Visiting foreign country. Option besides SIM

I’m going off to Israel in a couple of months. The last time I went, I decided not to bother buying an Israeli SIM because my cell phone provider gives me unlimited text and data and charges just 25¢ per minute for calls. A SIM was way more expensive. However, my Israeli relatives weren’t too happy with that because it meant that they had to pay for an international call to contact me when I was just down the block.

All I want is a local phone number I can forward to my phone. I don’t need texting. I don’t need voice mail. All I need is a local phone. I’ve looked at various options, and they seem way more than what I want and way more than I want to spend. After all, it’s not even for me, it’s for people who want to call me.

Anyone have any ideas?

I assume that using a VOIP app like one of the following is not an option for your relatives:

  1. WhatsApp
  2. WeChat
  3. Skype
  4. Google Hangouts
  5. Facebook Messenger
  6. Viber Messanger

Look at maybe they have Israeli numbers.

I had Google Voice for free and dumped them for iPlum. A lot cheaper than $0.25 a minute. Great support versus no support from Google

Or just use WhatsApp to call using data and not the cellular network. WhatsApp is free. Works great!

Do your friends and relatives have iPhones? If so, you can use FaceTime (audio-only, if you don’t want to use video) to call them.

No. That’s an option. Tell people to use WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to contact us. Most people in Israel now use WhatsApp. In fact, it was WhatsApp that made me get my wife an Apple Watch (as well as a new iPhone).

My wife kept her phone in her purse where she could blissfully ignore it. That meant her friends would contact me to pass along messages to her. When her Israeli relatives who only spoke Hebrew started calling me, someone who only speaks English, on WhatsApp, I drew the line. My wife apparently told them they could do this.

For her birthday, she got a new Apple Watch and a new iPhone. Plus, she got a WhatsApp account. It was one of the most expensive birthday presents and one she least enjoyed initially. I had put her on a leash. However, she now does texting and stuff with her friends with her watch, and I’m no longer her social secretary.

Things have changed since we were last there. Israelis now use WhatsApp as a means of avoiding the expense of calling. Many Israelis now even use VoIP phones and calling an American number is no longer 10 shekels per minute (about $3). I believe a few of her family in Israel actually have secondary American phone numbers.

A SIM is like $30 per week. There are two of us and we’re staying for two weeks. In the bigger picture, paying $120 is pocket change to the rest of the cost, but swapping SIM cards is a pain. Plus, a lot of people contact me on my cellphone — either texting or phone. I don’t want to lose that, and I don’t want to pay for the forwarding cost. My son did that, and he ended up paying his cellphone service over $100 for the forwarded calls and texts.

And in the end, it’s not even for me. It’s for our Israeli friends’ benefit.

Feh on that. They can learn to use WhatsApp.

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Unfortunately not.

In most of the world, it’s an Android world. Android worldwide outsells Apple by 2 to 1. Of course, if you want just a cellphone or you want a dirt cheap cellphone, Android is the way to go. I can buy a new Android phone in for under $100 in most places in the world.

And in those places, Apple products are an absolute premium. They cost about 20% to 30% more than in the US. It’s why I see foreigners all the time coming out of the New York Apple Store with a ½ dozen phones, another ½ dozen iPads, and even multiple Macs. They’re loading up to pass them onto friends and family. Apple products are a status symbol in Israel.

Which iPhones do you have? If you have eSIM compatible phones, you can convert your existing service to eSIM before you travel and then put the Israeli SIM in while on the trip to continue to be contacted on both numbers.

That’s another option: purchase a cheap Android phone and get a local number for that device. (Will you and your wife be together the entire time so that you can share a single phone?)

In the Before Times, I was happy with using GigSky (e-sim) and Skype for reachability across Europe and the UK.

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There was a time you bought tokens at the post office for the pay phones. My wife still has a collection. Of course most of her family didn’t have phones. The waiting list was almost a decade.

Or alternatively, can you get an Israeli eSIM? I did some web searching and there seem to be companies that offer them (but I don’t know if any of these companies are any good).

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Here’s the situation right now. I’m probably not going. The borders are closed for the next two weeks. After that, who knows?

I originally wasn’t going to get a SIM because anyone in Israel can contact me via WhatsApp. However, I was going to purchase an Israeli SIM just so I can get my PCR test results. In Israel at that time, you had to get a PCR test upon landing. Then be in quarantine for up to 24 hours or until you get the test result. The fastest way to get that is to have an Israeli phone number.

Now who knows what’s going to happen.

WiFi Calling is another great Apple innovation that is available on iPhones, iPads, Watches and Macs. It’s free, it works beautifully across the globe and is a no brainer to set up. There’s no messing around with SIM cards, and you don’t even need a fast connection for it to work:

And you don’t have to worry about SIM cards, carrier charges, etc. And I’ve found that it sounds better than calls to and from international cell cards.

WiFi calling is great, but the issue isn’t me calling. My T-Mobile plan is great in foreign countries. I get free WiFi, data, and texting. Plus, calls are only 25¢ per minute.

The problem is people calling me in Israel. Despite the fact I’m around the corner, them calling me is an international overseas call. Me calling them costs 25¢. Them calling me is $3.00.

I originally decided not to bother with a SIM card just like I did last visit. I was thinking about getting one, but paying $140 just so other people can save a couple of dollars didn’t make sense. Besides, this time, everyone uses WhatsApp. They can call me via WhatsApp.

I then decided to get one SIM card good for a single week just for my phone, so I can receive my Covid test results. In Israel, you take a Covid test when you land and are in quarantine until you get the test results. The fastest way to get the results is a phone call, but they only call Israeli numbers.

Now, the border is closed to all noncitizens. Officially, my wife can go because she’s an Israeli citizen, but most flights are canceled. Who knows what’s going to be going on in January
when we’re supposed to be flying?

The Apple support page includes the following sentence.

To use Wi-Fi Calling, you need an iPhone 5c or later on a supported carrier.

Doesn’t that mean I would need to worry about a SIM card (or an eSIM)?

I was using Google Voice to call back to the US on WiFi. But I could not lock in WiFi and GV likes to switch from WiFi to Cellular Voice in the background. Plus people were calling my US number and the phone wasn’t ringing.

And $0.25 per minute is a complete rip off.

Most VOIP providers deal in multiple lines for business and cost a fortune per month.

Until I discovered iPlum. I recommend iPlum highly. I ported in my Google Voice number and started using iPlum.

It is switchable between WiFi and cellular DATA. I use Google Fi and cellular data is $10/Gig.

A voice call converted to data is nowhere near $0.25 per minute. You pay for the amount of data you consume and not the amount of time you were connected.

Calls to and from the US will cost you $0.01 per minute no matter how you access their network.

I pay $4.99 a month for the line and that includes 200 credits. 1 credit = $0.01. And any credits I don’t use are carried forward one month.

I got killed on Google Fi cellular data for the month I was in San Francisco. Restaurants have stopped providing free WiFi.

Not so in Europe where free WiFi is literally everywhere. Now that I am traveling in Europe my Google Fi bill is back down to $20-$30 a month.

I have a Google Fi phone number which I use for WhatsApp and password verification via SMS. Everything else is on my iPlum number, same number I have had for 10 years.

IPlum only works on mobile phones. It is designed to provide a second line, the first being the number that comes from your provider. There is no desktop version. Check it out at

Wi-Fi calling (based on my experience with Verizon) means:

  • You do need a SIM card, in order to tell the phone whose network the Wi-Fi call should be placed with. But all actual data is over Wi-Fi.

  • Calls placed to/from your phone should be billed as if you were in your home location (e.g. the US).

    At least that’s how Verizon did it - calls to/from US numbers were completely free. Calls to/from the country I was in were billed as calls to/from the US.

    I’ve been told that some carriers (I think AT&T) bill international Wi-Fi calls differently. Call to/from US numbers count against an allowance of free minutes, and additional minutes are billed. You want to check with your carrier to see what the details are.

  • When enabling Wi-Fi calling, you need to tell your carrier your physical location so emergency calls (e.g. 911) will go to the right place. With Verizon, I was unable to specify a non-US location, so I pretty much ignored it (leaving it set to my home address). This shouldn’t matter unless you make an emergency call over Wi-Fi.

  • You need a good quality (bandwidth and latency) Wi-Fi connection. If it isn’t up to par, then your phone will fall-back to normal cellular calling, with all that entails.

Note that this is completely different from a VoiP/FaceTime call, which doesn’t care at all about the cellular carrier. They just require an Internet connection of any kind (whether cellular, Wi-Fi, tethered or anything else).

How about old-fashioned two-way radios?

You don’t need a SIM or eSIM; you just need to be connected to WiFi. The calls are routed via the internet, not a cell network. So there’s no international charges or roaming charges either.

This is true for VoIP apps like FaceTime. Wi-Fi calling, however, is a service provided by your mobile service provider.

As such, you need an activated SIM card so your phone will know about the servers and the authentication credentials required to connect to them.

We’ve made WiFi calls from Australia and Europe without swapping a SIM, and Verizon is our carrier. You can also FaceTime without a SIM; it also runs on WiFi.

I’m not positive about this, but IFIRC, you need a SIM to text, which is cell based. Messages are dependent on cell networks. Verizon is our carrier, and when outside of the US, we did sign up for one of their international calling plans in case we were stranded somewhere there was no WiFi. But we didn’t opt for a plan that required a SIM switch, and we never needed to use it anyway.