Ask LH: What’s The Cheapest Way To Hold Onto My Phone Number?

Ask LH: What’s The Cheapest Way To Hold Onto My Phone Number?

Hi Lifehacker, I’m heading overseas for 12-18 months and I’d like to keep my mobile phone number active as it’s the failsafe/reset for several online services I use (Gmail, LastPass and so on). I won’t be using it for outbound calls, just to be able to receive the occasional SMS or incoming call for verification.

I’d like to pay as little as possible to keep the phone number active while I’m overseas and also make sure the bill stays topped up either by auto-payments or similar. What carrier/plan would you recommend?

Roaming Free

Travel picture from Shutterstock

Dear RF,

We’re asked this question quite regularly — holding onto your number is a common desire for travelling Australians. The last time it came up, we singled out two current plans as offering a cheap rate and a relatively long expiry period. Both are still available at this writing and allow you to easily recharge online:

Both are good general options, but in your case there’s one important caveat: you’ll want the service to work overseas so you can receive confirmation texts. (Google asks for these quite often if you log in from unfamiliar locations.) That in turn means you’ll need roaming enabled, which usually isn’t the case by default on cheap prepaid plans — so make sure you organise that before departing.

Another problem when roaming is enabled is that if anyone who has your current number rings you from Australia, you’ll quickly deplete your credit (since you pay for receiving calls as well as making them). One possible solution? Set up a new number on a SIM and switch your verification to that before you leave. Since you won’t have supplied that number to anyone else, the problem is reduced. The other option is to only put your SIM in your phone when you’ve specifically requested a confirmation text. (In practical terms, you could do this as well as changing your number.)

Last time we discussed this topic, reader Barb noted that most carriers have a grace period, so even after your credit expires, your number may not be immediately reclaimed. While that could help if you’re returning just a few days after a 365-day plan expires, personally I wouldn’t want to risk it, especially if the number controls access to email and bank accounts.

If readers have other plans to recommend, let’s hear it in the comments.


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  • Vodafone’s $20 365-day recharge with a really cheap or old android phone, disable data, install MightyText and leave the phone plugged into the wall 24/7 at a family or friends home sitting on WiFi.
    – You’ll get all of your texts forwarded / accessible wherever you are
    – You can reply to texts if you need to and see / log / reply to missed calls

  • I know Telstra give you a three month grace period on pre-paid after credit expires before they’ll deactivate the number. If you get in contact with them pretty quickly after a deactivation, there is a chance you would be able to get the number back.

  • The Voda $20 is probably the simplest option.

    With that in mind, not sure about other carriers but with Optus if you put it on a 6 month expiry prepaid and do say a $30 recharge every 6 months to keep it going you will have $90 of credit. When you come back to Australia you can either still use that credit or if you wanted to sign up to a plan that $90 will apply on the account.

    If you really want to be tricky, when you get back, you could move that prepaid with $90 credit to a post paid. Then port the number to another carrier/go back to a prepaid/cancel the number all together/whatever. The $90ish balance (probably minus 1 or 2 days use) will be a credit on the post paid account, you call up and they send a cheque, thus costing you maybe $5 to have kept the number for 18 mths.

  • I’m currently doing this from italy with optus, they have 6 month expiry for the daily plans $10 top up, which is pretty good. and the app makes it easy.

    i was on telstra, however they were ruthless with disconnecting me once i forgot to top up for a couple of months, and even though i contacted them right away they were less than helpful. i wouldn’t recommend them for this if it’s possible you might forget at some stage! I lost my number that i’d had with them for over ten years. (thus moving to optus…)

  • Not directly answering the question, but for Google, at least, I make sure I have a stash of backup codes before I travel. Then I switch the confirmation number over to my local number where-ever I am (assuming I get a local SIM) for convenience (I generally take just one handset and swap out my Australian SIM for the local SIM, so I don’t want to ever have to swap it back in while I’m OS, if I can avoid it).

    Facebook is nice in that you can just use the app on an authenticated device to generate a key.

    Would be interesting to investigate which other services provide mechanisms that let you conveniently avoid having to access your Australian number in any way while overseas.

    Of course, likely you still want to keep your number active so you have the same number when you return to Australia.

  • If you just want to keep your number active while away and can find another solutionfor receiving SMS and calls while out of the country (e.g. global roaming SIM) then your best bet is Aldi Mobile.

    Before you leave, port your number to them, put $15 on their PAYG prepaid plan and forget about it for 365 days.

    They run on the Telstra network so judging by the Kogan Mobile experience, if they collapse while you are away, Telstra will simply take over the number.

    As mention above, there is no international roaming with this one so you will need to leave your aussie SIM at home and get a global roaming SIM or find some other solution.

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