One of the most stressful thoughts about moving to Germany for
a year two years and counting was losing my American cell phone number. How would people ever contact me again? I am from Houston-proper, I can’t just give up the coveted 713 area code only to move back and risk and obtaining an 832, or worse, a 281. This may sound dramatic, but my phone number is damn good (even if I rarely use it these days).
Keep Your Cell Phone Number When Moving Abroad with Google Voice
Thanks to my best friend in the world, technology, specifically, Google, there is a pretty viable solution to keep you connected to (albeit also heavily spied on by) the USA while abroad. Google Voice provides the option to “port” your current cell phone number on their system. Porting transfers the rights to the phone number from the phone company to Google Voice.
With Google Voice, you can text message and call local numbers from your number via their web and mobile apps in cooperation with Google Talk. It also provides low tariffs for calling international numbers, too.
If you are still within your contract period, you can still port your number on Google Voice, but it will cancel your contract and you will likely pay a hefty contract termination fee. My advice if you are moving abroad it to provide proof to the phone company that you are moving internationally and have no use for this plan anymore, if you are lucky, you may get to avoid paying the termination fee.
If you are not attached to your number, I still recommend creating a Google Voice account to stay in touch with the US. You can also claim one of the available Google Voice numbers and share it with your friends and family to call and text for free abroad.
Setting Up Your Ported Google Voice Number
Google charges a one-time fee of $20 to port your number.
Once your number is ported, you will need to go into your Google Voice settings and check the box to “Forward calls to Google Chat”. When someone calls you, a Google Chat box will pop up, revealing the phone number and answering options.
You can also take this time to set up a new voicemail and the other features like call forwarding (only to other US numbers), call screening, and voicemail transcribing. Call forwarding is perfect for trips home. When I travel home, I buy a pay-as-you-go SIM Card (lately, Wal*Mart StraightTalk Wireless), and then forward my Google Voice number to my temporary number so that I can receive and make calls easily in the USA without having to provide my friends and family with a temporary number.
Calling and Texting with Your Google Voice Number
I usually perform all of my Google Voice activity directly from my Gmail account. I use the Google Voice Chrome extension to text message from my browser’s toolbar and I use Google Chat to call numbers directly at home. However, when I am out and about I use the Google Voice app to SMS anyone who I have not convinced to adopt the more user-friendly likes of WhatsApp or Viber.
The Google Voice mobile phone app does not allow calling from it with an international number, but some third-party apps like GV Phone (iPhone, Android) do allow this option and are viable options when you have a strong data or internet connection.
If you are moving home and you want to transfer your number back to a mobile provider, you will need to port your number out of Google Voice. It’s that simple!
What did you do with your number when moving abroad?
UPDATE 15 June 2014: Do not upgrade your Google Chat to Google Hangouts within Gmail on your computer. If you do upgrade to Hangouts, you will no longer be able to dial numbers from your Google Voice number. Google apparently will fix this, but for the time being it’s best to stick with the old Google Chat/Talk.
UPDATE 7 October 2014: Google is doing great things with your Google Voice options. It now integrates well with Hangouts and with the Hangouts Dialer app on Android you can make calls and texts over data to +1 numbers without a problem. Google Voice now also integrates MMS, which never functioned before. Thanks for stopping by and please continue to share your experiences with Google Voice to help out other readers seeking answers.