents however, do â€˜old school', normal communication, which is talking through a landline phone.
Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is an IETF-defined signaling protocol widely used for controlling communication sessions such as voice and video calls over Internet Protocol (IP). The protocol can be used for creating, modifying and terminating two-party (unicast) or multiparty (multicast) sessions. Sessions may consist of one or several media streams.
From Rome to Amsterdam: Famsterdam Life
Not very often, maybe every couple of weeks. Our favorite method is still the phone: using a SIP compliant phone, my family is able to call me at local rates from Italy. We still prefer it to Skype! Other than that, it's a lot of occasional lines dropped in chat, but there's only so much you can tell to each other there.
To explore other social media outlets and how to use them, read our article on "Social Networks Keep Expats Connected".
What's your favorite way to keep in touch? Leave your comments below.