How to keep your US phone number when moving internationally

My family and I are moving to France for a couple of years, and while we plan on using a French cellphone plan, we also want to conserve our US phone numbers for when we return to the US on vacation, and more importantly for when we return for good.

I don’t really want to get into the reasons why we want to conserve our phone numbers because it is beyond the point. But if like us you want to live overseas while keeping your US phone number, know it is pretty simple to accomplish, in exchange of a small fee. Read on for the details.

Disclaimer: this is not a sponsored post

Before I get into more details, I want to make clear that this is not a sponsored post. Yes, I will be talking extensively and positively about Ting, but they didn’t offer any compensation for this coverage. This is just me talking about my experience.

However, I want to note that I will be using my own referral link throughout this post, which means that if you click on that link and decide to sign up for Ting, I will be offered free credit (and so will you, by the way).

The problem with big carriers

Me and my wife used to be happy AT&T customers, so of course we talked to the carrier and inquired about what would be the cheapest possible plan we could get. Specifications were pretty simple: we wanted the cheapest plan that would allow us to keep our phone numbers, but also allow us to receive text messages or phone calls on that number while in France, if we needed to.

As it turned out, the cheapest plan we could get with AT&T was still in the $50 range each month for both our phones, something I was not willing to pay.

I also inquired about cheapest plans with other carriers such as T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint. No one could offer acceptable prices as all were pretty much in the same ballpark.

Another pretty big issue that comes with big carriers? If you don’t use their service at all for several months, they may cancel your line. This is written in the small prints and not something you’d think about on your own, so keep that in mind. Obviously, getting my line canceled wasn’t a risk I was willing to take.

This is when I started looking into mobile virtual network operators (MVNO). MVNOs are service providers that basically rent out the wireless network infrastructure of other carriers and sell talk time and data to customers at a cheapest rate. They are much more affordable, and they typically don’t come with the risk of getting your line canceled.

Ting: only pay for what you use

My Let’s Talk iOS co-host was the one who first told me about Ting, an MVNO that uses the T-Mobile network as its backbone.

What was really appealing about Ting is that it offers a fair pricing structure for however much talk, text and data you use. There is a $6/month fee for each line you have, but after that, you are only charged for what you use.

Talk time, text messages, and data are offered in several buckets. Depending on what you use, you are moved from one bucket to the other. If you don’t use any talk time for example, you aren’t charged anything at all for talk. If you talk on the phone for 1 to 100 minutes, it will cost you $3. Talk time cost increases as you use more talk time. Same with data and text messages.

Where Ting doesn’t make sense is for people who use lots of data, SMS, and talk time. Clearly, this is not what we intend to do, so Ting works great for what we need it for.

Considering that we probably aren’t going to be using our US phone numbers at all while we are abroad, the cost of keeping both our phone numbers will be $12 per month ($6 per line per month). It might go up a bit if we need to listen to a voicemail or read a text message received, but that shouldn’t be too often, if at all.

Other benefits of using Ting

Despite the pricing structure, there are other benefits of using Ting which really helped make the switch a no-brainer:

  • We can periodically check text messages and voicemails while overseas. That is important to me because if an online service I use needs to send me a text message with a verification code, I can receive that text and not be locked out.
  • We get to use our number when we come back to the US on vacation.
  • It offers Wi-Fi calling and visual voicemail.
  • It uses T-Mobile spectrum, so coverage while in the US is pretty good.
  • It works for both GSM and CDMA devices.
  • Their iOS app makes it easy to see your usage and estimate your bill.
  • They have outstanding customer support.

Porting our phone numbers from AT&T to Ting

First thing we had to do was to order SIM cards from Ting. SIM cards are $9 a piece and are shipped quickly. Once we had the SIM cards, the next step was to activate them and port our numbers from AT&T to Ting. On my end, it took about 2 minutes to set up, then it took a couple of hours for the porting to be completed. Ting has a very simple tutorial on how to process with the port.

How to keep your US phone numbers overseas

Here are the steps I took from start to finish to port our phone numbers from AT&T to Ting.

  1. I made sure both our iPhones were unlocked. If you aren’t sure yours is, contact your carrier.
  2. I spent some time browsing Ting’s website making sure I understood everything there was to know about the company and the service offered. In retrospect, I really overthought all this.
  3. I created an account with Ting and ordered SIM cards.
  4. I gathered all the information needed for porting my phone number to Ting. In my case, all I needed was my AT&T customer number and account PIN.
  5. I ported my AT&T phone number to Ting, which took a couple of hours to complete.
  6. A couple of weeks later, I ported my wife’s phone number as well.
  7. I logged into my AT&T account to make my line was properly canceled.

My experience so far

At the time of writing, I have been using Ting for about two weeks and couldn’t be happier with the service. The coverage in the area where we are staying at before our departure for France gets better signal than we did with AT&T. In my very informal testings, data speeds are very satisfying as well.

When we get to France, we will simply pop the SIM cards out and store them in a safe location. When we return to the US, we’ll take them along and swap them with our French SIM cards as we land in the US.

I called Ting’s customer service to confirm our lines won’t be canceled if we don’t use them, and I was delighted by the experience. When you call Ting, someone picks up the phone right away and you aren’t put on hold or have to wait to be transferred. You get to talk to someone who’s here to help immediately. I suspect this is manageable because the company is still relatively small but I can only imagine this getting worse as Ting grows in size. Regardless, customer service is top notch at this time.

Sign up for free credit

As I mentioned above, Ting didn’t pay us for this glaring overview of the service, but as a Ting customer, I do get a referral link to share with friends. If you are interested in checking Ting out, make sure you use my referral link. If you sign up for the service, both you and I will get $25 in Ting credit.

After weighting the pros and the cons, I’m persuaded this switch to Ting was the right one for us to make, but I could be wrong. If you have other suggestions, I’d be happy to hear them. And if you have questions about all this, I’d be happy to answer them.