If you ever need to make calls and/or send texts to the U.S. or Canada from abroad, or even just receive them from those locations, there's an easy way to do so without breaking the bank. In fact, it's free, and all you need is a smartphone, computer, and some free tools.
A lot of services exist for free inbound and outbound calls, or for just sending texts, but not everything together. And many of the popular solutions are overrun with ads and restrictions that allow their apps to be free. For that reason, we'll be using Google Voice, since it's free of all of the annoyances, and works for both calls and SMS text messages.
The first step is having a U.S.-based Google account, which I'm sure most of you already have. (You may experience problems when trying to do this with an account created in a different region.) If you're outside the United States, use a VPN or proxy with a U.S. server to make your PC appear as if it's in the States. Then, just go to Google and create a new account.
If you don't have a VPN, don't bother going out and getting a premium one just for this single purpose. Just look into one of the many free options for proxies. Hide My Ass is a good option, but there are many others just a quick search away.
Next, go to your browser's settings and input the information for the proxy (the IP and the port). Just make sure the server is located in the U.S. and that it's not it's not listed as a transparent proxy.
Make sure to remove these settings when you're done, or your connection speed will be slowed down by the VPN service.
Now you have a Google account, so you'll need a U.S. phone number to attach to it. Here, we are going to use one of the apps with limitations to our benefit.
I personally like using Talkatone, but Nextplus also should receive an honorable mention. Basically, any app that allows you to receive calls and create a free U.S. phone number should work. Just note that choosing an alternative will have a drawback that I'll discuss later.
Since Google is going to call to verify your number, you need to be able to receive calls. They call from a toll-free number, though, so you don't actually need to use any credits or spend any money to answer.
If you decide to go with Talkatone, download it from the Google Play Store or iOS App Store. Sign up with your email address and information, or just use your Facebook account, then take note of your free U.S. phone number.
Start by going to the Google Voice website in your browser (Chrome is best, since we'll be using it in the next step anyway), agree to Google's terms, and input your U.S. phone number, then click Continue.
Click Call me now on the next screen, answer the phone, and enter the verification number when prompted.
You now have a Google Voice account and can choose your own Google Voice number.
Install the Google Hangouts Chrome extension from the Chrome Web Store and log into the extension using the Google account from Step 1. You can now make calls by clicking in the Search box in the extension and clicking the phone icon on the right.
Type the phone number including area code into the box and click the Call button.
Note that I haven't been able to get this working with Hangouts Dialer on Android. It seems Google can detect that your phone is from abroad regardless of any VPN or U.S. Google account you may be using, and it just won't work. If you somehow get it working, let us know!
Any outgoing calls you want to make have to be done through a PC, but you won't need a proxy or VPN anymore, so don't worry (that was just to create the Google account). You also can't use the Google Voice apps for Android and iOS to make calls, or you'll be charged for the calls.
You will, however, be able to send and receive SMS text messages using the standard Hangouts app for Android or iOS. Just be sure to type +1 before the area code of the number you wish to text, or Google will auto-populate the region code with your current country's code and give you an error.
It's also worth noting that Talkatone will also receive incoming calls on your smartphone since it's set up as your forwarding phone, and since the app has free incoming calls from the U.S. or Canada, you will be able to accept the call and talk for free. This means the old text-someone-to-call-you trick will in fact work.
Enjoy your calls to the U.S. or Canada and let us know in the comments if these tips have solved your calling problems.