Looking for a cheap US phone number I can own and use online
November 19, 2022 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I have US citizenship and live in the UK. It's getting increasingly difficult to manage US finance accounts. Specifically, Vanguard (but others too). Is there a way I can have a US phone number for these accounts? I need to receive security codes and make the very occasional phone call, and to do this online from the UK.

I have US bank accounts and a US address. This phone number issue is challenging and causing me a lot of stress (and fees for legacy accounts I'm unable to upgrade yet).

In the past, I've used phone numbers of people in the US, but this is becoming increasingly untenable for various reasons. I need to be able to control my own account access without relying on US-based relayers of info.
posted by iamkimiam to Technology (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you have even temporary access to a US landline or major wireless carrier number, you could sign up for Google Voice. Once you’ve signed up, you will have a US number that you can access online from anywhere that can receive calls and texts. Google has gotten increasingly stricter about the numbers they accept when you sign up, but if you can get past that initial signup, it’s great and easy to use.

Failing that, does Vanguard support other forms of two factor authentication such as Google Authenticator?
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:57 AM on November 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: If it's relevant, I try to not use any Google services, if at all possible. I would like solutions that avoid Google. I'm also open to other solutions, e.g., “Here's a US alternative to Vanguard that is less draconian and has sensible login and communication methods…” Or, “here's a clever way to get around this issue entirely…”
posted by iamkimiam at 8:57 AM on November 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Timing! Sorry, Betelgeuse, wish I'd added my latest comment a few minutes earlier. Vanguard does not. They truly only do things through phone. You can only make account changes when you register a US phone number for receiving security codes to verify those changes. And you can only make appointments with them for phone calls to US numbers.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:03 AM on November 19, 2022

Best answer: My callcentric phone number can be used with any SIP client (you can get them for your cell phone, or you can use a box that hooks to your network and lets you plug in an actual telephone). It can receive and send texts through their web interface. It does not do MMS. The cost is a few dollars a month.
posted by fritley at 9:24 AM on November 19, 2022

Best answer: I have a US number with Ting. When I need to receive a code, I swap their SIM card into my phone. Here are their UK calling and roaming rates.
posted by bricoleur at 9:27 AM on November 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It looks like Skype still does US based numbers. I had one back 10-12 years ago when I was living overseas that forwarded to my local cell. I don't remember the cost exactly, but maybe in the 30-50 USD per year range.
posted by chiefthe at 10:04 AM on November 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

Ultra Mobile has cheap plans and you can get sms and calls while abroad (I know this is true for their regular plans; their website says it's also true for their extremely cheap basic prepaid plans, but I haven't personally tried that.)
posted by trig at 10:10 AM on November 19, 2022

Best answer: This blog post about maintaining access to US accounts while in Antarctica is probably relevant and describes possible solutions and their drawbacks.
posted by rpn at 10:30 AM on November 19, 2022 [4 favorites]

you could use a voip service (I chose voiply when I finally got rid of my landline at home) that you can access as an app on your smart phone with all the functionality of a regular cell line (sms, voice mail, make/receive calls etc) totally seamless and cheap, even accessible on a browser i believe.
posted by edman at 10:33 AM on November 19, 2022

Twilio will give you a US number for a little over a dollar a month. It's geared towards programmatic usage, but you can log into their website and see all your messages as well.

posted by phil at 10:35 AM on November 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: To give a quick summary, many suggested solutions such as google voice and SIP suppliers wont work for receiving 2FA SMS messages as banks flags these number series as not being real mobile phone numbers.
posted by rpn at 10:42 AM on November 19, 2022 [5 favorites]

I also recommend Callcentric. They're very inexpensive. I haven't found a free VOIP smartphone app that works well, but Acrobits Softphone is only like $5 one time. If you don't want to use the web interface for text, they also have an app for ios or android. As Fritley says, their text stuff doesn't do MMS (so attachments or group texts) but if you're just using this for like app alerts and 2FA stuff then that should be plenty good enough.
posted by aubilenon at 11:24 AM on November 19, 2022

Best answer: Seconding rpn - several accounts refuse to use my Google Voice number for 2FA.

FWIW, my "real" number is with Tello which starts at $5/mo. (no high speed data, 100 minutes, unlimited texts). I've previously used Red Pocket, who have a $30/yr plan available. Perhaps a cheap basic plan with a MVNO and using a browser (Messages on Android) or another device (iCloud and/or text message forwarding on iOS) to access the messages would work?
posted by hankscorpio83 at 11:51 AM on November 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, I've come to the conclusion that the easiest way is just loading an old phone or dual-sim current phone with a US-based sim for a super cheap plan with super cheap international roaming, where said sim is turned on only when you need it for 2FA. Ting and Ultra Mobile are two options; maybe there are more. You could get someone in the US to receive and activate a sim and then send it to you.

The only thing that makes me nervous is if one day those plans or roaming options go away and I'm not able to easily switch to another one in time. But so far it's been good.
posted by trig at 1:21 PM on November 19, 2022

Response by poster: Thank you, chiefthe. Skype worked a charm…I've got a number in my zip code and am able to send and receive messages, plus make calls. (Wish I knew this YEARS ago!)

I'm also thinking that swapping out the SIMs could be a backup solution, so thanks everyone who suggested that too.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:35 PM on November 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

For Vanguard, I've been able to add a second, non-US based number for 2FA.
posted by alidarbac at 12:10 AM on November 20, 2022

Glad that you found an easy solution with Skype!

If it makes you feel better, Koreans who live outside of Korea have the same issue with 2FA. Folks have discovered that Skype doesn't work, and the proven working solution has been to set up a Korean phone plan and have a SIM or phone activated in Korea shipped out to them. (Plus you probably don't have to deal with all the Windows-specific Korean website security stuff, to the point where I've found it easier just to keep a Windows laptop around for connecting to Korean government and bank websites. And just recently I discovered my Korean bank won't let me do online transfers outside of Korean bank business hours. WTF.)
posted by needled at 7:50 AM on November 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

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