Ask LH: How Can I Keep My Mobile Number When I Travel Overseas?

Ask LH: How Can I Keep My Mobile Number When I Travel Overseas?
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Dear Lifehacker, I am about to go travelling overseas for at least a year. I’d like to hang on to my current Australian mobile telephone number for when I return. I have heard that if your number is inactive for a certain period of time, the phone carrier can re-use the number with another account.

Is this true? And if so, what is the best way of making sure that my number is not taken? Are there any good 365-day expiry prepaid options you’d recommend? Thanks, Number Keeper

Holiday picture from Shutterstock

Dear Number Keeper,

You’re correct — if you stop using your number, it will go back into the pool of generally-available numbers, and will eventually end up used by someone else. If you want to retain it, then your best bet is indeed to go for a 365-day prepaid plan, but those aren’t as common as they used to be.

The standout offer right now is Vodafone’s 365-day plan, which you can sign up to for just $20. Virgin’s cheapest 365-day deal, the next best, comes in at $49.

Optus will let you recharge for $30 for 186 days expiry, but doesn’t offer a year-long option. Telstra has a $70 recharge that lasts for a full 12 months, but I can’t see the point of paying $50 more than Vodafone given you’re not planning to actually use the phone during that time.

We’d always advise caution when choosing a provider. In the last year, we’ve seen three companies which had well-regarded 365-day plans disappear: Crazy John’s, PennyTel and Savvytel. Crazy John’s customers were shifted to Vodafone, but PennyTel and Savvytel shut down altogether. If that happened and you were overseas, then you’d have difficulties in ensuring your number stayed in place. With that said, it seems unlikely that any of the carriers whose priced we’ve listed above are going to disappear.

One final thought? Leave the SIM and account details with a trusted family member or friend. If you decide to extend your trip, it may well be easier for them to extend the plan from Australia than for you to do so from overseas. Enjoy your travels!


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  • It may not be essential now that a lot of stuff can be done online/via self serve, but it may also be an idea to add the trusted family member as a third party on your account, so they can call and ask questions/make changes on your behalf while you are away.

    • With both Optus and Telstra I had to add my fiancĂ©e as authority on my account 4-5 times each. They’re all absolutely useless at it.

  • Keep a close watch however. I had a direct debit to keep my Telstra number alive. When I got back home a year or so later, I found that Telstra had cancelled the direct debit*, allowed $40 in “back debts” to accrue and then turned my account over to a debt collection agency. They made no attempt to contact me during that time.

    (* which one of their agents admitted, but could give no reason)

  • I figured that for a reasonable amount, you can just pay for your monthly fee (just go for a cheap plan) and have your phone re-directed. I redirect mine to a local Skype number, which then redirects to my mobile phone overseas (cheaper to redirect from Skype to an overseas number than directly from your mobile in Oz). Has worked well enough for the past 1.5 years. I know its probably a bit more expensive than other options, but it works and I don’t have to deal with anything whilst I’m overseas.

  • Savvytel is actually still operating (currently using them now). I was o/s for a while & changed my prepaid plan to the one that ‘never expires’. The only catch was that the number needs to used at least once every 6 months to stay active. Not sure if that is still in the fine print now. I got my dad to make a phone call close to the 6 month mark (I set myself a reminder on my calendar of the date). Close to the first year away, I topped up with $10 credit (online) & when I came home almost 2 years later, I changed prepaid plans to the Savvytel’s Lite plan for better call rates. Still had some extra credit on the phone that I could use. Bonus!

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