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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How to keep your US phone number while traveling overseas


Here's the scenario: You're heading overseas for a long working holiday and you're not sure what to do when it comes to mobile plans and phones. Can you keep your current phone? If so how do you use it on a foreign network? Do you have to pay roaming charges if you call home? How do you keep your mobile phone number without paying a monthly contract? But don't worry. We've been down this road before and have compiled what we've learned here for your edification.

There are more ways today to stay connected with the world than ever. The internet has paved the way for Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Facebook Chat, just to name a few. While these are great ways of communicating with family and friends while traveling abroad, you'll probably still want a cell phone with some data for when you're trapped/lost/don't know which bust stop you need/have to get in touch with your local bank.

Let's start with your phone.

If you don't want to keep your current number: If you have a nice phone (i.e. expensive), you may prefer to keep using it when you're overseas. The easiest way to find out if you can is to check with your provider to make sure your phone is capable of working overseas and that they will let you unlock it to accept a foreign sim card. (We had cheap phones through Boost Mobile who doesn't let you unlock your phone until you've been with them for a year.) If you can keep your phone, using it will involve unlocking it and getting a sim card once you've reached your destination. The benefit to this is that you can make local calls in whatever country you're in via a local number.

Another option is to simply buy a new phone and sign up for service when you arrive at your destination.

If you want to keep your current number like we do because we continue freelancing with U.S. outlets while we're traveling, there are still options. The best option, in our humble opinion, is to port your U.S. number to Google Voice (which is now Google Hangouts). To do this you'll need to go to, sign up for an account, select the option to port your existing number, and pay $20. Make sure you port your number as close as possible to the day your current cell contract expires or you may risk incurring early termination fees because you'll be effectively canceling your service. You can do this with all the major network providers, including Boost Mobile, which is on the Sprint network.

An important note on this process: it must be done before you leave the U.S. because you'll have to be able to receive a confirmation call or text to finish the set up.

Unfortunately, we only did that with one of our phones thinking we could port the other once we got to Australia. Not so much. For the second phone there were far more hoops to jump through because we had to find a way to port the number that didn't require a text message, which we could no longer receive on that number. First we ported the number through which was a super technical and complicated process. It cost us $25. We set up a voicemail with the system which then sends an e-mail of the message transcript when someone calls. You can't call them back from your number, (or your new foreign number, unless you want to pay for expensive international calling) but you can via the internet, which brings us to our next point!

Internet calling! Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime and Facebook Messenger all offer ways to call friends, family and business associates from abroad provided you have an internet or local data connection and the app of your VOIP of choice. To video chat on any of these platforms the person on the other end obviously has to have the same app installed on their phone or tablet or computer, but voice calls can be made to landlines and cell phones, too (at least with Skype and Google). And the best part is that calls to the U.S. are free! Anywhere else it's only pennies a minute and super convenient. It's how we stay in touch with family and work contacts.

Of course, if you want to pay for it, most of the major carriers and high end phones will offer international roaming plans, but they're pretty pricey and definitely not worth it if you'll be traveling for more than a few weeks.

It can be complicated, but once it's done it's done and you don't have to worry about missing calls from home. So good luck and happy international calling!

JoshMcDarris / Author & Editor

Alisha is a freelance writer and photographer based in Austin, TX. She loves her tiny house, vegan food and experiencing the community of travel in far away places. She’s also pretty sure she’s addicted to coffee. [Portfolio]


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