Feb 27 2017

Paul’s Money-Saving Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica-Use WhatsApp and Save on Telecommunications Charges

What is WhatsApp?

It’s a voice-over-internet (VOIP) service, but certainly not the only one. There are many others, including Viber, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Google Voice, MagicJack, Vonage, Facetime (with iPhone and iPad), and others. To take advantage of VOIP services on your phone, you will need a smartphone such as Samsung, Huawei, or iPhone.

When buying a smart phone, the biggest player in Latin America is Samsung, followed by the big newcomer, Huawei (“the best smart phone you’ve never heard of”), and, of course, iPhones are also popular. With all of the smart phones, you can download WhatsApp for free.

So why WhatsApp and not one of the others? Because it seems almost everyone in Latin America has it and uses it — kids, parents, everyone. For some reason, few people in the U.S. have WhatsApp. Most haven’t even heard of it. The fact that almost everyone with a smart phone in Latin America has WhatsApp makes it a must.

To place a call on WhatsApp, both you and the person you are calling must download the free app. Once you install it, you can refresh your contacts in Whatsapp and anyone in your phone contacts who already has the app will appear in your WhatsApp contact list. For anyone else, you can invite your friends and family to download and use Whatsapp so you can call each other for free.

What can you do with WhatsApp?

Here’s the breakdown from WhatApp’s webpage:

  • Send texts: “Message your friends and family for free*. WhatsApp uses your phone’s Internet connection to send messages so you can avoid SMS fees.”
  • Take part in group chats: “Keep in touch with the groups of people that matter the most, like your family or coworkers. With group chats, you can share messages, photos, and videos with up to 256 people at once. You can also name your group, mute or customize notifications, and more.”
  • Make voice and video calls: “With voice calls, you can talk to your friends and family for free*, even if they’re in another country. And with free* video calls, you can have face-to-face conversations for when voice or text just isn’t enough. WhatsApp voice and video calls use your phone’s Internet connection, instead of your cell plan’s voice minutes, so you don’t have to worry about expensive calling charges.”
  • Send photos and videos: “Send photos and videos on WhatsApp instantly. You can even capture the moments that matter to you most with a built-in camera. With WhatsApp, photos and videos send quickly even if you’re on a slow connection.”
  • Share documents: “Send PDFs, documents, spreadsheets, slideshows and more, without the hassle of email or file sharing apps. You can send documents up to 100 MB, so it’s easy to get what you need over to who you want.”
  • Leave a voice message: “Sometimes, your voice says it all. With just one tap you can record a Voice Message, perfect for a quick hello or a longer story.”
  • “And with WhatsApp on the web and desktop, you can seamlessly sync all of your chats to your computer so that you can chat on whatever device is most convenient for you. Download the desktop app or visit web.whatsapp.com to get started.”

* Data charges may apply. Contact your provider for details.

But why use WhatsApp at all?

Here’s where the money-saving tip comes in. WhatsApp is free for texting, voice, video-chat or any of its other uses. And I have found the sound quality to usually be very good, often better than when I use my Kolbi phone plan. I’ve used Viber at times to call the States, and the quality is never as good as with WhatsApp, yet both are VOIP services. Once I started using WhatsApp on my Huawei and Samsung phones, our monthly phone bill dropped significantly. Now I can call people all over the world for free, with good quality. All you need is WiFi wherever you are. Naturally, if you have a data plan, you can receive calls or texts, with or without WiFi, but then data charges may apply.

How much can you save?

It depends on how much you use the phone. My phone bill has been cut by 50%, just by using WhatsApp for phone and texting. So, what’s our monthly telecommunications bill?

  • Vonage: About $18/month. Vonage allowed us to keep our Baltimore phone number and make free calls to the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
  • Paul’s Kolbi phoneplan: Average cost as been $11.50/month
  • Gloria’s pay-as-you-go pre-paid Kolbi plan: Less than $5 per month

Prior to using WhatsApp, my Kolbi monthly phone plan cost about $25 on average. After starting to use WhatsApp regularly, it dropped to about $7-$15 per month. It will be interesting to see how our monthly phone expenses shake out over the next several months. I switched my post-paid Kolbi plan to a pay-as-you-go pre-paid chip. The ICE rep thought it would be even more economical for me.

Both Gloria and I exchanged our old SIM cards for the new 4G USIM cards. These give us limited Internet access through the 4G network. This works well for us since we only use it to check email and to get real-time traffic reports using the Waze app. If we want, we can probably also use it for WhatsApp, though we haven’t tried that yet. We do not pay extra for a data plan. We weren’t sure if there would be a cost for using the Internet, but so far, there doesn’t appear to be any affect on our pre-paid balance when we use the Internet, only when we actually use the Kolbi phone service for making a phone call. We will let you know if this changes as time goes on.

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