My parents are travelling to the US for the first time and have not ever been on international travels. They have a layover in Schiphol and I want them to contact me. I have never personally transited through Schiphol and do not know how things work there. What would be the options to call from there? Would they need to buy a calling card? Any idea of how much it would cost?
If your parents travel with either a tablet or a computer you could consider using Skype-out to call landlines and mobile phones world wide. Schiphol has decent Wifi connection throughout the airport. With each device that you have with you, you can use the Wifi offered for 30 minutes twice. So simply hook on to the Internet and call the phone numbers with your skype app. You might suggest bringing a headset.
According to the Schiphol website there are a some public phones throughout the airport. You will need a credit card, or euro coins. Seeing the prices, I think it is far easier to have them call you by their mobile phone, or maybe send a text message.
Public telephones Public telephones are available throughout Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. They work on coins, a telephone card or credit card. For the exact locations, please contact the information desks in the terminal.
The following rates apply for the use of public telephones at Schiphol:
The starting rate
Telephone card € 0,00
Coins € 0,50
In addition to the starting rate, you pay a rate per minute. This rate depends on the dialed destination.
Rates per minute
• The Netherlands € 1,00 per minute
• Europe & North America € 1,75 per minute
• Other Countries € 2,75 per minute
Be aware that paying by credit card makes a phone call substantially more expensive
Credit card payment:
Within the Netherlands: € 5,00 starting rate and € 1.00 for each additional minute
Having tried to connect at different airports in the world, including Schiphol, I would suggest to use their mobile phone for a very short message.
Either a text message or a one minute phone call will not break the bank and it will be easy, what they are used to and no fumbling with things in a different language or tradition. Schiphol Wifi has English as one of the working languages but it will not be what they are used to.
And being reminded of the use of phones the old ways, just have them call your number and disconnect after a few rings, you not picking up the phone.
The number will show and you can safely assume they are somewhere they can call. If they want to speak to you they can call a second time, where you will make the connection. I personally think it is not worth it, international calls on mobile phones so much cheaper than intercontinental calls used to be.
When you are in the airport for a longer time, have adjusted and relaxed, you can still log on and use whatever online or app communication you are usually using.
I have seen the pay phones at Schiphol, they are expensive but if you as traveler are stuck without other means of communicating, you can still use them. I would only use them as last resort, way after logging on and own phone on international use.
If you have network access with your smartphone (and the answer from @andra) suggest you will), I would recommend SmartVoip (https://www.smartvoip.com/).
You need to buy credit before using it, with a minimum of 12 euros (about $16), but their rates are really cheap. And, if you are calling to US you're lucky, as calls are free both to mobile and landline for 90 days.
I'm a user of this service for years and it is really awesome. I use it to call to Ecuador with a low rate, or to Spain, UK and Germany for free (in these cases free only to landlines). The quality of calls is excellent with a decent connection and with 3G works flawlessly.
Their best bet is to use the wifi with a smartphone VOIP service such as:
- T-mobile VOIP calling (easiest) or
Good (but limited) alternatives for non-US travellers include:
- WhatsApp and
- Apple Facetime.
If the tactic is to use wifi, then one must consider the wifi limiations imposed by the airport.
If the parents have T-mobile simple choice plan, then text messaging is no charge and roaming calls are $0.2 per min via cellular: no charge through UMA / IMA voip calling.
If your concern is high: then may I suggest that you buy a TMO SIM card, exercise it in the US FIRST (important) and then mail it to them. That way you can be in constant contact and you can call them the moment they hit the landing strip. They can also use the SIM during their visit. Did I mention that 3G data is include when roaming with TMO in the NL (I have verified this)?
I suggest that they practice with the wifi at home to ensure that when they hit the airport: all the learning / bugs should be worked out before arriving at Schiphol
You can call free of charge using Morse code. Neither side then answers the phone, you just let the phone ring. If the phone rings one time that's a dot, if it rings twice that's a dash. Now, as Zach Lipton points out in the comments, there may be a problem with using the number of rings. An alternative way is to use different mobile phones to call to or to send messages from. E.g., a call from phone A can be a dot, while a call from phone B is then a dash.