It’s pretty easy to stay connected to your friends and family from the US if you live or travel outside of the US. With the following services you can have one phone number that will reach you anywhere in the world. What you’ll need:
1. Google Voice – Free
2. Skype Online Number – $18 for 3 Months / $60 for a year
3. Local SIM card wherever you are – Prices vary
4. A US based phone (Just to do the initial setup)
The first thing you need to do is sign up for a google voice account. You’ll need to do this at http://voice.google.com The important thing is that you’ll need to do it either while you’re in the US or have a US IP address. Another requirement for google voice is a current and active US based phone number.
You can pick phone numbers in nearly any area code you like. I chose to pick an area code that was in my last locale. That way friends who knew your last number don’t think too much about calling or texting you. It also helps with things such as bank accounts, credit cards and talking to Business Contacts. Giving them a phone number in the same area code as where your accounts are at make it easier to talk to people and not have to explain to them they need to call an international number to talk to you. Also, if you have your mail delivered to somewhere in that area code still, even better.
When signing up for Google Voice, they’ll ask you to give them a phone number to forward to. You should give them your US based phone number at this point. Just pick up the phone when they call; to verify it and enter in the confirmation code.
Next, sign up for a skype account. These can be made at http://www.skype.com While you’re there you’ll need to get a Skype Online number. This is a phone number that when called, will forward to whatever phone number you want it to forward to anywhere in the world.
Now, you may ask, why do I need a google voice account if I’m paying for a Skype online number as well? That is a great question. The reason is, in the event that you go back to visit the US or move back there, you don’t want to have to continue paying Skype to forward your calls. You also don’t want to have to pay Skype rates to send SMS messages. (currently .11c each message) And, if you disable or disconnect your skype online number, you don’t want to have to tell your friends and family new phone numbers to reach you at every few months when you sign up for a new Skype Online number. Eventually they’ll just stop calling you out of frustration.
Now here’s the tricky part.
Now that you have a google voice account and a Skype Online number. You’ll need to tie those two accounts together. First thing you’ll need to do is add a phone number to your Skype Online account that Skype can forward to. At this point you can use the same number that you are forwarding your google voice calls to. Have Skype verify that number. Then have a friend call your Skype Online number to verify that it is forwarding to your phone correctly.
Next, go into your google voice settings and add a new fowarding phone number. This should be your Skype Online number. When google calls to verify that phone number this series of events will happen:
1. Google calls your Skype Online number
2. Skype Online forwards you the Verification call from Google to the number you provided Skype.
3. Your phone will ring and within a few seconds a verification prompt from google will ask you to verify the call
4. Enter in the verification code.
Now, you’ve got your two accounts linked up. To make it even more seamless, you can go into the Caller ID portion of Skype and enter your Google Voice Number. That way you can use skype to call your friends and family and they will know that it’s you who is calling them. Next up you’ll need to link up your foreign phone number.
Say you go to Thailand. The country code there is +66. When you arrive in Thailand, you’ll get a Local SIM card and put it into your “unlocked” phone. Once you get your local phone number, you’ll need to login to Google Voice and make sure that you’re only forwarding to your Skype Online number. Then you’ll want to login to Skype. Once you login, go to the “Call Forwarding” Tab. If you have your US phone number here still, you’ll want to remove it. Then this is where you’ll enter your Thai Phone number. Make sure you enter it with the country code and remove any zero prefixes. Your phone number may be
But with Skype you should enter it as:
Now, when someone calls your US Google Voice number, it will do all the following for you seamlessly:
1. Your friend calls your Google Voice Number
2. Google Voice Forwards the call to Skype Online
3. Skype Online forwards the call to Thailand
4. You pick up the phone and pay the skype rate for the phone call.
5. Your friend pays as if it is a local call to them.
Now if your friend sends you a SMS or Text message to your google voice number. You can receive these in realtime as well. To do this, you’ll need a smartphone, a Local Data Plan and the google voice app on either Android or the App Store. Just enable push notifications and when they send you a message you’ll receive it right away and you can respond just as quickly. If you don’t have a data plan you can always just wait till you have wifi access to see your messages or login to the Google Voice home page and see and respond to messages from a computer.
Next, when you travel to another country, you’ll want to make sure you repeat the same steps above as the example with Thailand. But you’ll want to add an additional step. You’ll want to go into the Skype Forwarding panel and remove the older forwarding number from the previous countries you travelled to. The reason this is important is because Skype will continue to forward to any phone you have listed. If someone has gotten your recycled SIM card they may pick up the call before your new phone number in Indonesia even rings. You wouldn’t even know that you missed a call till your angry friend or banker e-mails you asking why you’re phone is now going to someone who doesn’t even speak english. It’s also important that you remove your US phone number from the list of forwarding phone numbers in Skype. If you’re still forwarding to your US phone number, the same thing might be happening there. But instead of going to a Thai person, the calls may be going straight to your voicemail and you’ll have no way to check them.
Now, when you go back to the US to visit or to move back. You’ll need to adjust a couple of settings as well. The first thing you’ll need to do is, go to a local cell phone store and get a Cell phone. Then, login to Google Voice and add the new phone as a forwarding number. Next, you’ll want to “uncheck” but not remove the SkypeOnline number. What this will do is:
1. All your friends that have your Google Voice Number can now still call the same number they’ve been calling you for the whole while you were traveling or living overseas.
2. They can send you SMS messages to the same Google Voice Number as before
3. Banks and Credit card companies and Business Contacts will still be able to reach your phone number
4. You’ve now cut out Skype as the middle man and no longer have to pay any SkypeOut rates for your calls. (You’ll still have the Skype Online number though)
Then, when you’re ready to go traveling again, just login to Skype. Add your new phone numbers for whatever country you’re in. And Login to Google Voice and remove any temporary phone numbers there and re-enable your Skype Online connection. Another tip I have is to disable “Call Screening” on Google voice. This adds a few extra seconds to every call and may be enough to make all your calls go to Voicemail with this setup. With all the extra hops that your calls go through, every second counts.
With this setup, I find it makes communicating with your friends and family a lot easier. They no longer have to think twice about calling you. You end up paying a little more per year, but building and maintaining relationships with your loved ones is something you can’t really put a price on.