AT&T iPhone Users Can Now Use Wi-Fi Calling When Traveling Abroad

Yesterday afternoon I received a text from AT&T advertising an update to their iPhone Wi-Fi Calling feature. They’ve expanded it to include some international calls.

With Wi-Fi Calling enabled on an iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S or 6S Plus, you can now make and receive calls while traveling abroad without incurring additional long distance charges as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection. Here’s the text from AT&T:

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An important distinction here is the fact calls must be to or from a U.S. numbers to avoid any additional airtime charges.

The way I initially read the language about incoming calls, it appeared they could come from any number.

I tried chatting with AT&T last night to clarify the incoming call situation. They were not very informed about the feature and thought it had something to do with “facebook massager calling.”

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But, a few reports I’ve read about this feature have said incoming calls must also be from a U.S. number to avoid airtime charges. And a call to AT&T confirmed this (although I didn’t have much confidence in the phone rep I spoke with).

It’s also worth pointing out the Wi-Fi calling feature doesn’t work in China, Cuba, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, the UAE and Vietnam.

Not a life-changing feature

This isn’t a huge deal for anyone who uses FaceTime, Skype or a similar app that allows free or cheap options to stay in touch using an internet connection.

I do, however, like the simplicity of placing calls from my usual phone number. I’ve had friends screen a Skype call from me because they didn’t recognize the number.

I can also see the upside to this for someone like my mom, who isn’t very technology savvy. The idea of teaching her how to use Skype seems like torture. She still calls me to tell me she liked something I posted on Facebook… if only there was a button for that!

How to activate Wi-Fi Calling

As mentioned above, you need to upgrade to iOS 9.3 before you can take advantage of this feature. After doing so, you’ll need to turn on Wi-Fi Calling.

To do that, just open the Settings app on your iPhone and scroll down to tap on “Phone.”

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Then tap on “Wi-Fi Calling”

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Tap the toggle button and when prompted, tap “Enable” to turn on Wi-Fi calling.

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Bottom line

There are plenty of solutions for staying in touch while traveling abroad. And the limitation on calling or receiving calls from U.S. numbers isn’t ideal. But, I can definitely see AT&T’s expanded Wi-Fi Calling feature being useful in some situations. So I plan on using it (until I finally jump ship for T-Mobile).

Comments

  1. I work for AT&T and I think I can provide a little clarity here.

    When you are using Wi-Fi Calling, you are effectively using your international rate plan as if you are in the US, regardless of where you physically are located.

    Calls made using Wi-Fi Calling do not count against voice plan usage limits. International Long Distance rates from your existing rate plan or international package, apply to calls made to international numbers.

    So – you can RECEIVE calls from anyone, anywhere, and it doesn’t count as International Long Distance, since, just like if you’re at home, you don’t pay for someone in say, Japan, to call you in the US. If you are in Japan, and you call Japan, your call is billed at the Long Distance rate as though you are in the US. Whatever plan/package you have that gives you a certain calling rate or package of minutes for international calls, would apply.

    If you have a limited set of minutes (say – Nation 450) for domestic calls, Wi-Fi calling does not dip into that bucket, so in that sense, your domestic minutes are untouched by Wi-Fi calling calls.

    I hope this clears things up but feel free to ask if you need more.

  2. I’ve had wifi calling on my T-Mobile iPhone for a long time now. At first I thought, what’s the big deal, I can always use Skype when traveling. But the advantage of wifi calling, other than not costing anything extra at all, is the ability to also receive calls as though you were in the U.S., at no extra cost. T-Mobile also has the advantage of very reasonable roaming rates (free but slow data, and 20 cents/minute in most countries). For anyone who travels much T-Mobile is the only choice.

  3. Mean to add – with T-Mobile (unlike with AT&T), wifi calling works fine in China (used it earlier this month). Not sure about the other countries but that could be a big differentiator for frequent travelers to China.

  4. Mark,
    Thanks for the clarification .. Can we use wifi calling while in US when making/receiving calls within US?
    That way we may save some minutes if we are on nation 450 plan

  5. Yes – you can absolutely use Wi-Fi calling in the US.
    I used it just yesterday, I was in a hospital with some spotty LTE coverage but accessing the hospital Wi-Fi I had HD Voice quality calls. Note that the handset creates a secured VPN connection to AT&T’s hosted IP network to allow the call to be placed. While it is a “best effort” service because Wi-Fi networks are inherently not guaranteed to have clear channels, once the VPN session is established (fully behind the scenes) it works perfectly.

    And while I won’t endorse violating air carrier “do not use you phone for voice calls in flight” rules, I have successfully placed calls/received calls on my phone when connected to airplane Wi-Fi over the Pacific Ocean. 🙂

  6. Use Skype or whatsapp our wechat to make audio or video WiFi calls.

    These phone companies are being generous now because there are so many other options available for free. Let’s not give them our service.

  7. Do yourself a favor and terminate your AT & T contract immediately. Worst company ever! You’ll probably find a bill for $3,278.19 because of a *glitch* in At & T’s billing systems. I wouldn’t risk it.

  8. I never trust ATT. When travelling abroad the first thing I do when I board the plane while in the US is to turn off my “Cellular Data”. I also place the phone in “Airplane Mode” and only turn the “Wi-Fi” on when I get to my destination. There I have two options: only use the phone where I can get Wi-Fi and then use FaceTime, Skype, etc… or I buy a local SIM card to use in the country. I don’t want to have any surprises with ATT.

  9. Or, you know, you could have just been using Google Voice with basically any carrier not AT&T since about 2010. AT&T is terribly famous for nerfing or disabling features and making grateful users pay for them. Don’t be a sucker.

  10. The combo of whatsapp for free wifi texting and Google Hangouts dialer for free outgoing wifi calls to the US and Canada seems like a good one for people who don’t have wifi calling as an option with their carrier. I used that last year on my Europe trip and it worked great. Incoming calls are a hassle, admittedly, but using whatsapp to set up phone calls is pretty easy.

  11. If you leave your phone in Airplane mode overseas, with International Data turned off, and Wi-Fi on, the AT&T Wi-Fi feature will still work and allow you to make and receive calls. I did this for several weeks in multiple countries in Asia. It works perfectly.

    It’s too bad there are so many negative folks here – this is a service that simplifies your experience – using your phone’s normal dialer, no extra apps, and people with non-Apple devices and landlines can call you at your usual number (and you can call them). If you don’t want to use it, that’s fine, but the negativity is a bit over the top.

  12. Mark
    Perhaps all the “over the top negativity” is a result of actual customers have negative customer experiences with AT & T. (My hand goes up!) As noted by other posters, there have been perfectly acceptable alternatives without the “gotcha” experience for the past 5 years . Maybe AT & T should focus on things like letting their customers use their phones for reasonable prices, not $3 a minute for voice or $20 mb for data.

  13. Robert – I don’t know where you get $3.00/min for voice.

    Get a Passport plan. There are options. I’m not suggesting this is the lowest priced option for everyone – but I needed one month of Passport and three countries and effectively managed my usage and it worked for me.

    Again, if it doesn’t work for you, fine. But it’s not $3.00/minute.

    https://www.att.com/shop/en/wireless/international/roaming.html

  14. I didn’t get that text, but instead I was offered their Mexico roaming package. I appreciate that, but I haven’t been to Mexico in several years and don’t have plans to go for several more. Hopefully this wifi calling feature works for me too since I will be in other parts of the world the next two months.

  15. This is great. I know T-Mobile has had it for a while, but the feature doesn’t offset the poor (U.S.) nationwide coverage by T-Mobile (my AT&T plan was still updating GPS maps as we drove through West Virginia, whereas my wife’s T-Mobile phone was pretty worthless with no data signal).

    Wife and I are heading to Australia/NZ this October, so WiFi calling should be a useful feature with my (company’s) iPhone.

  16. Verizon offers this with no restrictions on my S6, and can text message over wi-fi internationally (again to/from US numbers).

  17. FYI – you need an iphone 6 or higher for this….
    Devices that support Wi-Fi Calling
    We’re proud to offer Wi-Fi Calling on iPhone, the phone that’s absolutely beautiful and simple to use. Enjoy Wi-Fi Calling on these models**:

    • iPhone 6s

    • iPhone 6s Plus

    • iPhone 6

    • iPhone 6 Plus

    **iOS 9.3 must be installed.

  18. You can register your phone number with Skype and then it will display that number on the other end when you call someone via Skype. This feature is free too.

  19. I’ve been using Google’s Project Fi for three months, and absolutely love it. I’m currently in Iran and the WiFi calling is free, and has perfect sound quality. Domestic calls automatically switch between cellular (Sprint, T-Mobile) and WiFi (whichever is stronger).

  20. So am I understanding this correctly?

    Let’s say I am in London and have wifi calling:

    1. Dial any US number — no charge
    2. Dial a number in London or say Amsterdam – billed at whatever international rate plan I have.
    3. Receive a call from anyone in the world – no charge.

    Do I have this right?

  21. If you travel, you should switch to Google’s Project Fi network. Data plan prices same as domestic, free Wi-Fi calling, reasonable price for non Wi-Fi calling. Basically, you can use your phone internationally the same as you would at home. It’s great.

  22. I’ll join the crowd and raise my hand on the negative AT&T experience. Customer service representatives definitely receive training in ways to guide or drive the customer away from the plan or the value point that best fits their needs.

    I’ve been a faithful customer for over 20 years, through the sale the mergers, the name changes, the reverse name changes and the de-mergers etc. and last year I went to a prepaid plan because that actually works out the best.

    What was interesting was every time I called customer service over the past 3 1/2 years I was asking for a better plan or a better program given my usage patterns, the customer service representatives had never mentioned prepaid. Of course this was all caught on AT&T’s elaborate recording system quality assurance.

    After aggressively escalating this thing all the way to the office of the president, the answer I got was tough luck, you made the decisions you pay the bills.

    In short what is happened is technology has obsoleted some parts of what AT&T does, they still do have a fast data network, but they’re no longer behaving to a mutual advantage to themselves and their customers, they’re just eeking out as much money as they can possibly get for themselves. AT&T product management completely understands this and are simply trying to keep the gravy train going for as long as I can. Small innovations like Wi-Fi calling are peanuts

  23. I’m studying abroad in London right now (with the $40 passport plan) and I’m just trying to figure out if it is free for me to call a mobile phone in the U.S., or if a call costs me the $1/min charge that it would cost for normal calling?

  24. Maddy,

    IF you are using AT&T Wi-Fi (you need to have enabled Wi-Fi Calling on your device – you will see AT&T Wi-Fi displayed as the Network Name rather than O2 or Vodaphone, etc) then there is no charge to place a call to a US telephone number from your device.

    Otherwise, if you’re on a UK Carrier’s network and not on Wi-Fi, you’ll incur the roaming charges for the call.

    Helpful Links:
    https://www.att.com/shop/wireless/features/wifi-calling.html

    https://www.att.com/esupport/article.html#!/wireless/KM1063258

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