Sunday, August 26, 2012

Technology Tricks for Living Overseas

There are a lot of things you have to get used to in Japan. Everything that was readily available in the States isn't so easy to come by here. However, we have found a few useful technology tricks that have helped to make us feel a little more "normal" since leaving our old life behind.

Calling Family and Friends from Overseas

  • Skype (with a subscription).
    • Almost everyone knows about Skype. And no matter where you are in the world, you can video-chat with someone for free. However, one of the problems we ran into when we arrive here was how to let family know that we were online and wanting to video-chat. Even after getting iPhones, we couldn't make calls to the US without being charged a HUGE fee. This is where a Skype subscription comes in handy. For a monthly fee (less than $3), you can make unlimited, free calls to landlines and cellphones in the US. I just open the Skype app on my cell phone, dial the US number I want to call, and the call is made using the unlimited data plan that I got with my cell phone. If you didn't have an unlimited data plan, you would only be able to make the free calls when using a wireless internet connection. I can't tell you how wonderful it has been to call friends and family any time we'd like. And, if you can catch a sale, you can buy a whole year (or six months) of subscription at one time with 15% off. I got an entire year of free calling for $30!
  • Facetime (for Apple products)
    • Facetime is an app similar to Skype that only works between Apple products - iPhones, iPads, and iPods. In my opinion, the video quality is usually much better and less interrupted than when using Skype. You don't have to worry about someone being online when you want to facetime. As long as they have their phone or ipad with them, it will ring them when you call. We have actually had some family buy Apple products for the sole purpose of Facetiming us since we've moved to Japan. It's incredibly convenient. And, best of all, Facetime video calling is FREE.

Cable TV and Internet Choices
  • Don't pay for cable!
    • With all the different choices for watching tv, don't spend money on an international cable package unless it's REALLY cheap! We were going to be paying $50 a month for a few basic channels, most of which we wouldn't even use. And personally, the only kids channel I want constant access to is PBS kids. So, we declined the basic cable package and are keeping our Hulu and Netflix subscriptions instead. The shows we want to watch will be available and we will only be paying about $16 a month for them. Unfortunately, once you move overseas, you may get a message like this when trying to access Hulu or Netflix: "We do not currently service your country." What do you do then? (Read on!)
  • Buy the fastest internet
    • If you are going to be using internet a lot - for calls home, Hulu, Netflix, etc., - spend a little extra money and get the fastest internet you can. You will be glad you did!
  • Hide your IP address
    • Services like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Amazon Instant Video and numerous others, don't provide service overseas (except in the UK, I think). This doesn't mean that you have to go without them, however. Use an IP address-blocking company. For $5-$10 a month, you can pay a company to reroute your IP address to their facility, blocking your overseas IP address and giving you (what looks like) a US address. There are all sorts of companies out there, so do your research and find a good deal. We are currently trying UnBlock-Us and we are paying $5/month, but we also have the option to buy a year at a time for less money too. It is DEFINITELY worth the money. 

Helpful iPhone Apps
  • Learn Japanese. 
    • This is basically a Japanese phrasebook for your iPhone. The free version has a lot, but buying the upgrade will get you a LOT more information. You can search by category and instead of just listing the words, the app will also speak it for you so you know you are pronouncing it right (or, you can just let the Japanese person listen to it!). 
  • ShinKanji
    • There are 3 different sets of characters used in Japan and we are illiterate here since none of them look like a western alphabet. This app lets you draw characters onto the screen and it tells you what they are. I haven't used this very much yet, but I'm sure it will be handy when we are out and about.
  • Google Translate
    • This app has had the best voice recognition of anything I've tried. It allows you to speak what you want to say in English, and it will translate (and speak it back) in Japanese. If you can't look up a phrase or word in your phrasebook, you can figure it out quickly and easily with this app. And, it works for several languages, not just Japanese. 
  • Converter
    • This app is awesome! It will convert currency, length, area, energy, power, pressure, speed, temperature, time, volume and weight. It has been very helpful since we're living in a country that uses the metric system. And the currency converter has been invaluable. 

If you have been living overseas and picked up any tips or tricks, please let me know. We're always looking for ways to make life easier!

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