An Expat’s Guide to Staying Connected with Skype

I’m an American who has spent three of the last five years living abroad in Taiwan, a relatively small island off the coast of China. Up until two months ago, I was one who refused to get a smart phone. I’d never had a real reason to have one beyond the novelty of it. But, upon creating my business, Sentient Solutions, I had little choice; I had to stay connected. Running a business without that all-important connection to the rest of the world is near impossible which is why having an effective, feature-rich telephone solution tailored specifically towards businesses is commonly opted for.

At first, I loved being able to link multiple Gmail accounts. But I found myself profoundly disappointed by an application that I was hoping to use often: Skype. The current Skype for Android is one of the worst apps out there. It’s glitchy; it’s slow; it often logs in/out for no reason. So I did what any geek would do: I uninstalled it and reverted back to a simpler time.

[EDIT – July 10, 2013: This is no longer applicable. The new Skype App seems to work much better.]

Here’s what you need to do. First, uninstall Skype. Then, use this app to give you phone the ability to install APK files you download and place on your SD card. Once that’s on your phone, you can get to work downloading Skype (at the time I’m writing this, Skype is up to, and it sucks real bad) by clicking this link right here. Once you download it, slide it on your SD card and use the app you installed to install it.

There’s all sorts of good reasons to do it. For one thing, it works better. It allows for more customization, like being able to get rid of the trademark “doo-dee-doo..whomp-whomp…dee-doo-dee…whomp-whomp” Skype ring and use any ringtone or song on your phone. It signs in faster; it runs faster; it’s more simple. It’s just better.

Up to this point, this is really just good advice for anyone using an Android-based phone. Now I’m going to get into the fun of being an expatriate (expat). Living abroad has changed a lot, since Skype happened; I can spend Christmas morning with my family in the living room and watch them open the gifts I got them, and vice versa. I have a friend who sits and watches streaming soccer games with his brother. It’s an amazing program and it’s really changed the way we live abroad.

But it doesn’t have to stop there. For $60US a year, you can get a Skype number based in your home country; that means that anyone in your homeland can call your Skype the same as they would if they were calling your cell phone, if you were still in-country. It’s fantastic. My grandmother, who doesn’t know what Skype is, can call me from her cell phone the same as she did when I was living in the USA. But I’m not finished.

For as low as 1.8¢US per minute (and $6.99US for unlimited talk time), you can use your Skype to call any land/mobile line in your home country. That means you can basically turn your Skype on your phone into the cheapest international calling card ever. For $130US a year, I can call the USA without any limit whatsoever.

Here in Taiwan, I pay a whopping $25US/month for unlimited data, 200 anytime minutes on my network, and 25 anytime minutes to all networks. Taiwan doesn’t have anything other than anytime minutes – there are no free nights/weekends here – but incoming calls are always free. And it seems like everybody uses Skype or LINE, a great app made in Japan that makes test messaging easy (especially when you have no choice but to pay 5¢US per text, as there are no unlimited text plans), so I never use my talk time and never send more than a couple of text messages a month.

That means that my entire annual cell phone bill, giving me all the access I need in both the USA and Taiwan, costs me $430US, here in Taiwan. It’s fantastic and now that it’s how I do it, I can’t imagine life without it.

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