There are a number of ways for a digital nomad to stay in touch when on the road. One of the cornerstones of living digitally is the ability to find and maintain a reliable Internet connection, anywhere, within a reasonable time. “Have, Internet, will travel” should be a bumper sticker. Hmmm… jump on that idea before I do… and send me a thank you note along with some type of royalties. Peanut butter M&Ms will do the trick.
I recommend that you build your location independent business to run with as little interaction as required on your part. This arrangement will allow you the greatest freedom: work when you want to, live where you want to. Start reading part one of my four-part series on how to make money online to read my thoughts on what are some of the many options available.
If you decide to develop a business that requires more customer interaction, such as a coaching program, or consultancy business, then being available for conference calls or one-on-one sessions becomes priority number one. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, each with its pluses and minuses. We will start with the least desirable options, and work our way down to the best options. There is no one true ultimate solution, but I recommend you choose at least two of the options.
As I’ve said before, for all the miracles technology has brought us, you can count on it to fail you at the most crucial moment at least once. Redundancy, redundancy, and not least, redundancy will save the day. Combine two or more of the options below, and let everyone know of at least two ways to reach you.
A great many businesses were affected in the great Skype outage of 2010, when Skype service was unavailable for 24 hours. If you provide clients and potential customers with alternate ways to reach you, you may save yourself from losing business or missing out on acquiring a new client.
Expat Phone Options
Option 1: Local land-line/Local Cell Phone
Pluses: Low cost for local call.
Minuses: Difficult to obtain (land-line), higher toll charges for international calls (cellphone).
In most civilized, and even third-world countries, the land-line telephone infrastructure is pretty well established and reliable. Even in places where technology has not really reached the masses, cell phone towers are ubiquitous.
Getting a telephone land-line will be problematic in some places, and some phone companies will make it near impossible to send a technician to install a land-line for a foreigner, because of paperwork requirements. You might also be fortunate and the place you move into may have a phone line installed by the owner. Add the long distance toll charge costs and the fact that you’ll be tied to one location and it’s almost not worth the effort. On the plus side, it is the most reliable type of communication and will almost always work.
Local cell phones are another story. They are cheap and plentiful. You will find many places that allow you the use of a phone card to recharge your account balance, similar to the pay-as-you-go plans in the US. They are best to have for local phone calls, as the long distance rates tend to be more expensive than that of landlines.
If you have your own phone, such as a SIM card capable iPhone –the AT&T version, not the CDMA Verizon version– or almost any other smart-phone that takes a SIM card, you can have the local cell phone technician install and program one for your phone, allowing you to receive local calls.When you return or move to another country, you can always swap out SIM cards.
Option 2: Global Roaming Phone
Pluses: Keep same phone and number as back home.
Minuses: Can be expensive if data plan added (AT&T).
You can use a global phone, such as the aforementioned iPhone, a Blackberry World, etc., and get a voice and data plan from your home country. This will allow you to retain the same number, as well as the same model phone you are accustomed to. There is no need to transfer contacts to a new phone either, or to notify everyone you want to keep in touch with about your new phone number. Not all cellular companies offer the same deals and some will be prohibitively expensive if you add data roaming as well.
Option 3: Videoconferencing Apps
Pluses: Cheap, even free depending on your setup.
Minuses: Needs at least a semi-stable Internet connection.
These are some of my favorite programs ever created, mainly because of all the money they have saved me. You can install Skype or Google Voice on your computer and/or smart-phone and place and receive long distance calls for free. With Skype you can also purchase an online number, with the same area code (20 countries available as of today), which will also ring at your Skype application. If you have a phone to your name back home, you can set-up call forwarding, usually included in your plan, which will send all the calls from your phone back home, to your online Skype number, and ring at your Skype application. No one needs to know you are abroad if you don’t want them to!
Google Voice will give you a free local US number, pretty much in any area code you want. Worldwide, calls are free between Google Voice users. Google will charge you, however, for phone to Computer international calls. As mentioned above, a cool feature of Google Voice is the ability to choose your own number. You can even search for a number that spells out your name or business name, which helps keep personal branding consistent (and no, 867-5309 was sadly not available in any area code).
If you want a more robust solution, RingCentral is a good choice. It will cost you ($9.99 a month to start), but you will have options such as music-on-hold service, detailed call logs (great for billing), fax capabilities, dial-by-name directory options and more. If you want to project a professional image, RingCentral may be what you are looking for.
It is worth mentioning that you can always use chat clients such as Windows Live Messenger or Yahoo Messenger, but these require that your callers have compatible chat clients. It is a good idea to steer everybody towards one number and one specific way to reach you, rather than have many and miss a call because the computer you were on did not have a particular chat client installed.
There are other programs and solutions for Voice-Over-IP (VOIP) calls, but the ones mentioned above are what I’ve found to be the most robust and cost effective.