When we started travelling in Europe we thought we would be using our unlocked cell phone and purchasing SIM cards as we go.
Easier said than done. Our first stop was in Calais France, all of the cell phone shops here would only sell their cell phones with a minimum one year contract. When we asked if there plan worked in other European Countries the answer was a resounding NON!
When we got to Italy, we did purchase a prepaid SIM card from Vodafone Italy for 20 euros. The first issue we had was all the menus on the phone were changed to Italian when the card was installed. The second issue was after one call to England and one call to Canada our 20 euros had disappeared. This was not going to work. There was also the annoyance of Vodafone texting us almost every other day in Italian.
This was the one and only SIM card we bought in Europe!
Once we got to our first house sit in Italy, we were able to use Skype for free video conferencing. This worked great, however it was difficult to call businesses without 800 numbers, or friends who do not use Skype.
The owners of our second house sit in Spain pointed out that with Skype credits you could call any phone number for pennies a minute. We bought $14 Canadian worth of credits in June 2012. We made calls all over the world and still had a couple of dollars left when we got back to Canada in October 2012.
Skype was working out smashingly baby! – as long as we had a decent internet connection. We were able to communicate effectively with friends and family as well as conduct personal business effectively for a reasonable cost. Of course calling by Skype can be a little hit and miss at the best of times.
Then we got to Belize – Skype does not work here at all!
As it turns out Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) has a monopoly on Internet Service Provision in Belize. The first couple of times I tried to use Skype in Belize I could make a connection but the connection soon dropped or became gibberish. At first I thought it was due to the connection speed – but as it turns out BTL is effectively blocking Skype in Belize to force you to use their phone system.
Before I found out about this practice I actually went into a BTL office in Placencia to ask about purchasing a prepaid SIM card for my phone. The rate for calling the US and Canada was $0.50 per minute. Fortunately for me they did not have any SIM cards in the office and were not sure when they would arrive.
Shortly after this, I was discovered how to work around BTL. By installing a virtual private network (VPN) I could effectively move my IP address from Belize to the US (and many other countries depending on the service provider) and bypass the BTL blockade!
I also discovered that Belize is not alone when it comes to censoring Skype. Here is a partial list of countries that block Skype:
Bahrain, Belize, Brazil, many of the Caribbean nations, China, Columbia, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, South Korea, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, Vietnam and Yemen
I started my internet research into VPN service providers. There are many free VPN service providers available, however I was not getting a warm fuzzy feeling about “free” VPN. When I started looking into the free services they either throttle the amount of data I could move, they had advertising pop ups, and / or they install spy or malware on your machine. Apparently there is no such thing as a free lunch.
I started to look at the fee for service providers and finally decided on Private Internet Access. They were well ranked and had good reviews. The price point was also appealing. I purchased the one year plan which works out to just over $3 per month.
The software was easy to install and works great, I am now able to Skype from anywhere in the world, including Belize.
There are many other advantages to using a VPN service when travelling – these will be covered in a later post.