Keeping in touch

London is one of the most well connected cities in the world and you will find it really easy to stay in touch with your family back home and with your new friends in the UK.

Staying in touch with your friends and family back home

Calling international numbers from the UK can be expensive, especially if you decide to use your mobile. Some good ways to save on international calls include:

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

This is an excellent method of staying in touch if you have a broadband. With a reputable VoIP provider such as Skype you can make free voice or video calls to anywhere in the world as long as you and the person you are calling are both online and have the same software installed.

If you need to call someone who does not have internet access, you can use Skype to make cheap calls to their landline or mobile phones. You can pay for these calls after you make them, or save more by buying blocks of minutes to a specific country.

Some countries also fall into one of Skype’s three international calls plans, so if you will be calling abroad often or if you will be calling several different countries this might be your best option. However, be aware that you may have to sign up for a three month minimum term contract so check the small print.

There are other VoIP providers, (Vonage, for example) but make sure to use one that is well established and reputable as installing software from unknown sources can harm your computer.

Calling plans from your landline provider

If you have got a landline telephone where you live, you can save by subscribing to an international calls plan. There is a range of these to choose from, and each is different to the next so the best advice is to call your landline provider to find out what they can offer you.

International calling cards

You can use international calling cards to make cheap calls from landline and mobile phones, and they are very widely available across London. You are recommended to compare different cards to find the one that offers the cheapest rate to your country and has the lowest connection charge, so be careful to select one with the most appropriate access number.

From a landline choose one that offers an 0800 number if possible, as this will be free. However, if you are calling from a mobile it may well work out cheaper to use one with a ‘geographical’ number that begins with 01, 02 or 03. If in doubt call your phone operator for advice.

Simply Dial

Simply Dial services provide you with an access number that you dial into before entering the number you wish to call. The cost of each call plus a connection fees will be added onto your phone bill, rather than being deducted from a prepaid balance. There can be problems with Simply Dial access numbers, and some mobile phone providers will bar you from calling them, while others may charge you very heavily for doing so.

Mobile plans

If you brought a mobile with you when you came to the UK, try to avoid using it to call abroad as the “roaming” charges can be very high. Instead try to get hold of an international SIM card, such as that offered by O2 and T-Mobile (ask in store) to put in your existing mobile so you can call UK and international numbers for less.

Lebara mobile SIM cards with £0.50p credit preloaded onto them are available free of charge from the UCLU shop, situated at the South Junction (UCL Maps). Once you have used this credit you may choose to purchase additional credit if Lebara offers you the cheapest rate to you country, but you are not required to do so and can switch to another provider if you wish.

Most UK mobile phone providers offer an international calling plan. These are usually available as an extra service on top of a monthly subscription, but some are made available to Pay as you go (PAYG) customers.

You can contact some of the main mobile phone operators in the UK as follows:

3 Mobile – 0843 373 3333 (333 from a 3 mobile)

O2 PAYG – 0844 809 0222 (4445 from an O2 mobile)

02 Pay Monthly – 0844 809 0202 (202 from O2 PAYG mobile)

Orange PAYG – 07973 100 150 (150 from an Orange PAYG mobile)

Orange Pay Monthly - 07973 100 450 (450 from an Orange PAYG mobile)

T-Mobile – 0800 956 5042 from a landline (150 from a T-mobile phone)

Virgin mobile - 0845 650 4500 (789 from a Virgin Mobile phone)

Vodafone – 08700 700191 (191 from a Vodafone mobile)

 Making calls to people in the UK

Thanks to London’s excellent mobile phone coverage , there are plenty of providers and a huge amount of different packages you can choose from. There are three ways in which you can pay for a mobile phone service in the UK:

Pay monthly – this is the least flexible option and you will be tied into a contract of between 12 and 24 months. If you choose a pay monthly deal and leave before your contract has ended you will almost certainly be charged for early disconnections.

PAYG – Pay as you go is very popular amongst students. You buy a handset and then pay in advance for a set amount of calls and texts. This usually is not the cheapest option, but it does offer great flexibility.

SIM only – These packages are a halfway house between PAYG and contract phone. You will be provided with a SIM card but no phone, and you will only be committed to a rolling 30 day contract.

There are currently six major mobile phone providers in the UK: 3, O2, Orange, T-Mobile, Virgin Media and Vodafone, and each has its own range of packages. Hence, you may wish to consider the points below when choosing a mobile phone provider:

Inclusive minutes

Each mobile deal will come with its own level of inclusive calls, which will usually be a mix of “any network” calls and “same network” calls. “Any network” minutes will let you make calls to your friends and family no matter which mobile or landline network they are on – as long as they are in the UK.

You may also get a large amount of “same network” minutes to call other people who share the same provider. These can be really handy, so check which network you are likely to call most often, such as the one used by your UK friends and consider getting a phone from the same provider. Again, bear in mind that those minutes are only useable if both parties are located within the UK when the call is made.

Even more important than checking what is included in your calls allowance is to work out what is not. For example, some networks charge for calls to non-geographic numbers including 0870 and 0845 and so-called “freephone” 0800 numbers, while others do not. If you are likely to need to call any of these numbers regularly choose a provider and package that will charge you a fair amount for such calls.

Data allowance

If you intend to access the web a lot on your mobile, and especially if you will be using it as a modem to get online with your laptop, ensure you get a generous data allowance and stick to it. You can use various comparison sites to look for a good deal on mobile broadband but remember to use an Ofcom accredited one such as Cable.

Other charges

These may include the following:

Calls to voicemail – some providers will let you check your voicemail for free, while others will charge you by the minute. Find out how much you will have to pay for these calls before you buy.

Calls to customer service – All being well, you will not need to call customer services very often, but it is worth knowing if you will be charged for doing so.

Paper bills – almost all mobile phone providers will charge you extra to receive paper bills, so request e-billing to save yourself a few pounds each month.

Non-Direct Debit charges – likewise, you will be charged extra for paying by any method other than Direct Debit. If you set up a Direct Debit ensure you have enough money in your account to cover the bill when the due date comes around.

Comparison sites

There are many UK comparison sites where you can look for deals on mobile phones. Looking online for Carphone Warehouse may be a good place to start your search.

Remember to be careful when shopping online, especially with regards to your bank details. To be safe we recommend buying a mobile phone from a reputable high street store and keeping your receipt safe in case you encounter any problems.

Broadband internet access

If you are staying in UCL managed accommodation the cost of Internet connection is included in your residence fees. You will need your UCL userid and password to be able to access the Internet.

There is a wide selection of home broadband companies and packages to choose from if you are staying in private accommodation. You will be able to get broadband from BT, O2, Orange, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and many more – and each of them offers a range of packages to suit different budgets and needs.

You can see what is available in your part of London by visiting a one of the Ofcom accredited broadband comparison site, such as Cable.

ADSL is the UK’s most widespread home broadband technology. It uses your phone line to carry the broadband signal, as well as your phone calls and is available anywhere that is connected to London’s telephone network. The speed you will get will depend upon the package you choose and whereabouts you live, with the current maximum being about 24Mbps (megabits per second).

To get started, you will need an active phone line which means that you will also need to pay line rental, either to BT or directly to your broadband provider. You will also need a broadband modem and router to get online, which may be one combined unit or two separate devices. Your provider will supply this equipment, but you may be required to pay towards delivery.

Additional information to consider when choosing your broadband provider:

Broadband bundles

If you take broadband with a landline, you will most likely get some level of inclusive calls bundled with it. If you choose broadband from BT, Sky or Virgin Media you will also have the option to add a digital TV package. This may seem like a very attractive option, but make sure to stay within your budget.

Also, bear in mind that everyone in the UK who owns a TV is required to have a TV licence.

Billing and contracts

Whoever you decide to buy your broadband from you are recommended to set up a Direct Debit to pay your monthly bill. In the UK every provider charges a monthly surcharge for all other payments, and these charges soon mount up.

Most providers will offer broadband on contracts of either 12 or 18 months. Some providers including Virgin Media offer student broadband deals on a short nine-month contract if you order before mid-October, while others may offer broadband on three month contracts. If in doubt, give your prospective provider a call to find out if they have any short contract options.

The best way to find yourself a good deal on broadband is to find out exactly what is available where you live, and then to compare the different packages and providers against each other. Again, remember to use an Ofcom accredited comparison site.

Page last modified on 06 aug 12 16:31