Disclosure: Please note that we don’t get any compensation from these companies that we recommend with this piece. We name them strictly to share our experience in staying in communication with our family and friends. We do, however, get a small affiliate income if someone orders from Amazon through our site; it is not quite enough to cover the cost of running the blog, but something is better than nothing!
One of the downsides of moving to Spain is being far from family. Many Americans just continue to use their old cell phone plan, which can cost a LOT of money. However, advances in technology have helped staying in regular contact easier and CHEAPER than many years ago. Aside from email (remember when that was new?), I have several tools at my disposal to stay in communication with my families and friends.
1) Google Voice. It works when I have cell data or wi-fi.
2) Social Chat apps like Whatsapp for Europe, Facebook IM, or Line for Asia. They work as long as we have cell data or wi-fi.
3) Local Spain cellular phone service from Vodafone that gives us European phone and data coverage, with data coverage in the US at no extra charge.
Each choice has advantages and disadvantages, so this post will only touch on Google Voice, with the other two addressed in a follow-up.
What is Google Voice (GV)?
Living in the US for many years, I have my cell number that my family and friends have used to contact me for a long time. Moving to Spain doesn’t mean I have to give up using my US phone number even if I don’t have US cellular phone service any more because of Google Voice.
Google Voice has a lot of functionalities and benefits. Check out the full details at this link. To put it simply, it is a phone and web app that lets you make and receive calls and texts to actual phone numbers anywhere in the world. Some features are free and some are not. I mainly use the free functions (basic calls and texting when there is WIFI) because I have no need to use paid features; still the option remains if future needs arise.
What I get for free:
1) I have a US-based phone number assigned to me by GV. For a one-time charge of $20, Jim even transferred his old cellular phone number to GV.
2) I receive calls and texts on GV from anywhere in the world.
3) I receive voicemail with voice-to-text transcripts.
4) I make calls and send texts to most US numbers.
There are some specific instances when GV is the best choice:
Security verification (as in two-step versification process when you log in your financial accounts online).
As online fraud is on the rise, experts recommend you set up two-step verification when you log in to your account. GV enables me to receive a text from financial institutions (bank, credit cards, investment companies, etc) or other company as a part of their two-step verification process.
I also subscribe to alerts from my US banks and credit cards using my GV number. For example, if the withdraw exceeds X amount or if the credit card transaction exceed Y amount alerts, I would receive text messages to notify me.
Getting updates from airlines
When booking plane tickets internationally, I always use my GV number in case of a flight delay or cancellation. As long as I have cell data or wi-fi, I will get notifications even if I don’t have cellular plan in that country.
Free phone calls to the US
I can make phone calls to any US number for free. GV is especially money-saving when I call airlines which are notorious for keeping people on hold for a long time, sometimes over 30 minutes.
Calling from multiple devices.
In addition to making a phone call from my phone, I can use GV to call and text using my laptop or any computer as long as I logged on to my Google account.
HOWEVER, GV has some drawbacks.
Not every text message arrives (about 95%), even after repeated tries. For example, JP Morgan Chase’s two-step verification using text message doesn’t quite work well with GV so I often choose to receive email from them to get a security code for verification. For all other companies, I’ve never have a problem.
If we are not in the US, a call won’t ring on my phone or in the browser and goes straight to voicemail.
Another minor issue is that the transcription of the voice mail is obviously by software and it is not perfect. If it is a telemarketing call, I can ignore it. For important phone calls, I always listen to the actual voicemail messages.
Extra step in making voice calls on the phone
For receiving and sending out texts, one uses the Google Voice app. To make a phone call using GV on your cellular phone (as opposed to one’s laptop), however, you have to download the Hangout app and use it to make the call. It’s a bit confusing. I hope Google will continue to improve and just merge the two apps into one. But for right now, it is what it is.
Considering that I don’t pay for this part of service and I could not find another alternative that offer what GV offers (and worldwide), I accept the drawbacks and, when needed, find a workaround.