Mobile and Desktop Messaging Apps over Wi-Fi
Although cellular network reliability varies from country to country (as you can see in coverage maps from OpenSignal), it's still a lot easier to keep in touch across continents these days. Whether you have a mobile phone plan abroad or not, having Wi-Fi-enabled applications on your phone or laptop can help you communicate with friends, family, and colleagues (and avoid costly international roaming charges).
The following apps and phone systems can make staying in touch easy and affordable. Before you leave, research whether a particular app is more common in your destination (e.g. WeChat in China).
WhatsApp is a free, cross-platform (Android, iPhone, Windows Phone) messaging app that uses cellular data or Wi-Fi. You can call, text, or send photos and videos to other users anywhere in the world. With more than one billion users, it's incredibly popular worldwide for group and individual chats, and it easily imports your contacts and suggests new contacts from Facebook (which bought WhatsApp in 2014). For added security, WhatsApp provides end-to-end encryption.
Skype is another cross-platform messaging app that uses cellular data or Wi-Fi. For free, you can message or make audio and video calls to other Skype users, either individually or in groups. And by purchasing Skype credits for a nominal fee, you can use the app to call mobile numbers and landlines.
Facebook Messenger (also known as Messenger) started as Facebook Chat but has since expanded to its own app and includes individual and group audio and video calls. And because its connected to Facebook, it has an embedded user base, which is convenient if you're Facebook friends with someone but don't have his/her phone number to call or text.
Wi-Fi Calls on Androids and iPhones
If the cellular network isn't reliable in your location, you may be able to use Wi-Fi calling on your phone to make voice calls to any other phone number over a wireless connection. Wi-Fi calling essentially offers the same audio calling features as WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook Messenger, but it's already integrated into many Android phones and iPhones running iOS 9.0 or above.
This means that neither you nor the individuals you're calling need to download an app to make and receive a Wi-Fi phone call; you simply enable this feature in your phone's settings, and it connects with your existing contacts. Over Wi-Fi, iPhone users can also video chat through FaceTime and send iMessages. Check with your carrier to determine whether Wi-Fi calls count against your plan allowance for talk minutes and if they charge international calling plan rates for Wi-Fi calls.
Related Articles and Resources
- Mobile phone options abroad
- Useful apps for international travel
- Money and banking options abroad
- OpenSignal coverage maps and reports
- New York Times: How to use Twitter and Facebook for Emergency Travel Information
Harvard Global Support Services does not endorse any of the external organizations or services; they are provided only to serve as informational aides.