What’s App?

Three major players dominate the digital communications landscape in Portugal: MEO, NOS, and the UK’s Vodafone.

We have a MEO “package” w/Internet, TV, landline and mobile phones. The service has been excellent and the rates reasonable: €49.90 per month for high-speed broadband Internet + “cable” TV with 190 different stations + a mobile phone + a landline. How much would Comcast, Spectrum, Time-Warner, et al in the USA charge for a similar package?

Anyway … overall, we’d been very satisfied with our service and bills.

Until we tried calling outside of Portugal.

A friend from the UK — who spends lots of time in Spain with us – had told us that, within the EU, all phone calls now are “free” … without additional charges. Regardless of which country your phone belongs to and what country you’re calling.

But only sometimes, it turns out …

We made phone calls from both our land line and mobile to the UK, Spain, and even France.Then we received our MEO bill, loaded with charges for all these calls (and messages) outside of Portugal.

We took our bill into the nearest MEO loja, where the helpful customer service rep explained (I think) in Portuguese, “Only calls from cell phone to cell phone are free within the EU.”

Our Brit friend didn’t buy that, telling us it’s bloody rubbish.

“I use my O2 phone in Portugal, Spain, etc. I don’t get charged for any calls I make to any phone that is in the EU, irrespective of where I am (as long as I am in the EU),” she said.

Evidently, O2 is the main UK mobile phone provider. Those with 02 can use their phones anywhere in the EU for making calls or sending data and pay no charges. But, if they had Portuguese phones, they’d be charged for data outside of Portugal, and phone calls to non-Portuguese phone numbers.

OHHHHHHHHHH … so that’s why our UK friend wasn’t being charged for her calls anywhere within the EU: Her OK phones are 02s!

Nevertheless, we made certain to use only our mobile when calling outside of Portugal. Like yesterday. We briefly called a number in Badajoz, Spain.

Immediately, we received a text message from MEO stating that our account had been charged for that call.

Back we went to MEO.This time, the helpful customer service rep drew us a picture. According to him, the new law about “free calls within the EU” refers only to roaming: If we take our Portuguese mobile phone to Spain, France, Italy, Greece, or wherever … and we call any Portuguese number, it’s free. But, regardless of which phone we use — mobile or land line — if we call another country from our Portuguese phone (number), we will be charged because it’s considered an “international” call.

“We have UK mobile phones with UK mobile phone numbers and we can call anywhere within the European Union at no charge–free!” insisted our British friend. “That’s what the new law is about!”

Yes, but only with 02 phone-provided numbers.

Mind you, we’re not complaining … we only want to understand the rules. And to color within the lines!

So, we sought additional advice.

We learned that what EU law has changed is applicable only to mobiles and, then, only when one is “roaming”; i.e., using your Portuguese mobile phone when in Spain … or your Spanish mobile in Portugal.

In addition, the calls aren’t free; they are charged at the same tariffs you would pay when on your home network. Unless you purchase an “enhanced” package of benefits, when at home in Portugal, you would pay for all international calls and texts not included as free in your plan.

“The best thing to do is to use apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger when calling or texting internationally,” suggested someone more-in-the-know than moi. “They are completely free … whoever you are speaking to and wherever they are.”

Some telecomm plans offer incentives for international calling. “I am with NOS and get free calls to all European landlines from my landline after 9pm and all weekend,” the same friend continued, “which is great, as my technophobe mother of 78 does not even own a mobile phone … let alone know what an app is!”

Actually, I am right there with his mother. It’s my partner who has the mobile and makes our calls (or sends the texts). Five years ago, I killed my cell phone by throwing it against the wall and then stomping on it. Bringing the plastic bits and bytes back to the company where I purchased it, I informed them that, “When you offer a simple class showing dumb old men like me how to use these new-fangled smart phones, just ring me up!”

On my land line …

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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