While on expat assignment or living abroad, managing two-factor authentication (2FA) via SMS can be a challenge if you no longer have a phone number from your home country.
This is a big problem for many people that have for example USA-based banks and services that only support SMS verification.
The problem gets even bigger since many USA banks and other online services (student loans, 401K etc) will not send SMS OTP (One-Time-Password) for 2FA authentication to a VoIP phone number.
In this article we’ll discuss and explain several ways to manage two-factor authentication via SMS when living outside USA, so let’s get started.
Solutions to Get SMS for 2FA While Abroad
- Obtain a local SIM with a dual-SIM phone: Use a dual-SIM phone to keep your home country number active for SMS and have a local number for regular use. Top up the home SIM as needed to keep it active.
- Use an e-SIM: Services like Tello, Google Fi, or Mint Mobile offer e-SIM options that work in many countries and can receive SMS.
- VoIP services to receive SMS: Google Voice is popular, but some have noted that not all services send SMS to VoIP numbers. Similar services include Skype, Tossable Digits, or TextNow, which may work.
- Keep an old device active at a relative’s or friend’s place in your home country: They can receive SMS and pass the OTP code to you. Alternatively, some services like iMessage and Google Messages can sync texts across devices, including desktops.
- International roaming: Maintain a minimal roaming plan on your home number to receive SMS.
- Virtual numbers for SMS: Some users recommended CloudSim, and Skype allows you to get a US-based phone number that can receive SMS.
- Use friends or family: Register a trusted person’s number and ask them to send you the 2FA code as needed.
- Banking alternatives: Look for banks or services that support 2FA through email or app authentication tokens rather than SMS. You can contact your bank before leaving the country to ask if they can send you 2FA code to email or to an Authenticator App.
- Phone plans with international capabilities: Some users mentioned success with services that offer international call and SMS packages.
- Secondary Device: If hot-swapping SIM cards is cumbersome or if there’s fear of losing the home SIM, consider carrying a cheap, unlocked second phone with you. This phone will still have your home country’s number, so it can receive SMS messages for two-factor authentication.
- Authenticator Apps: While we’ve mentioned some services do not support them, for those that do, use apps like Authy, Google Authenticator, or a YubiKey for 2FA which do not rely on SMS.
Remember to start setting up these alternatives well before your travels to ensure they’re working correctly and to iron out any potential issues while you still have easy access to customer service.
Every situation is unique, so a combination of these tips may be required to manage your 2FA needs effectively while traveling.
Moreover, remember to check if any of these solutions comply with the security policies of your home country’s services before proceeding. Also, it’s advisable to consider using more secure methods of 2FA, such as app-based solutions like Google Authenticator, Authy, or hardware security keys whenever possible.
The above list shows some working and tested options for receiving SMS for 2FA while abroad. Here are some other online services that can also help:
Tello Mobile offers flexible, no-contract wireless service plans with a focus on affordability, nationwide coverage, and added benefits such as free international calling to over 60 countries, family plans, and a referral program that rewards customers.
The best part about Tello is that you can get an e-sim number which you can activate remotely when you are abroad. Here are the steps to do it:
- Connect your phone to a stable Wi-Fi network.
- Access the ‘My Settings’ section of your Tello account at https://tello.com/account/my_settings.
- Scroll to the ‘Wi-Fi Calling’ section and click on ‘Edit’ below ‘Emergency E911 Address’. Fill in your address and click ‘Save’.
- On Android: Navigate to the phone’s dialer > Menu (three dots in top right corner) > Settings > Wi-Fi calling > Toggle ‘ON’ Wi-Fi Calling.
- On iOS: Go to ‘Settings’ > ‘Phone’ or ‘Cellular’ > ‘Wi-Fi Calling’ > enable ‘Wi-Fi Calling on This iPhone’.
- Add E911 Address on Your Phone (if prompted):
- When enabling Wi-Fi Calling, you may be asked to input your E911 address on the device. Enter the same information you provided online and save.
- Activate the eSIM:
- Scan the QR code provided by Tello for the eSIM.
- Follow the prompts to install the eSIM on your phone, which might include setting it as a secondary line and turning on data roaming (though it won’t work abroad).
Hushed is an app offering a second phone number service that enables private wifi calling, texting, and picture messaging, providing users with privacy, convenience, and a variety of subscription plans.
Users can make private wifi and data calls, send texts, picture messages, and manage multiple numbers. It provides numbers from over 300 area codes in the US, Canada, and the UK.
There are flexible plan options including short term subscriptions, prepaid plans, and pay-as-you-go options starting from $2.99.
Tossable Digits provides virtual phone numbers that can ring to any existing phone, facilitating various uses such as sales, ad tracking, and professional needs.
Tossable Digits can retain numbers for businesses moving locations, ensuring continuity of contact. Businesses, entrepreneurs, and employees can benefit from the service without needing a complex phone system, second phone, or additional SIM card.
Users can select virtual numbers from local regions or from over 60 other countries, with the capability of receiving calls on any phone internationally.
You can forward calls from your US phone number to your international phone number, and SMS messages are forwarded by email. Therefore, you can receive the SMS OTP code (that comes to your US number) in your email.