Once you are here in the DR you will likely want to at times, call home. You have several ways to accomplish this.
- Your Cell Phone. If you keep your plan from the US or another country and try to call back home, just connecting into the DR cell phone network is going to cost you (a lot!). Unless you have money to burn this is not really a good option. You can however, switch out the chip in your phone to a Claro or Orange chip and buy minutes here. This also lets you call the US and the rates are pretty good. You then switch chips again when you head home.
The one possible problem with this is that many phones are locked out from being used in other countries. That means you have to find a place to “Unlock” your phone. Not difficult but a little more of a hassle. They will not do that in the phone company offices. You also have to be sure that your phone can take the same chip. An alternative is to just buy a cheap phone here in the DR ($15 – $20) and put some minutes on it.
- The second option involves your computer. If you have a way of getting internet connection via your hotel, using one of the internet cafes, or perma-vacationer and buy your own internet, Magicjack is a pretty good option. You pay $20 to buy the Magic Jack component that plugs into a USB port on your computer. You then pay $20 per year for unlimited use. While there are plenty of locations you can buy a Magicjack in the States, they are a little harder to come by in the Dominican Republic, I am compiling a list of locations to buy a Magicjack in the DR.
This gives you a US telephone number that other people can call as if you were still in the states. You plug a standard phone into the component and use it exactly the same as if you were plugged into a phone company in the states. Calls in the US are then free. You pay long distance for calls outside of the US. At this time it only works if you want to have a US telephone number and most of your calls are to be in the US.
- Skype. This also requires a computer and internet connection. Skype is a little more versatile. You can make text message, video/audio and audio only calls to any other computer that has Skype for free. In addition to that you can make calls to both mobile and landline phones around the world at a price that competes with other long distance plans. Skype also (for an additional price) will give you your own telephone number so people can call you and you will answer from your computer.
Magicjack Vs. Skype
If you plan on making calls only to the US and you make a lot of them Magic Jack will be the cheaper option. After you buy the unit for $20 you only pay $20 per year for unlimited use. Skype has various plans, depending on where you plan on calling and for how long this may be a little cheaper.
Sound Quality Comparison
Sound quality: We’ve used both of these options a lot. We switch back and forth as necessary. The internet speed we get here in the Dominican Republic is far from consistent. With our wireless internet plan that works off of the cell towers it varies from 250kbs up to about 3Mbps. At anything lower than 1Mbps we start having problems with Magic Jack, you start to get a broken record repeating sound at times. When you get this isn’t very consistent. I’ve had good conversations with a speed as low as 500kbps and problems when it is as high as 1.5Mbps using the same computer with nothing else running. So the inconsistencies appear to be with their network. Sometimes it’s good other times it is not.
Internet Connection Speed
Skype seems to be more consistent. You can run one or two Skype (video/audio) connections off a 500kbps with few problems. We have run as many as 4 connections with a 1.0Mbps connection. Unfortunately, Skype isn’t perfect either. When Skype has issues you start losing video quality and the picture locks for a few seconds which is not a real problem but, you also get longer and longer audio delays. When this happens it may take 1-3 seconds for your voice to reach the other person. You then have a tendency to talk over each other a lot. That means you say something and you wait a couple seconds to see if the person is going to respond. This can take a little getting used to.
So, which system is best? In my opinion neither. It costs little to nothing to have both systems on your computer. So have them both. When one isn’t working as well as you would like, switch to the other. If you are visiting here and plan to make some phone calls, buying a cheap phone here is the easiest option. When you’re done take it home and use it as a quick replacement if your cell phone dies.
Cheap electronics and the internet age have given us lots of options on how to stay in touch while we are traveling. A little preparation before you go will keep you in touch without a pause.