The wonder that is 21st century technology makes living abroad pretty easy; blogs, forums, translation apps, and communication platforms make adjusting to life away from home and in a foreign country much easier than I imagine they were back in the day. I have never been a homesick person, but that does not mean I don’t miss home. However, I see my family and friends just as often as some of my friends from northern Germany in Munich see theirs and in many cases I keep in better touch than lots of people living within a 250 mile radius of home. I honestly believe if I lived in California my contact with my Houston base would not be so different than it is here all the way over in Germany. In case of emergency, both situations still require an expensive last-minute flight which is terribly inconvenient, but doable.
For communication, I use several technologies. Which technology I choose depends on the situation (e.g., device, cell signal, location) and person (e.g., friend, family, business, nationality). Although it’d be ideal if everyone were on one, everyone has their preferences and each platform has its own advantages.
For messaging, I rely primarily on two apps: Google Hangouts and WhatsApp.
I use Google Hangouts during the day to talk to my friends who are at work on their Gmail accounts and it is also my primary video chat platform. I prefer Google Hangouts to Skype because it is web-based and therefore I do not have to install run an additional app. I am also an Android user so it works well on my phone. I also use Google Hangouts to communicate with my US cell phone number. When I moved to Germany, I ported my number on Google Voice and therefore I can use it to make calls and send SMS in the US directly from Hangouts. I can also add credit to this number to call internationally, for instance when I need to call Germany from the US.
I use WhatsApp to send messages from my German number. Most of my “texting” activity takes place from here as I have my group chats with friends in both the US and Germany. WhatsApp also recently released a calling feature, which I sometimes use over Wi-Fi when people have poor cell phone signals at home.
I am also giving Telegram a try, although the user base is much smaller than the Google and WhatsApp bases. It operates like WhatsApp based on your cell phone number, but is also available for use on tablets and computers. My favorite feature here is that it is simply more fun; for example, you can search the GIF database and send the images within the messages. It apparently also does not own everything you do, like WhatsApp (owned by Facebook), which definitely deserves recognition these days.
Social Media Apps
Like most of the digitally connected world, I have and frequently check my Facebook account. Although I find the functionality pretty good, for reasons I cannot properly articulate I cannot stand Facebook Messenger. Therefore, I only use it to communicate with people who do not have my phone number (or vice versa).
International Calling Apps
Outside of the personal networks, there are a large number of services for calling international such as NobelCom, which is a digital and re-loadable calling card. You can call from your cell phone via the NobelCom App, from your computer, or from any phone worldwide! These international calling apps are great for calling landline numbers like businesses abroad. For instance, I often have to call customer service for questions regarding my US bank accounts.
Lastly, let’s not forget the good ol’ landline. Although I don’t know the last time I used one in the US, I do have one here in Germany because it came with the monthly internet package. For just 3,90 Euro/month, I can add on an international calling package for unlimited calls to the US. I have not done this yet due to the aforementioned spectacular calling options, but it is super affordable and great option to have if you prefer talking the tried and true way and this is a nice service my au pair family provided me in my bedroom there.
Of the hundreds of options available to keep in touch abroad today, what are your favorites?