About one month before leaving on this adventure, I realized that it wasn’t necessary for us to have our standard AT&T/Verizon plans as both of our iPhones were unlocked and we could just either buy local sim cards in every country or survive solely on hotels/restaurants having WIFI. We chose the latter as there is WIFI everywhere and so far we have never needed to buy a sim card.
So, if you want to keep your phone number (I did, as I have had it for the past 10+ years) and not pay the crazy monthly cell phone bills (there is no way of putting your billing cycle on hold without paying a minimum contract of $50+/month unless you are in the military), here is what you need to do a few days before leaving (1 day before will suffice if you need your phone until the last minute).
1. Keep your Number with Google Voice
There are a few services that let you port your number, receive voice mails, and forward calls, but there is only one (that I know of) that has no monthly fee for these services – Google Voice. You pay $20 to port your number, Google cancels your cell phone contract for you (if you are out of your contract – even better), then all your calls come through Google Voice. If you are on WIFI and have Gmail open, you can answer calls to your number and talk for free. If you aren’t online, the caller will hear a voice mail message that you set up, and voice mails are forwarded to your email, mobile app, and Google Voice inbox, including the transcribed text. When you call others in the US in Gmail, your number on the recipients caller ID is your same number.
2. Make the Switch
TIP: Do this BEFORE leaving as you MUST be in US to set this up. I had to wait one month until my phone was unlocked, so I could only do this while abroad – this becomes more tricky as you need a US IP address. Luckily, our super cool and tech savvy friend Gene was able to provide a proxy to make it seem like our computer was in US while in fact I was in Uruguay.
- Open google.com/voice and log in with an existing gmail account or create a new one;
- Click Change/Port Number under the Phone tab in settings (gear icon, top right). Follow the instructions (you’ll need your account number at your current carrier). Accept all of the warnings, terms and conditions, and pay the $20.00 fee.
- Within a day or two after this step, your cell phone won’t ring at this number. When the porting is finished, you’ll get an email/text notification. Another good reason to still be in US while porting is so Google can send you a text message.
- More detailed instructions via Google.
The nice thing about this service, is that Google does it all for you – dealing with your provider, etc. You just sit and wait 🙂
3. Using Google Voice:
In all honesty, we haven’t really used Google Voice after the port as all we wanted to do was save the phone number. We primarily use Skype, FaceTime and Facebook for all communication. However, Google has a lot of documentation about its features.
- There is a one time $3 fee to port your number away from Google Voice. For users who ported their mobile numbers into Google Voice, the fee is waived.
- How to port the number OUT of Google Voice instructions.
- You can then initiate the port with your new service provider (you can use your Google Voice number as your account number).
And you are now all set!