A common question we hear is, what did we do about our phone service plans before leaving the country? Did we cancel our services? Put them on hold for a while? Unlock them and get international SIM cards? Pay roaming fees? All great questions! Keep reading and we’ll show you how to keep your phone number while abroad.
How to Keep Your Phone Number While Abroad
A Little Background
After switching from Midwest Wireless (very old school) to AT&T to T-Mobile to Sprint to Virgin Mobile to Ting I finally settled on Page Plus. I came to use this service because they are on the Verizon network (which works well in Winona, MN) and they offer a $12 plan ($10 if you subscribe to automatic, monthly refills). This plan is basically 200 text, 200 minutes, and no data a month. This was perfect for me because I rarely make/receive phone calls, text moderately, and had recently kicked my smartphone habit. I traded in my Moto X for this…
I love it. Anyway, since November of 2016 I had been using this phone. It does what I need it to and I’m not worried about losing or destroying it. It cost me $10 dollars.
Hayley, for many years, had been using Virgin Mobile. Her plan, with taxes and phone insurance, was $45. She uses an iPhone SE, which cost roughly $300 to buy it outright. She had always been happy enough with the service and call quality so she never looked elsewhere. Virgin Mobile USA uses the Sprint network because Sprint owns them.
As our adventure was getting nearer, we still weren’t 100% what we wanted to do with our plans. We both wanted to keep our numbers (which we’ve had for many years) but we didn’t want to pay for service we couldn’t use without incurring massive fees.
I decided to bite the bullet and pay $10 a month for the sake of maintaining my phone number. I knew I could still make phone calls home with Google Voice, which I’ll explain more about in a moment.
Hayley called Virgin Mobile multiple times to see if they could put her account in hibernation or charge her a reduced rate for a year because she wouldn’t be using it. They declined. Virgin Mobile said the best they could do was to unlock her phone for international usage (which cost $150,) and then pay $50 a month (the Inner Circle plan). It was definitely not something we wanted to do because of the high cost of the plan. We were disappointed in Virgin Mobile’s response and relegated ourselves to losing Hayley’s number if need be.
Google Voice is kind of difficult to explain but it’s incredibly helpful to use. In order to use it, you must have an active cell/mobile phone plan. Once you have that, you can sign up for a phone number through google, just like getting an email address. Once you have the Google generated number, you can give that number to people instead of your physical phone’s number. Why would you do that? Well, Google Voice lets you do cool stuff like send SMS, MMS, and group texts from any computer, receive transcribed voice mails in your email, set Do No Disturb times for calls, and make phone calls through Gmail. Your physical phone’s number and your Google Voice number are now linked.
I’ll let this video explain a little more clearly.
The important thing to remember is this: I have two numbers; one on my phone and one on Google Voice.
This wasn’t immediately clear to me, but because I had 2 numbers I figured I could somehow get both Hayley’s number and my number under one umbrella. The number I’ve been using for years is my Google Voice number. I ported it from T-Mobile to Google years ago. So all those times I switched carriers I was able to keep the same number through Google.
I just had to port Hayley’s number from Virgin Mobile to Page Plus, so her number would be my physical phone’s number.
The Nitty Gritty
Step one was to get Hayley’s Virgin Mobile account information. We didn’t know it at the time but you have to call in order to get your account number. It is not the same as your phone number and it does not appear on your Virgin Mobile account page. You must call to get this. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the right account number. We’ll get to that snafu in a moment.
Then we called Page Plus and explained we wanted to port a number in to replace my current one. The process is kind of straight forward, but still pretty tedious, as long as you have all the info. The Page Plus service technicians not knowing English as a first language also made the process difficult to understand. At times it was pretty much impossible to know what was going on.
Once that went through, we waited…a week. By this time we were in Auckland, NZ.
I went through Page Plus’s online chat help (which is great!) and they told me the porting service did not go through because we didn’t have the right account number. Bummer!
The Plot Thickens
We had to call Virgin Mobile to get that number. We didn’t want to make an international phone call at this point – the fees were just too much to think about. Luckily I was able to make calls to landlines in the U.S. through Gmail (because I have a Google Voice number), which we did.
I finally got the correct account number from Virgin Mobile and passed it to Page Plus. Success! Kind of. Hayley’s number had been ported to my physical phone, which was great, but it removed my physical phone’s number from Google Voice as a result. And the only way I could add a new number to Google Voice was by verification through text.
Problem was, I had my phone with me and I can’t receive texts on my phone (different from text in Google Voice) in New Zealand because I don’t have international service. I thought I would have to mail back my phone to the U.S. ($45 minimum), so it would get service, and then ask a friend to walk through the verification process. By now I’m asking myself if it was really worth it to keep your phone number while abroad?
The Beauty of Dumb Phones
What I ended up doing was buying a Page Plus phone on ebay for $10 (free shipping) and had it mailed to a friend’s house. Then, my friend told me the unique serial number of the back of the phone, which I passed to Page Plus, and told Page Plus I wanted to switch from dumb phone 1 to dumb phone 2 (which happened to be in Minnesota).
Once I switched my old phone for my newer one, I was able to verify my new phone (pictured above) with Page Plus and I was able to verify Hayley’s number through Google Voice once they sent a text to my Minnesota cell phone (which a friend relayed to me). Now if anyone calls/texts Hayley’s or my number, it goes through Google Voice and we can respond as needed. Hayley has her iPhone with her, it just has no service. That’s fine because we can still use it for GPS and on Wi-Fi for video chat.
Whew! It was a lot of work, but worth it, to keep your phone number while abroad.
There was a lot of rigmarole in this process because I failed to plan ahead. Because I didn’t plan how this was going to work, I had to buy a phone through ebay and mail it to my buddy. Then he had to relay some numbers to me – not a huge pain but more work than it needed to be.
- Paid $10 a month for Page Plus service and $10 for a flip phone
- Ported my phone number to Google Voice
- Ported Hayley’s number to my Page Plus phone
- Subscribe to automatic refills through Page Plus to reduce plan cost to $10
If any of that still isn’t making sense, sound off in the comments and I’ll try to clarify.