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The Home Front

Staying in contact with the home front is key for peace of mind and for keeping your affairs back home running smoothly. The key is to make it convenient and keep the cost down.

One important item to do once you arrive is to register with the embassy of your home country. Most embassies encourage this if you will be in a country for more than two weeks. This helps in case someone contacts the embassy looking for you.

When it comes to picking a way to communicate back home, the old adage “Good, Fast, Cheap - pick any two” applies. Every method has two of these advantages, but none have all three.

Postal Mail

The postal mail system is often overlooked in these days of telecom and the Internet. But it is a valuable asset, and satisfies the good and cheap criteria. If you don't need speed and want to save money, this is a great alternative.

You can box and ship your overseas purchases and free yourself of trying to haul them back on the plane. This approach has never failed us, although we have had to wait up to four months for packages shipped via surface (ship, rail, truck, rickshaw, etc.).

Also, delivery of postcards works reliably. However, regardless of the length of your stay, send postcards at the beginning of your trip to make sure they get home before you do! If you have your friend's addresses on a computer, you can print out pre-addressed postcard labels before you leave, in order to make mailing even easier.


Phone service is good and fast, but rarely is it cheap. Due to time zone differences one of you is often giving up sleep to make or take the call. We reserve this for extraordinary circumstances and rarely have had to use it.

Major carriers of long-distance service such as AT&T, British Telecom, MCI, Sprint, and Worldcom have developed “international networks”. In your destination country, you dial a local number to access the international network. This access number is typically toll-free. Your carrier's international network connects you directly back to your home country. You can typically dial directly, or speak to an operator in your home language. Billing can be made to your regular home phone service, a credit card, or to a prepaid calling card provided by your carrier.

Before departing, check with your phone service provider both for their local access number(s) in your destination country, and to confirm that you are set up to use this system. Also, ask for any special rate programs for global dialing.

Here are links to web sites describing the access codes for a few popular providers:

However, the telecom rates for international calls may be far less expensive if you call directly from your destination country back to your home country. But realize that, hotel establishments often add phenomonal charges on top of the telecom rates. So, the least expensive way to call might be use a pay phone, using a phone card you purchase in your destination country, or whatever method they have for handling pay-phone service.

For dialing international numbers, the Kropla International Dialing Codes site has extensive information, including worldwide country and city codes.


The Internet has given international advisors a reliable and inexpensive communications tool, but has increased the complexity and set-up requirements. (fast, cheap, and complex).

Our first E-Mail experience in a developing country found us on the floor of an office using wire strippers and alligator clips. Short text messages frequently took 3 minutes to send, and one message with an attachment took an hour to download. We later found out that the entire country had a single line connecting them to the Internet that was the same speed as the line to our house at home! That was ancient history in Internet terms — 1998.

The situation has improved dramatically since 1998, largely due to the development of Internet Cafés. No longer do you have to lug your laptop around the world and negotiate using bizarre phone line connectors and instructions written in a foreign language. Simply stroll into an Internet Café, order a Latté, read and send your E-Mails, surf the Web, and typically pay a small fee.

To use an Internet Café, you'll need to review what kind of E-Mail system you currently have and how you will be using E-Mail when overseas. Here are the scenarios, from straightforward to fairly “techie”:

On-Line Computer Services

America Online (AOL), CompuServe, and Prodigy are on-line computer services. You load software on you computer, dial a specific phone number depending on your location, and access their service directly. They provide their own custom E-Mail service and also give you access to the Internet.

If you have an on-line service, your choices are:

  • Bring your laptop and connect to the service via a local phone number. Check with the on-line service to see if they offer local phone connections to their service in your destination country.
  • Locate an Internet Café which offers access to your service. Some Internet Cafés are set up so that you can access AOL or Compuserve from their system.

If you have an on-line service and it is not AOL, CompuServe, or Prodigy, you probably have ...

Internet Service Provider (ISP)

An ISP connects you directly to the Internet. They give you a local access number, but this is simply a connection to the Internet. The software they provide is typically a freely available Web browser such as Internet Explorer or Netscape.

Your ISP runs a mail server, called a POP server, which collects and stores your E-Mail until you access it.

If you use an ISP, it is unlikely that your ISP will have a local access number in your destination country. You could go through the process of finding a new ISP in your destination country, but the hassles of getting set up and changing your E-Mail address make it worthwhile only if you are staying in the country a long time. Besides, E-Mail sent to your existing address will be inaccessible.

An excellent solution is to set up a (free) account with a Web-based E-Mail system described below.

Web-Based E-Mail

Once you are connected to the Web (via an ISP or on-line computer service) you can access many free services which will serve as your post office for E-Mail, or let you view your mail on another POP server. This is a key feature for roaming advisors.

If you currently use a Web-based E-Mail, you're all set! Since you can access your mail from any web browser, all you need is Web access to the Internet from a Café.

If you use an ISP, you can set up a Web-based E-Mail system to give you “secondary” access to your own mail. These services are free — paid for by advertising and optional “add-on” services.

One large Web-based E-Mail service is Hotmail but there are many offering similar services. When you sign up with them, you get an E-Mail address with that service ( for example). However, most of these services let you access your existing E-Mail from your ISP. They just fetch the mail from your ISP's POP server and let you view it on the Web. Some caveats:

  • You must set up your Web-based service with the name of the mail server (POP server) for your existing ISP. This is available as a configuration setting.
  • When you send mail from the Web-based E-Mail service, the sender E-Mail address will be your address on the Web-based service (eg. rather than Also, if recipients reply to messages you sent from the Web-based E-Mail, the default return address will be back to you at the Web-based E-Mail, not at your ISP. Many Web-base E-Mail systems let you specifiy or configure the Reply-To address, but you will need to set this up explicitly. If you do not, you will be stuck looking at two E-Mail systems after you return from your trip — your existing ISP's E-Mail and your new Web-based E-Mail.
  • You will not have access to the E-Mail addresses (your address book) stored on your home system. You will need to print out any E-Mail addresses you may need, or use the “reply-to” feature of the E-Mail system.
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Site Version 1.75 - Last updated December 20, 2006
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