how can I keep my cell phone number cheaply while spending time abroad?
November 24, 2007 12:03 PM   Subscribe

how can I keep my cell phone number cheaply while spending time abroad?

I have a cell phone with t-mobile in the us but I'm moving abroad. I'd like to keep the number but cut down on the monthly cost until I return. could you recommend a solution that costs less than $20/month until I return and need a full-fledged cell service again?

the ideal solution for me would be to have the number go straight to a voicemail that sends the recorded messages to me via email and costs around $5 but I'm not aware of any such service actually existing.
posted by krautland to Work & Money (10 answers total)
Port the number to a cheap VOIP provider. I'm sure others can provide some good suggestions.
posted by Octoparrot at 12:22 PM on November 24, 2007

Call T-Mobile and ask them this question. I suspect they'll hold the number for you with no service for a few dollars a month. The providers here in Canada will do so (but they don't advertise this). There is a time limit (18 months with my provider)
posted by winston at 12:23 PM on November 24, 2007

The Mr. and I went through this not too long ago. We solved the problem of keeping our numbers by switching to pre-paid (no contract) plans.

The trick to keeping it cheap is to buy the largest denomination of minutes you can find at the deepest discount you can find. Then as long as you don't talk more than 300 min./month, it's cheaper than even the cheapest monthly plan out there.

T-Mobile is the one we went with, and I believe it's still the cheapest. It's 10 cents a minute for domestic calls, with 0$/mo as long as you buy your minutes $100 (1000 min) at a time. You can sometimes find them online for $95, making it $9.5 cents a minute.

The T-Mobile minutes last for a year when you buy them in bulk like that, even if you don't actively use the phone. So if you're gone for more than a year you may need to buy more minutes to keep the account active. (I don't work for T-mobile, or get kick-backs of any kind from them.)

You do still have to call and check your messages periodically, but you can leave your new international number on your outgoing message so that people can reach you if they really need to.
posted by nadise at 12:25 PM on November 24, 2007

Call t-mobile and see if they can put you in a super limited plan (designed for situations like these). I know sprint used to but you should call your customer support and check. It will be less than 10 bucks a month but with a very low minute allowance (50 or something).

Then you should sign up for youmail and have all your voice mail directed there. You can then check that anywhere in the world, get notified by email, and not use any minutes at all.
posted by special-k at 12:27 PM on November 24, 2007

Switch to Virgin Mobile. Then port your number over. All you have to do is deposit $20 in the account every 3 months. $15 if you register your credit card on their website.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:36 PM on November 24, 2007

A lot of phone providers (if not all) will let you put your contract on hiatus. So it would cost you nothing. Don't think you get service of any type during this time, but it would be cheap.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:38 PM on November 24, 2007

I'm on t-mobile too and I've also been investigating this problem. A couple things I learned:

1) For t-mobile prepaid, if you buy $100 of prepaid minutes off the bat the minutes won't expire for a year. So that could be about $8 a month if you don't go over the minutes.

2) A downside of prepaid is you get charged for every text message, which could be problematic if you're using text messaging to save money on international long distance fees.

3) I thought about going t-mobile prepaid and switching the voicemail number to an online voicemail/email notification service so I wouldn't have to dial in to get messages. Unfortunately t-mobile prepaid does not allow you to change the "conditional line forwarding number" to anything but the t-mobile voicemail number, unlike t-mobile postpaid.
posted by sharkfu at 5:17 PM on November 24, 2007


With Virgin Mobile, you can prepay for a text/voice/picture messaging plan. $5 gets you 200 messages a month, for example, and there are other options.

Phones are cheap too. If you're a new customer, you can order a $20 phone from their website, which will be shipped free, and get a $20 call credit right off.
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:23 PM on November 24, 2007

Oh, and I'm not an agent of Virgin or anything. I've just been using them for about 2.5 years now, and the service is really flexible, reliable, and cheap.
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:24 PM on November 24, 2007

I have a Virgin Mobile pre-pay phone that I bought in the US and which I use only in the US. It cost me $19.99, the Kyocera Marbl.

I use PayPal to top up my phone with $20 every 90 days to keep the number alive. You can select options on the Virgin website so it does this automatically for you. They also email you to let you know when the 90 day top-up is due, and when it's been done.

If you can port your number to Virgin, I'd suggest this as a good option.
posted by essexjan at 4:05 AM on November 25, 2007

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