Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Keeping in Touch Abroad: Whatsapp

Scott's view yesterday, sent via Whatsapp
Even though Scott is approximately 2,500 miles away in the Grenadines, we are in (almost) constant contact via text message.  The ship has a Blackberry that Scott uses and I have an iPhone, but despite the fact that we send at least four texts to each other a day, we pay nothing for it.  That's right, texting to the Caribbean is F.R.E.E.

We do this by using Whatsapp, a "cross-platform mobile messaging app" which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay.  The only requirement is a data plan because the app uses the internet to connect.  Data plans are fairly easy to come by in the Bahamas and the Caribbean and you can usually purchase one for a short amount of time as opposed to the USA where you are usually locked into a two year contract or something similar.  In the Bahamas and the Caribbean, you simply sign up with a local carrier (Batelco in the Bahamas and Digicel in the Caribbean, for example) by purchasing a SIM card and you can minutes to your phone by purchasing "top up" cards which are sold just about everywhere.  It's a great system and when I was a land traveler, I used one little Nokia phone over the world; Africa, Southeast Asia, South American and Central America.  I simply got to a new country, bought a SIM card, purchased some minutes and was good to go!
Many Americans have never actually seen a SIM card.

The catch is you must have an "unlocked" phone.  Most phones in the USA are "locked" to a specific carrier (you can purchase unlocked cell phones online with Best Buy, but not in the stores) so they don't work abroad unless roaming which is VERY expensive.  Luckily, "unlocked" phones are the norm pretty much everywhere else in the world and to buy one that is locked is the exception abroad.  Scott and I bought an "unlocked" Blackberry in the Bahamas and we have used that phone in just about every country with a local "SIM" card to connect to the local carrier, make calls and (sometimes) get internet.

While many of us live this lifestyle to untether ourselves from our phones and sever the constant connection with technology, having a way to make calls - at least locally - definitely comes in handy if you ever need to find a local vendor for something.

How do you stay connected?  I'm sure there are other cost-effective ways (for example, we Skype from our computers if we get a strong enough wifi signal)...what do you use to connect when cruising?


Mark said...

On my last vacation I was able to use FaceTime on my iPhone and video chat with my brother. I was sitting at Foxy's Bar on Jost Van Dyke, BVI and he was back in the US. Yes, Foxy has WiFi!

Both parties must have an iPhone or an iPad and a WiFi connection. Works pretty slick with no charges.

It is nice to get away from it all but checking in once in a while is priceless


Catherine H said...

Another alternative, works the same way as whatsapp, is viber.

Mike M. said...

That's a great way to stay connected.

Another free text and even voice calling option is to use Google Voice. It uses the data connection instead of cell service, just like the app you mentioned. Good thing about Google Voice is you don't have to have an unlocked phone. Just set up your account and download the app. You can use it on Android, iPhone and Blackberry. Free text messages and free voice calling!

p.s., no, I don't work for Google..lol. I've been using Google Voice for years and it's a great service.


Brett Anderson said...

I remember the days when I used to fly international trips and was just out of touch with my family for days at a time. I relied on them to call my company and the company to get in contact with me if there was an emergency. Other than that, you had to buy a phone card or go to an international call center where you could call the states for 10 cents a minute.

Now it is all so much easier, so easy that it makes it hard to use the excuse "I couldn't find a phone" if you just want to get away for a few days. I primarily use Skype when I can find a wifi signal, and occasionally pay for a text if it is something important. I tried Whatsapp as well, but I found that if I had a wifi signal I might as well use Skype. I have a Skype account so that I can call any phone and it only costs me about 2 cents a minute.

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