Even before moving to the UK I was a Vonage user. When the local bell was charging around $30 for essentially basic services I happened to get a mailing advertising Vonage (I guess those ads are effective!). I called up and within a week had my phone equipment and within 2 weeks my phone number was switched over to Vonage’s control.
I opted for their $24.99 (or thereabouts) unlimited plan which is unlimited minutes which obviously includes long distance as well (is there anybody in the United States still paying for long distance?!). Even better it has free calls to Europe! Not that part has proved to be all that useful, but while still in the states I did have a couple of occasions to call the UK, and it didn’t cost me a dime!
As I was moving to the UK I realized that most likely I’d get to continue to use the Vonage service, which I had been really happy with. I called them up just to make sure and they did notify me that it wouldn’t be a problem.
I had to live in a hotel for about 2 weeks during my relocation and so didn’t have reliable internet. So I purchased the Vonage V-Phone (about $35 I think) which just plugs into the USB port and includes a headphone and mic as well as all of the software on the USB stick (it acts as a 64MB thumb drive as well as a CD to enable autostart).
It took me a bit, but I managed to find the link on the Vonage website (on the front page!) for “I have bought a device” which allowed me to register the V-Phone and enable it for my current account. If you’re in this same situation, make sure you don’t use the built in software to register the device, as that will assume that you are a new customer. Once it was set up, I was able to go into my “Add Ons” section and redirect the phone to the V-Phone rather than my actual phone adapter. Vonage only allows one device at a time per phone number (which makes sense).
So my wife and I were able to make free (except for the hotel internet price) calls back to the US for friends and family.
Once we got internet access in our apartment we purchased a phone, hooked it up to the original adapter, and redirected the line back to the adapter.
You will need a UK to US adapter (*not* a US to UK adapter) for the phone line unless you bring a US phone with you, as the wiring is slightly different. I ended up just splicing a two wires together because I couldn’t find the adapter. The actual plug is the same which hooks into the phone, but it switches the active wires. If you’re DIY inclined, just cut open a wire that comes with the phone and a standard US plug and splice the RED and GREEN wires together.
So yeah, we’re here in the UK making free phone calls to our family in the US. The best part is that they can make calls to us using our Los Angeles number so it’s a local call for them! They just have to watch out for the 8 hour time difference 🙂 I’ve also been able to make calls to the IRS, 800 numbers (difficult on a calling card), and other business numbers for dealing with US matters.
I haven’t tried Skype, but I’ve been told it’s not generally used as a land line replacement but rather as a way to make computer to computer calls (though it does support going to a physical line). So I can’t actually compare but I’d highly recommend Vonage.