To stay connected with friends, family and 2-Factor Authenticated Financial Institutions we use a series of services that might seem overly complicated. Our major goals for staying connected while abroad were to keep our US numbers for when we return, be able to receive and make calls and SMS messages with ease and have a reasonably priced data plan. We used a combination of services to setup what at least initially seems to be working rather well. If you don’t care about recovering your US number you can skip out on much of this. Our biggest concern was not getting locked out of any 2-Factor Authentication that we might not have accounted for.
If you don’t care about many of these items and just need connectivity I’d recommend a local SIM/eSIM, WhatsApp and call it a day.
For connectivity we used an eSIM from Airalo to bridge our gap for the first couple of weeks until we could order a physical SIM from Lobster.es. Airalo allows you to purchase a data only plan that provides coverage based on country, region or internationally. We purchased our eSIMs before leaving Chicago so that we’d have connectivity during our layover as well as when we landed in Barcelona for contacting our pet transport and apartment agency. With Airalo, you basically pick a plan that fits your needs and then use the QR code to install the eSIM and activate it. We chose a regional eSIM for $13 that included 3GB of data for 30 days to cover us until we got something more permanent.
Once in Spain we signed up for accounts with Lobster.es which is an English language mobile carrier in Spain and caters to British tourists. Similar to Airalo, we created an account online, selected a plan and then had physical SIM cards mailed to our apartment within 4 business days. These plans were 12€ for 18GB of data and a local Spanish phone number with unlimited calls/SMS messages (Spain, UK, US). We chose Lobster because the support is all in English, it’s relatively cheap data and we received a local number that can be used for appointments etc.
With either of these data plans and our iPhones, we basically have the same access to iMessage and FaceTime with other iOS users. We did come across some issues where text messages needed to be sent to our Apple ID (ie: email) instead of our US numbers and some existing text chains needed to be recreated to work. Other than that, it’s was pretty seamless once we activated the new SIM cards.
Maintaining Our US Number
To maintain our US numbers we used Number Barn to Park and Forward calls we receive. We tried doing this with just Google Voice but the porting process never worked. We were able to port our US numbers to Number Barn in about 2 days, and once ported, we were able to forward the calls to a Google Voice number.
Basically when someone calls our US Number they are notified it’s a Google Voice service and are prompted to say their name. From there, our phone rings and we hear the recorded name and press 1 to accept. This allows us to receive calls from US numbers while traveling. The porting to Number Barn was included in the account and we pay $6 per month to maintain the number and perform the forwarding. Number Barn does have the ability to receive SMS messages but it’s cumbersome and not tied to your contact list so it’s hard to keep up.
Google Voice and 2-Factor Authentication
We do have the ability to send and receive calls and SMS messages from Google Voice which has been helpful for various accounts and financial institutions. We updated most of our accounts to point to our Google Voice numbers for any 2-Factor Authentication we might encounter trying to access various accounts. This has worked well as many banks do not allow the second part of the authentication to be an email. Without this there’s potential to get locked out our accounts.
We’re basically paying $6/month for call forwarding and then 12€/month for 18GB of data and unlimited calls/messages per phone line. For two lines were looking at under $40/month, our unlimited Verizon bill back home was $178/month.