*Originally published on September 15, 2017 but has since been updated to reflect new information.
A decision many expats must make is how to stay connected with family and friends back home after they move overseas. For individuals moving within the EU, the dilemma of keeping a phone number when moving to a new country is not as great and sometimes not present at all. If you live anywhere in Europe and are planning on moving elsewhere in Europe, Africa or Asia (with the exceptions of Japan and Korea), your phone will work. If you are moving to the Americas, make sure your phone has the 1900 and 850 MHz bands. For those of us trying to keep our USA phone number when moving abroad though, it’s a time of frustration and lots of research.
Many people get attached to their mobile numbers because they have had it for so long or rely on it so deeply.
The first thing you need to ask yourself is how long will you be overseas for? Will it be for less than a year, greater than one year, or temporarily permanent, a word we like to use meaning permanent but we have no idea where life will take us?
Next, you need to ask yourself how important keeping your current phone number is to you? Are you willing to part ways with the number you’ve had for years and get a new one or is this number your “ride or die” and parting ways is not an option?
Either way, moving abroad means making some changes. Here are a few of our top favorite phone options laid out for you.
How it works: You sign up for a new virtual local or international phone number. Your friends, family, and colleagues call this virtual number. Tossable forwards your calls for this number to any of your devices. You choose to answer or send to voicemail. Return the call or send an SMS text message anytime. Porting your existing number to Tossable is available and it’s free. Be sure to follow their porting instructions so you don’t risk losing your number before porting is complete.
How it works: You sign up for a Google Voice number. This can be a local or international number. You share this number with your friends, family, and colleagues for them to contact you on. When they call this number Google Voice forwards it to all your devices. You can choose to answer it or send to voicemail. Return the call or send an SMS text message anytime. If you want Google Voice to use your current phone number then porting is available, but there is a $20 one-time fee. Here are the directions on how to port your number to Google Voice.
The people at Digital Trends have a great article that will walk you through the process of setting up your Google Voice from your smartphone.
How it works: Download Skype to your desktop, smartphone or tablet. Create an account and begin searching for contacts that also have Skype. Send and receive calls from any of your devices. Send and receive SMS text messages as well. Answer your calls or send your caller to voicemail. Number porting is not available. Turn on or off your video calling feature at any time.
Here is a quick overview of our top 3 favorite options for expats moving overseas. You can see there isn’t much of a difference. Personally, we like the idea of porting your current number and forwarding it to your new local phone.
T-Mobile One Plus International
If T-Mobile is already your service provider then you can add One Plus International for an additional fee. This is a good option if you are only going overseas for a holiday or a short bit. If you don’t need your local plan while overseas you can opt for a “seasonal suspension.” For a single line, this means that for up to 90 days twice a year you can put your account on hold and only pay the $10 monthly maintenance fee.
New Sim Card
A SIM card is a little circuit board in your smartphone basically communicating with your service provider. It tells them you are legit and allowed to be on their network. It’s useful when you get new hardware because simply swapping out your SIM cards allows you to stay on your network, keep your number and keep all sorts of information on your phone like contacts. Your SIM card is essentially the brains of your phone.
When traveling overseas, switching out the SIM card is useful because you can simply purchase a plan in the new country on a local network that will be less expensive and more extensive than any international plan your previous provider was offering. This will help you avoid roaming charges.
It’s important to note that when swapping out your current SIM card for a local one in a foreign country means you will also have a new number. So, contacts back home will not be able to reach you unless it’s through data or the new number. No worries though, once you return home, swap back your original SIM card and all is back to normal.
*Some newer phones now have dual SIM like the Samsung Galaxy S10 and the Iphone10. A dual SIM setup lets you have two different phone numbers, while also letting you use one SIM for data and another for calls/texts.
Another point to note is that your smartphone must be “unlocked” or “jailbroken” to swap out SIM cards. Most newer phones allow for this so it shouldn’t really be an issue. Previously many carriers, particularly in English speaking areas of the world lock the phones they sell to their own network. That means that if you try to put a different carrier’s SIM card on your phone, it will be rejected. There are plenty of online companies that can unlock your phone for you – usually for a small fee.
Another option is to simply download the Whatsapp App. It will allow you to text and call your contact list anywhere in the world so long as you have a data plan. If simply traveling for a bit then hop on local WIFI and text for free with your phone. If moving overseas for a long period of time then this means dropping your network carrier in your home country and getting a new phone and new network carrier in your new country. With this app, you can communicate easily, start group chats and even send images.
We came across PureTalk USA, which could be a great option as a service provider for expats. They have competitive pricing, great coverage, and no contracts.