Being a Good Expat Son: A Technical Guide

Posted on by Jeff Mudrick


If your mother in the U.S. is more Lifetime Channel and QVC than CNN and NatGeo, the way she views your living in Cambodia is that you may have just as well joined the French Foreign Legion. It goes without saying you don’t talk with her enough. This of course is not at all possible no matter what you do. Be that as it may, you owe it to her to make this crazy-making adventure of yours as easy for her to deal with as possible.

I have given up on Skype and calling cards as a way for my mother to reach me. Too complicated. “I forgot how to turn it on.” “Too many numbers.”

There is a better way. It’s a little complicated but here goes.

First, get a phone number which is a local call for your mother. Never mind the Skype-in number because Skype won’t ring on your smartphone in Cambodia unless you keep it running all the time and you’ll be hit for the cost of calling Cambodia yourself at rates which are still a bit too high given the alternatives. I use the VOIP service called Localphone. The California number I use costs me a lousy $.99 per month (with an initial $3.99 set-up charge).

The problem with Localphone, like other similar VOIP services, is that although they have a mobile app, you can’t use it to make or receive calls in Cambodia directly. But, you can do both, with some work, if you use Localphone’s internet phone feature. This requires that you route calls through a SIP softphone provider compatible with Localphone. If you’re an iPhone or Android mobile user, the best service I’ve found which fits the bill is Bria. You’ll find instructions on how to set up your Localphone account to route through Bria on the Localphone website.

Once set up properly, when a caller dials your Localphone number the Bria mobile app will ring your Cambodia phone. Call quality is excellent and the received call is free. Making calls out could not be easier, the Bria app interfaces seamlessly with your iPhone/Android contact list. Bria is always there on your phone but it runs as a background service rather than a application and thus uses little battery or memory. It just works. Bria will cost you $7.99 at the app store. That’s expensive for a mobile app but it’s an extremely full featured application with terrific support.

There’s one more thing you can do. The above gets you the ability to make and receive calls to and from Mom, but without a voicemail function. For this you want Google Voice. To sign up with Google Voice from Cambodia you’ll need to use a US proxy server to fool Google into thinking you’re in the U.S. Tunnelbear is a proxy server that has worked for me but there are lots of others you can try for free. Unless you already have a US cell provider, you’ll need to use your U.S. Localphone number to register with Google Voice, which number they will ring to verify your worthiness to enter into the Google Voice club.

Once you’re into Google Voice you can tell Google Voice to forward calls to your Localphone number. So now instead of calling the Localphone number Mom will call the Google Voice number, which will be forwarded to the Localphone number which Bria will ring on your mobile. If you don’t pick up, the call will be sent to Google Voice voicemail. You’ll receive a notification on your mobile that the voicemail is waiting for you, as well as an often whacky transcription of the recorded voicemail. Call her back using your Google Voice number (using Click to Call) and the call is free. If your Mom is not in the U.S. you’ll pay for the call at the applicable Google Voice rate for the destination country.

It sounds like this would be messy but in practice it’s not. The three components work fine together with good call quality and no delays, and most importantly, it’s an easy local call for your Mom that she knows will reach you immediately.

So no excuses, if your mother is not among the technically savvy, be a mensch and make it easy for her to reach you. It can be done.


Jeff Mudrick

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5 Responses to Being a Good Expat Son: A Technical Guide

  1. Cambod says:

    Good info!

    I use Skype with a paid subscription and US phone number. Also have Skype on my phone, free from the Android market.

    All calls get routed to my Cambodian number if I’m not logged into Skype, then it goes to my voice mail. (I pay for calls routed to my Cambodian number, so will usually just call them back for free.)

    Voice mails all get converted to smses and sent to my phone in Cambodia…

    I believe I pay $40 per year for that, including voice mail and unlimited calls to the US and Canada.

  2. Devo says:

    For Australians you can get a permanent landline number with Pennytel for $5 (all up no more) and people can call you from Australia for the price of a call to your Australian landline number (you can choose the ‘location’ of the number ie Melbourne, Sydney, Broken Hill, etc).

    On a Symbian phone (Nokia for instance) they have a SIP (internet telephony) built in, so you type in the settings, connect to 3G or Wifi then you are basically carrying a Australian landline number with you internationally.

    So they make a call in Aus it will be normal rates for them, no cost to you.

    You make a call to Aus, it is cheap as chips, calls to most countries are in fact cheap BUT it’ll call from the Australian telephone exchange that your lanline is registered with, meaning the caller ID will show your Australian number. Which has it’s advantages (“Hello darling, yes I am home in Australia now….”)(“Hi Boss, yeah I got home from Cambodia but I brought a stomach bug with me, I’ll need a few days to get over it….”)

    With Pennytel if you don’t answer they’ll record a message and email it to you, like a normal voicemail service. No charge.

    If enough people are interested I can write this into a full article.

  3. Devo says:

    Just looked at the Pennytel page and they now have Apps for most phones even for ‘normal’, not smart phone types.

  4. Richard says:

    My mother’s dead but we do communicate through a terrestrial connection. Make it easy and call your mom on Skype but don’t expect her to learn how to use the service, be the one who always makes the call.

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