****Note: I wrote this some time ago and forgot to post it! Hopefully it will prove useful****
We wanted to retain our US mobile numbers on a prepaid phone with no contract while we are out of the United States.
All providers researched cancel your phone number after a very short time of non-use, such as when we will be in Europe. T‑Mobile have a pre-paid plan for 1 year but you have to pay $100 to get the 1 year plan, then if you don’t use it during this time they cancel your number anyway!
After a bit of further research and a tip from the staff at the T‑Mobile store, we opted to use Google Voice for our needs. (Tip: staff at this particular store are the most helpful and efficient I have ever come across from a mobile phone operator anywhere. So if you live in the Phoenix area please give them a visit, they are great—ask for Cedrick Hilliker, the store manager).
Basically Google voice is an Internet phone service that allows you to “port” (transfer) your mobile number to them. Once the number is ported to Google Voice it never expires even without use! Perfect for our needs.
The process to make this happen is at first glance quite complicated & intimidating. But once you get the process down it makes sense and is in reality quite simple. The steps involved are:
1. Go to your local mobile provider and get a new pre-paid line and number for your phone. This will come with a new sim card. Tip: Try to do this towards the end of your current billing cycle so there are minimal additional costs when you activate the new line.
2. Go to the Google Voice home page and create an account log in. This is usually your Google credentials if you have previously set up a Google account, but if you don’t have a Google log-in it’ll ask you to create one here.
3. You’ll be asked if you want a new number or to port your mobile number. Choose the latter “port my mobile number”.
4. You’re then asked for your mobile number and account details (note for T‑Mobile the account number is 1 followed by your mobile phone number). You’ll also be asked for your T‑Mobile account PIN which you should have set up when you purchased the original prepaid plan.
5. After agreeing with a few warnings about what you are about to do, Google then calls your mobile to verify it, and when you respond you’re all set and the porting process begins. For us the process took around the advertised 24 hours-although typically Rita’s took about half the time to complete the process! (Note: Google charges $20 to port the number to them that has to be paid with Google Wallet).
6. When the porting process had begun I swapped out the SIM in our phones for the new number and our mobile service was uninterrupted, albeit temporarily on a new number.
7. Google emails you when the port is complete. Once you receive this email confirmation, log into Google Voice and set up your new mobile number as a forwarding number on your account. Then all calls to your old mobile (now your Google Voice number) will ring on your new mobile number. Neat!
That’s about all there is to setting it up.
On the iPhone it’s best to download the free Google Voice app and use it for calling out on your phone to ensure the recipient sees the correct caller id. Additionally texting is a little weird and you sometimes use the Google app and sometimes iMessage.
Leaving the US
On leaving the US we allowed these new T‑Mobile numbers to simply expire (and no payments required) since we will have no use for them when overseas. Our Google Voice number will continue in existence and when we return to the US we can obtain a new SIM card and number to activate our mobiles again.
While overseas our Google Voice number will also ring on our home line (with Vonage) and any voice mails will be captured there.
In the meantime when we reached Spain we bought a local pay-as-you-go SIM card (Vodafone) for €20 per month and enjoy the entire local calling benefits just like home, with 1.5Mb of data, unlimited texts and voice.
So far the Spanish phone works great and we’ll be getting another SIM card when we reach the UK this weekend (May 31) for Joanne’s fitness show.
This is definitely the way to go with the mobile phones. Total flexibility in the country you are visiting, the only downside being the initial cost of the unlocked iPhone.