International Student Support

Keeping in touch with home

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Staying in touch with your friends and family back home is an important thing, especially if being at Queen’s University Belfast is your first time away from home. The good news is that by being in such a busy and central location as Belfast, you’ve lots of ways of keeping in touch, with 4G mobile phone connectivity and superfast broadband in many parts of the city.

Call home – without a phone

It’s possible to call home without actually using your mobile or landline. If you’re online and have got a computer or tablet with a microphone and webcam, there’s a number of free software packages that allow you to make VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) anywhere in the world.

Although the people you’re trying to reach need to have the same software installed and be online at the same time as you, VoIP calls are a great low cost way of both talking to and seeing your friends and family, wherever they are. Some of the most widely used packages include Skype and Vonage (both of which are free).

If the people you need to reach either aren’t online or aren’t able to install the software, you can purchase credit for your VoIP account and call either landlines or mobiles from your computer or tablet – often at a low cost.

To make the most of VoIP calls, you’ll need a decent broadband connection. You can check what’s available by comparing broadband here.  

Using your mobile

Although you might have brought a cellular phone with you to Belfast, you should check how much it will cost you to continue using it in Northern Ireland. Many providers charge high rates for international roaming calls, texts and data, so it may be the case that you’d be better off getting a UK mobile phone contract instead.

If you’re happy with your current phone, then it’s easy to pick up a SIM card to use in it. This will help you avoid any international roaming charges, although you may have to get your phone unlocked to accept a SIM from a different provider. You can do this easily by taking your handset into any mobile phone store that offers an unlocking service for a small fee.

Whichever tariff you sign up for, check how much international calls cost to the destinations you are most likely to ring. It may be the case that you can purchase additional international minutes as part of a bolt-on bundle, keeping the price of ringing home as low as possible.

Using an international SIM or calling card

You’ll find a growing number of SIM-only deals available that are aimed specifically at people who make lots of overseas calls. Companies such as Lebara Mobile sell cheap SIM cards on either a pay-as-you-go or pay-monthly contract, with calls to some international destinations starting at just 1p per minute. Although you’re unlikely to be able to keep your own number, the savings you could make might make it worthwhile.

Another option is picking up an international calling card. Looking very much like a credit or debit card, you’ll find a number on there to call, plus a hidden pin number under a scratch panel. By revealing this and entering the code, then going on to dial the number you’re trying to reach, you can get low-priced calls to a variety of international destinations.

A word of warning, however: some international calling cards will charge you for calls even if the number you’re trying to reach is engaged or your call isn’t answered. Similarly, not all providers allow you to use calling cards on their networks, so it’s worth checking before purchasing one.

Contracts explained

When you sign up for a service with your broadband or mobile you are entering a legal contract, so you need to be sure it’s right for you before committing. Cancelling your contract after it’s started can be expensive, with early termination fees varying wildly, depending on how long is left on your deal.

The majority of home broadband deals ask you to sign up for either 12, 18 or 24 months, although there are some exceptions to this. When it comes to mobile phones, you’ll find similar contract lengths apply to pay-monthly or most SIM-only offers.

It is possible to avoid mobile phone contracts completely by going for pay-as-you go or selected SIM-only deals. As you’re topping up your phone with credit when you need to, you’re free to switch to a different provider whenever you choose and as often as you like.

What is student broadband?

Depending on when you’re looking for your home broadband deal, you might see offers aimed at students. A growing number of providers have realised that many students don’t need broadband for an entire calendar year, because most go back to the family home during the summer break. As a result, nine-month student broadband contracts have started to become much more common, offering some of the shortest contracts around.

Generally advertised from June onwards, these nine-month contracts are intended to start in October and keep you online for a typical academic year. If you’re going home in between the end of one year of study and the start of the next, student broadband means you don’t end up paying for a connection you won’t use.  

Naturally if you are going to stay in Belfast throughout the year, a standard deal of 12, 18 or 24 months would probably be more appropriate. Whatever the case, remember to cancel once the minimum term of your contract has passed, or you will find that your provider carries on supplying you with broadband – and charging you for it too.

Student mobile guide

Student broadband guide