Listen, I am no tech genius. But we have been living in Austria for 2 years, so we know the ins and outs of staying connected abroad.
All those questions that cross your mind when it comes to this topic, we’ve got the answers. Answers we’ve obtained through our own personal experience.
How do you stay in touch with family & friends? How do you handle phone data abroad? What do you do with your US phone plans? US phone numbers? Do you get a local number too?
We’ve learned all of the above and pretty much have it down to a science at this point. So it’s time to share our formula for staying connected abroad with everyone who is wondering the exact same thing.
The Importance of Staying Connected Abroad
It’s no surprise that communication with family and friends back home is vital when you live in a totally different country than they do. Maybe you even run a business and need to be in constant communication with your work contacts as well.
Whatever the reason or however many reasons, easy access to communication is KEY to your happiness and your success. Here’s what we found was most important.
- Having a US phone number for family, friends, and coworkers to reach us.
- Canceling our expensive and unnecessary US phone plan, but finding a way to keep the cell numbers we’ve had since FOREVER.
- Having access to data while we travel (without having to run out and get a SIM card immediately)
- Getting an Austrian phone number for our new friends here.
These were our primary concerns.
So now what do we do? How do we go about staying connected during this adventure of ours? We had 2 cell phone numbers in the USA, and now we needed to figure out what to do with them…
A Perfect Mix: Our Communication Solution
Skype Phone Number for Family, Friends, and Work
In order to stay professional with work contacts and to have a constant phone number for our friends and family to call, we set up a Skype business number. Giving us a US phone number for those based in the US to call – just like a regular landline!
We chose the Unlimited World Plan for $16.79/month, which provides unlimited calls to mobiles in 8 countries/regions and landlines in 63.
That price has crept up from $13.99/month since we signed up 2 years ago (2015), just to give you an idea of the timeframe and pricing. Luckily we still pay the $13.99, since we are ‘grandfathered’ into our inital price – so that is good news!
To accompany our plan, we purchased a USA Skype number for an annual charge of $39. (FYI: paying annually for this phone number, instead of monthly, gives you up to 50% off!)
Having this US phone number = no international charges for our work contacts, friends and family to reach us.
As with regular Skype accounts, it operates via data or WiFi connection. But those on the other side of the line have no idea – it’s just like they are calling a regular US phone number. Of course, there is no texting included, but that’s where other phone apps come into play.
Porting Our USA Cell Phone Number to Tossable Digits
I know it seems silly, but when you’ve had one phone number since you’ve owned a cell phone, those digits are not something you give up easily. Everyone you know has that number saved. It’s YOURS. A part of your identity. Another one just won’t suffice.
The problem was our US phone plan would be of no use here AND paying to keep your number reserved cost $25 per month. When you’re on a tight budget and moving to another country, the last thing you want is to throw away $25 per month.
But after some research, we found a solution. Tossable Digits. A virtual phone service
What is a virtual phone service?
Exactly. We had no idea that this service even existed until we did some research and found out it was the answer to our phone problem.
Tossable Digits turns your phone number into a virtual phone number. Meaning, it no longer is tied to a phone line. It can ring to any physical phone and also comes with loads of benefits.
So we saved the $25 per month and exchanged it for $3.50. This small $3.50 monthly fee gave us the freedom to keep our phone number or as they say ‘port’ our number and cancel our phone plan.
After that, the options were pretty much endless. Call forwarding with Tossable Digits allows us to forward all calls made to my old US phone number to Erin (husband’s) phone. Better yet, we’re able to forward calls to any country we find ourselves in, so we’re always connected. No matter where we are!
Do Not Disturb on our new virtual phone number also lets us cut off all calls past a certain time of day. With the time difference, this was important to our sanity. Access but access when we wanted it!
The other features our new virtual digits came with are outlined here.
It’s also the easiest process ever and the quickest way to get the best of both worlds. Low cost and all the access you need. You can even simply port your number and keep it on hand, without doing anything else. The choice is left up to the individual.
You can check if your number is ‘portable’ within minutes, right on their site.
T-Mobile: Data All Over the World and an Austrian Phone Number
Okay, so now we have a US phone number for work and keeping in touch with family. We’ve ported my phone number to husband Erin’s phone number. But now we still need to figure out what to do with his regular phone plan. And it would also help to have a local number too…
That’s where T-mobile came into play. They offer an attractive $70/month plan that includes unlimited texts, calls and 4G in the USA as well as unlimited texts and 2G in 140+ other countries. This would be our solution to staying connected as we travel.
Even though 2G can be slow and frustrating, nothing is more frustrating than not having any connection when we are in and out of countries so often. Especially while we continue to work and be accessible to coworkers. It was perfect for exactly what we needed. With the unlimited data, our Skype number would also work anywhere and everywhere we go.
All we had to do now was get a local phone number in Austria for our new Austrian friends to reach us. Seeing that T-mobile is the most popular service here in Austria, we looked to them for this last step.
For $25/month, we got the most basic of plans – unlimited calls and texts and 2GBS of data at 4G. Just so we could have an Austrian phone number and an Austrian plan since, after all, we do live in Austria.
Makes sense right?
And a Quality Messaging Service
Out of all the messaging services that use data to communicate vs. a phone line, Whatsapp is where it’s at! At least for us.
Anyone you meet around the world has Whatsapp. It allows you to send messages using Wifi or data and also make voice and video calls as well.
With our Unlimited data T-Mobile Plan and our Austrian phone number, we have constant and efficient messaging, no matter where we are. And it also allows us to communicate easily with each other when one of us is traveling for work solo.
Done and DONE!
Staying Connected Abroad: A Full Recap
So all in all, here is what our payments look like. This communication mix allows us to be constantly connected and gives family, friends & coworkers a constant way to get in touch with us.
- Skype Unlimited World Plan: $13.99/month with a $39 annual charge for the phone number.
- Tossable Digits: $3.50/month
- T-Mobile US Plan: $70/month
- T-Mobile Austria Basic Plan: $25/month
That’s a total of $112/month and $39/year for both of us to be connected and available all the times, anywhere in the world.
This is less than the amount we paid for BOTH phone plans in the USA before we moved to Austria. I’d say this formula solves all of our potential issues and offers us, even more ways to stay connected.
And when we move back to the USA?
It’s easy. All we need to do is:
- Port our Skype number purchased to Tosssable Digits, so we don’t lose our new business line. And so we can continue to manage this number, on any phone we choose.
- Transfer my cell phone number from Tossable Digits to T-Mobile, with a new US-based account (there are no cancellation charges or contracts with Tossable Digits!)
- Cancel our Austrian phone plan, since we only need it abroad.
So there you have it. Our (not so secret) formula for staying connected abroad. It took a lot of testing, but this plan worst best for us – both personally AND professionally.
Make calls at all times, whenever we need to – CHECK! Always accessible – CHECK! Data everywhere – TRIPLE CHECK!
With this super strategic and affordable communication combo, we can be in touch with anyone in the entire world while we’re anywhere in the entire world. And that, my friends, is all you need!
Disclaimer: This post was written in May 2017. Pricing and plans could be different by the time you’re reading this. But with all the research we’ve done, these are the best services we found and the best plans for staying connected abroad.