How to Keep Your Cell Phone Number While You Travel

A little less than a year ago, my husband and I decided to sell our things, pack up four suitcases and move from the USA to Salzburg, Austria. Why? Because we were searching for a new adventure. Living abroad would allow us to step outside our comfort zone, become familiar with the unfamiliar, and, most importantly, travel throughout Europe.

There was a lot that we needed to accomplish before our big move. We had to get rid of some of our most prized possessions, which was not easy by any means. But there was one thing that we simply could not give up. One thing that we needed to save for our return to the USA years down the road…

Our cell phone numbers.

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It seems so minor but think about it for a second. When you’ve had the exact same digits from your teenage years to your 30s – since the days of Nokia and hours of playing Snake to smartphones and making video calls – it’s not something you can easily give up.

We knew we’d be living abroad for 2-3 years and then we’d settle back in the USA to start a family and put down our roots. So what would happen when we move back? Everyone important has these specific cell phone numbers saved. There had to be an option other than saying goodbye to our beloved digits.

Listen to Erin tell their story about moving to Austria on the BMT Podcast

So, we began our research…

We found that regular cell phone carriers like Verizon cost $20 per month to keep your cell phone number reserved with no plan. That would mean over $700 in our case (= trip to a new European country.) Not worth it!

Then we thought maybe we could suspend our account while we’re living abroad instead and reactivate it when we return. Nope! They’ll only suspend your existing account for 6 months total, which clearly wouldn’t cover our 3 years.

After we thought we’d exhausted our options, we came across Tossable Digits, a Virtual Number company.

Virtual Phone Numbers are telephone numbers without an associated telephone line. They can be set up and changed within minutes and can ring to any existing phone. Essentially, they allow you to have multiple lines without having multiple phones. With your Virtual Number, you also get tons of free features like call recording, call forwarding, custom voicemail, and a whole lot more!

It’s clear they can do wonders in the business world – through tracking SEO advertising, managing multiple departments through one line, etc., but a Virtual Number can also be helpful in your personal life too…

How Virtual Numbers Saved Our Day

aka How to Keep Your Cell Phone Number While You Travel

Okay, so any phone number can become a Virtual Phone Number. Through a process called porting, you can turn any landline, business, or mobile phone number into a Virtual Phone Number by transferring it to Tossable Digits. Then you can choose to let it sit, or you can choose to forward it to a new existing local line.

Travel Planning Tip: Order a prepaid SIM card before you travel!

Tossable Digits - Call Rules

This is just what we needed. There’s even a simple plan that’s perfect for expats or those traveling long-term. It only costs $3.50 per month to “park” your number with Tossable Digits, or $40/year (half of what you’d normally pay for your cell phone bill in one month!).

In other words, let’s say you have a Verizon cell phone. While you’re living abroad, you port your Verizon number to Tossable Digits, allowing you to cancel your Verizon phone plan completely. Tossable Digits will then save your number without an associated plan or telephone line. Note: Once you port your number, your current carrier plan is canceled. For example, you cannot stay with Verizon AND use Tossable Digits.

And when you return, you simply port the number from Tossable Digits, who’s been keeping your number safe since you’ve been gone, back to Verizon — and voila! Everything is back to the way it was before you left.

The best part is there are no cancellation fees whatsoever! When you move back to the USA, you can port your phone number back to Verizon instantly, with no hidden charges from Tossable Digits. It’s one of the most flexible and inexpensive options we came across in our mission to save our own digits.

To top it off, we learned about this option from their website’s live chat and were guided through the entire process by their seriously helpful (and patient!) customer service team. Another huge bonus of working with Tossable Digits – both cost AND customer service are top-notch. Since we signed up, I’ve had at least 3 different questions regarding our account and they’ve answered every single one, every single time.

They now have a mobile app with features to make using your virtual number as easy as possible. Features include SMS text messaging, outdialing, voicemail, call recording, and call logs.

Call-Forwarding: Keep Your Business Running While You’re Abroad

We also learned that the company works great if you’ll be running a business while you’re living abroad or traveling long term. You can implement call forwarding on your business line (aka your Virtual Number) to your new local line abroad for low per-minute rates. Yes, you need a local phone number for this to work, but clients will have no idea they’re calling an entirely different country. It will be a local call for your clients, no matter where you are physically located.

Lite Annual Plan

The possibilities are pretty much endless, but for right now, we are happy that our cell phone numbers will be kept safe and sound during our adventures in Europe. And when we move back to the USA, our friends and family will know exactly how to reach us.

To them, it will seem like nothing’s ever changed. We’ll pick up right where we left off with the same digits, settling in the same country we left behind. BUT with a whole new perspective and appreciation for the beautiful and wonderful world that we live in.

A true win all around – for us, for our future, and for our friends and family.

See pricing and plans for Tossable Digits.

Feature by Erin Zipperle | @survivingeurope


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16 replies on “How to Keep Your Cell Phone Number While You Travel”

We currently live in China and I’ve been paying Verizon $70 month for 2 lines we never use, just to keep our phone numbers for when we return over the summer! We will not use our US cell, numbers at all while in China as we have our landline registered with Vonage. However, when we return to the US for a few weeks each summer, we will want full access to our cell numbers. My questions is, once the number is ported, how would I use it during the few weeks while we are back in the US?

Good question. In my experience, porting your number from one carrier to another does indeed mean discontinuing service with your first provider, but let me see if I can get Erin to answer this one!

I am moving to Europe for gosh knows how long and I was having a major existential about abandoning my phone number in the states. Like you, I was flabbergasted by how expensive it would be to keep my number on hold through my phone carrier. I am beyond happy that I came across your post because this has saved me hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars. I´ve already looked porting my phone number with an online chat representative and it makes me so happy to know that my number will be safe and waiting for me upon my return to the USA.

This is so amazing and gonna save me tons!!! Thank you Erin for this post and Diogo for the comments I’m going to look into that right now.

Another option, even better in my option, is to use Google Voice. It allows you to transfer (port) you current number for a $20.00 one time fee.
Once you number is ported to your google voice account you can keep it “parked” there for no monthly fee. The biggest advantage is that you can still receive/make calls on this number, they can be forward to another phone, answered on your browser (or app) if you are connected or calls can be picked up as voice messages (if you were not online or the forward service not activated), and in this case, the recorded message can be sent to your email (with transcriptions) or as a SMS (the transcriptions) and will be also saved on your google voice inbox.
If you have internet connection you can make (or receive) phone calls (using your number) from your smartphone or gmail account.
Information on how the number port works can be found here: https://support.google.com/voice/answer/1065667?hl=en
I’ve be using it for quite some time now. Hope that help.

I run an international travel company in Costa Rica and I have to disagree with the Google Voice suggestion being the best option. I ported our long-time number from ATT to Google Voice last June or July, and forwarded calls and texts to my (month to month) number while in the US and to a skype number that I could theoretically answer while in Costa Rica. On multiple occasions family members told me they had sent texts or been calling me for weeks but I had never received them on my forwarded numbers, nor in the google voice app on my phone (the call forwarding originally worked sometimes in the US but did not work at all in Costa Rica). I checked google voice directly for messages to see if it was an issue of them not forwarding but they never even came through to google, much less to my forwarded numbers. I came across your page specifically because I’m looking to DITCH google voice for its lack of functioning. I can’t lose business because google voice isn’t delivering all of the calls and texts being sent to my ported number!
We considered using skype to have people call us directly instead of forwarding there, to ditch the middle man, but they didn’t allow the porting of an outside number so we had to pay for a new number (thankfully we were in the process of updating our website and business cards anyways). NOW, Skype has removed the option to have a custom voicemail greeting so customers aren’t leaving messages because they think we are either a scam, unorganized, unprofessional, or that they straight up have the wrong number.
Having a functioning VOIP service that allows your friends, family, and customers to reach you on a number that you choose to port or transfer and option to create a professional personal voicemail greeting are keys that we are in search of and I’m hopeful that if I look further into your suggestion, these may be possible! Thanks for sharing!

We went with Tossable Digits today and so far so good. We were able to get calls within 1 ring on the caller end to ring on the receiving end (hardly any delay) both to a forwarding number in the US and to a forwarding number in Costa Rica. Calls are clear both to US and CR forwarding numbers. Updating forwarding numbers was instantaneous. We were able to record a custom voicemail and implement it immediately. Very happy right now.
We’re going to keep our existing business number in CR for now, but we have the option to choose a new CR number with them and forward it either to the US or CR depending on where we are, the same as the US number we just got (which wasn’t an option with some of the other places we looked at).
Pricing for forwarding is a little steep at 9-12 cents per minute (you can get better US rates if you upgrade to a package), if we compare to Skype at 2.3-9.5 cents/minute, but the value of knowing our business calls are going to get to us after so much trouble with GV makes it worth it! I’ll update if anything comes up that changes my mind, but things are looking great right now!

Did you check Google Voice’s spam filter (on the online version)? They have a spam filter just like GMail, I’m not sure how well it works.

I was going to mention this. I ported my original cell # about 7 years ago when I started traveling. I usually have it forwarded to my Skype# but forward it to a US SIM when there. I’ve never experienced the glitches some people mention, though I can’t easily use the online functionality living in China (Google and China aren’t friends).I wish you could forward to international #s with Google Voice, though…that would be ideal. Does anyone know if Tossable Digits allows this and what the cost is? Considering I have it all set up and with Skype and G voice is free, probably not a need to change at this point but people ask me about this stuff a lot.

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