How to Keep Your US Phone Number with Google Voice
a.k.a. "Making the phones go" a.k.a. "Keeping your US phone number active though you have a new European cell phone plan"
Steve here, Eva's partner. Hi! One of the things we were worried about when moving to Europe from the US was losing connection to our family, friends and past. Google helped us solve this in a big way with Google Voice. Here's the deal: It's a completely web-based 'phone service,' turning your US phone number - you know, the one you've had for twenty years - into a portal to the Voice website and app, where you can make/receive phone calls and text. You can use it from your computer (voice.google.com) or from an app on your phone. Anyone contacting you won't really know the difference. Did I mention it's (almost) free?
At the end of this process, you'll have a new phone number and cell plan in your new European home country, but still keep all the connectivity you've had through your US phone number. There are three main steps: 1) establishing a Google Voice account, 2) porting your US number over to it, and 3) setting up a cell plan in your new country. I'm going to use Lithuania in my example, because that's where we moved to. Let's begin!
*** I definitely recommend reading this whole thing before starting.***
Establish a Google Voice account - Free:
You should do this part before you leave the US. Why? Because Google Voice is only for the United States at the time of writing. If you don't do it in the US, you'll have to use a VPN to connect back to the US to do it (I won't cover that here). But once set up, it won't matter where you are in the world - it'll continue to work.
Make yourself a Google account if you don’t have one already, and make sure you're logged in.
Go to voice.google.com
You will be asked to “Select a Google Voice number.” Pick any location, and it will give you a temporary phone number in that area (until yours is ported over). Seriously, it doesn't matter which one you pick.
Click “Verify.” This is the part where Google confirms that you really have a US phone number.
Enter your current US phone number. Click “Send code.”
Google will send you a text message with a code. Enter the code you received, and click “Verify.”
Click “Finish,” then “Finish” again.
Download the Google Voice app to your phone and log in.
Congrats! You should now have a Google Voice number. Give it a try if you want - text or call that phone number that you picked in step 3. It'll show up on Google Voice. Magic!
Port your number - One-time $20 fee:
This part will replace that temporary number on Google Voice with your US one - you know, the one you've been using since forever. In the process, it'll also close out your current cell phone plan with your current phone provider (T-mobile, in our case). Just be mindful if you're the main account holder on a family plan - you'll want to switch it over to someone else on the plan beforehand, or else all the lines will get closed out, too. One other thing - this process is even simpler if Google Fi is your current cell phone service provider, but I'm not going to cover it here.
Go to voice.google.com
Click on the gear icon (top right) to enter the Settings menu.
Under Account>Linked numbers, look for your current US phone number (not the temporary one we just established). If you see it, click the “X” to the right of it. This will unlink your current US number from the account, so that it will be available for porting.
Enter your current US phone number, then click “Check.” This checks to make sure your number can be ported to Google Voice.
Six consent check boxes will appear sequentially. Check each of them. (I know it's scary, but it's gotta be done!)
Click “Next: Phone Verification.”
Google will call your current US phone number to verify it. Using your phone keypad, type in the number that is visible on your computer screen. Google confirms by saying “your number is verified”.
Enter all the details for the account of your current US phone number. If you are not the main account holder, you will have to get this information from them. This includes that PIN number that everyone always forgets... You know, the one you're supposed to use when you call them.
Now Google will ask you to pay a porting fee of $20. This is the only part that's not free, but you only have to pay the fee once. Click “Confirm payment.” If you do not have a credit/debit card associated with Google Pay, then you will have to add one now. Otherwise, select one of your credit cards and click “Buy.”
You will receive a Purchase Confirmation. Click “Done.” You will get a confirmation email, as well.
Now, the waiting begins. It will take anywhere from 1-3 days for the number to be ported over to Google Voice. You can continue to use your current phone/US number normally, but be aware that when it switches over, your phone will no longer work for phone calls and text messages. This is your cue that your number has been ported, and that your old cell phone line/plan (with T-mobile, for example) is closed out. Instead, you'll start seeing calls/messages go to Google Voice. So, now is a good time to switch over to a new European cell phone plan / SIM card if you haven’t done this yet.
Set up a prepaid cell phone plan in your new country - Pick a plan for your budget:
This step details how I set up a prepaid cell phone plan in Lithuania. It might be similar in your new country, or maybe not. Why did I choose prepaid? Because postpaid plans (the 'normal' kind in the US) require a bank account and a personal ID number that I didn't have yet, or alternatively, a big down-payment. Besides, postpaid and prepaid cost almost the same amount here. PS: you can do this step at any time; I just chose to wait until the other steps were done.
Visit a grocery store or convenience store and purchase a pre-paid SIM card near the register. I went to a grocery store called RIMI. For 1 Euro, I purchased a Labas network SIM card - the pre-paid division of Bite.
Turn off your phone, then insert the SIM card into your phone.
Turn your phone back on, and wait for it to establish a cellular connection.
Find and record your new European phone number. You may find it on the SIM card packaging, or in your phone’s settings menu.
You may receive a text message from your new provider. After receiving this, restart your phone.
Send a text message to any phone number to activate the SIM card. It will be rejected, and you may get a text message from your network provider.
Visit the website for your new network provider (use a computer!). For Labas, this website is “labas.lt”. Because the website is in Lithuanian, I recommend using a translator. For Firefox, I recommend the “Translate Web Pages” add-on. Many of the options on the Labas website are not available on the English language version of the website, so this is a great workaround.
Register with the network provider using your new European phone number. For Labas, click the little person in the top right corner, then click on “Register” and follow the instructions.
Navigate to the explanation of available plans and choose a plan that you want. On Labas, go to “Plans and the Internet.” Make note of the monthly price for the plan that you want.
Add a credit card to your account so that you can pay for a plan. For Labas, go to “mano.labas.lt/profilis” On the right side, click “Credit Card” within the yellow “Add Account” box. Labas will allow you to automatically replenish your account monthly, so that you don’t have to remember to do this. I recommend replenishing with an amount that is equal to the plan you want.
Navigate back to the explanation of plans and find the one you want again. Click “Order”.
Log in to your account when prompted. If it says “There are no plans available to order,” just click on “See available plans” and click “Order” next to the correct plan.
This part will replace that temporary number on Google Voice with your US one - you remember, the one you've been using since forever. In the process, it'll also close out your current cell phone plan with your current phone provider (T-mobile, in our case). Just be mindful if you're the main account holder on a family plan - you'll want to switch it over to someone else on the plan beforehand, or else all the lines will get closed out, too. One other thing - this process is even simpler if Google Fi is your current cell phone service provider, but I'm not going to cover it here.ere.re.e....
Okay, so now you theoretically have a European phone number that you can share with any new friends and colleagues - Lithuanian, in my case. Meanwhile, you also set up a Google Voice account and ported your US number over to it. So everyone else you've ever known will continue to contact you through your old US number, and you'll receive their texts and calls through the Google Voice app and website for free. Double win?
I hope this this makes the switch to your new European life a little easier!