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How to keep US cell phone while living in Europe: vonage, skype, or others?

I have had a US cellphone number for roughly 15 years. I recently moved to Europe for a permanent job. I'm interested in keeping my US cellphone number so that family in the US can call, and I can still use the number when I visit the US 2x a year.

I can't afford to carry ATT monthly service along with my cellular service in Europe, so are my known options:

  1. Convert to prepaid: I can port the number to a prepaid provider and just "top off" the number every so often so that it stays active.
  2. VoIP: port the number to Vonage or Oomla. I'll have to pay a subscription, but these are much less than ATT monthly fees
    1. Google voice: I currently have Google Voice, but I'm a huge fan knowing that Google randomly decides to "turn off" or cancel certain features of products it provides. (For example, it might turn off call forwarding or other options at any time.)

Alright travel aficionados and tech nerds... What are my best options here?

Posted by
9363 posts

I would go with the prepaid. I keep one around at home just as a spare. It is a triple minute phone, so a 60 minute card gives me 180 minutes (which I never use) and three months of service, for $19.99.

Posted by
5649 posts

You could simply port the number directly to Google Voice (one-time $20 fee). Yes, I know you can't use the Google Voice app in Europe but you can use Google Hangouts to receive and make calls on WiFi or on mobile data. This obviously isn't a great solution if you want to use the number constantly in Europe. At least you'd be able to continue to receive calls and not lose the number - without paying more than the one-time $20 fee. Maybe someday you can figure out a better option.

Presumably you'd be able to make calls to the US with some other service more cheaply with some other number, maybe your European number - so a few family and friends might have to add a second number for you to their contacts. You could still make free calls with Hangouts when you are on WiFi.

And when you visit the US, activate prepaid cell service while you are there and assign Google Voice to the number, so you can use your number with regular cell service during your visits.

Posted by
3041 posts

I have a 17 year old great nephew studying with the Cranko Schule at the Stuttgart ballet and he loves his Magic Jack voip. About $50 for the device at Walmart and you get a year of service with it. Then it's $35 per year. They do have a onetime charge to port the number. Once attached to a computer, it acts as if it were a US based land line to make and receive calls from/to US, Canada and Mexico.

When I travel, I take my jack with me and just plug it into my laptop's USB port and use a headset. Fine for conducting business and personal calls overseas. There's also an app for use on cell phones and tablets. For thirty five bucks, it's hard to beat.

Posted by
11294 posts

I'd convert to prepaid (that's what my sister did in a similar situation). That way, you have a cell phone for when you are in the US. Otherwise, you'll have to buy a prepaid phone when you return, or you'll be cell-phone less, which these days is a major pain (particularly when you're visiting, as you're more likely to be wanting to receive calls while you're moving around, so you won't be at a fixed number).

Just be sure you have arranged top-ups over the Internet or auto-bill on a credit card, or that you have a friend/family member who will do it for you in the US. AT&T's prepaid plans need regular topping up to avoid expiration.

Posted by
10 posts

I agree with Andrew H's suggestion. I, too, have Google Voice (and Hangouts, which uses the Google Voice Caller ID), and have shuffled back and forth to Europe over the years. Even if Google Voice were to suddenly withdraw their service, say, in three months, you would most likely be able to port the number on. (One such "parking" place is, until you pick a new US provider, should Google Voice suddenly end, in that example.) In terms of visits back to the US, as long as your current smartphone is compatible with US frequencies - and unlocked - you can go to a retailer like WalMart and get an offer like the SIM for $45 bucks, giving you enough data, plus unlimited talk and text, for a home visit. And, using your Google Voice number to forward to the number Straighttalk/etc. assigns, keeps everything transparent for your contacts. Kind regards, Frank S

Posted by
10 posts

And a quick P.S. to my post above: another benefit of porting your number over to Google Voice is that your existing US texting number stays intact. Your family and friends texting you use the same number they always do - and you receive that text over data - WiFi or 4G/3G - either in the Google Voice/Hangouts app, or as an email - which you can reply back to, avoiding international texting fees. Kind regards, Frank S

Posted by
8944 posts

I use AT&T GoPhone for when I go home. I top off as necessary, which isn't too often as i'm only home once a year. I finally figured out that they let you keep your number for 60 days after your balance has expired, so a purchase of $25 of credit that lasts 90 days actually "lasts" me 150 days (well 148 or 149 to be safe) before I need to top back up. I don't use data back home, so I'm on a plan that costs $2 each day that I use the phone - so for about $42 of charges if I'm home for three weeks, all my calls and texts to family and friends are included (texts or calls to my husband if he stays back in France like he did this trip cost extra, of course, but it's reasonable and we figure out ways for him to call me on the landline at my parents' etc.).

This way I have the same phone with the same number (and my family and friends' numbers in the phone) when I go home -- I don't understand if you did the straight talk thing it sounds like you'd get a new # every time you went to the States. I recharge the phone before departing Paris, and upon arrival at my first airport in the States, I'm able to call mom and dad!

I don't know if this is the most "tech savvy" method, but it's simple enough and works for me.

Edit: In fact I'm quite SURE that it's not the most tech-savvy solution!! Let's not kid ourselves! : )