Using Google Voice to Stay in Touch While Living AbroadEver heard of Google Voice?  If not, know that this could be one of the best ways of staying in touch with family and friends while you’re living abroad.

One of the small concerns we had was how to keep communication simple with everyone while we’re living in Panama.  When we get there, we’re going to get Panamanian cell service for our phones.

The problem is that gives us a Panamanian phone number.  So if we call anyone in the U.S. or they call us, it’s an international call.  That means some potential extra money for each phone call… and we know I don’t like that!

Plus, we have to ensure that everyone has our new number, which can also be a pain.

Another option is to use Hangouts, Skype, WhatsApp, or some other messaging app that supports Internet phone calls (aka VoIP).  But imagine trying to get everyone you know to use the same solution and teach some of the non-technical folks to use it… ugh.  Not a fan of that either.

As a side note, WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) is the go-to solution for almost the entire world with the U.S. being one of the few exceptions.  Instead of asking someone for their phone number, it’s common in places like Panama to ask, “What’s your WhatsApp?”.  Consider that your useless piece of trivia for the day.

So what’s a long-time international traveler or expat living abroad supposed to do?  There are a few different answers to that one, but I figured out a nice seamless way to handle this by leveraging the power of Google Voice.

Be aware that everything we’re talking about here isn’t limited to expats.  This is something you can implement regardless to take advantage of the functionality it offers.

 

Google Voice – what the heck is that?

Wait, you don’t know what Google Voice is?  Oh, you’re in for a real treat!

Google Voice is a sort of phone service that provides some cool features like:

  • Call-forwarding
  • Call recording
  • Call screening
  • Voicemail transcription
  • Text messaging (including through the web)
  • Spam protection
  • Multiple voicemail greetings you can swap on and off (out-of-office, for example)

Most importantly, it’s 100% free!

I was using Google Voice before it was Google Voice.  The service was initially GrandCentral and then Google bought the company back in 2009.  I loved it, but I switched back to their “Lite” version after a couple of years because it had some limitations back then (that aren’t there any longer).

Hearing that it does call-forwarding and other stuff might not sound that impressive.  But what makes this bad-@#$ is what you can do with it.

You get issued a phone number with Google Voice or you can port your current phone number over to them (more on that one shortly).  That number lives “in the cloud” at Google and it’s also the one that you give out to friends and family.

You then link your actual phone number to the account.  You can also link other numbers to it as well like a home phone or a business line (if you have a direct line).

So when someone calls your Google Voice number, you can have it automatically ring on your phone, other phones, and even on your computer!  In other words, you’re no longer tied to a specific phone or phone number, but folks calling you don’t know the difference.

Here’s an example of how things currently work…

Normal carrier

And that’s sad, right?  I can see you welling up just seeing this.

But, here’s what happens with Google Voice in place…

Google Voice

That’s a happier ending to the story, right?!

Additionally, Google Voice allows you to make outbound calls from your phone or your computer and those calls come from your Google Voice number as well.  In a nutshell, the “real” number on your phone isn’t really relevant.

Starting to see how this can be a unique asset?

 

Porting your number

The final piece to this fun is that you’re able to port your phone number over to GV.  They do charge a one-time fee of $20 for this, but then you’re done.

Porting just means that you’re taking your current phone number and moving it over to your new provider.  In this case, you’re moving it to Google.

So instead of needing to give friends and family your new Google phone number, you make your existing number your GV number.  That eliminates having to give out a new number to friends and family.

 

Pulling this altogether

So here’s how we’re personally using this to make communication seamless for everyone back home.

Some of you know that we’re currently using Total Wireless while here in the States… considering that you use the same Verizon network for a fraction of the cost, if you’re a Verizon customer, it’s hard to find a reason not to!

I ported my number to GV a couple of weeks ago.  This canceled my service with Total Wireless once it took place, which is what’s supposed to happen.  That then left a slot in my account to activate a new phone.

I called Total Wireless and they issued me a new phone number for my phone and activated the line.  I then linked that new number to my Google Voice account.

Now for the test – I called my old phone number from my wife’s phone… success.  It rang on my cell and we were good to go.

I also tested texting… another success.  Be aware that you use the Voice app for texting – you can’t (at least not fully) use other texting apps for this because it’s using data/Wi-Fi and not the regular voice lines of the carrier.

So for giggles, I put my phone in airplane mode and then turned on only Wi-Fi where I was connected at home.  I was able to make and receive calls and text messages with zero reliance on my cell carrier.

Cool, right?

After we tested everything successfully, I repeated the process on Mrs. R2R’s phone… we’re now in business!

 

Why is this so useful when living abroad?

When we get to Panama, our service with Total Wireless won’t work (it’s domestic only).  We’ll let that month’s service run-out and not renew (this is a month-to-month plan).

Right off the rip, I’ll connect to the Wi-Fi at Tocumen International Airport (PTY) and call home to say that we’re there safe and sound.

I’ll then get a SIM card at the airport for my phone.  It’ll be with a carrier in Panama like Movistar.  That SIM card will give my phone a Panamanian cell phone number.  We’ll do the same for Mrs. R2R once we get to Boquete where it’s a little cheaper.

The important thing is that I don’t care about that Panamanian number we get.  I also don’t care about the limit on phone minutes or texting.  All I care about is the data. And in places other than the U.S., providers usually give you unlimited data (or close to it) and skimp on the minutes – yes, the U.S. is backward in something else as usual… imperial vs. metric, anyone?

The reason we only care about the data is that all of our phone calls to and from the U.S. will travel over the Internet on our side of the call instead of being regular cell phone calls.  The same goes for text messages.

So while we’re in an area where we’re connected via Wi-Fi (our home, a store, or wherever), all inbound and outbound calls/SMS will use that connection.  When we’re out and about otherwise, the calls and text messages will use our data plan.

As a side note, we can still make regular calls if we need to in Panama with our new Panamanian number.  However, it’s usually a little more common to use WhatsApp for phone calls/messaging there.  And similar to Google Voice, this is all done over data/Internet, so no problems there either.

Overall, we’ll be able to handle all calls – both domestic and internationally – simply using the low-cost monthly cell phone plan in Panama with the help of Google Voice.

When we’re coming back to the U.S. for a visit, we’ll re-activate our service with Total Wireless for a month or for however long necessary.  Then when we get actually land in the States, we’ll pop in our Total Wireless SIM cards and we’re back in action.

All of this is done seamlessly with family and friends not knowing any different.  To them, they’ll be able to make calls/texts to us or receive them just like they always have been over the years.

It’s also pretty hassle-free for us as well.  We just swap SIM cards based on the country we’re in and make sure we have service with a carrier in the country we’re in.  Everything else is handled through Google Voice.

How’s that for bad-@#$?!!

 

Making this magic Google Voice implementation happen

Important: Be aware that if you’re porting your number to GV, your service plan will be canceled with your existing provider.  If you are still under contract, you may be charged an early termination fee by your current carrier.

I highly recommend discussing a game plan with your carrier first so you know what’s going to take place and what you’ll need to do once the porting is complete.

The first step to this is to head on over to Google Voice and sign up.  Follow the prompts to pick a GV number.  As Google notes in their help page on porting your number, “You’ll be prompted to pick a new number, but your ported number will soon replace it, so it won’t matter what that number is.”

Choose a Google Voice number

After you pick a number, you’ll need to verify your actual existing phone number that you have with your carrier:

Link a phone to your GV number

Once that’s done, you’re in like Flynn!  Now it’s time to actually port your number over.  Click on the hamburger menu in the top left and then “Legacy Google Voice.”

Legacy Google Voice

In the top right, click the settings cog and then “Settings.”

GV Settings

Click on the “Phones” tab and then “Change / Port Transfer.”

Making this magic Google Voice implementation happen

Choose “I want to use my mobile number” and then follow the prompts to ensure you can port your number over and to get the ball rolling…

Making this magic Google Voice implementation happen

Check number eligibility

Making this magic Google Voice implementation happen

Time to put in your account information that you have with your current cell provider.  You’ll also need the security PIN you have set up with them.  Hopefully, you keep that in your password manager!

And that’s it… now you wait.  In the case of both of our phones, it took exactly 24 hours before the process actually took place.  At that point, after maybe 10 minutes, I got an email confirming that the porting of the number was now complete.

In that time while we waited, our phones continued to work as normal so don’t think you’re dead in the water.  While you’re waiting, you might as well install the Google Voice app for Android or iPhone on your phone.

But once it’s done, be ready because you’ll have been booted from your cell phone provider.  You can now make phone calls and send and receive text messages through the Voice app (I’ll show you my settings shortly), but this will only work over Wi-Fi right now because you don’t have a data provider yet.

Basically, you’ll be limited until you take the next step.  It’s time to call your cell phone provider (from another phone if possible) to set up new service and get a new phone number.  As a reminder, we don’t care what that new phone number is because that’s not the one you give out to everyone.

If you’re looking to also change providers at this time, don’t forget you’ll need to have a SIM card from the new carrier first.  In the case of Total Wireless, you can pick these up at Walmart.

Once you get the new service plan and phone number lined up with your carrier, you’re almost done!

 

Setting up the Google Voice app

So, the last piece of this is configuring the Google Voice app.  I’ll show you the way I have it set up, but you might want to tweak things differently once you figure out what works best for you.

Also, bear in mind that these screenshots are on my Android phone.  So if you’re an iPhone user, I think the logical move would be for you to sell your phone and get an Android one so the screenshots will match up.  😛

Head into the Voice app, hit the menu, and find your way into the Settings page.  Once you’re there, you’re looking for the “Devices and linked numbers.”  That’s where you tell Voice what you want to connect to your GV number:

Linked numbers

So in my case, I have my phone listed (that’s right, I’m still rocking an S8!).  The blurred out number below that is the phone number I have through Total Wireless.  I also have that same number listed under “Linked Numbers.”

What’s really cool is that you can add other numbers as well.  If you have a direct number at work, for instance, you can add that as a linked number, too.  I’ll mention that in the “Call forwarding” discussion shortly.

Linked numbers

In the next section called “Messages”, you’re deciding how you want your text messages handled…

Messages

The “Forward messages to linked numbers” setting is in case you want a copy of your texts to go to your regular messaging app.  I don’t have a reason for this because I don’t believe you can also send from your regular messaging app, which makes this useless for me.  I’m doing everything through the Voice app, so I didn’t connect anything there.

The “Forward messages to email” toggle will let you send a copy of every text message to your email address.  Not my thing, but feel free.

And the Message notifications is where you can configure how you want to be notified of new text messages.  I made my use the same notification sound as my old text messaging app.

Next up, is the “Calls” section…

GV Calls

There are a couple of items in here I want to mention.  The first is the “Make and receive calls” section.  What you select here will probably be in relation to the plan you have with your carrier.  For us, we’ll prefer our carrier while here in the U.S. where the data costs more.

However, once we get to Panama, we’ll change that to make the calls over Wi-Fi and mobile data since that’s the cheaper option.  We’ll toggle that as we travel back and forth between the two countries.

Make and receive calls

The “Call forwarding” section is where you decide where you want your calls to ring.  In my case, I want phone calls from GV to be forward to ring on my phone (obviously) and also on my laptop (“Web” in the screenshot below), which I toggle on and off as needed.

If you added other linked numbers earlier, you can turn these numbers on and off as well.  So if you have your direct work number setup, you can have that phone ring, too.

Call forwarding

Here’s an important one – “Calls started from this device’s phone app.”  Turning this on allows you to use your regular phone dialer to make calls.  Google Voice sees that your trying to make a call, intercepts it real quick, and places the call through the Voice app.

That ensures that the call comes from your GV number – the one everyone recognizes.  Otherwise, the recipient will see the phone number that your carrier assigned to you, which defeats the purpose for most cases.

Outgoing calls

The Voicemail section should be pretty self-explanatory.  This is where you’ll set up your voicemail greeting.  You can set one up like you’re used to or you can create different ones to toggle on or off as desired (maybe vacation or out-of-office).

The “Get voicemail via […]” options allow you to get a copy of your voicemails sent to you through text message or email.  I don’t have either of these turned on, but feel free if it works for you.  The Voice app allows you to hear and see the transcription of your voicemail messages, which is enough for me.

Voicemail

Those are the most important settings in the Voice app to get things up and running.  There are all kinds of other bells and whistles that you can toy with and configure to your liking.

Just a reminder, the Google Voice app is your best friend.  That’s where you do all your text messaging and check your voicemails.  You can also use it for dialing numbers, but you’re able to use the regular phone dialer for this as well if you configured it as I mentioned earlier.

I do recommend removing any shortcuts to your old text messaging app from your home screen and maybe even hide it in your apps list.  If you send text messages from that app instead of the Voice app, it’ll come from the new number that we don’t care about and you’ll get the infamous…

via GIPHY

 

What went wrong for us?

Ok, that was a lot of information but hopefully, it’s useful.  So what kind of issues did we run into switching over to this cool setup?

Not much, believe it or not!  I just had to do a little tweaking.

For instance, after I first ported over my phone, I had to spend around 15 minutes on the phone with Total Wireless to get my new number.  My phone didn’t take the activation for some reason.  I rebooted it a second time and we were golden.  That’s a tolerable problem in my book!

The second time around when I did my wife’s phone, I was feeling more confident.  I just handled everything online and didn’t even need Total Wireless for that one!

The other problem I had was that I didn’t have my phone forwarding missed calls for voicemail to Google Voice.  Ok, that’s not completely true – I had it forwarding but just to a different number.  The reason for that is because we were using Google Voice Lite just for voicemail transcription up until now.  This isn’t something most folks would run into.

The fix for this was pretty easy.  I just needed to dial *71 + my Google Voice phone number to tell my phone to forward things over.  Boom, done.

That’s it!  Everything else seems to be working great.  I still sit in front of my computer a lot and I love that I can text right from the Google Voice site.  I keep a tab always open just for that.  I also like that I can answer calls right on my laptop – no phone necessary.


If you try this out and it doesn’t work the way you want it to, be aware that you are able to port your number out of GV as well.  So you do have the ability to reverse the process.

Per Google:

Unlocking your Google Voice number costs $3, but it’s free if your number was originally ported in from a mobile service provider.

Google Voice is like magic – smoke and mirrors, so to speak.  Once you understand how it works, it’s pretty straightforward, but it fills a great void.

For expats like we’re about to be or long-term international travelers, this can be a great solution.  It allows you to seamlessly stay in touch with friends and family at home with very little effort (or cost!) on your part.

 

Have you ever used Google Voice before?  Can you see how the power of this free service can be worthwhile while living abroad?

 

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

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Using Google Voice to Stay in Touch While Living Abroad

41 thoughts on “Using Google Voice to Stay in Touch While Living Abroad

  • April 16, 2019 at 7:22 am
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    I imported by number to Google Voice when we moved to Shanghai and it’s worked really well. I really have appreciated that I didn’t have to change the number on all my accounts (since I have 2-factor authentication for everything possible). I don’t use the call forwarding feature currently, since there’s a 12-hour time difference and I’d be getting calls in the middle of the night, but it will be useful when we go back to the US to visit for sure! I’m excited to hear more expat hacks that I can use-you’re going to have such a great experience! ;).

    Reply
    • April 16, 2019 at 2:12 pm
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      Haha, that would definitely suck to get calls in the middle of the night. It’s nice that you can toggle it on and off though as needed. I never thought about the 2-factor authentication aspect of things – I’m in the same boat you are with that turned on everywhere so that’ll definitely be a time saver of not having to change all my accounts.

      — Jim

      Reply
  • April 16, 2019 at 10:29 am
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    While running a startup it can be hard to set work boundaries and shut it off when on vacation or a weekend. When I was running my startup I used google voice. One feature great for this was being able to set a ring schedule for various business phone numbers. With my business number up everywhere I don’t want my phone ringing at 3am or on a Sunday during family dinner. You can set hours for the different phone numbers so business calls don’t wake you or bother you on vacation but calls to my personal number still get through in emergencies.

    Reply
    • April 16, 2019 at 2:18 pm
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      I can see how that would be a huge benefit to use Google Voice for a start-up or other small business. I like the idea of setting up different hours for different phone numbers. I didn’t even know you could schedule that – that’s really cool! Looks like you have to go to the legacy interface to enable that. Not sure why they haven’t moved it over yet.

      — Jim

      Reply
  • April 16, 2019 at 1:49 pm
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    Good post! Timely too – I’m probably going to be going to Sweden for a temporary work assignment that will last a few months, and have been looking at different options. I’m still with Big Red, and I think they offer a $10/day plan that lets me keep using my US number over there. The cost of this is high – which I don’t care as much about since my company will pay it for me, but still – but it will also likely be a PITA for people over there at the new site that may need to reach me as well.

    This seems like a good option – allows you to maintain a US-based phone number, but using a local SIM card that provides you with both data and a local phone number as well. The costs of the local SIM cards there seems reasonable – cost I saw for a pre-paid plan was around $20 a month (insert obligatory “why the F is VZW charging me so much more for the same level of service” vent here LOL…)

    I’ve used Voice for years, in order to use their voice mail transcription features – but have never used it for anything else. It looks like there are some cases where you need to pay for GV as well (they have options for you to check your GV “account balance” for instance) – any ideas what they would be charging for? Definitely don’t want to do something that will trigger a big bill when I get home.

    Also – my read of this is that, in order to route phone calls through GV (ie data), you have to use the GV app’s dialer and NOT your native phone dialer. Is this your understanding as well? If so, that would be perfect for my use case – I’m good with using GV to call my family back in the US over data, but would use the phone’s native dialer to use the minutes on the foreign SIM card.

    In any event – I’ll probably try this using my assigned GV number (ie initially not porting my normal US number) and will see how it works. Should be good practice for when my family and I move outside the US in a few years, after I retire early 🙂 Cheers!

    Reply
    • April 16, 2019 at 2:24 pm
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      This could be a good option for you, Jim. The account balance is in case you use them to just make international calls. So it’s not related to what we’re talking about specifically. That’s just if you want to call an international number. They charge a lower cost than a lot of providers and you need to have a balance to be able to pull from.

      As far as the dialer app goes, they have a setting now in Google Voice (Calls started from this device’s phone app) that you can turn on. It allows GV to take over on outgoing phone calls. I have that turned on, so when I make a call from the regular phone dialer, GV quickly intercepts it and makes the call through GV… pretty slick. You can also make the calls through GV if you want.

      Good luck!

      — Jim

      Reply
  • April 16, 2019 at 2:50 pm
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    Very nice post,

    We have been living in Ecuador for 6 years and have helped many that move here with the Google voice transition. My parents are in their 80s and for them to just pick up the phone and call makes us seem a lot closer. Thank you GV. 😉

    I also love the obitalk device. I have been using this device to marry a regular old telephone to Google voice for about 10 years now. One small investment to buy, no monthly charges, equally easy to program, and voila, pick up and receive calls at home just like the old days in the USA. It seems to require less bandwidth then the cellphone app as well.

    Reply
    • April 16, 2019 at 10:14 pm
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      Thanks, Aaron – I’ve heard of that OBiTALK before. I just Google’d it and bookmarked the website so I can dig into it a little more. Maybe that could be worthwhile for us as well! 🙂

      — Jim

      Reply
  • April 16, 2019 at 9:13 pm
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    Google voice doesn’t notify you of incoming calls. It also doesn’t let you forward to a non-US number. Ugh…

    Reply
    • April 16, 2019 at 10:19 pm
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      Hi Steven – I’m not sure what you mean about not being notified of incoming calls. I currently have it ringing on both my phone and laptop and it works great.

      With the forwarding to a non-US number, that is correct and that was one of the hurdles we were initially looking at. However, that’s irrelevant in this scenario because of how they now let you make and receive phone calls over the Internet (this is a newer feature). As long as you have the Google Voice app and a data plan (or Wi-Fi connection), it will still ring on your phone wherever you’re at in the world. It’s seamless and that’s what now makes this such a great solution.

      — Jim

      Reply
      • November 1, 2019 at 11:35 pm
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        Thanks for this post and your answers in the comments section—very helpful. I used to use the old Google Voice with Hangouts, and now need updated (2019) info about Google Voice for my move abroad. I heard that Hangouts will be discontinued in the near future—glad to know Hangouts is not needed with the new Google Voice and your settings.

        Reply
        • November 2, 2019 at 1:12 pm
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          Yeah, Hangouts is supposed to be going away, but Google extended its date for that until sometime in 2020 I believe. Either way, it’s good that Google Voice can stand on its own and that it’s been getting some updates again.

          Reply
  • April 16, 2019 at 11:21 pm
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    I recently moved to Vancouver, BC for grad school and am trying to use Google voice to keep my old US cell phone number. After porting my US number to google voice I can’t link the voice app to my new number because it is a Canadian number. Google voice still works for texts but I can’t make or receive calls because by Google voice number (my old US number) is not linked to my Canadian phone. Do you know how I can work around this?

    Right now I am just skipping whenever the app prompts me to link the Google voice number to this phone, but I’m not sure if that is a good permanent solution.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • April 17, 2019 at 1:22 pm
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      Hi John – that is correct that you can’t link a non-US number to Google Voice. However, you should still be able to make and receive calls through the app over data/Wi-Fi. Under Settings in the app, find the “Make and receive calls” setting and make sure that’s set to “Prefer WiFi and mobile data.”

      — Jim

      Reply
  • April 17, 2019 at 9:30 am
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    I’ve been using Google voice as my primary number for a couple of years now. It’s fantastic! I put the app on both of my mobile phones (one Apple for work and an Android for personal) and any incoming calls ring both phones. I rarely if ever use my personal phones cell service outside of data when I’m away from wifi. I even still have a home phone, but it is also VoIP using the free Ooma service, so I also have calls ring that number. It still has some quirks, but I do like it!

    Reply
    • April 17, 2019 at 1:24 pm
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      That sounds like a perfect use case of Google Voice! I’ve heard that Ooma works pretty well with it – I may have to check it out!

      — Jim

      Reply
  • April 17, 2019 at 9:36 am
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    Great article! What happens if you cancel your cell number in America after you ported it to GV? Is there a risk that the number gets reassigned to someone else and you end receiving their calls or messages?

    Reply
    • April 17, 2019 at 1:27 pm
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      Hi Ricardo – as long as you initiate the porting through Google Voice like my instructions go through, your number will move to Google and your service with your provider will be cancelled. You can then resign up with your provider (or a different one) and you’ll get a new number, which you don’t care too much about.

      If down the line, you want to cancel Google Voice, you can port your number back out so you’ll never lose it.

      Hope that helps!

      — Jim

      Reply
  • April 20, 2019 at 2:13 am
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    Yup, been using Google Voice for years. It’s had its fair share of issues (dropped calls, poor audio quality occasionally), but it’s usually “good enough” for me.

    Reply
    • April 20, 2019 at 8:40 am
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      I used to use it long ago, but it didn’t support MMS and had a problem with receiving SMS messages when using two-factor authentication. I hated that I had to bail, but those were causing some problems for me back then. Since they fixed those issues and have added the Wi-Fi calling, it’s now a perfect solution for our situation. That sucks on the dropped calls and audio quality – guess time will tell if I’ll experience the same.

      — Jim

      Reply
  • April 22, 2019 at 3:04 am
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    I wish I found this post about 4 years ago. We are currently living in Qatar (from the U.K.) and I have no idea what phone number people have for me anymore!!

    I’ve had 2 number numbers out here and we pick up cheap SIM cards everywhere we go.

    I just use WhatsApp to stay in contact but whenever I call anyone they start with… “who is this? “…
    I’m like “yo mum it’s me, how many times!”

    How simple the world will be so soon eh?

    Thanks for sharing,

    Mike

    Reply
    • April 22, 2019 at 5:20 pm
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      The good news, Mike, is that it was more complicated to do this with Google Voice back then. You needed to do some integration with Hangouts to make it work. Once they provided the functionality recently to make and receive calls through Wi-FI, that was a game changer.

      I hear you on the “who is this?” – all the different apps make it so difficult to keep everyone on the same page!

      — Jim

      Reply
  • July 20, 2019 at 12:36 pm
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    I don’t get this. There is no ‘legacy gv’ link on my google voice page. I got a new number but I can only link it to the US number I have now. I am trying to have a GV number to give to clients so they can call me when we move to France where we will no longer have a verizon number. It doesn’t appear that GV allows me to link a non-US number to it as there are only the 10 digits format. How/can I link a non-US number to the GV number and NOT have a us cell number? I can’t find this anywhere. I hope you can help.

    Reply
    • July 21, 2019 at 10:04 am
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      Hi, Jeanne – that’s correct that you can’t link a non-US number to Google Voice. You should still be able to make and receive calls through the app over data/Wi-Fi though. Under Settings in the app, find the “Make and receive calls” setting and make sure that’s set to “Prefer WiFi and mobile data.”

      I can’t help much further as we’re still in the US for another month. Once we get to Panama, I’ll know more on how well this works.

      Reply
  • August 23, 2019 at 5:43 pm
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    Thanks for the helpful article! Does Google Voice require that you have a number to forward to? I’m looking to port my AT&T number over to GV, and not open any new American number (because I am moving to France). So basically, can I use GV with no other phone plan attached?

    Reply
    • August 23, 2019 at 10:51 pm
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      Hi Madeleine – I believe Google Voice needs to be tied to a real phone number. Plus, with no phone plan, you wouldn’t be able to do anything unless you were connected to WiFi somewhere.

      The way we did it was similar to your plan – we ported our numbers to GV, got new numbers from a provider and linked them to GV, then moved. Now that we’re in Panama, we got new service here (basically no minutes, but unlimited data). Everything worked just fine for us and we’re still able to make and receive calls on our GV number. Seamless to friends and family.

      Hopefully that helps!

      Reply
      • August 26, 2019 at 4:09 am
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        Thanks for the reply, Jim! I guess what I am planning to do is exactly like your plan, but skipping the step where you opened new numbers with a US provider. I currently have a GV number which is tied to my US number (the one I want to keep). I plan to port that number over right when I move, and then use it from a French data plan. Is there any reason that wouldn’t work?

        Reply
  • August 26, 2019 at 2:01 am
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    Hi there,

    I am about to move from the US to the UK. My current US iPhone is locked with T-Mobile. So I will be turning it in for a brand new, unlocked iPhone from Apple just before I fly out. Waiting for me when I land will be my husband who has purchased a Sim card for me with a UK number.

    My end goal is to be using my unlocked iPhone with a UK sim card and UK phone number, with my US number ported to Google Voice.

    However I am bit confused at the set up process when you involve purchasing a new phone.

    Should I set up Google Voice on my current, US phone before I get rid of it? Because I am guessing when I turn in my current phone to Apple to then get a new phone, my T-Mobile plan might automatically get cancelled.. not sure though.

    And when I set up Google Voice, I know the first step is choosing a Google Voice number that’ll later get replaced by the one I’d like to port. But then when it asks me next to “Verify your existing phone number” should I verify my current T-Mobile number from the US? Or do I verify my new UK phone number that is currently in my husbands hands in England?

    PLEASE HELP! I am moving very soon and am nervous I am going to put in the wrong information and mess up the whole Google Voice set up process!

    Reply
    • August 26, 2019 at 12:04 pm
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      Shannon, I don’t know iPhones, but with Google Voice in general, you’ll want to get it set up on the new phone before you leave the US. I’m almost positive that GV is not supported in other countries so it won’t let you set it up otherwise. If you don’t (or can’t) set it beforehand, one alternative would be to get a VPN set up so Google thinks you’re in the U.S. That adds a good does of complexity though that’s beyond this post.

      If I were you, I’d port your number over now to GV and let T-Mobile know you’ll take whatever number they want to give you. Then get GV set up on your phone using whatever U.S. number T-Mobile gave you to verify it. That’ll get you up and running for now. Once you get your new phone, you’ll need to have an active U.S. number to configure it on that phone. Then you’ll be good to go even after you leave the country. That’s the best bet if you have enough time. Otherwise, you’d probably need to figure out the VPN route once you’re there.

      Good luck on the phone and the move!

      Reply
  • October 11, 2019 at 9:49 am
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    Whoah! That has got to be the most in-depth review/tutorial of google voice I’ve ever seen! You’re preaching to the choir with me on this one, my friend because I am on the google voice train big time!

    I use it all day every day in the states since I have wifi at work and home, so saves me a ton of money on data. I can only imagine how useful it is in other countries!

    Great stuff Jim!

    Reply
    • October 11, 2019 at 3:30 pm
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      Haha, glad you liked it – I’ve written a couple of computer books so I guess I have a tendency to make sure all the details are there! 🙂

      It’s been working seamlessly since we’ve been here in Panama… so glad I got it configured on our phones. No changes with friends and family calling us – they just keep dialing or texting the number they’ve always used.

      Reply
  • October 15, 2019 at 12:06 am
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    I have a question about setting up a new number/service in the US. It looks like from your initial post that you only need to have that set up to verify the GV and then you cancel it after a month. We don’ t want to be paying for a US plan while we are living in Sweden, so I want to make sure I understand this correctly. You port your old number (the one you will keep using after moving). Set up a NEW number on a month to month plan just long enough to verify the GV and then you can cancel that plan but will still be able to use GV while living abroad?
    Last question- what happens when you come back to the US for visits? I Change out the SIM card and just pay regular carrier rates? Sorry if this was answered already, but I’m still trying to get caught up on this lingo. Thanks so much

    Reply
    • October 15, 2019 at 10:06 am
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      Hi Haideh – yes, that’s correct – once you’ve got Google Voice setup, you no longer need to have your US SIM card in the phone. However, you do want to have a phone plan of some kind in place just to give you a data plan to go off of. So it doesn’t matter if it’s a plan with a US carrier or a carrier in another country. Otherwise, you’d only be able to use it when you’re connected to WiFi, not when you’re out and about.

      Funny enough, we were just discussing our plans last night about coming back to the US. When we get back to the airport, we’ll pop our US Total Wireless SIM cards back in our phones, connect to the WiFi there, and activate service for a month. That’s why it’s nice to use a pre-paid plan since they’re month-to-month (and much cheaper!). They’ll give us a new base phone number to use but we don’t care what it is, because the number everyone else uses is tied to us with Google Voice.

      Then, once we get back to Panama, we’ll do the same thing – pop in the SIM cards for the Panamanian carrier we’re using here and re-activate service with them.

      Again, you can probably get away without a carrier of any sort, but you would only be able to use Google Voice when you’re connected over WiFi which would be pretty limiting.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
  • November 2, 2019 at 12:08 pm
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    HI Jim- one more question. Could I use someone else’s cell number to verify GV? So instead of setting up a new number could I use my mother’s cell number instead? I plan on porting my number right before I get on the plane and getting a SIM card as soon as arrive in Sweden so won’t be without cell service if that was the intention of getting a new number to verify GV. Thank you so much for all your great advice!

    Reply
    • November 2, 2019 at 1:16 pm
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      Hmm, I don’t know the answer on that, Haideh. I don’t think that would work because it’s verifying the number on the SIM as your Google Voice number. It might be better to just port your number over sooner than later. Check with your provider on what would take place with any contract you have in place and how it would work (like would they issue you a new number automatically or what you would need to do).

      Good luck – I hope everything goes smooth for you! Hope you have a great time in Sweden!

      Reply
  • November 5, 2019 at 7:31 am
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    Hi. For what it’s worth, I’m sharing 2 pieces of real-life experience so far with Google Voice.

    1. The current Google Voice app that was installed on my iPhone 11 last week does NOT include the option of “Do you want to use your Google Voice number when calling from this device’s phone app?” in the settings.

    This is not a problem for me, since I don’t mind initiating calls from the Google Voice app.

    2. Previously, I was a Google Fi customer with the Google Fi talk-text-data SIM card in my iPhone–this scheme worked well when I traveled from country to country.

    But when I decided to settle down in one country abroad, I ported my Google Fi number (which I had for 20 years, porting it from one carrier to the next) to Google Voice, and bought a local SIM card when I landed abroad. It’s been only a few days.

    When I leave the foreign country to return to the US to visit, I’ll switch out the local SIM card with a Google Fi data-only SIM card that piggy-backs on my brother’s Google Fi family plan.

    And when I land in that foreign country again, I’ll switch back to the local SIM card.

    I choose Google Fi because 1) it gives me convenient and quick access to cell phone data on short trips to other foreign countries and short trips back to the US, and 2) it lets me pause and resume service inside the Google Fi app–hassle-free and almost instantaneous.

    Reply
    • November 5, 2019 at 8:10 am
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      Regarding my very last comment above about Google Fi letting me pause and resume service inside the Google Fi app–it’s only true if I’m the Google Fi account owner, which I’m not.

      Since my brother is the owner of his Google Fi family account, he’s the only one who can pause and resume the account from his Google Fi app.

      I, with the data-only SIM card, can pause or resume my data service simply by taking out or popping in the data-only SIM card.

      Reply
      • November 5, 2019 at 10:59 am
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        Very helpful information! I would bet that the option to use GV from the device’s phone app is only available on Android. But I noticed here in Panama that sometimes that doesn’t work anyway and it’s just easier to do it from the app like you mentioned.

        People love Google FI for its flexibility – that’s a great idea on the data-only SIM when abroad. I don’t mind using the local provider here in Panama – we get a pretty nice deal for unlimited data. But for those with Google FI for their carrier service, that can be a great option!

        Reply
  • November 8, 2019 at 10:48 am
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    Does GV stop spam calls overseas? There more than 85m spam calls in the USA last month, and I bet I got at least half of them. Since I still have my number on GV, can they still call. The first time overseas for extended period, I suspended my Verizon account ( but still paid $20 a month to keep the numbers). I got a Sim card from overseas and used WhatsApp alot and Skype. I am going overseas again and want to be able to keep the number without having to pay a monthly fee for that. Will GV help with that? I still have the Sim card from overseas and will that again since I have that number.

    Reply
    • November 8, 2019 at 8:37 pm
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      Hi, Dale – unfortunately, your number is your number and it’s open to spam whether it’s with a regular provider or with GV. The good news is that the government is getting close to putting in place some measures to stop robocalls. The cell phone providers also have more authority now to stop them.

      If you have a local number you can port it over to Google Voice for a one-time charge of $20 with no monthly fees thereafter. I use WhatsApp here all the time and it’s tied to my GV number and not my local SIM card number – works perfectly. No need for Skype doing it this way. The key is to get the number ported to GV before you leave. Good luck!

      Reply

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