Phone Tricks 201431 Mar 2014
To keep in touch with home I find it handy to have an US phone number. We never got in the habit of using Skype; a cordless phone is just a lot handier than turning on the PC. For a while I had a US Skype Number with a Minnesota area code. However, at €5 a month it's not that cheap, and worse, my parents were not able to reach the number from their cell phones. And if I forward the calls to our regular German number, I pay Skype rates for the privilege.
So I did some hunting around, and discovered the VOIP provider Anveo offers US numbers pay-as-you-go for $2 a month ("Personal Unlimited" plan). You can then forward the calls to a regular number at their normal rates, but since we have VOIP at home anyway, I just set them up as an additional account and pay nothing. Calls to the US cost $0.01 per minute, slightly cheaper than our main provider. They have servers in both the US and Germany. We've been with them for 2 months, and they seem to work just fine.
In case you're wondering, our main VOIP (for home and home office) is on Sipgate Team with a Gigaset C610 IP base station. I tried first with a Fritz Box, but never managed to get it working reliably, probably because the Fritz Box was not our router, but behind our router.
The other trick to plan mobile phone and data for our visits to the US. Prepaid credit expires quickly in the States, so if you're there just once or twice a year it's likely cheapest to set up something new each year. This year we're trying service from Red Pocket sold by ReiseSIM.de in Germany. The SIMs are pre-activated, you can add credit before your trip, and you can dial direct without going through a gateway to call Germany. Calls are $0.10/min in the US and $0.11/min to Germany. Network is ATT, and for the data plans "tethering is encouraged" (that was our mistake last year, no tethering, and we constantly fought over the one tablet with internet). Our son will be taking a phone on his Easter trip to Minnesota, and we're in Orlando for business at the end of April, so we'll see how it goes.