Phone Solutions for American and Canadian Expats

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There have never been more options. But understanding the option that is right for you has never been harder.


Being accessible by phone has become a necessary feature for most of us. For current or aspiring expats, there have never been more options to travel abroad with phone connectivity to the globe.


Here’s how to approach finding the right phone solution for American and Canadian expats.

Start by clarifying your needs

Do you need to keep your US or Canadian phone number? For what purpose? What level of cell phone coverage do you need for your professional or personal life? Will you need to receive two-factor authentication notifications? What is your monthly budget for phone service?


Answering these questions at the start of your search will make your life easier by allowing you to focus in on the solutions that will actually meet your needs.

Let’s define some terms

Before we go much further, let’s define some terms.

  • A VoIP allows you to make and receive calls over the internet, rather than through telephone coverage

  • If your phone is locked, it means that your phone will not work with carriers other than the one you purchased your phone with

  • Two-factor authentication means that you need to prove your identity in at least two ways, normally via entering a code you might receive via email or SMS. This is especially important for accessing things like bank accounts when living abroad

Understand the pros and cons of your options

There are three main options you have in terms of setting up your phone service once you’ve moved abroad. You can choose multiple options if you prefer.

  1. Sign-up for an international plan with a U.S. or Canadian provider

  2. Use an International Call Forwarding Service or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

  3. Get a local number


Each of these options has benefits and drawbacks.

The Best International Phone Plans for Expats

Note that if you opt to switch providers, most carriers provide the option to port your number to a new carrier.


  • Plan: T-Mobile Magenta

  • Price: $75, with discounts available for military service, age, and autopay

  • What should you know:

    • T-Mobile has better-than-most cell-phone services compared to other big US and Canadian telecoms

    • Unlimited texting and data at 2G speeds in more than 200 other countries.

    • You can upgrade to Magenta Plus for $15 per month, per line to get extra features, including video streaming, 40GB of mobile hot spot data, and faster data speeds



  • Plan: International Monthly Plan

  • Price: $100 per line.

  • What should you know:

    • Plan includes 5GB of data plus 250 minutes, 1,000 sent SMS and unlimited received SMS. It can be used in over 185 countries.

    • If you don’t opt into the international plan, then you will be charged “pay as you go” rates when you travel overseas.

Google Fi

  • Plan: Fi Flexible

  • Price: $20, plus $10 per GB of data

  • What should you know:

    • It’s the cheapest option

    • Customer service is practically non-existent, and data speeds might be throttled after 30 days

    • Unlimited texting while abroad. High-speed data is a flat $10 per gigabyte, even when roaming internationally, but speeds are slower after 15GB of use

    • Text and use data in more than 200 countries for the same price you pay at home. Calls are an additional cost. Flexible plan includes bill protection, where usage is free after you hit a certain monthly threshold — 6GB for one line, 10GB for two lines, 12GB for three lines, 14GB for four lines and 16GB for five lines

High-Quality VoIPs for Expats

Google Voice

  • What should you know:

    • Google Voice is free

    • You can port your existing US number directly into Google Voice for $20, but it should be set-up before leaving the US

    • You can technically receive text messages, voicemails, and calls, although this can be quite unreliable, so it is difficult to rely solely on this service

    • You cannot receive some two-factor authentication notifications

    • Customer service is practically non-existent


  • What should you know:

    • Used with a physical magicJack device

    • One of the most affordable VoIPs on the market, at $43 per 12 months of service if using the magicIn and magicOut devices

    • US number can be ported into the service

    • Call quality can be poor

    • You cannot receive some two-factor authentication notifications

What Do We Recommend?

As you can see, no one option is perfect. Here are two ways we recommend combining these options for long-term expats. These are tried and tested by expats like you.

Option 1 - With a budget of $100-200/month:

  1. Make sure your phone is unlocked

  2. Sign-up for a T-Mobile Magenta plan, and transfer your number to T-Mobile if necessary

  3. Depending on what type of phone you have, you could convert your T-Mobile SIM into an eSIM

  4. Get a local, physical SIM card after you’ve arrived in the country. This will likely be prepaid.


With this option, you should have excellent coverage, you will keep your U.S. number, you will have a local number, and you will be able to receive two-factor authentication messages. To limit costs, you should turn off roaming and only make calls when on WiFi to avoid getting charged per minute for international calls. To do that, you can coordinate with friends and family to plan good times for calls, and make sure you are on WiFi when you connect.

Option 2 - If you are looking for a more affordable option:

  1. Port your U.S. number to Google Voice

  2. Get a local SIM card

  3. Make calls via services like WhatsApp and Messenger OR purchase a VoIP subscription in order to make calls

StartAbroad is here to help

Get a free consultation with international move experts at StartAbroad to discuss your situation and learn what’s right for you. StartAbroad provides a comprehensive suite of services to make your move abroad as easy and painless as possible. StartAbroad’s international moving experts have over 20+ years of experience living abroad and helping others get settled. Get a free consultation at to discuss your situation and learn what’s right for you. Ask us about our holistic concierge package, and our medical, visa, and tax solutions!

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