If you are an expat living abroad, then keeping in touch with your loved ones back home is likely to be high on your list of priorities. 21st century technology has made this both easier and, paradoxically, more difficult. Expats in places like the former Soviet Union in the 1990s will recall having to visit Bletchley Park-type edifices in order to make international phone calls. However, the advent of increasingly sophisticated mobile technology has rendered the need for such protocols obsolete.
Nowadays, you can communicate internationally through numerous different platforms, using your phone, laptop or tablet. For example, you can download messaging apps, write emails, or talk face-to-face on Zoom or Skype.
If you happen to be a bit tech-phobic – and who could blame you – some of these new methods of communication may seem rather daunting. Even if you’re not, you may be put off by how problematic some of the platforms can be. For example, Zoom and Skype sometimes freeze or crash. Also, because they are all different, it is not always an intuitive matter to set them up in the first place.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the more popular platforms, including how to use them. Do note, however, that they will vary slightly, depending on whether you are using a mobile phone, a laptop or a tablet. The type of phone (e.g. whether it is an iPhone or an Android) or laptop (e.g. whether it is a Mac or Windows) will also have an impact. All the platforms discussed below allow you to use either audio only or a video link.
Facebook is one of the easier social media platforms to use. First, you will need to register, which will mean providing your email address and a password. You are not obliged to make lots of posts – you can simply use the platform for communication purposes. To use the private messenger feature, click on the icon resembling a small lightning bolt in a speech bubble in the top right of your screen. No-one other than yourself and the person with whom you are communicating will be able to see any messages you send.
However, Facebook correspondence is not limited to written messages. You will be able to set up a video link on the system, too. Go to the little speech bubble icon again, and open Messenger, so that it expands to fill your whole screen. Select the name of the person you want to speak to. On the top right of the screen, in blue, you will see three little icons: a phone, a video camera, and an ‘i’ (for ‘more information’). Click on the phone if you want to speak to them via audio only, and select the video camera if you want to video call them.
Zoom is a little more complicated, as it requires you to sign up and issue/respond to meeting invitations. Each meeting has a unique 9-, 10-, or 11-digit number called a ‘meeting ID’, and you will need this to join a Zoom meeting. If you are joining via phone, you will also need the teleconferencing number provided in the invite.
Once you have opened the Zoom application, you will see either a blue bar saying ‘join meeting’ or a blue box with a plus (+) sign in it. Click either one and it will ask you for the meeting ID and a pass code. The person who has invited you should have sent these to you already.
Zoom is free up to a point, but it may charge you if you are using more than a set number of minutes. You do not necessarily need to download the Zoom app to join a call.
You will need to have the program on your computer/phone in order to use it, and you will need to register with Skype. Whether you are on a phone or a laptop, you will need to follow this procedure:
- Download Skype to your device
- Create a free account
- Sign in
To download the platform, visit the Skype website and choose the application that suits the kind of device you are using. You won’t need to pay.
You will be given a Skype address, which is rather like an email address. In order to contact someone, you will need to have their Skype address, too. Once you have added them as a contact, you can open a video and/or audio connection with them. Some people prefer to choose audio only, as the video feature can be unreliable.
Again, you will need a meeting ID, but you can access this from your web browser – you do not necessarily need to download the app. It is worth bearing in mind that you will need to pay for GoToMeeting after a certain point. To use this platform, follow these steps:
- Note the Meeting ID or room name – you will need it to join the meeting
- Open a browser (preferably in Google Chrome)
- Go to https://app.gotomeeting.com
- Enter the Meeting ID or room name, and then click the arrow button
- The meeting will be automatically launched
- Select your audio mode and enter your name, when prompted
Google Hangouts/Google Meet
Note that Google Hangouts and Google Meet are slightly different platforms.
If you use Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Edge, you won’t need to install any plugins or software. If you are using a laptop, Google Meet will work entirely in your browser. If you are using a mobile, you will need to install the Meet app from Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
Follow the below steps:
- Open hangouts.google.com or select the Meet option from the sidebar in your Gmail account
- Select a person from the Hangouts list or search for their name or email address
- When you find the person you want, click their name – you can check multiple people if you want to start a group video call
- Click ‘video call’
- When you’re done, click ‘end call’
You will need a Google account in order to create a video meeting. You can invite up to 100 participants, and you can meet for up to 60 minutes per meeting for free. However, for additional features – such as international dial-in numbers, meeting recording, live streaming, and administrative controls – you will need to pay.
A number of large institutions, such as universities, use Teams. You will need a Microsoft 365 username and password in order to access this platform. In Windows, click ‘Start’ > ‘Microsoft Teams’. If you are using a Mac, go to the applications folder and click ‘Microsoft Teams’. If you are using your mobile, tap the Teams icon. Next, sign in with your Microsoft 365 username and password. You can use Teams for both video and audio calls.