voip servicesPerhaps one of the most common questions asked by potential and current VoIP users is if their services can be used abroad. It’s an important to know because some users may want or need access to their service if they frequently travel or temporarily live abroad. The good news is that one of VoIP’s strong suits is accessibility — most VoIP services can provide coverage from anywhere in the world as long as there’s Internet access. However, it is important to note that there are several variables that affect your ability to use VoIP abroad. Below we discuss a few of these variables, as well as all of the details you’ll need to know in order to choose a good VoIP option for use abroad.

Internet access and speed

Internet access and quality are the two most significant factors that will determine where you can use VoIP. This is because slow, low bandwidth Internet might have difficulty providing the quality needed to run VoIP effectively. The good news is that there are a number of countries, specifically developed ones, whose bandwidth or Internet speeds greatly exceed what U.S. Internet service providers offer. So if you’re traveling to these countries, it’s likely that you’ll have a better VoIP experience than you do back home. It’s important to note, though, that this isn’t the case all over the world, as rural areas, like ones in the U.S., likely will not have Internet access at all. On a similar note, some areas may only have access to satellite-based Internet services or dial-up, both of which are almost always inadequate for VoIP connectivity.

Typically VoIP runs best with a broadband Internet provider that offers around 1 to 3 Mbps of bandwidth or Internet speed. This is a fairly low number, but it’s more than enough for moderate residential VoIP usage. While many of the VoIP services we review have minimum bandwidth requirements between 32 to 790 Kbps (far less than 3 Mbps), a handful require around 1 Mbps (1 Mbps is roughly 1,000 Kbps). Keep in mind, these rates only apply to a single instance of VoIP being used with no other Internet applications running, which means if you have other devices on your network (like a computer or smart TV), the Internet speed will fall because there are so many devices connected to the network. As such, you might find that you’re failing to get your Internet provider’s advertised speeds, which is why it pays to have more bandwidth than your VoIP service or any other service requires. If you’re not sure what speeds you’re getting, you can request a speed test on your Internet provider’s website (or you can simply Google “Internet speed test” and the name of your provider).

International Internet limitations

While some countries have the infrastructure to run the Internet, some countries ban certain services and websites altogether. Even in countries where VoIP isn’t outright banned, it might be severely limited in functionality. There’s no official list of countries or regions that block or limit VoIP, but finding information about VoIP restrictions is easy with a quick Google search — just search for the name of the country and “VoIP restrictions.” If VoIP is blocked in that country, you can use a VPN or proxy service to bypass the block. Some VoIP services might also have mobile applications that will allow you to make calls from blocked countries using a VPN, proxy service or your phone’s data — you’ll want to confirm that your cell phone provider does not restrict your data overseas before you leave, as detailed by the FCC, because failing to do so may leave you high and dry since you won’t be able to use your VoIP service or you’ll be left with a hefty data overage bill.

International calling rates

The good thing about keeping your VoIP service while you’re abroad is that all calls made to people back home will be treated as “local” calls, meaning that they’ll be the same price as all of the nationwide calls you made while back at home. On the other hand, calls made to people in your new location will, unfortunately, be treated as international calls. To alleviate this problem, many travelers who intend to call numbers in their new local will want to consider purchasing an international or world VoIP plan, like Vonage World. If the country you’re staying in is included in your VoIP service’s international calling plan, then you can easily enjoy lower rates calling your new neighbors. That said, even if you get an international plan, you still might want to ask your VoIP provider if additional taxes or regulations from the country you’re calling from will apply.

Equipment compatibility and technical support

A lot of VoIP services use a physical device, like a phone or adapter, which require external power. If you’re using a U.S.-based service, it’s very likely that these devices will be built with U.S. power specifications in mind. In other countries, electrical outlets emit different voltages or use different types of plugs for power. Although there are conversion devices, it can be difficult determining which ones might work best. As such, it’s smart to ask your provider for its recommendations about hardware adjustments or power sources before you leave — in some cases, there might not be customer support available for users who are outside of the country.

The final consideration you want to take into account is that some services excel at providing features and support to users who are outside of their home country. Vonage, for example, allows Vonage World users to have access to all the same offerings as other users, regardless of their location. Although all VoIP providers will allow you to use VoIP from anywhere (assuming the country allows it), you should take the time to see which ones provide extra flexibility for users who will be traveling or staying abroad.

For more information on VoIP services, take a look at our VoIP reviews. And if you want to learn more about VoIP equipment and features, keep reading our VoIP blog.