Communicating while in Thailand

We take global communications for granted. We can call, email, text, message, and video chat. We can do it the old-fashioned way, on landlines, or on cell phones, satellite phones, smart phones, tablets, or computers. We can use Facebook, Twitter, Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, iMessage, and many more applications to communicate. While it may be a bit more challenging to communicate when traveling abroad, especially outside of North America, East Asia, and Western Europe, it has become much easier to take advantage of this brave new world of global communications, even in the most remote locations in the world.

So, how will be be communicating while in Thailand? How will you be able to call home to friends and family? Will there be Wi-fi access? Are there data plans available? I hope this post will answer some of these questions.

nokia_6100Calls to and from the US: We will be providing each of you with a cell phone and a local Thai phone number. If you have an unlocked phone, you can use your own phone and we will provide you a SIM card with a local Thai phone number. You can then choose to have a data plan that will give your phone internet access.

Our experience is that this is still far less expensive than international plans through your cell service in the US. The phone is an older Nokia “dumb” phone that will make cellular calls, texts, and play a few old games like “Snake”. It doesn’t have a full keyboard, so you’ll have to use the old number-pad method of entering text. However, this is extremely inexpensive for calls within Thailand as well as to the US. Calls from Thailand to the US is as low as 3 baht/minute (about $0.10/minute), and calls to a Thai cell phone is even cheaper. Plus, incoming calls are free.

We will be providing you with a set number of baht on your account (usually around 200 baht or so), and you will be responsible for purchasing any additional minutes after that. Luckily, the phone will still receive calls even if you run out of minutes, but you will not be able to make any calls until you purchase minutes. You can purchase 1-2-Call cards to recharge your phone’s minutes at any 7-11 as well as many other outlets.

YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR HAVING THE PHONE ON YOU AT ALL TIMES DURING THE TRIP!! AND IT NEEDS TO BE CHARGED!!! We CANNOT emphasize this enough! This is our best tool if we need to contact you with changes in plans, if you’re late, etc.

How to make calls to and from Thailand: We should be in cell phone range most of the time there. Each student will be given a local Thai phone number. They all start with a 0, and go something like this:

08 0601 7778

That’s the number you would call if you were in Thailand and wanted to call that number in Thailand. The “8″ in the “08″ signifies a cell phone number.

To call from the US, you need to

  • drop the 0
  • add the exit code (011)
  • add the country code (66)
  • add the rest of the number

Therefore, to call this number from the US, you would dial:

011 66 8 0601 7778

That’s not too confusing, is it? Make sure you drop that first 0, and add 011 66. That’s it.

To call the US from Thailand, you simply have to dial the exit code (which varies, anything from 001 to 009, each of which is associated with a different cellular company; I will let you know the cheapest one), then the country code (1), then the number. So to call a US phone number from Thailand, you would dial:

009 1 801 555 5555

Please remember that Thailand is 13 hours ahead of Salt Lake City, so if it’s 8:00 pm here, it is 9:00 am in Thailand. Also, incoming calls on a cell phone in Thailand is free for those receiving the call, but it isn’t free for the caller. International rates to Thailand depend on the service that you’re using (cellular vs. land line, etc.)

Free Phone Services: You may also consider a Voice Over IP service like Skype, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or another phone service. Skype has a service called Skype Out that allows you to call from your computer (or smartphone / tablet) to an outside line. You can get a monthly subscription or just buy credits that you use as you call. To call a mobile number in Thailand on Skype, it is $0.03/minute using credits, or as little as $0.012/minute if you get a monthly subscription. If you don’t like using your tablet or laptop as a phone, just download the Android or iOS version of Skype, and it’s just like using a phone. More information can be found on the Skype site. You can also use Skype, FaceTime, or Facebook Messenger for free when both sender and receiver have access to the internet.

Internet Access: Internet access within Thailand has greatly expanded since we first started May Term Thailand. Just about every mall, supermarket, hotel, and government building have internet available. That said, very few of these are truly public. Airports and government buildings, as well as a few malls, are most likely to have free, safe, public Wifi. The hotels we stay at do have Wifi for their guests; you just have to ask the front desk for a code. Be aware that not every network will have the bandwidth you’re used to, so if you’re planning on streaming HD video, you may be out of luck.

You can also get a data plan for your SIM card, which will give you internet access just about anywhere you can get a phone signal. Just keep in mind that you can rack up a lot of data in very little time!

With internet access, you can communicate via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, WhatsApp, or any other internet-enabled communications medium. This is a great time to update your Facebook feed, upload Instagram photos, and so on.

Making calls over a VOIP program or sending messages over an internet-enabled message system when you have access to Wifi is a great way to minimize using your cellular minutes. Applications like Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, and even Facebook Messenger allow calls using internet protocols like VOIP. However, you are limited to calling someone who also has the application that you are using (so if you’re calling on Skype, for example, the person you are calling must also be on Skype). As described above, Skype also allows you to call an actual phone number, either a landline or a cellular number.

Video conferencing over Skype, FaceTime, or Facebook Messenger are also a great way to communicate. Again, both parties must have the application, and video conferencing is often bandwidth intensive, so it may not be great for networks with limited bandwidth.

Keep in mind, that to communicate through a specific application like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or Snapchat, the party that you’re communicating with must also have the same application. Unfortunately, we still do not have a universal internet messaging program, so make sure the people you want to communicate with have the same messaging applications that you have, other than SMS texting.

One note: if you’re on the Apple universe, and you use FaceTime and iMessage, it doesn’t matter where you access the internet, everything is the same. You can still text, FaceTime, or email and your identity is the same. This is also true with Skype, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger. I can’t say for certain that this is the case with the Android/Google universe, but I imagine it is similar.

One final note: be careful of free public internet connections that you find when searching for Wifi networks. Many of these are fake networks set up specifically to hack your internet-enabled device. You can read a bit more about this here. One way to protect yourself is to use https:// encrypted websites, rather than the unencrypted http:// sites.

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