Friday, April 11, 2008

April 10, 2008 – Calling Long Distance

Even the simple things can be confusing. We know all about the different options in the states for making long-distance phone calls, but what about in Costa Rica? Doesn’t ICE have *the* monopoly on this?

ICE certainly is the only provider of telephone (and internet) service, and calls within Costa Rica are all local. So the only long-distance calls are international. So it sounds like the only way to make an international call is via ICE.

Well, not exactly. You see advertisements for international calls on fliers, and in internet cafes. Usually, the fliers have *bad* deals ($36/minute), and the internet cafes have good deals.

Then you find out about Skype - *everybody* talks about it! Skype allows users to make telephone calls over the Internet to other Skype users free of charge and to landlines and cell phones for a fee. ( Calls from Costa Rica to the states are a *lot* more reasonable. The drawback is that if you have a slow connection, or there is too much traffic on the internet, you get a lot of echo and delay during your phone conversation. Also, if you want to *receive* calls via Skype, you need an internet connection in your house, and your computer has to be on all the time (or at least whenever you want to get a call)…

Enlinea is not as well-known. It is a voice-over-IP-protocol call-back system. When you sign up, you get a USA phone number to call. When you want to make a call to any USA phone, first you call the number given to you (your Costa Rican phone has to have international calling enabled). It is always busy – just hang up. The system recognizes that you called, and in a few seconds, it calls you on the phone number you registered. You enter the phone number you want to call, and the system puts you through. Because the phone number that you called was busy, ICE doesn’t charge you for the call. And since you were called (the call-back part), ICE doesn’t charge you for the received call either. Your account at enlinea covers the time you talk. The drawbacks are:

  • When the internet is overloaded, sometimes the call-back misses you – you need to try again (and you get a strange message on your voice mail)
  • When the internet is overloaded, you get a lot of echo and delay during your phone conversations.
  • If the people you are calling screen using caller ID, they may ignore your call – it looks like you are calling from some place like Nebraska (not Costa Rica!).
  • ICE may block the call-back phone number.

Sometimes people in the states are a bit shy about calling you in Costa Rica (after all, someone might answer in *Spanish* - gasp! OK, seriously, this can be a real deterrent for people. What some people have done is set up an 800 number in the states – friends and family call the 800 number, and the call is forwarded to the Costa Rican number, and the caller never even knows. The nice part is that you can change the forward-to number – nice if you are going back and forth between Costa Rica and the states (or anywhere else). The drawback is that you own the 800 number, so you pay for the call – not so nice if telemarketers or campaigners get the number…

Are any of the alternatives legal? Usually a monopoly makes sure that their option is the only one. And the ICE monopoly is state-owned…

Rate Comparisons:
ICE direct – 100 cents/min
Skype – 2 cents/min (UPDATED per comment - thanks!)
Enlinea – 10 cents/min
BBG – $36/min


Anonymous said...

Skype actually only costs 2 cents/min. But like you said, you need a fast connection and to receive calls from the US, you need to buy a skype number.

But the advantage of having a skype number, your friends/family in the US does not pay long distance. Our solution is therefore, call our friends back in the US and if its a long conversation they just call us back since its free for them.

JulieAndRickInCostaRica said...

thanks Anon! I've updated my post with this.

Yahoo is another option.

You can also get a phone number from Skype in the states (with the area code you specify), and have it forward the calls to another number (for example, your Costa Rican phone). This runs about $3/month. Nice to have a "local" phone number for friends and family...