Keeping Your US Phone Number While Moving to Italy

This blog post is in response to a question I get a lot, which is: when moving abroad (in my case, to Italy) for a year, what did I do with my US phone number? Because I was moving abroad with a budget, spending $50 per month on a US phone plan that I wasn’t using just didn’t make sense (not to mention spending $10 per day on an international day pass!). But I didn’t want to give up my forever phone number. Here’s what I did.

guy looking down at phone with Amalfi Coast in the background

Why Keep Your US Phone Number?

I wanted to keep my number because when I came back to the US after a year, I wanted to be able to pick back up with the same number I had had for over 15 years. Plus, having a way people could text me with my US number was useful for staying in touch with those who refused to download WhatsApp.

But equally and more important, having a US number is crucial for things like banking, investment accounts, and those pesky two-factor authentications that are still so intertwined with SMS technology. 

Exactly what I did

None of this makes sense without having your primary means of communication set up beforehand. The best method for this is with WhatsApp. If you don’t have a WhatsApp account set up, go ahead and do it now and thank me later. Set it up with your US (or home country) phone number, and forget about it. Don’t worry, the number isn’t tied to your current carrier. WhatsApp allows free text, voice, and video calls as long as you’re connected to the internet (WiFi or data).

Porting to Google Voice

Next item – port (aka transfer) your US number to Google Voice for a one-time fee of $20. Google Voice is a free* internet-based service that allows you to make calls and send texts from a unique phone number, unlike AT&T or Verizon, which are traditional cellular carriers requiring a phone plan.  Note that this will deactivate your service with your current carrier (Verizon, AT&T, etc.). Here’s the step-by-step from Google for how to port your number to Google Voice.

What does porting do? This basically tells Google Voice, “I know you can give me a random number, but use this one instead”. This keeps your number out of the pool of free numbers, so your number can’t be claimed by someone else.

This means you can use your Google Voice number to make and receive calls or texts on multiple devices (via VoIP).

*Texts over Google Voice are free as long as you’re connected to the internet, but calls will have a rate depending on who you’re talking to (rates listed here)

When you’re ready to port your number back to a US carrier, you can do so with these instructions by Google.

Getting an Italian SIM

This isn’t an in-depth guide comparing different Italian cell carriers (others have already done a good job of that). Just know that when you get an Italian SIM card (opt for the eSIM if you can, so you just download it), you’ll have an Italian number.

I went with VeryMobile, which is an Italian budget carrier that piggybacks off the larger networks. I’ve been using them for 2 years now and here’s my quick review – it’s dirt cheap (about $10 per month for 150 GB of data), but the customer service is borderline non-existent (and 100% Italian speaking, which may be challenging for some). To be fair, I only needed customer service for issues like transferring my eSIM when switching phones. Overall, I like it, but I can tolerate some BS. If you do sign up with VeryMobile, use my friends code 75Z9AVAC (

Living La Vita Mobile in Italy

So during my year in Italy, I had an (1) Italian number/SIM (which is where I got my data when not on Wi-Fi), (2) used WhatsApp for my primary means of communication (still linked to US phone number), and (3) SMS texts sent to my US phone number being forwarded to Google Voice. 

Where it Fell short

picture of a guy at a table looking at his phone with a slightly frustrated expression

Some US services (Ally Bank in particular) weren’t happy with my Google Voice number during two-factor authentication processes. Specifically, their system could detect that it was a VoIP number, and I needed to set up another method of 2FA like email. For a year I could deal with this, but long term it would get annoying.

Returning to a US Carrier (and what I do now)

I went back to the US for a few months after my year in Italy, at which point I needed a proper US carrier again, so I picked my carrier and followed Google’s steps for porting the number back out.

My Current Setup

Now (2 years after my initial move to Italy), my setup has changed slightly. I still use VeryMobile for my Italian number and data. But between my work and countless times I need to use SMS 2-factor authentication, it proved necessary to have a proper US-number. So I no longer have my US number ported to Google Voice, but instead use Google Fi. So I have 2 eSIMs on my phone, and switch to the Google Fi SIM when I need to receive a verification code (for example). Switching between eSIMs is easily done in your phone settings.

Google Fi’s flexible plan is $20 per month and allows me to send/receive texts while abroad, make calls (for additional fees), and if needed, use data at $10/GB. According to their terms, your Google Fi may be disabled if you use data abroad for over 90 days. Since I have my Italian SIM for data, I have my Google Fi data paused. I’ll update this blog post if Google decides to shut off my SIM. Sign up for Google Fi here.

Items to carry for Travel

What did we miss?

Got your own tips or tales about navigating phone number challenges abroad? Share them in the comments below! And if you know someone gearing up for their Italian adventure, pass this guide along. Until next time, keep embracing the beauty of Italy, one dial tone at a time. Buona fortuna!

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