As more Americans act on their expat dreams, many are discovering a common challenge faced by expats around the globe – how to keep an active US phone number. There are many reasons expats would want to hold onto their existing American phone number while living overseas.
- To receive two factor authentication texts when logging into their US based bank and credit card websites.
- To ensure businesses or individuals with whom you don’t communicate regularly can get in touch with you.
- To return to that phone number on visits back to the States, or when moving back home at the end of your expat adventures.
Luckily, expats today have an abundance of options when it comes to phone number use and management. The list below describes the most common challenges expats most face with respect to staying connected by phone and text, along with the best solutions for each of them.
HOW TO KEEP YOUR US PHONE NUMBER AFTER YOU’VE MOVED ABROAD
As an expat, one of the first things you’ll want to do regarding phone service is to drop your US based carrier just after you’ve moved abroad. Or even, before you leave! The solutions that follow are my best picks for how to keep your US phone number after you’ve moved overseas, and the specific problem that solution best addresses.
Receiving voicemail and SMS
No matter where you find yourself, you’ll want to stay connected with friends, family and possibly even US based businesses and service providers. Using an internet phone service while traveling is one of the best ways to cheaply stay in touch with your American contacts.
- Google Fi
Even though Google Fi isn’t designed to be a long-term solution, a significant number of expats have reportedly used the service for years without any drawbacks. One of the essential advantages Fi offers is its flexible approach to data usage. For $20, you get access to unlimited texts and calls, and then pay an additional fee based on how much data you use. It’s easy to use since you can set everything up from your Google account in just a few minutes. Also, you can choose a new phone number, but if you want to keep your old one, make sure to port your number while you’re still in the US. When you come back, you can also port your number back to your mobile service provider.
There are several downsides to Google Fi, however. If you face any problems, forums and reviews may be of better help since Google offers little in the way of customer service. Another drawback… Fi will start throttling your connection after using 15 GB of data in a any one cycle, so keep data usage in mind before opting for this service.
In addition, before switching to Google Fi, check out the list of compatible devices. Fi is primarily an Android-supported service, so your iPhone may not work as smoothly as you would like. On that note, if you’re considering buying a new phone before going abroad, check Google Fi’s “Designed” list to see which devices you can buy with your plan and that will give you the best user experience.
- Tossable Digits
Tossable Digits can be a great solution for phone number porting, especially if you need more than one phone number. This virtual phone number service allows you to add new phone numbers to your device and transfer calls and messages to your old number. Their pricing is pretty good, ranging from $3.49 per month for a pay-as-you-go version to $39 for a professional plan. Better yet, all of their plans are contract-free. Tossable Digits has a call recording option and voicemail, and they also allow you to port your number out. If you stumble upon any problems, they have excellent and promptly responsive customer service.
Furthermore, they have an option to set up when you want to receive your calls and when you want them to go straight to voicemail which is pretty neat if you’re on the other side of the globe and your friends forget about time zones. One downside, however, is that they don’t offer group messages.
Another big upside of Tossable Digits… you can manage the port of your old phone number to their virtual service after leaving the US.
- Google Voice
Google Voice is a free service that merges all of your phone numbers into a single number. It means that your friends and family will be able to call you on your US phone number no matter where you are in the world. If you run out of battery in the middle of a conversation, you can keep chatting from any other device, including your computer. Moreover, Voice has a porting option, but it’ll charge you $20 for the service, and it’s limited to mobile numbers, meaning that you can’t port your landline number. Also, you should consider that porting has to occur before leaving the country. Otherwise, you’ll end up waiting for your messages and calls up to 72 hours, which is how long it takes to confirm the process.
As for downsides to Google Voice, most users indicate that Voice’s biggest downfall has been a lack of emergency calls together with a complete lack of customer support. The same goes for porting your number back if and when you return to the US. Not only can the confirmation take up to 72 hours, but if you have problems, you might find your beloved phone number is impossible to port out of Voice and back to a carrier.
2. Receiving a 2FA
Adding multiple layers of protection to your credentials can be challenging while you’re abroad. If you’re interested in improving your security, consider using two-factor authentication to strengthen your account. In most cases, it includes a standard password in combination with a code that users receive via SMS to make accounts more resilient to possible threats. Since expats often can’t receive SMS messages outside the borders of their own country, the second step of the authentication has to be done with other types of authentication.
- Two-factor Authentication Apps
The first option, and the best one in our opinion, is to install a two-factor authentication app. The most popular 2FA apps are Google Authenticator and Authy. The app connects to your accounts, and any time a service you’ve been using requires authentication, the app generates a new code. Security codes are usually valid for about a minute, and they’re available even if you lose internet connection for a moment.
Moreover, app-generated codes are safer since they’re never in transit, and there’s a lesser chance of your data being compromised. The drawback of Google Authenticator is that it’s available only on mobile, meaning that you won’t be able to use the authenticator to access your accounts if you lose your phone. Authy allows you to use the authenticator on various devices and it has encrypted backups in the cloud, offering you the opportunity to access all of your credentials painlessly.
- USB Stick for Code Generation
If you don’t want to bother with apps and SMS authentication altogether, a USB stick for secondary code generation like a Fido U2F Key may be the best pick for you. They’re often smaller than a fingernail and can be attached to your keychain. Their most significant advantage is that they’re easy to use, and they’re hard to crack since every time you click the button, it generates a new security code. On the other hand, if you lose keys and your possessions quite easily, this may not be the best option for you.
- International Call Forwarding Services
The evolution of Voice over Internet Protocol or more commonly known as VoIP, has brought us an affordable and easy-to-use option to forward calls from our home country anywhere in the world. This way, you can forward calls to landline and mobile devices in any location you are, and you don’t have to worry about international phone rates. Most call forwarding services offer free phone numbers all across the globe, along with the possibility to ring multiple phone numbers simultaneously and schedule your calls based on your preferences. Also, you can route voicemail to your email and record your calls if it’s necessary.
If you want to upgrade your phone service to meet all your needs on the go, buckle up and start researching. List your priorities and needs and learn how to swim in a sea of information that you’ll most certainly dive into.