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Phone Card Review :: International calling card guide

  International calling card guide

Making international calls can be a costly headache for many people however with new communication technology solutions available it has become easier and more cost effective to use phone cards to speak with loved ones overseas.

In the Ultimate International Calling Guide you’ll learn:

  • What is a phone card?

  • How phone cards make your international calling cheaper…by up to 95%!

  • How prepaid calling cards work

  • How to call overseas using a phone card

  • Types of Phone Cards

  • Types Of Plans

  • Concerns on phone cards

  • Phone Card Fees

  • Hidden Fees (some of these will surprise you!)

  • Expiration Dates (will you lose your balance?)

  • What to look for when buying a phone card

  • Where can you buy phone cards? (are store-bought or online phone cards best?)

What is an international calling card?

A calling card (or virtual phone card) is a system that allows you to call national and international phone numbers typically cheaper than the big telecommunication providers.

However, the phone card industry can come with a few surprises and may sometimes cost you more than you think.

The goal of this guide is to empower you to make informed and better decisions when deciding on purchasing a calling card or signing up for a monthly commitment.

How phone cards make your international calling cheaper…by up to 95%!

If you want to save money on your long distance bill you will end up dealing with a reseller rather than one of the large phone companies.

In most industries, you would choose to purchase directly from the source and avoid the "middleman" however, in the case of the long distance industry, the middleman can get a MUCH lower rate for you.

How is this possible?

The truth is, 1 minute or even 100 million minutes of long distance calls cost the phone company about the same to "produce".

In fact, the major cost involved in the long distance industry is billing the end users, end users defaulting on paying their bill and marketing since all the calling infrastructure has already been built and interconnect agreements have already been agreed upon.

Prepaid phone card companies have contracts to purchase bulk calling minutes at a deep discount each month from companies such as Optus, AAPT, Verizon or Telstra etc. As cards are prepaid the phone card companies do not have to worry about billing you and whether or not you pay your bill on time so these savings are passed to the end consumer.

How prepaid calling cards work

Unlike Skype, Whatsapp, Viber or other calling apps on your phone or PC that use VOIP (voice over internet protocol), calling cards use a traditional phone line.

These tend to be more reliable since most countries will have a reasonably good telephone system infrastructure set up.

Just like your landline or mobile phone calling cards use their own telecommunications carriers to help connect you with other countries.

The steps on how to use a phone card will be slightly different from one phone card to another or the country you are calling from but generally the steps to use a phone card that you have purchased is as follows:

How to call overseas using a phone card


Dial the local access number in the area that you are in from your mobile or landline (the local access numbers are printed on the phone card, voucher or email)


You will then hear a computerized voice that will ask you for your PIN (printed on the phone card, voucher or email). Punch the PIN in on your telephone keypad and the voice will then tell you how much money you have in your phone card account


Next, dial the Destination number



For overseas calls, dial:
0011 + country code + area code + local number + [ # ]



For national or mobile calls within the same country, dial:
area code + local number + [ # ]

The computerized voice will then tell you how many minutes you have for that call based on the money you have in your phone card account and the rate to the destination that you are calling.

Note 1: Country codes for the country that you are calling to are available from

Note 2: In the example, 0011 is the international exit code if you are in Australia. If you are in the USA or Canada the international exit code 011. If you are in the UK and South Africa for example the exit code is 00. Depending on the country you are in please see for the exit code of the country you are in.


When you're finished calling, just hang up, or press # # (blow the 9 on your telephone keypad) to make another call. If you press ## you will not need to dial the local access number again in step 1.

Types of Phone Cards

There are basically two types of phone cards: disposable and rechargeable.


These cards have a set amount of credit on them and once that credit is used then the card is finished.

Insider Tip: These cards cannot be recharged so any unused credit is lost. Many phone card companies sell only disposable cards as they profit from “breakage”.

Breakage is a term used in the phone card industry referring to the amount left on the card after you make your final call which is not enough to make another call. For example, if it cost 92 cents per minute to call Papua New Guinea but you only have 91 cents left after your last call the “breakage” is effectively forfeited so it is generally better to buy rechargeable cards.

Who should use disposable phone cards?

Disposable phone cards are good if you:

  • Travel infrequently
  • Planning a one-off trip
  • Have an overseas contact that you need to speak with only a handful of times.


Rechargeable cards come with a set amount of credit however once the credit has run out you can then use that same card again by adding more credit to the card.

Who should use rechargeable calling cards?

Rechargeable calling cards are perfect if you:

  • Travel frequently.
  • Have moved to another country permanently or long term.
  • You have overseas contacts that will need to speak with for months or years (i.e. work or business colleagues).
  • You are for some reason prohibited from using your mobile phone but have access to a landline or payphone to contact family and friends.

Since these cards can be recharged for years this allows people to stay connected without having to constantly purchase new cards and learn new pin numbers etc.

Types of plans

There are two basic types of calling card plans: monthly and prepaid.

Monthly plan

A monthly plan will come with a set amount of credits that you can use every month going over these minutes may cost you more per minute so be sure to ask your provider what fees are associated with your account should you go over the monthly minute allowance.


  • No need to worry about topping up.
  • Same pin number and calling process.


  • Fees can jump up if you go over your monthly minute allowance.
  • If card is lost, stolen or someone gets hold of your pin details you can rack up huge bills.
  • You get charged a monthly rate whether you use the talk time or not.


Prepaid options give you more control over your budget, you can add as much money as you like and never have to worry about going over that amount.


  • If your pin is lost, stolen or someone finds your pin details you will only lose what’s on the card. Insider tip: if your purchase your calling card online, most online phone card retailers will be able to re-email your PIN number to you.
  • Use only what you need – you’re not charged additional fees.
  • Perfect for when you’re not entirely sure of how many minutes you’ll need month to month – if you’re calling more you have the flexibility to add more credit.


  • Expiration period: calling cards will have an expiration date of 3 to 6 months (this is actually for accounting and legal reasons)
  • Some people may find it a hassle to top up once the credit has been used up.
  • Some cards have up to 12 digit PIN numbers so remembering and entering the phone card’s PIN number may be an inconvenience. Insider Tip: If your phone has a quick dial function, you can program the phone card’s local access number and PIN number into your phone. Alternatively, some phone card providers offer PINless dialling where you are authenticated by your phone’s caller ID thus negating the need for a PIN.

Concerns on phone cards

Access numbers not working or PIN numbers not working

Access numbers and PIN number malfunctions are quite rare and this most often comes down to customers entering the wrong number, updates to customer telephone connections which may cause connection issues.

What to do:

Call the service provider directly.

Insider tip: Surprisingly, some phone card companies do not have a customer service line or do not offer a toll free customer service line. Accordingly, before selecting a phone card ensure that the phone card provider has a customer service phone number.

Poor line quality

This is a common problem for most customers as some phone companies will use cheaper carriers in order to get their customers the best prices with the trade-off being reduced call quality.

Phone card providers will try to secure the best carrier lines while still being able to offer competitive pricing.

Here is what to do:

Call the service provider directly. Good providers will use multiple carriers and may be able to get you a clearer line however the clarity of the line can be dependent on the other country’s telecommunication technology.

Either way, call the call provider and see if they can secure a better line.

Not able to connect

If you call overseas and you hear no ringtone then there’s a problem with your connection. Unfortunately, people think that the card is broken and so dispose of it and go buy another.

What to do:

Important: DO NOT make any further calls because you could still be getting charged even though the calls are not going through!

Step 1: Call your provider and let them know that you’re unable to connect to an overseas number.

Step 2:Give them your PIN number so they can identify you

Step 3: Give them the number/s you’re having problems connecting to

How long does this problem take to resolve?

Insider Tip: Interestingly, large providers or providers with only one carrier will take longer sometimes up to a week or sometimes not being able to fix the problem since it takes a lot of time to contact their carrier provider and work with them to help the customer save a couple of dollars – it’s better for them to give a refund.

Before signing up to a carrier ask them how many carriers they have and more importantly how long it takes to get the line back up and running again.

Phone card fees

Phone card fees can be a minefield so as a consumer you need to get as clear as you can on what you will be charged for your calls.

Based on a recent test run of 130 phone cards said that three quarters of those cards failed to provide their calling rates.

While there can be a lot of interesting fee structures, there are 3 main charging criteria that you should be familiar with:

  1. Per Minute Rate
  2. Connection Fees
  3. Billing Increment

Per minute Rate

This is the amount you are charged per minute (see billing increment)

Connection Fees

This is a fee that is charged to your calling card upon connection whether it is a voicemail or a person answering the call.

Not all cards carry a connection fee.

Why purchase a connection fee based card?

Typically the cards with the connection fee tend to have a cheaper per minute rate and so it may make sense to go with these if your calls are longer in duration (45+ Minutes) as they work out cheaper in the end.

That said you will need to check the rate per minute of these cards to see whether this is worthwhile.

Billing Increment

Most phone cards will charge in unit blocks. For example if the billing increment is 3 minutes then you will be charged your per minute rate in 3 minute blocks.

Over charging

This happens when you see that the rate per minute is one fee yet you are being charged at a higher rate.

This is usually quite a rare occurrence but it can happen.

Here’s what to do:

Before you call your service provider it’s best to check their website to ensure that you know what the rates are because rates do update from time to time.

If you see that you’re still being overcharged then call the service provider.

Your service provider must only charge you at the rate that they advertise on site and will refund any lost credits.

Added fees

Calling from pay phones or calling to special numbers will often result in an additional per minute rate which is common practice. Be sure to find out what these additional charges are.

Hidden fees

On rare occasion there have been occurrences where phone card companies do have unusual charges like:

  • Call completion fees (you get charged an additional fee when you finish a successful call)
  • A per minute servicing fee on top of your base rate
  • Ongoing maintenance fees which eat up your credit whether you’re using it or not

Rate Changes

Keep in mind that rates do change from time to time, phone card rates fluctuate like the stock market meaning the prices rise and fall as opposed to ever increasing pricing rates.

There can be a lot of variables that control phone card rates especially since it involves other countries – a newly elected government or government policy could see a dramatic price increase in a country that you may be calling for example.

Expiration dates - will you lose your balance?

Just like a credit card or driver’s license, calling cards have an expiration date.

Some are 30 days, 3 months, 6 months or up to 12 months.

Will you lose your unused balance if your card expires?

In a lot of cases any unused credit will be removed however some phone card providers will honour your credit and keep it active for you however you will need to reactivate your card by topping up.

What to look for when buying a phone card

The type of card you purchase depends on your calling habits.

Will you be making multiple short calls?

Here you will want to buy a card that has no connection fee.

Will be making multiple long duration calls?

This will depend on where you are calling to because it may make sense to go for a connection fee based card if the per minute rates are good.

Will you be making using your card for only a short period?

Here you may want to use a disposable card.

Will you be making calls that are few and far between e.g. one call per month?

A rechargeable card is a good option here if there is consistency in your call patterns for example you’re calling once per month.

You will need to keep an eye on the expiration date for your card however since some phone card companies will delete your remaining balance.

Here are a few tips on how to choose the right phone card company:

Aside from the phone line carrier technology that the service providers use, phone cards themselves are quite similar in how they operate.

It’s more the customer service aspect that you should be interested in.

If purchasing from a news agent ask if they will refund the product if you are unhappy with the service. If they say yes, then there’s obviously confidence behind that calling card service provider.

If purchasing online, call the company and ask these questions:

  • What is your refund policy?
  • What happens if the line quality is bad or you’re unable to connect?
  • If you have a carrier problem how long does it take to change carriers and get me connected?
  • Do your cards have connection fees?
  • What other fees are there are besides the per minute rate?
  • How long the cards last before they expire?
  • Do they hold credit card details on their system? (this may or may not be important to you)

Other things you may want to try if you’re not sure about the service.

  1. Does website have contact details?
  2. Call them to see if they have a customer service team
  3. Test out a small card denomination first

Where can you buy calling cards?

Which phone cards are best? Store-bought calling cards or online calling cards?

Since both phone cards will use the same essential technology infrastructure the only real difference between the two is convenience and specific customer service advantages.

While some customers do prefer a physical card or voucher we receive calls all the time from people saying that they purchased a voucher but the pin number has come off or that they lost their phone card.

This is more of a nuisance than anything because it means you have to call up your provider to try and find your account details.

With virtual calling cards you can electronically assign your pin number to your landline or mobile phone so that you never have to worry about losing it, the system will enter in the pin number for you.

Whereas when you purchase your card online you will simply be emailed your calling card information.

In terms of call technology they both work exactly the same.

Which do we recommend?

We’re a little biased but in terms of practicality having an electronic card is a lot less hassle for consumers.

The benefits of using a website is that you can compare the various cards i.e. you can check the:

  1. Per minute calling rates, billing increment and connection fees etc.
  2. Best and cheapest international calling cards for which countries
  3. Online FAQ to see how they work
  4. Call the company direct to ask further questions from the customer support team

This is difficult to do inside a store.

Customer service advantage of online phone card retailers

If you purchase a card in-store and you are having a difficult time with call quality then the only thing the shop owner can do is refund you the money – which doesn’t reduce the frustration at all.

With an online company, they will be able to fix the issue for you in a few days or in our example we can fix the issue in a few minutes.

Because you’re dealing direct with the company you’re able to get faster resolutions and advice.

Thank you for readying this guide and we hope you are now able to make a much more informed decision about how to call overseas using calling cards and what to watch out for when looking for providers.

Click Here For The Best (And Cheapest) Online International Calling Cards

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