Moving to Europe VI – Preserving & Using Your US Cellphone Number Abroad
Finally getting back to my Europe series of posts here, and this is going to be a very practical one.
When you’re moving abroad an item which many may not think about until it’s too late, is how to keep your US cellphone number. This may not seem important at first (I’ll just get new local number and cellphone plan after I move, so why would I need it?) but there are actually many reasons you might want to do so:
- Continuity – If you’ve been living in the USA for a while you’ll likely have had the same phone number for a long time. It’s the number you’ve used for your friends, your business, your online accounts (e.g. banks etc.) and who-knows-what-else, so it’s the number everyone knows.
- Keeping it Local – Your US number is “local” which means your friends & family in the US can call it without incurring any international calling fees. It’s not that there aren’t other ways to avoid phone fees between friends & family when you live abroad (there are plenty, and I’ll cover them in a future post), but maintaining a local US number is easy, especially if you have elderly folk who are used to calling you that way.
- Verification – Have you ever set-up 2-step verification on anything that involves getting a text to your cellphone? Or do you have accounts (e.g. banks) which rely on texts to your phone to verify things (e.g. suspicious charges, online transfers etc.). Well, if you lose your US number you obviously lose that option. There are usually workarounds, but often it’s a major hassle & you might have delays getting things done. Keeping your US number active & working while you’re abroad is very, very handy for these things.
- Not Missing Anything – You might get calls from the US after you leave that are important. Maybe from your former doctor, or an extended family member or an old friend, your bank or something else. Even if you’re meticulous and try to update every phone number you can think of to your new international phone number, you may well miss something. Also some US-based organizations just won’t accept an international number in their system (try giving one to your local US doctor, for example), so keeping a US-based number that they can contact you with is good practice.
Oh and the other reason to do this? It only costs $20!!!!! YES, there’s only a one-time $20 fee to retain lifetime access to your US number, and once it’s done it’s FREE to maintain!
The Key Is Porting Your Number To Google Voice
The key to all this magic is transferring your current US cellphone number to Google Voice, and it’s super easy to do. You just need to make sure you do it BEFORE you cancel your US cellphone plan and WHILE you’re still physically in the USA.
You’ll need a current, active US cellphone number and a Google account login (if you don’t have one already). Then you’ll just follow these simple steps to port your number. Or, you can see how we did it below:
1/ Check Your Number Is Portable: The fist thing you need to do is check that your current US phone number is eligible for porting using this link: https://www.google.com/voice/b/0/porting?pli=1. Most cellphone numbers are, but you do need to check first.
2/ Start The Porting Process: Using the same link as #1, the next step will be to start the actual porting process. You will be asked to check a box that you understand there is a $20 (one-time) charge and then you must click the next button in order to go onto phone verification.
3/ Phone Verification: At this point Google will give you a verification code and then they will CALL YOUR US PHONE NUMBER. In order to complete verification have will have to answer that call and enter the code they’ve given you. So your US phone number must active and ready to do this.
4/ Enter Your US Account Holder Info: Once phone verification is complete you will be prompted to enter your current US cellphone provider info (= where you’re porting the number from) including the account number, holders name & billing address, and the holders last 4 SSN.
5/ Confirm & Pay: Finally you will be asked to confirm your transaction & pay the $20
You’re done! Just sit back and wait for the transfer to complete (~24 hours. You’ll get an e-mail when it’s done). Once the porting process is complete your existing phone will be “dead”, and all calls & texts to your US number will now go to Google voice instead. Most times this should automatically cancel your old cellphone plan, but definitely double-check. If the plan hasn’t automatically cancelled, now is the safe time to do so.
What If’s And Other Questions
*What If You Already Left The USA? You mean, like what happened to us, because Google Voice went down the week we flew out of the USA??? Well, then it becomes tricky. You’ll need to follow these steps:
- Keep Paying For Your US Plan: If you want to keep your US number don’t cancel your US cellphone plan! You’ll need to keep paying for your US cellphone plan until you can figure out how to port your US number.
- Get A VPN That Can Map Your IP Address To USA : Google only allows porting from within the US (it checks your computer IP address for location), so you will have to make it look like you’re still in the USA before you start the port process. Luckily there are lots of VPN providers who offer exactly this kind of service (e.g. NordVPN is great, although there are lots of other good options out there too). Once your VPN is active you can just follow the same porting steps I described above.
- Make Sure You Can Receive The Verification Call: You’ll need to be able to receive a phone call on your US based number for step 3 of the porting process (again: your US cellphone plan must still be active to do this!). If your US plan doesn’t support receiving calls internationally, then your best option is to send your phone (or just your SIM) back to someone in the US who can receive the call & enter the authorization code for you. If you’re just sending your SIM make sure the receiving person has an unlocked phone they can use it in.
Once you’ve completed the porting request, you’ll just need to wait enough time for the port to complete before you check that your US plan is cancelled. In the end this is the process we went through and it worked out fine.
What If You Already Cancelled Your US Phone Service Plan? Unfortunately if you forgot to port your number out before you cancelled your US cellphone plan, this probably means you’ve lost it. There might be a grace period with your old carrier if you act quickly, so you may be able to re-instate your old plan and recoup your number (I’ve read of a select few successful accounts), but I wouldn’t count on it. If you’re in this situation it certainly doesn’t hurt to call your old cellphone provider and try.
What If You Already Canceled Your US Plan AND You’re Already Living Abroad? Well, you can’t get your old US number back, but if you really need/want a US number it IS actually possible to set-up Google voice with a new US-based number from abroad. It’s a bit of a hassle that requires jumping through a few hoops, but it’s do-able. Follow the steps in this post: Use A Google Voice Number From Outside the US
Using Your US Number While Abroad
OK. You did the port and you got your US number into Google Voice. Now what? How do you actually use it while living abroad. Well there’s 2 main ways:
Use Google Voice As-Is
If you just want to send/receive texts or receive voicemails (i.e. you do not need to make or answer phonecalls from your US number) then I’d recommend sticking with Google Voice the way it is. The good thing is that once you’ve ported your number, you won’t need to do anything additional to set it up.
Any texts or voicemails sent to your old US number will be received and stored on Google Voice and you can see those messages on the Google Voice website. In addition (here’s the super snazzy part) those messages will be automatically be transcribed and sent to the e-mail address associated with your Google account.
So if someone texts your US number, you’ll get that text as an e-mail in your inbox.
If someone leaves you a voicemail on your US number, that voicemail will be automatically transcribed into text form and then you’ll get that through your e-mail too (you can then go online to Google Voice to hear the actual voicemail recording if you wish).
If that’s all you ever need then you’re good to go. You can get texts, you can answer texts (via the web), you can see who tried to call you and you can receive voice mails.
However if you want to make a call using your US number or answer calls made to your US number while you’re living overseas, then you’ll want to complete one more step.
Link Google Voice To Google Hangouts & Use That Instead
The one tricky thing about using Google Voice internationally is that you can’t actually make or answer phonecalls with your old US number, at least not if you’ve signed-up to a local phone plan and now have a foreign phone number.
You see in order to make or answer calls through your Google Voice number you need to link it to another working US phone number (Google Voice then basically just forwards everything through that number). You CANNOT link it to an international phone number, only US-based numbers. So then what do you do?
The work-around is to link Google Voice to Google Hangouts and use that instead. The good news is it’s super easy to do!
Just download the Hangouts App on your phone or iPad (you can also access Hangouts via on the web on your computer), then link your Google Voice number and finally turn on ringing (= “ring on incoming phone calls” under settings). Now you can make calls from Hangouts AND Hangouts will ring on your phone and allow you to answer whenever someone calls your US number!
Once you’ve done this you will be able to do absolutely everything through Hangouts using your old US phone number. So you’ll be able to send and receive texts, you can send and receive phone calls & voicemails, AND you’ll be able to answer calls and talk to your friends & family back home. Plus you can do it all for FREE**!
**NOTE 1/ Hangouts calls received from any number are free, and Hangouts calls made from abroad back to US & Canadian numbers are free from all countries where Hangouts is available (some countries like China, Mexico, UAE etc. do not allow you to use Hangouts, but all European countries do). Hangouts uses either WiFi (if you’re connected to a WiFi network) or your cellphone data plan (if you’re not connected to WiFi) to do its business, so as long as you’ve got data you’re good to go.
NOTE 2/ When you link-up Voice & Hangouts this way, you’ll still get a copy of texts & voice mails on your e-mail. They’ll simply be transcribed & sent to the e-mail associated w/ your Google account.
We’ve been happily using Google Hangouts on our iPhones/Pads since we arrived in Europe and it’s been great. Paul’s family is able to call his old US cellphone number and keep in touch that way. Plus we’ve been able to get verification texts, bank-related calls and anything else we need from our old US number. Getting a copy of all our texts/voicemails through our e-mail has been a nice bonus.
The only gotchas? We’ve found Hangouts to be rather “laggy” on connecting (it takes a while after you answer the phone call before you actually get connected). Also, since Hangouts relies on your WiFi or data network, the quality of calls you get really depends on how fast that network is.
For the most part however it’s been flawless. It’s great that we’ve been able to keep our US numbers (we’ve both had them for years and years and really didn’t want to lose them), and it’s even better that we don’t actually have to pay anything to do so. It’s a simple process that I recommend everyone do before they move abroad.
Note/ I deliberately haven’t covered cellphone plans (either traveling with a US plan or getting a foreign plan) or other international calling methods like Skype or Facetime in this post. That’ll be a topic for another day….SPONSORED LINK:
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