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Keeping in touch while overseas

Keeping in touch while overseas

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A toddler using a telephone How to keep in touch with friends and family overseasKeep in touch

Keeping in touch with your family and friends when you live overseas is simple in these days of modern technology.

The internet has revolutionised such important contact in many ways. From email to Skype, there is no excuse for losing touch with people.

Unless, of course, you know people like my mother and my best friend, neither of whom have a computer at all! However, I still manage to talk to them very regularly indeed.

Let’s start with the ‘old-fashioned’ ways to keep in touch from overseas and move on to the online options.

International telephone calls

This obvious method of keeping in touch can work out to be very expensive when calling internationally. Nothing beats the immediacy of a telephone conversation, though, so do look into how to make this cheaper.

Many countries offer international phone cards. There’s a wide variety of these pre-paid calling cards so ask around for recommendations relevant to the countries you are connected to. Perhaps readers could make suggestions based on their country? Some telephone networks or providers have options to call one or two numbers for a reduced price.

When telephoning, please don’t forget to take any time difference into consideration. There’s nothing more startling than receiving a phone call at 2am from someone, however welcome, who has made a mistake in their time zone calculations. Yes, I speak from experience!

International postal service

Known these days as ‘snail mail’, in some countries this may be unworkable for various reasons. If you live in certain countries, or in a particularly rural area, you may find it easier to set up a PO Box in order to receive post.

Regardless of the practicalities, the delight at receiving a personal, handwritten letter cannot be underestimated. It demonstrates that the writer cares enough about you to take the time to write to you. Letters such as these can be kept and re-read in a way that doesn’t happen with emails. Receiving a letter brightens your day no end. And you can send and receive little gifts too, which is even more fun.

Skype

I’m fairly sure everyone has heard of Skype. It’s installed onto your computer and you can speak to other Skype users via the internet completely free of charge. This method is known as VoiP which stands for ‘voice over internet protocol’. Many other VoiP providers exist, so you may wish to research the option that works best for you.

You need a microphone or headset, and many people choose to have a webcam so users can see friends and family as well as speak to them.

Skype can also be used by people who don’t have it set up on their computer, and even those who have no computer at all.

We have a Skype ‘landline-type’ handset set up with a UK telephone number which travels with us. This means we can receive calls from Britain charged at standard rates for UK to UK calls. I can make calls from that number too, as long as there is enough pre-paid credit on there. Calling landlines from that phone isn’t expensive, but phoning mobile numbers is prohibitively so.

If you and your friends and family have Apple products, you can use their own alternative to Skype, called Facetime.

Email

Email is quick, easy and highly suitable for keeping in touch with people who live in time zones that make phone calls tricky.

Facebook

This most popular online social networking site can be a fantastic way to share quick updates and photographs with friends and family.

Create a blog

Create an online journal to share your experiences with friends and family… and not forgetting the rest of the internet. Expat blogs abound on the internet. Blogging has really taken off over the past few years with many options available for you to start your diary right now. WordPress is one of the most popular free platforms.

Blogging is a fantastic way to keep your memories as well. With so many new experiences happening to you in your new expat life, you may soon forget some of the emotions and excitement of those early days.

Online photo sharing

No doubt you will soon amass a huge number of photographs of your new country of residence. When you have children, you naturally want to mark every stage of their development. Combine the two and you soon have more photos than you know what to do with. Naturally, you will keep them all safe, backed up and available to yourself on your own computer.

But your friends and family will want to see some of these photos too. Grandparents especially like to see photos of their grandchildren.

Create an online photo album to share with them. Make it private by password protecting it and let them have the details. Only those people who have both the link and the password can access your photos and videos. A couple of options are: Shutterfly and DropShots.

If they don’t have a computer the alternative is for you to get some printed off to post. The websites above have this option incorporated into them or you can use a dedicated photo printing service such as MyMemory.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a method of keeping in touch with your family and friends. Please let me know how you maintain contact.

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m4s0n501

25 comments

  1. The saying ‘the world is a smaller place with all this technology’ has proven to be untrue for us as a family having moved to South Africa. Everyone has Skype, Face book, emails and most seem to ignore it. They post their own stuff but don’t really interact. I try to ‘like’ and leave comments for family and friends, send round robine emails and personal ones and have to phone both sets of parents to ask them to put skype on.

    I prefer to write actual real letters and I keep a copy of each one sent in a folder with those received to form part of a diary of our time here.

    We soon discovered there was a major issue with the post. Despite being told in the UK airmail takes 3-7 days and surface mail 28 days, they don’t tell you that once the post arrives in South Africa it either a) gets stolen, b) disappears or c) turns up several months later with items missing. Outgoing post isn’t as bad, although a few parcels have gone missing. As soon as one completes a customs form, then that’s it.

    Of course I can pay extra for a tracking number, but again, there is no guarentee that it ever leaves the country or even the post office. Registered postage for a birthday card from the UK costs around £6 compared to the standard £1ish for normal mail.

    For parcels and registered mail they are delivered via the sorting office, standard mail is delivered via the post office. We had a street address, inside a security estate, we couldn’t work out if a) post wasn’t clearing customs b) getting delivered or c) being stolen by the post man or d) being stolen by people within the estate.

    So we got a Post Box number. It costs around £50 a year with a £5 deposit for the key. We notified everyone of change of address and requested that people sent an email or a face book message to let me know they have posted something as we discovered that parcels and registered post goes through the same sorting office as before where we suspect most of the post went missing from.

    Unfortunatley I don’t know whether my mail is getting through or if it is being replied to. I suspect my mail is received but people just can’t be bothered to write back.

    • Thank you for visiting my new site :-)

      And a massive thank you for explaining the trials and tribulations of the South African postal system. What a shame people can’t be bothered to keep in touch – something I’ve discovered to a certain extent too. I hope it picks up for you.

  2. Staying in touch is hard despite the options the Internet brings, we have Skype set up but have found that the time difference means that we have to set up an ‘appointment’ to actually use it, there’s no spontinaety and I have found the children find the video calling distracting, I have noticed that ds1 gets bored and tends to pull faces at himself…
    Facebook is a great way to share what you’ve been up to, but it’s also a glaring reminder of what you’ve left behind. I have often felt a sence of out of sight out of mind when looking through friends and families Facebook updates.
    As far as telephones go, we have found it cheaper here in Australia to use our mobiles to make calls back to the UK, at the moment we use virgin, and for our $29 per month we get $650 worth of credit which can be used as we see fit, so it doesn’t cost us extra to make overseas calls, obviously we still need to think of the time difference (apologies for all the times I’ve forgotten and text in the middle of the night UK time!)
    We have tried using snail mail a few times, unfortunately things have one missing, and birthday cards with money in them have failed to arrive, we use moonpig UK and moonpig AU now, it’s not hand written so less personal, but at least it gets there. As far as gifts we either send gift vouchers, or make online orders delivered straight to the recipient.
    Staying in touch is possible, but all parties need to make an effort to do so. The time difference is the first hurdle you need to get over, then actually making time to sit down when life in a new place is usually very hectic, mad, exciting, you need to remember that calls/Skype home can be quite upsetting for children (my ds1 has been upset after a few skype calls as it makes him miss his family), and I find that they can feel more pressured and less personal, we’ve had a few calls with the MIL where she’s sounded pretty short with us (she probably is, she wasn’t happy about our move) but when we asked her about this she explained she isn’t want o spend too long on the phone as he was worried about the cost.

    • Hi Karen,
      Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I agree the time difference – especially from Australia – can be a major problem. I’m finding it tricky to get used to having just a one hour difference after so many years working out time-zone maths.

      How fantastic that your mobile phone charges are so cheap! That’s really impressive. My daughter uses Skype on her mobile a LOT (!) to keep in touch with friends in the States and in the UK. I agree with you that it can be upsetting for younger children, since they can’t quite grasp the concept.

      I’m also a fan of Moonpig, and I use Amazon a lot to deliver presents to people in the UK. What a shame that so much mail seems to go AWOL.

  3. Thank the lord for technology… or maybe not, sometimes having so much choice/so many options, leaves you (or more to the point, ME!) not using any of them… and I do feel a sense of pressure in trying to keep in touch with everyone…
    That said, when contact is made I love it, it lifts my spirits and I’m a happy bunny.
    We’re in Australia, the time difference is a right royal pain – 9 hours at the mo, which means me either getting up stupidly early or contacting in the afternoon/evening… just when I’m starting the dinner – not ideal!
    We use Skype regularly for video and regular phone calls, and also mobile and texting, I’m on FB daily – friends and for business (can be hard seeing/hearing all the wonderful things family & friends are doing without you!). One friend has Face time, so we use that and I’m emailing and sending the odd letter too. It feels like I’ve never sent so many birthday cards (well, I would normally visit to deliver them :-) ) but I know that everyone that has received one has really loved getting something from “down under” so that’s been nice.
    Postal service here is really good, normally take about 5 working days for post to arrive – parcels can be a little longer. I sent a gift to a friend’s daughter in the UK and the postage cost more than the pressie – won’t be doing that again (gulp!). Small things (and I mean tiny), or Amazon… I’ve been sending gift cards too – that seems to work out quite well and there are cards for all ages and the majority of good UK shops. Should be interesting Christmas time, I’ll send everyone cards but all of the pressies will be bought online, wrapped and delivered straight to the UK.
    Something to watch out for – I ordered some AFL (Aussie Rules footy) stuff for my brother’s 50th here in Oz and they shipped it over, my brother had to be £30 duty at his end… a little bit embarrassing, just as well he loved it!
    It’s been harder trying to encourage my daughter to keep in contact with her friends, she emails them… when pushed, and has sent the odd letter and post card… not sure why there is so much reticence in staying in contact as we’re only here for a year, she just doesn’t seem to “get it” but then maybe I’m putting my values are on her… she has skyped her friends and that has been hilarious – they just spend the whole time making faces and blowing raspberries – very funny… after an hour it give me a headache though lol!
    We have to “book” times with my in-laws to skype but my mum’s pretty much on all the time, bless her – she says that being able to see us has really helped cope with not seeing us if that makes sense… I’ve probably spoken to my mum and brothers more since we’ve been here that I did when I was in the UK… go figure!

    • Aw, I love your last paragraph! Thank you so much for taking the time to reply.

      I certainly agree about children being reluctant to keep in touch for some reason. My personal take on this is that children tend to ‘live in the moment’ so are too busy concentrating on building new friendships. Something I’ve also noticed is that my daughter get very upset after speaking to friends overseas, because it reminds her that she can’t actually be with them.

      And yes, I have many painful stories about customs charges :-S Only at my end, thankfully – I order too much from the internet!

  4. Technology has certainly made our lives easier, although not everyone chooses to use it, and sometimes that can be frustrating in itself :) I’ve lived as an expat for most of my life, and still miss my extended family with a vengeance. I think keeping in touch via social media sites gets to be important because you can keep people in your lives on a more frequent basis with bite size conversations. The worst that can happen is that you lose touch with what’s happening in their lives and when you meet up again communication becomes difficult. I write a Travel blog that gives glimpses of what’s going on in my life in Australia and beyond, and I do find that friends and family check in there quite a bit, even if they don’t leave comments.

    • Hi Johanna,
      Thank you for visiting :-)
      Social media certainly has massive advantages. I find it enables me to keep up with friends and I’ve made loads of new friends with it too. Often these new friends are more talkative / online more often than my family. They keep me sane!

      I too write personal blogs but to my knowledge, family rarely, if ever visit. Or at least if they do, they don’t comment! They do, however, feed information back to my mother… This is the main reason I make sure I speak to mum several times a week, so she’s not off-sided by news heard from others. It’s not a hardship as I love talking to her!

  5. Hello, I agree technology has made things a lot easier. I have an article on my blog by Libby Stephens all about grandparenting over the seas. I enjoyed the article very much, you might be interested in it: http://drieculturen.blogspot.com/2012/06/guest-blog-grandparenting-over-seas-by.html
    I hope the link works. I can still remember the time my grandparents actually came over to Malawi for a visit, that was so special and that helps to keep in touch too, when family come into the child’s world!

    • That’s a great article, thank you for linking.
      I hope my daughter has similarly good memories as you, my mother regularly visits us wherever we are, but sadly her other set of grandparents do not. She does see them sometimes when she goes to them, but clearly, as you say, it is important for them to come into her world.

  6. FaceTime is what my family is starting to use now… but you have to have Mac computers or phones. It’s even easier to use than Skype.

    • Ah yes, Facetime is indeed good for those with Apple products – which is pretty much everyone nowadays! Thank you for the reminder :-)

  7. Sarah Steinnberg

    Thank you for this review. You mentioned international calls, so I’d share my own experience. When I don’t have or have limited access to the internet and can’t use Skype, I’m using my Travelsim card, to make calls to my family and not to pay too much for them. So I still can be involved in my dearest people lives and not feel lonely when I’m far away.

  8. Hi Sarah,
    Thank you for your comment. Phonecards can indeed be very useful – I used one constantly when I lived in Japan.

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