Using FaceTime internationally


Q: My brother has an iPod and I have an iPhone. My brother is in Colombia and I am in Canada. When he’s using FaceTime with me he puts my cell number in and not my e-mail address and it works but I’m wondering if I have to pay because he is using my cellular number? With my email it doesn’t work but with my cellular number it does.

– Eliana

A: There is no charge for using FaceTime since it runs over the Wi-Fi network. Even though your brother is using your cellular phone number to reach your iPhone, the call is placed entirely over the FaceTime network and does not use the cellular network at all.

Basically, think of your iPhone’s cellular phone number as nothing more than a FaceTime “address” that can be used to reach you, just like an e-mail address. When you initially setup FaceTime, your iPhone registered itself with Apple’s FaceTime network, which is completely separate from your cellular carrier’s network and runs entirely over Wi-Fi. This initial registration does involve an “invisible” SMS message exchange with Apple to verify your phone number, but after that it has nothing to do with the cellular voice or data network at all.

Right now only iPod touch, iPad and Mac users can receive FaceTime calls with an e-mail address, which works by setting it up on the device with an Apple ID. The iPhone does not provide the ability to configure an e-mail address for FaceTime, which is why you cannot receive FaceTime calls to an e-mail address. Reports suggest that the ability to use both e-mail addresses and phone numbers on the iPhone may be coming in iOS 5 later this year.

Q: I have a fourth-generation iPod touch and I’m going to Guatemala. Can I use FaceTime over there?

– Brennda

Q: How does FaceTime work internationally?  I am in Canada and my fiance is currently in the UK. I have an iPod touch and he is going to get an iPod touch as well but will we be able to use FaceTime internationally?

– Juanita

Q: I am going to Mexico and would like to communicate home. Will I be able to use FaceTime using Wi-Fi? Does it work internationally?

– Tiffany

A: There are no international restrictions on using FaceTime, since it runs over the Internet, and not any particular carrier’s cellular network. The only requirement to use FaceTime is that both devices be able to access a Wi-Fi Internet connection that does not have a firewall preventing FaceTime communication. Most public and hotel Wi-Fi networks meet this requirement.

Also keep in mind that even though FaceTime on the iPhone uses phone numbers, these are actually just “addresses” that are used to identify your device on the FaceTime network, and in terms of FaceTime communication have nothing to do with your cellular carrier. Placing a FaceTime call from one device to another travels entirely over your local Wi-Fi connection—the phone number is merely used as a means of looking up the other device on Apple’s servers.

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Jesse Hollington

Jesse Hollington was a Senior Editor at iLounge. He's written about Apple technology for nearly a decade and had been covering the industry since the early days of iLounge. In his role at iLounge, he provided daily news coverage, wrote and edited features and reviews, and was responsible for the overall quality of the site's content.