Keeping in Touch Now Comes at a Steep Price
Over the past few months, call rates to Pakistan from foreign countries have risen dramatically, putting a huge financial strain on the Pakistani immigrant community worldwide. For Pakistani immigrants who rely on regular phone contact to keep in touch with family and friends back home, these inflated call rates have made those precious connections much more difficult and expensive to maintain.
Expats Face 200-300% Rate Hikes
Specifically, call rates from places like the US, UK, and Middle East to Pakistan have skyrocketed by 200-300% or even more compared to just a few months ago. For example, calling Pakistan from the US used to cost around 5 cents per minute on many carriers. Now those same calls can cost 15 cents per minute or more.
Heavy Burden on Family Budgets
These shocking price increases have made frequent communication with loved ones in Pakistan incredibly costly for the average immigrant family. Pakistanis living abroad now have to carefully budget calling card use and ration calls home. With call rates eating up so much of the family budget, Pakistani immigrants are struggling to stay connected.
Urgency to Find Affordable Options
The substantial hike in call rates to Pakistan has created an urgent need for expat Pakistanis to find more affordable ways to keep in touch with family abroad. With calling cards and international carriers now breaking the bank, immigrants are exploring free options like WhatsApp, Viber, and FaceTime. However, finding reliable service across Pakistan remains an issue.
Current International Calling Options
Calling Cards Offer Some Savings But Fees Add Up
Many Pakistani immigrants have turned to international calling cards to avoid sky-high call rates from their regular phone carriers. Companies like Callmama provide discounted prepaid calling cards to call Pakistan from abroad. The fees are lower than major carriers – Callmama advertises calls to Pakistan for as low as 3.8 cents per minute.
But Hidden Fees Drive Up Per Minute Costs
However, many calling card companies add several types of fees on top of the per minute rate, including connection fees, maintenance fees, and recharge fees. For Callmama, these extra fees can add 4-8 cents per minute to the base call rate. That means the real per minute cost is closer to 8-12 cents per minute.
Complex Rate Structure Leads to Bill Shock
The complex calling card rate and fee structure often catch consumers off guard. Immigrants expect to pay the heavily advertised “pennies per minute” rate. But once all the additional fees are factored in, calling card bills can be two or three times higher than anticipated.
Free Internet Calling Subject to Reliability Issues
Apps like Viber, WhatsApp, and Skype offer free calling over the internet. Weak broadband infrastructure in Pakistan means frequent call quality issues. Dropped calls and grainy connections on these apps disrupt conversations. Until infrastructure improves, free Internet calling is not a perfect substitute for traditional networks.
The Shocking Surge in Call Rates to Pakistan
Hefty Taxes and Fees Drive Up Prices
Over the last 6-12 months, the cost of calling Pakistan from abroad has skyrocketed to astonishing levels, with call rates spiking 200-300% on many international carriers. Several key factors have combined to trigger these exorbitant rate increases for calls to Pakistan.
Firstly, the Pakistani government has introduced hefty new taxes and regulatory fees on international phone calls coming into the country. For example, a new tax named the “International Incoming Call Termination Rate” adds about 10 cents per minute to all incoming calls. On top of taxes, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has more than doubled the license fee it charges international carriers to operate in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Economic Crisis Also Contributors
Secondly, Pakistan’s ongoing economic crisis and currency devaluation have dramatically increased operating costs for local phone companies that partner with international carriers. The Pakistani rupee has lost over 30% of its value against the US dollar in the last year. This sharp depreciation has made the equipment, labor, and operating costs for Pakistani telecom companies much more expensive in dollar terms. Those higher costs get passed on to international partners and consumers.
Carriers Forced to Raise Rates to Maintain Service
Faced with this punishing combination of exorbitant government fees and runaway inflation, international phone carriers have had no choice but to raise calling rates to maintain service quality. Companies like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and BT have all announced rate increases of 200% or more for calls to Pakistan in the last three months.
Critics argue the carriers have been too aggressive in passing on costs to consumers. However, the carriers claim they cannot absorb such massive cost increases without disrupting the capital investment needed to sustain overseas networks. The shocking surge in call rates to Pakistan has provoked intense public backlash.
Years of Price Stability Reversed Almost Overnight
These drastic rate hikes essentially erase over a decade of steady, low-cost calling prices to Pakistan. From 2010 to 2020, innovations like VoIP technology and intense competition kept international call rates extremely affordable. But the industry has been totally upended in just the last year. Such an unprecedented price spike in such a short period has come as an absolute shock to Pakistani immigrant communities.
Expat Families Bear the Brunt of Price Surge
The diaspora of over 9 million Pakistanis living abroad relies on reasonably priced calls to stay connected with loved ones back home. Unfortunately, they now face difficult, painful choices due to the shocking increase in call rates to Pakistan. Calling home as often as they used to is simply no longer financially viable for most families.
They must either significantly cut back on calls, or else divert large parts of their household budget to phone bills, taking funds away from other basic needs. This trade-off is agonizing for immigrants who depend on hearing the voices of elderly parents, children, and siblings left behind in Pakistan.
Switching Carriers Provides Little Relief
For a time, some customers found switching carriers could provide marginal savings. But the across-the-board nature of the rate hikes has now eliminated any bargain alternatives. Verizon customers tried AT&T, only to find they had raised rates in parallel. Some turned to smaller discount carriers like LycaMobile, but those depend on the same networks and face the same cost pressures. The few remaining cheap plans with lower per minute rates make up for it with exorbitant connection fees upwards of $10 per call.
Calling Card Savings Undermined by Hidden Fees
Similarly, calling cards which once offered significant savings have also been impacted by rising costs. On top of the marked-up per minute rates, calling card companies hit users with an assortment of hidden fees that inflate the true per minute price. For example, popular card Callmama advertises 3.8 cents per minute to Pakistan, but tacks on fees like a 1 cent “universal service fee,” 25 cent “maintenance fee” and 66 cent “connect fee” per call. Consumers feel tricked by the marketing of super cheap per minute pricing that ends up costing much more.
Free Internet Calling Not Yet Reliable Enough
Some customers have attempted to circumvent traditional calling entirely by using free internet calling apps like WhatsApp, Viber and Skype. But weak broadband infrastructure in many parts of Pakistan means frequent call drops, lags, and poor-quality connections. These apps can provide free calls, but the unreliability severely disrupts natural conversation flow. And unstable political conditions raise fears of potential future social media bans. So most Pakistani immigrants still rely heavily on traditional telephony and feel trapped paying the exorbitant new rates.
Frustration Boiling Over in Expat Communities
Anger and frustration is boiling over amongst Pakistani expats as the financial pain of staying in touch with loved ones back home deepens. Many are placing blame on governments and carriers for pricing them out of communicating with family during incredibly difficult economic times. There is a sense these essential connections are being exploited for taxes and profits. Unless costs can be brought back down, the bonds between overseas Pakistanis and their homeland risk being strained beyond the breaking point.
The Far-Reaching Impact of Pakistan’s Call Rate Crisis
Financial Pain Inflicted on Immigrant Households
The unprecedented surge in international calling rates is placing substantial financial strain on Pakistani immigrant families across the globe. For lower and middle income Pakistani expatriates, the hundreds of dollars a month many now must spend to call parents, children, and other family back home is proving extremely burdensome. These inflated phone bills are forcing painful cuts to other basic household expenses just to maintain some level of communication.
Choosing Between Talking and Making Ends Meet
With calling rates skyrocketing 200-300% over the last year, Pakistani immigrants are now faced with the agonizing choice between being able to call their loved ones, and making ends meet. For parents supporting families abroad on modest incomes, the massive jump in phone bills often equals an entire month’s grocery budget for a family. Families that used to spend $100 a month are now shelling out $300 or more. To cover the cost, they have to cut back on food, clothing, utilities and other essentials.
Loneliness and Isolation Setting In
The financial limitations are forcing many families to talk less frequently and for shorter durations. Calls to parents that used to happen weekly have been cut to once a month. Chats that used to last an hour are now limited to just 10 minutes. This reduced communication is creating profound loneliness and isolation. Key lifecycle moments are being missed – children growing up, illnesses, and deaths. Being deprived of these daily connections and support networks inflicts real emotional and psychological trauma.
Damaged Links Between Homeland and Diaspora
On a macro scale, the dramatic erosion in communication caused by unreasonable call pricing sabotages critical links between the Pakistani homeland and its vast diaspora. The regular phone calls between expatriate families and their relatives anchor the relationship between Pakistan and its overseas citizens. Diminished communication weakens these bonds, and risks permanently unraveling the culture and economic ecosystem built around migration and remittances.
Plummeting Remittances Cripple Pakistan’s Economy
One major manifestation of this breakdown is the sharp drop in remittances from abroad back into the Pakistani economy. In 2022, remittances are projected to fall by 10-15%, equivalent to over $3 billion. A major driver of this decline is fewer phone conversations where overseas Pakistanis are urged to send financial help to family back home facing hardship. Less communication means less awareness of financial needs, and lower willingness to sacrifice and send money.
Government Tax Revenues Also Falling
Ironically, the Pakistani government’s short-sighted policy of overtaxing international calls also ends up reducing total tax revenue. Loss of remittances and a weaker economy leads to lower income, corporate, and sales tax collection. By some estimates, 70-80% of the extra taxes levied on phone calls are offset by reductions in other taxes. So the government’s punitive approach to fund the budget deficit through call levies is counterproductive.
Carriers Face Public Anger and Pressure to Reduce Rates
International phone companies are facing a swell of criticism for the dramatic escalation in call rates to Pakistan. With many carriers now owned by private equity firms focused on profits over customers, the public perception is price gouging and profiteering. Verizon, AT&T, BT Group and others have become targets of consumer furor and protests demanding rate relief. But the carriers claim their hands are tied by taxes and economic instability in Pakistan. They argue reasonable profit margins are required to fund network investment and maintenance.
Diaspora Looks to New Technologies for Affordable Options
With traditional international calling becoming prohibitively expensive, Pakistani immigrants worldwide are experimenting with various new technologies to cut costs. Some are turning to calling apps like WhatsApp, Viber and Skype that use data instead of regular voice minutes. Others are testing emerging options like satellite calling through Starlink terminals. But reliability issues remain a barrier. For now, Pakistani expats are left scrambling for creative workarounds just to afford a lifeline to loved ones back home. The human impacts from the communication crisis continue to deepen.
Solutions to More Affordable Call Rates to Pakistan
Global Campaign to Reduce Taxes and Fees
The Pakistani expatriate community is launching an international campaign to pressure governments to reduce taxes and fees on calls to Pakistan in light of the shocking rate hikes. Advocacy groups are lobbying officials in the US, UK, Canada, and other countries home to large Pakistani populations to eliminate specific call levies or exempt calls to Pakistan.
They are also petitioning the Government of Pakistan to roll back some of the most excessive and damaging taxes imposed in the last two years. A coordinated effort across many countries affected could force action on bringing down call rates to Pakistan.
Leveraging Remittance Declines in Campaign Messaging
A key argument the campaign will make is that high call taxes which reduce communication also trigger sharp declines in remittances sent home by expat Pakistanis. Since remittances prop up Pakistan’s fragile economy, cutting taxes could perversely increase total government revenue while restoring remittance flows. Groups are compiling data demonstrating the dramatic drops in remittances as call rates have skyrocketed. This evidence will be used to pressure lawmakers and regulators to change course.
Social Media Activism Aims to Spotlight Issues
In tandem with formal lobbying, the campaign is using social media activism to spotlight the humanitarian impacts of high call rates. Videos, photos, and posts aim to tell the human stories of suffering and family disconnection. Campaign hashtags like #CallPak4Less are uniting the global Pakistani community. Online activism also names and shames carriers like Verizon and BT Group to act on reducing rates. Grassroots social media energy will complement closed-door lobbying efforts targeting policymakers directly.
Seeking Lower Wholesale Rates for Small Carriers
Advocates are also approaching regulators in key countries to mandate lower wholesale call rates from major carriers to smaller discount operators. This would allow niche carriers who cater heavily to immigrant groups to access termination rates low enough to offer discounted retail pricing. Some regulators have compelled dominant carriers to offer reasonable wholesale pricing to resellers in the past. Campaigners will push for similar interventions to enable discounters to offer relief on calls to Pakistan.
Promoting Tech Solutions When Traditional Networks Fail
Since traditional carriers have proved unable or unwilling to provide meaningful rate reductions so far, the campaign is also promoting technology-based solutions for affordable calling. Recommendations include using apps like WhatsApp, FaceTime audio, and Skype; buying Pakistani SIM cards and cheap data plans to call relatives; and experimenting with new satellite-based services like Starlink. However, improving broadband infrastructure and reliability in Pakistan remains critical.
Smart Use of International Calling Cards
For expat families still reliant on traditional international calling, prepaid calling cards can offer cost savings compared to carrier rates. But the campaign cautions users to beware of marketing gimmicks and hidden fees. Callmama, for example, advertises calls to Pakistan for as low as 3.8 cents per minute. But added fees can raise the effective per minute cost much higher. Still, if used judiciously and sparingly, calling cards present a short-term way to trim costs as users weigh more permanent alternatives.
Patiently Waiting for Currency and Economic Recovery
Some analysts believe international carriers will be unable to meaningfully lower call rates without major improvement in Pakistan’s economic crisis and currency stability. If the rupee strengthens and inflation cools, operating costs for Pakistani telecoms will decrease, creating downward pressure on wholesale rates. But given the complexity of the economic challenges, most observers caution that only modest relief may flow to consumers from macroeconomic shifts over the next 3-5 years.
Seeking Fair Compromise from Carriers on Rates
Rather than pushing for a complete rate reversal, campaigners believe a more pragmatic aim is to compel international carriers to moderate rate increases through selective tax reductions and better internal cost control. Verizon, BT, and others do face very real cost pressures. A fair compromise would be for carriers to shoulder a reasonable portion of the increases themselves through efficiency gains rather than passing all costs to consumers. Even a 25% reduction from current rates could provide major relief.
Prioritizing Connections to Family Over Profits
At its core, the campaign to lower call rates to Pakistan is about reaffirming the fundamental right of immigrant families to maintain connections with loved ones. Communication should not be treated as a profit center by governments and corporations. Leaders have a moral obligation to take action when financial barriers obstruct the basic human need for contact with close family overseas. By spotlighting the profound harm from pricing families out of phone calls, advocates hope to spur conscience-driven policy changes.
A Global Pakistani Community United for Change
The path forward to restoring fair and affordable calling options for maintaining the diaspora’s bonds back home will require a coordinated international campaign combining grassroots activism, policy advocacy, legal challenges, and technology solutions. Only a sustained effort tapping the collective strength of the 25 million strong Pakistani immigrant community worldwide can provide the leverage required to compel recalcitrant governments, regulators and phone carriers to lower call rates to humane levels. Progress will be difficult, but the fight has only just begun.
Callmama: A Complex Solution for Calling Pakistan
Popular Prepaid Calling Card Company
Callmama is one of the most widely used prepaid international calling card services amongst Pakistani and South Asian immigrants around the world. The company provides cards allowing customers to make calls abroad from their landlines or mobile phones. Cards are sold at South Asian grocery stores, bodegas, and on the Callmama website. Calling Pakistan is one of Callmama’s most marketed uses. But does using Callmama calling cards actually save money compared to other options?
Advertised Rates Appear Very Low Cost
In its promotional materials and retail displays, Callmama advertises exceptionally cheap per minute calling rates to Pakistan such as 3.8¢/min, 5¢/min, or 7¢/min. These rates are often 70-80% less than major phone carriers like Verizon and AT&T. At face value, these rock-bottom rates make Callmama cards look like an incredible bargain for frequent callers to Pakistan looking to cut costs.
But Fine Print Reveals Additional Fees
However, the extremely low advertised per minute rates tell only part of the story. Callmama tacks on an assortment of other fees that significantly drive up the actual cost per call. These include:
- Connection fee – 49¢ to $1.99 per call
- Maintenance fee – 25¢ per call
- Universal Service Fee – 1¢ per minute
- Recharge fee – $1.99 for adding more minutes
Real Per Minute Cost Quietly Balloons
Once all these extra fees are factored in, the actual per minute cost ends up being 200-300% higher than the stated rate. For example, a card advertised as 5¢/min can end up costing over 15¢/min after the fees are included. This huge discrepancy between advertised and actual rates causes many customers to unknowingly overspend their prepaid card balances very quickly.
No Cost Advantage for Short Calls
For short 1 or 2 minute calls, Callmama does not provide any significant savings versus mainstream long distance carriers. The high connection fee eats up nearly all the cost advantage on short calls. Savings only start accruing on longer calls, but still end up diminished versus expectations due to the layered fees.
Calling Card Reliability Can Be Problematic
Call quality and reliability using Callmama cards is often inconsistent compared to large established carriers. Connections may be prone to echo, static, and dropoffs. Technical issues can be difficult to resolve since calling card companies have very limited customer service. For customers who depend on clear, reliable communication with family abroad, calling card call quality is a common source of frustration.
Easy to Lose Track of Balance and Run Out of Minutes
Callmama cards are sold with preset amounts of minutes – for example, 60, 120, or 300 minutes. Customers must manually keep track of balances either on paper or on the Callmama website. With fees inflating per minute costs, prepaid balances run out deceptively quickly. Being disconnected mid-call after a balance runs dry causes major inconvenience. Frequently recharging cards with more minutes also adds cumbersome fees.
Calling Apps Often Provide Totally Free Alternative
Instead of using Callmama’s misleadingly marketed calling cards, many customers have switched to free calling apps like WhatsApp, Viber, and FaceTime which use wifi or cellular data rather than paid minutes. While these apps sometimes suffer reliability problems, they allow totally free unlimited calling to Pakistan when they work. This avoids all per minute costs and fees.
Buyer Beware When Considering Callmama
In summary, while Callmama calling cards seem like an affordably way to phone Pakistan at first glance, the many hidden fees and service issues make using them problematic in practice. Customers feel tricked and ripped off. For reliable affordable service, Callmama has disrupted the market, but failed to deliver on its promises. Savvy consumers are wise to look at all their options before committing to prepaid calling cards.
The recent surge in international calling rates between overseas Pakistanis and families in Pakistan has developed into a humanitarian crisis. Exploitative pricing by governments and phone companies has made regular communication unaffordable, inflicting financial and emotional hardship. However, the Pakistani expatriate community worldwide has united to restore affordable options through policy advocacy, technology innovation, and resolute determination to stay connected with loved ones.
Progress has been difficult, but the moral urgency of enabling families to hear each other’s voices again sustains the campaign. By maintaining pressure and creativity, the diaspora aims to overcome current barriers in access. Despite the challenges ahead, the Pakistani community remains hopeful that unity and compassion shall ultimately prevail in restoring this critical lifeline between immigrants abroad and their cherished homeland.