Walk me through using VOIP to keep my US phone number in Canada
September 24, 2020 12:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to Canada from the US. My phone plan (Red Pocket) doesn't work in Canada. I'll get a Canadian plan and phone number, but I also want to keep my US number for receiving calls and texts in Canada. How to do this? I seem to have already packed most of my working brain cells, so I don't understand what the internet is telling me and need MeFi to walk me through the process.

Google says that there are things called VOIP, Google Voice, OpenPhone, TextNow etc. which may or may not provide what I need, but I'm having trouble understanding how these work and whether they fit the bill. Here's what I'd like to achieve:

- keep my existing US number, including after I switch out my SIM card for a new Canadian one
- be able to receive calls and texts on the current number while in Canada
- ideally, receive voicemail

I can't seem to find a simple step-by-step description of how to do this. Help?
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark to Technology (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
How about getting a google voice number while you're in the US and transferring your current number to that? Then you can either have that auto-forward to your new number, or just pick up the voicemail and text messages.
posted by anadem at 12:28 PM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

You can port your number to google voice for 20$ through your gmail account. Once in google it's purely virtual - you can forward calls or messages to your new number or just check online.

It will mostly work for sending messages and phone calls to Canadian numbers - picture messages and emojii might get lost or not work, but that will be true of all VOIP solutions 'abroad'.

I regularly deal with Canada with my google voice number.
posted by zenon at 1:03 PM on September 24, 2020

Any solution that involves trying to access Google Voice while in Canada will likely disappoint. It's not available (or may in fact be geoblocked) in Canada. It's been a while since I revisited it, but I've tried setting up Voice while in the US and accessing it from Canada with zero success. Google Voice only forwards calls to USA-based actual telephone numbers, so forwards to Canadian numbers won't work. And you know how much Google likes to randomly close off its services …

You might need to transfer your US number to a SIP provider, then use a SIP softphone app (or the phone's built-in SIP capabilities, if it has them) to access the US number. SIP only works where you have data, which in Canada means not everywhere and/or expensive.

Telecoms are regulated very differently in Canada. What might be routine in the US could well be unavailable or unaffordable in Canada.
posted by scruss at 1:09 PM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Should have mentioned in the OP: if there's a solution that will work over wifi only, I'd settle for that. That is, if the problem with GV is that it won't forward to a Canadian number, but I can still get calls in Canada on my phone using the Android app when I have wifi access, that's obviously not as great as a forwarding service but would still solve most of my problem. From what I'm seeing online it looks like GV can do that -- yes?
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark at 2:32 PM on September 24, 2020

Best answer: Numberbarn is $6/month, and will forward voice/text in both directions for Canada/USA. It has voicemail and assorted other features. Very nice app and service. Totally worth it.
posted by dum spiro spero at 2:45 PM on September 24, 2020

Best answer: You can get a US number from VOIP.MS from $0.85 (yes, cents) per month, plus $0.005/minute to forward calls to a Canadian number. Unlimited lines (if you talk a LOT) are $5/month. Their service is excellent.

Step 1: Port your US number to Google Voice
Step 2: Get a real Canadian #
Step 3: Get a US VOIP.MS #
Step 4: Forward calls from Google Voice to VOIP.MS, then forward that number to your Canadian cell.

You can do this without Google voice by porting your US number to VOIP.MS directly, but then you have to learn an awful lot about VOIP software setup if you want to actually make outgoing calls using your old number. Also with this option you can still use Google voice superior texting and voicemail services. Also porting your number directly to VOIP.MS may or may not support SMS. Google voice will.

Looks like over the last year my US number cost me about $11, although I don't get a lot of calls on it.
posted by tiamat at 2:49 PM on September 24, 2020

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but one more puzzle piece: for the first few days in Canada I won't yet have a Canadian phone number. So really there are two parts to the question: (1) how to receive calls/texts to my US number over wifi, without forwarding to a Canadian number, for the first few days; (2) how to do so once I have a Canadian number. It looks like GV might be the answer to (1), and VOIP.MS or Numberbarn might be the answer to (2). Is that about right? Also do I keep the Red Pocket account open after porting the number to GV, or can I close it at that point?
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark at 2:56 PM on September 24, 2020

Best answer: Yeah, you can reprogram the forwarding for either VOIP.MS or Google voice at will, so while you don't have a Canadian number you can just have Google voice going directly to voicemail or take your chances getting the incoming calls over wifi.

If you don't want to be out of touch at all you can get a roaming SIM before you leave the US that will work for the first couple of days or the first month, set the GV/VOIP.MS forwarding to that number, then change it when you get your actual Canadian cell number. Tmboile pre-paid SIM's roam just fine in Canada for an extra $5/month, so if your phone is unlocked just grab one of those before you leave. (That was just a quick google, there may be cheaper options for US SIMs that roam in Canada.)

I should note, you do not want to use Google Fi as your temp roaming SIM, as there are issues splitting numbers off Google Fi back to Google Voice, so it's best to avoid that complication.
posted by tiamat at 3:03 PM on September 24, 2020

AT&T prepaid plans work in Canada. There used to be a three-month limit to this, but it never seemed to be enforced, and I don't see the rule on their website anymore. I just returned from 9 months in Canada, with one brief return to the US at the 7-month mark, using my AT&T US-based phone plan the whole time.

In Canada you can get a local number through FonGo. The app works ok... sometimes it takes a few seconds of "hello, can you hear me?", and sometimes the calls go right to voicemail, but it served the purpose of having a local number for me.
posted by pjenks at 1:04 PM on September 26, 2020

When I used to swap out SIM cards when crossing the border (because at the time the US SIM could only do calling, and charged $0.45/min), I would sometimes transfer my US sim to a back-up phone. That way I could monitor calls coming in and get voicemail, even if I didn't answer.
posted by pjenks at 1:08 PM on September 26, 2020

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